Building a Business from the Ground Up
When I started Bobo’s in my kitchen 15 years ago, I had no formal business training and never imagined that my hobby would evolve into a full-time business. As I reflect back on those start-up days, I’ve gathered my advice below that I hope will be helpful to younger entrepreneurs.
• “Plan to be married to your business if you want it to succeed! Yes, you can now work your own hours, make your own decisions, and feel a unique sense of personal gratification, but plan to burn the midnight oil. In the beginning you will want to learn every aspect of the business so plan on scrubbing the floors if that is what’s needed. Starting your own company is not as glamorous as it sounds at times.”
• Quickly as possible, learn your strengths when starting a company. Hire people who have the skills you don’t own. Your business will grow faster and more efficiently and you will have less stress at the end of the day.
• As an example, when I started Bobo’s I was doing everything, including the finances and billing. I invoiced my customers in a Word document, which is insane. I soon learned that my accounting skills were at the bottom of my set and the billing became a low priority in the business. I didn’t understand my costs or expenses when I started my business. “I’ll figure that out later,” I thought, which was a mistake. It took me several years to hire a bookkeeper and looking back I wish I had hired her sooner.
Balancing Family and Social Life and Entrepreneurship
• Never for a second take any spare time for granted. Time is so precious when starting a business that you have to be always on the move and a step ahead of the game as much as possible…fix your computer problems right away, get your billing done early, answer all emails, burn the midnight oil, and arrange for carpool a week in advance. Having a strong support system if possible was a tremendous help for me when things fail, and they do. Make important decisions when your kids are asleep or at school. When they get a little older it’s great to have your kids involved in some way in the business. Everyone soon grows to appreciate the hard work and the fruits of your labor.
• Being a good leader at home and in your business requires respect from those around you, your employees and your kids, and that means you must respect them just as much.
• It’s important to try to carve out some time, somehow, for your relationships and friendships along the journey of growing a business. They are your much needed support system and you don’t want that to crumble. My friends tried to be supportive of the fact that I was constantly traveling and working trade shows after trade show, wearing myself out with little left to give.
How to know when to make the leap from Hobby to Career
• Recognizing consumer demand was key for me. As a hobby mainly, I built a strong base of fans in Boulder selling in coffee shops and local grocers, and as demand grew realized I could do the same regionally, and then nationally, which I knew would require a lot more time and resources and I soon had a career.
Lessons Learned from the Kitchen that Apply Today
• Don’t be overly committed to one idea or decision that might delay your expansion and growth. When my daughter created the first Bobo bar in my kitchen, it was delicious but dripping with corn syrup and butter. Over the years I went through several recipe changes and methods to get to the final four initial flavors and a shelf-ready product. Don’t be afraid to welcome new ideas and new people in your business.
• One thing that surprised me when Bobo’s took off was how much fun it was to see the success of the business. The satisfaction and joy I got from working hard was an unexpected bonus to the success.