From Idea to Reality: A One-Year Case Study on Launching a Successful Business

by Matt Moore on November 16, 2011 · 53 comments

in Money & Career

September 15, 2010

From: Matt
To: Colin, Charlie

Here’s a thought… we all have a reasonable amount of disposable income to invest. I say we push this talk into a seriously productive conversation and put our money where our mouth is. Let’s START A BUSINESS.

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This was taken from an actual email that I sent out to my friends, and now business partners, just over a year ago. At the time, all of us were at work, and in the process of catching up on life via email. We started out with the pretty typical topics of conversation: weekends, women (or lack thereof), and sports.  However, as shown above, the dialogue quickly turned.  This topic was born out of a frustration of sitting on the sidelines while success stories kept popping up around us.

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I’d love to see where WE could go in 1 – 2 months if we actually started brainstorming and developing an idea, investing, and letting it roll… I mean, how nice would it be for all of us to earn some extra bucks on the side for the very same amount of time we spend staying in touch. We need to get off our asses and put something together.

_____________________________________________________

It was a simple challenge: stop talking and start doing.  Within two hours our group had thrown out more than a handful of good ideas.  By the end of the day, the foundation for an investment in ourselves had been established.  After all, daydreaming is the fun part: it costs nothing, demands little, and the possibilities are endless.

Yet, starting a business is never easy.  With that being said, technology has afforded our generation the ability to create businesses much more efficiently and cheaply than ever before. By capitalizing on outsourcing and the power of the internet, creating a business in which you simply have to manage the moving parts is within reach for most of us.

Besides, becoming a small business entrepreneur has never been so enticing.  Let’s face it–in this economy it can be hard to find a traditional job, much less any job.  For those who have lost their jobs in corporate America, entrepreneurship can create an opportunity for financial independence by allowing you to become your own boss.  Even for those who have steady jobs or a main career objective, starting a business on the side can create another stream of income to help build wealth and give you options for your future.

In one of my earlier posts, I detailed my own model for self-publishing my book, Have Her Over for Dinner.  The positive feedback received from readers such as you made it clear that being open about the wins, losses, mistakes, failures, and triumphs of my own endeavors can help motivate you to push forward on your own goals and dreams.

So, here’s a look behind the scenes of my latest venture, Moonshine; a gentleman’s cologne.

(MONTHS 1 – 3)

IDEA/CONCEPT

Why cologne?  Good question.  I prefer being the underdog in a world full of corporate players that are “too big to be good.”  Similar to Brett–I’m sure many people balked at his idea of creating another men’s blog–especially considering the competition in the marketplace.  Two books later, and with hundreds of thousands of loyal readers and fans, his success is proof positive that being the biggest isn’t always necessarily the best.

Besides, I think wearing cologne is manly.  And despite what great marketing execs may say, I didn’t feel like I needed a big-time celebrity to tell me what I should smell like. Instead, we thought the market could support an independent cologne that smelled great, without all of the hype.

PARTNERS

There’s an old saying: “If you want to lose a friend, go into business with them.”  Before becoming involved with business partners (especially friends), you should be clear on each other’s personality types, business sense, and overall goals for the business.  Without exception, a legal contract should be executed by each party which clearly outlines responsibilities and rewards for each individual.   In my experience, most partnerships fail due to a lack of communication.  Similar to personal relationships, if you do not communicate with your business partners, issues are bound to arise.  One person feels as though he is putting in more work than the other.  The other person questions spending habits or business practices.  These issues can be solved with open and effective communication.  In the end, focus on the positives, and let business be business.   

With the idea in hand, my friends and I got to talking specifics.  It soon became apparent that we would need to be able to switch between friendship and business mode when analyzing what each person could viably bring to the table.

For this venture, I partnered with two friends from college, Colin and Charlie.  Colin is an attorney in Dallas, TX, so he was able to handle all of the business set-up and contract work that was required for such a start-up–saving us thousands of dollars.  Charlie sells insurance in NC and is also a part-time model.  He was able to acquire product liability insurance on the cheap, in addition to connecting us with other wholesalers in the fashion industry.  Me?  Well, I finally got to use my degree in International Business and French when it came time to sourcing cologne in France or products abroad.  In essence, we created our business, product, and partnership around each other’s strengths.

Yet there was one thing we were all lacking–knowledge of the fragrance industry.  Instead of worrying about what we didn’t know–giving us an excuse to NOT move forward–we worked through it.  In fact, it became a strength of our product to not constrain ourselves by what we deemed as the “status quo” in the industry.  If you want a celebrity endorsement or a half-naked man peddling cologne to you, we are not your guys, and Moonshine is not your cologne.

(MONTH 3 – 6)

RESEARCH/TESTING

It’s one thing to have a great idea, but it’s another thing to see if that idea is actually viable in the market. Technology allows us to quickly access potential competitors, markets, and opportunities.  A simple internet search will give you the opportunity to research all aspects of your business including potential suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, etc.–depending on your business model.  During this phase, you can also begin to estimate risk vs. return.  You should be able to accurately portray how much you stand to lose or win on an investment before moving forward.

Now was the time to start doing some research.  During our testing phase, we found out pretty quickly that most of our demographic (stores, press, critics, buyers, etc.) wouldn’t give our product a second look unless it was made in France.  Although quotes for producing the product domestically turned out to be much cheaper, in the end we decided to partner with a parfumeur in Grasse, France.  This provided credibility in the marketplace.

This is also the phase where you can afford to make mistakes.  We ordered samples from suppliers to test out potential bottles, caps, labels, etc.  After countless sample orders, we at last settled on a final product . . .

But something went wrong.  Our bottle supplier ended up running out of our choice of bottle before we could order.  It was a major mishap, as all of our packaging, labels, caps, and “look” of the brand had been built around the bottle.  After scouring the internet–and contacting suppliers around the world–we actually ended up finding a new bottle that we liked even more.  What boils down to two short sentences now, was actually two long months of additional cold calls, uncertainty, and frustration.  In other words, be ready for surprises.  Take on challenges one at a time and don’t let one issue steer the entire ship off course.

After getting final estimates on the cost of cologne, bottles, boxes, caps, and all of our other supplies, we put together a simple Excel spreadsheet to analyze our risk vs. return.

In the end, the numbers made sense (down to the dollar, actually).  It was time to move forward.

COMMITMENT

After careful deliberation, finding the right business relationships, and testing the viability and potential return of the idea–it’s time to put your money where your mouth is–seriously.  Until that money is laid out on the line, you will continue to let time, work, family, friends, weekends, and relationships push back a potential gold mine of an idea.  I actually learned this very important lesson in business from running marathons.  Until my money for the race was paid, I never actually trained that hard.  Same thing in business–once you lay out the cash, your instincts are to find a way to get it back.

We set up a bank account, giving everyone in the partnership access to the online banking profile (transparency).  In addition, our email account and websites were all set up so that we could all access each other’s profiles to view all of the “goings on” from each partner.  Of course, this is a personal choice–most of us travel so regularly that we wanted to be able to quickly access each other’s accounts if something was needed on the fly.  However, every relationship and business is different, and privacy and trust should be addressed and respected.

(MONTHS 6 – 9)

FULFILLMENT

It’s time to go to work.

We decided to base our operations out of Greensboro, NC (Charlie’s home).  We had access to free storage (Charlie’s parents’ basement), and Charlie’s flexible work schedule allowed him to take charge of fulfillment and shipping.  We determined that it was much cheaper to do the physical labor of filling, bottling, and packaging ourselves, so Colin and I flew to Greensboro to assist Charlie.   On top of that, this idea, this side business, this grandiose figment of a plan, had somehow transformed into more than just an investment of our money–it was an experience.  We all wanted to be together to bring that first bottle into existence.

Then there was the work–and lots of it!  After a long weekend of bottling product, shooting photos, building a website, and drinking a few beers–we were now in business.

LAUNCH/SALES/PUBLICITY

Now that you have a product and business, it’s time to go let the world know about it.  This is the time where you will hear the word “no” more than you’ve ever heard it before in your entire life.  I mentioned in my previous article that I set a goal of getting at least 10 “no’s” each day–that way I knew I was working hard enough.  Depending on your business, people are going to shoot down your ideas all of the time.  Use that negative energy as motivation to make something positive.

Armed with product in hand, we went to work reaching out to stores and press outlets.  Let’s face it–cold calling is tough, but it’s par for the course.  Remain persistent by following up with phone calls, emails, etc. until you get your yes–or no.

Fortunately, we knew this idea was going to be successful pretty early on.  Having set our sights on the top independent men’s stores throughout the country, we were only a week’s worth of sales calls in, and we’d landed our product in over 80% of our target stores.  Trust me, this was not due to slick sales tactics, rather it was the result of our tedious research and testing.  In the end, the hardest part of the sales process was simply finding the right buyer–not pushing the product.

Regarding publicity–I would argue that having a solid online campaign is more successful these days than the traditional route of magazines, newspapers, and television.  Of course, getting a spot on the TODAY show never hurts!

It’s important to also know your limitations.  Macy’s isn’t, and shouldn’t be, knocking on our door.  We knew from day one that where we placed our product was just as important as the product itself.  By defining success in attainable limits centered on branding, and not buyers, we’ve set ourselves up for those higher aspirations down the road.

(MONTHS 9 – Onward)

Once the engines are on and the boat is moving, somebody has to keep steering the ship.  A successful sales and publicity campaign can allow you to quickly recoup your investment and turn a profit.  However, things can turn south in a hurry.  Successful CEO’s, managers, and entrepreneurs are those that can manage the day-to-day tasks while also having an eye on the big-picture.  Building relationships, maintaining satisfied customers, and remaining innovative are all crucial elements for continued success.

Now that our venture is successful, we are hard at work on expanding our brand.  Realizing that a large order from a major supplier or partnership might take weeks to complete, we’ve created a contingency plan to handle the fulfillment through a third-party supplier.  In addition to working on Moonshine, we are in the process of developing our women’s fragrance, SpeakeasyAn Intoxicating Aroma, set to debut next year.

The bottom line, though, is this.  I’m constantly reminding myself that success is what we make of it.  Sometime into the process, we agreed that if we could create something together that we were proud of, whether or not external influences agreed with us, it would be a success.  If we came away with nothing more than a great story of our semi-successful business venture, we were already a success.  Well, fortunately our little idea has proven to be more successful than we could have ever imagined–but our eyes still remain focused on the “big win.”  Sephora?  Nordstroms?  Time will tell.

In the end, we earned our success, story, experience, and so much more.  Chances are you’ve had an even better idea.  Today is the day to make something happen.  Take it from me, you’re worth the investment.

Read the follow-up article, Reality in Motion, which was published one year after this article.

Have you started a venture or small business? Share your tips with us in the comments. Also, this is your chance to tell us about the great businesses you guys are trying to get going. Share your links and your story–tell us all about what you’ve been working on or hope to start working on!

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

1 nagy November 16, 2011 at 7:01 pm

És mégis lesz örökmozgó (perpetuum mobile) orokmozgo.perpetuum@gmail.com

2 Richard November 16, 2011 at 8:12 pm

I have had, and do have small and large business ideas all the time. I would love to start one of them, and I will, but I feel like I have to finish school first (half way through my J.D.). What do you think? Am I using school as an excuse? Sometimes I feel like I should just go for it now; it’s not like life is going to get any less busy once my wife and I have kids. Right?

3 Everic November 16, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Guys, I am a huge fan of your site! This post just gave me more confidence to keep trucking with a business I’m trying to start, although it will be an uphill battle. You see, I have an idea for a website that needs to be heavily coded to be successful. However, I am beneath a novice when it comes to web development, and being a recent graduate, money is too tight to hire a website developer. I’ve been knee deep in tutorials for months now, but am nowhere near where I want to be. I know my idea is a great one, because no one’s ever done it before, but if I don’t get the wheels rolling soon, I’m scared the concept will fall by the wayside… Or worse, someone with the capabilities will cook up a similar site. What suggestions could you give me? I’m willing to try anything now.

4 Rob November 16, 2011 at 10:09 pm

@Everic: In brief (because this is a HUGE topic), any website requiring more than basic html and css to function (meaning requiring back end coding or scripting, and it sounds like yours does) is going to be a huge amount of work. Your time is likely better spent looking for ways to efficiently earn the money to have a developer do the heavy lifting for you.

Consider having a proof of concept built, or building one yourself, and then shopping that idea to VC (venture capital) investors. Depending on the size of your project, you could try kickstarter.com.

5 Joel November 16, 2011 at 10:47 pm

This is great! I love reading stories like this. There’s no excuse not to with the tools we have at our disposal.

Make no mistake, starting a business is a monumental task. Being self employed requires incredible focus, determination, and discipline. It’s NOT easy! You will work more hours than you ever would at a ‘regular’ job. At the same time, when you are working at something you are truly passionate about, you will find you are more willing and able than ever! Find something you love, make a realistic plan, and do work son!

6 Nick November 16, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Everic – with the bevy of CMS (content management system) based websites out there, there’s really no need to know anything about coding to make a website. Set up a hosting account through a site like GoDaddy (as easy as registering for / buying anything else online) and use something like Wordpress. Download a free (or paid, if you’re so inclined) theme and start cranking away. You can worry about custom functionality when you have more capital, for now get the site up, get some content (preferably TONS of GOOD, ORIGINAL content) and keep on truckin. A lot of websites take a while to get significant amounts of traffic – think 3 to 6 months at minimum – but with enough elbow grease and a little luck you’ll have a successful online business :)

7 Chris in FLA November 16, 2011 at 11:54 pm

I’ve finally committed to taking the family farm public. For over a year I’ve been working up to transforming our hunting lands into a one of a kind wilderness resort. See what a mix of open spaces, 2nd Amendment liberty and a vision can do. AoM rocks. btw, I’m no genius web geek, but my partner and I built this one our selves. with Wix.com’s Flash driven platform. It turned out pretty nice we think.

8 Bryan A. Cheung November 17, 2011 at 12:40 am

I am currently recording the steps of my entrepreneurial adventure. .

Inspired by the plights of others, our memoir (www.inspireb4expiring.blogspot.com) hopes to serve as a roadmap for aspiring entrepreneurs. We update our blog 2-3 times a week; This week’s article is: ‘Strategic Thinking’. 6 months ago, we also began Tweeting. Tweeting 1 inspirational quote a day: (www.twitter.com/get_turned_on).

We’re launching in March 2012 so from now until then you can see how we built our business. As there is still much to improve on, please advise on how we can make our site better.

9 Mark November 17, 2011 at 1:47 am

Back in ’08 I saw an opportunity to start a business but the time was never right. After 2 layoffs and a divorce I’ve spent the last 10 months going through the process to find product, build a website and start getting the word out. I’ve HAD to learn things that I’d rather have paid people to do but when money is tight, well, you do with what you have, and I’m all I’ve got right now. It’s been hard but also so very rewarding.

Now I’ve the website up, the product in house and ready to ship. Getting the word out is defiantly the hardest part, a daily struggle. I’ve spent more time in front of a computer than I ever did in an office but to be honest, I’ve gotten used to my time being my own and I am not excited about finding an 8-5 where I can punch a clock ever again. An internet business lets me keep my time my own and I keep that like a carrot hanging above my head.

The best part up to this point? Getting a logo designed and business cards printed. I felt like I’d made it then.

Best of luck!!

10 chris November 17, 2011 at 6:00 am

I recently started my company based on my love of cigars. I now do cigar sampling events with a focus on small cigar manufacturers (boutique) cigars as my vendors, along with a local vendor for all of our accessory lines.
I’ve been in business around 8 months and for sure its not been easy. I am finding that marketing is my greatest challenge and is often cost prohibiting. Best of luck to all of you.

11 Mike Ramsey November 17, 2011 at 7:58 am

The key concepts that are illustrated here in successfully launching a business:
(1) Do what you know.
(2) Have another source of income.
(3) Use human capital to compensate for inadequate financial capital.
(4) Stay in long enough to learn from your mistakes.

One year though? Please; anyone can last a year. The test is making it five years. Let’s see if you’re still friends, or still in business together after that. I would be interested in reading your experiences then.

12 Sam Spade November 17, 2011 at 8:28 am

I just opened up an IT consulting/computer repair business. Only have a few clients, but I have yet to advertise. I’m looking at maybe 10 hours/week while working my day job and see where things go from there. I think the key is to stay at it aggressively which has been my undoing. Once I stop working then doubts about succeeding start floating around my head. With another full time job and 2 little girls at home time is my biggest limiting factor. Otherwise I’m operating on pretty much no overhead.

I’m working on starting up a service where I create a reliable solution for data backups next year and then I will also start analyzing their system security.

13 Joel November 17, 2011 at 8:46 am

I really enjoyed this article and thought I would share my recent endeavours.

The idea is the easy part we have them all the time, I have a folder on my desktop called ‘Million Dollar Idea’ and of course I believe all of them are winners. Whether the idea will be successful or not all comes down to how committed and passionate you are.

Money is a big issue for most entrepreneurs. Most of my ideas over the years have required a lot of capital and being a student at the time I really didn’t have much of that. When I found an idea that I could fund I attacked it at full ball. But don’t let this hold you back, one thing I have learnt along the way is that there are many investors out there with way too much money willing to have a crack at something they like, so if you don’t have the capital and your idea is good you need to work on a investment pitch. The reason I didn’t want to take this approach is because at the end of the day I want to run things my way and always be my own boss.

One thing this article teaches us is that your idea doesn’t even need to be that unique, its great if your idea is innovative but this is definitely not a requirement. I thought my idea was super innovated, I have since learnt there are some similar products on the market, but don’t let competitors bring you down, if I can get just 1% of my target audience my business will turn over about 250 million dollars a year.

What was my idea.
Basically I did a little work for a boat builder, where we would clock our hours via writing it on a white board, you would be amazed at the number of business that still do something similar, calendar, timecards, etc. (Research-Do people need your product).
You can imagine the problems that a primitive system like this would cause. So I made them a simple spread sheet that could calculate the employees hours automatically. This was also nothing really special.
The true idea came when we decided to make this web based. 10 months of coding later, we have a system that can clock employees worked hours and automatically calculate the payroll (tax, super, overtime, annual leave, long service leave, sick leave, etc) from the timesheet thus all the previously problems were eliminated.
As another bonus the time taken to calculate their wages went from about 2 hour to less than 5min!
We are now at the LAUNCH/SALES/PUBLICITY stage, where we are just trying to sign up as many people as possible and get the Microkeeper name out there.

You can’t see much from the home page but our site is http://www.microkeeper.com.au
Also its just for the Australia accounting system at this stage, sorry.

One thing I would also suggest is that if you don’t have the skills to develop your product, you need to either learn them or have very deep pockets especially in technical fields, while I do have decent coding skills, I knew nothing about accounting when I started, so I hit the books.
We have seen many IT setups that have cost entrepreneurs over $250,000 because they needed to outsource the coding and the people coding it for them are not passionate about the product so it ends up being an average product. We have spent about $8,000 to date and the site is turning a small profit.

Hope this helps someone,
Feel free to ask any questions.
Joel

14 Shawn November 17, 2011 at 9:13 am

Interestingly, today is day 90 for my first business. We started NodePing (http://nodeping.com), a server monitoring service, because we couldn’t find any service for ‘our’ price point – cheap.

Here’s to persistence and courage. Both are fine qualities that should be found in men.

15 Ian Szalinski November 17, 2011 at 10:28 am

I advocate starting a business with at least three possible revenue streams. Pre-startup, you can only guess market performance and if expectations aren’t met in one channel, having others can make sure you stay afloat. This will also give you resources to tweak the other streams.

16 Brent Pittman November 17, 2011 at 11:50 am

Very inspiring story! It’s like Band of Brothers, but with in business suits (on Friday denim day). Makes me want to try Moonshine myself. I’m re-starting out myself with blogging and financial coaching. Ian, I’m also working on the multiple streams of income. I just need a few of those streams to turn into rivers within the next few months.

17 Rusty K November 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm

https://sites.google.com/site/strappingladshop/home

I’ve been making suspension parts for old MGs for a while now. Not a huge market obviously, but I do it for the MG community. I just happen to make a few bucks in the process.

18 Matthew November 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Loved the article, and definitely planning on trying some of the cologne. Me and my best friend started up our own skateboard company almost a year ago now. We’ve still got a long way to go to hitting some of our larger goals, but we’ve started to build a decent reputation in our area. And that’s what the skateboarding business is all about: reputation.
We also just celebrated getting the first store to carry our boards. We’ve definitely learned a lot, endured a lot of cold calls and “no’s”; but that is also the fun of it, sticking it to the people who told you that your efforts were gonna fail every time you experience a success. Good luck to all you entrepreneurs out there! Stake your business on honesty and integrity and do good work, I’m sure you’ll make it.

And check us out:
http://www.fraydskateboarding.tumblr.com

(using a blog as a website, totally cost effective)

19 Justin November 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I’m writing in the few minutes I have to spare because I like this site and feel like sharing.
About a year ago today I decided to get into personal chef/catering. I am still moving forward with every thing still to gain. Staring out I found it amazing to see the limitless options in foodservice. I had o narrow it down into a niche, and then a niche into a niche. I also needed to become a part of he community and become known to the other chefs and establishments in the area. I have a child and a wife who works late, my day is devoted to childcare for a good part of the day. My body also requires sleep, i would like to work round the clock but haven’t made I yet. So getting out is a challange, and it allows for slow growth,
I also have fostered relationships with my local government, nutrition centers, health advocates, farmers, culinary teachers and church. These relationships help foster a more solid base of credibility as well as business leads. They also boost my confidence to keep working when things seem bleak.
Business cards are great ice beakers too.
If I had the time, I would be cleaning drains for more contacts, starting conversations, taking more risk in money and time.
I’m off to get my kid, I’ll work in some work time. This kid time also helps to develop ideas to work on.
Good luck men, you can do it… And just do it.

20 Justinju November 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I’m writing in the few minutes I have to spare because I like this site and feel like sharing.
About a year ago today I decided to get into personal chef/catering. I am still moving forward with every thing still to gain. Staring out I found it amazing to see the limitless options in foodservice. I had o narrow it down into a niche, and then a niche into a niche. I also needed to become a part of he community and become known to the other chefs and establishments in the area. I have a child and a wife who works late, my day is devoted to childcare for a good part of the day. My body also requires sleep, i would like to work round the clock but haven’t made I yet. So getting out is a challange, and it allows for slow growth,
I also have fostered relationships with my local government, nutrition centers, health advocates, farmers, culinary teachers and church. These relationships help foster a more solid base of credibility as well as business leads. They also boost my confidence to keep working when things seem bleak.
Business cards are great ice beakers too.
If I had the time, I would be cleaning drains for more contacts, starting conversations, taking more risk in money and time.
I’m off to get my kid, I’ll work in some work time. This kid time also helps to develop ideas to work on.
Good luck men, you can do it… And just do it.

21 Dan November 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Awesome story guys, as always. I’m on the verge of starting a side business and love to hear stories like this.

Side question….is there any way to get a sample of the cologne for those of us who live in places you don’t have distribution yet?

22 Brad November 17, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Awesome post! You are my hero! Yes, I am trying to build a relevant and different site about fitness from my standpoint. I am a hardgainer, cancer survivor and have been deployed with the military. I just need to tie all that into the site somehow…

23 Jordan Howard November 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Brilliant. I’ve had an idea brewing for about a year and as soon as I am in a place where it would work (I currently live in Korea) I’m going to hit the ground running. It definitely needs to be fueled by success stories such as this or it won’t go anywhere.

24 Jesse November 17, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Awesome, inspiring story. Thank you for sharing.

This is the type of story that makes you push a little harder when things are tough because you know that effort = success to some degree no matter what.
Best wishes for long term success.

I will be buying a bottle to evaluate and if it is a good as it appears I will be recommending it to everyone I can.

25 Gary V November 18, 2011 at 4:26 am

I’ve been working on a small time Idea for over a year now… It’s small time and won’t do much..Just some bumper sticker slogan. But I want to work on my entrepreneurial skills (I went to college for this?) I’ll let you know how it goes by working on my writing skills.

26 Travis November 18, 2011 at 6:00 am

This article is great. I recently started my first business after years of ideas that I never followed through with. I’ve thought of over 100 ideas over the past four or five years before I pulled the trigger on my first entrepreneurial adventure. My main motivation was going to work and hating my jobs. Every day my bosses made me mad I pushed a little harder to get my business off the ground. I’m 24, not getting any younger, working 50+ hours a week, and decided to just take the plunge and dive headfirst into starting my business.

It’s challenging and very rewarding and everyday I overcome a new challenge it pushes me to keep going. I’ve built my first website and been complemented on it by some very large companies and it feels great. I’ve made connections with buyers, done all my own marketing spending $0.00 and really started to build a name for my small company as it grows. Things seam so much harder before you start them and I would encourage anyone wanting to start their own business to just do it. Through all excuses to the side and just start your business one way or another. Starting is by far the hardest part.

My business is http://www.petalumasupplyco.com and if you don’t mind checking it out I would greatly appreciate any and all feedback and criticism haha. And if you see something you like don’t be shy to make a purchase and help a small business out.

27 RockerCoder November 18, 2011 at 9:17 am

Nice article… I’m on my way to starting things too…

I’m a web developer and it seems one little project Ive done with a friend will start making some income from ads, which is nice because I set it up so I never have to do maintenance on it at all for it to keep working, so it’s like releasing a boat in a river…

that’s my plan currently, I’d like to try various projects that could give be various sources of income, even if it’s not much

now I wanna release another simple project Ive been working for some time, it’s a bit weird for me since there’s stuff I barelly have an idea how to do(like marketing) and it scares me… but I guess I’ll only know if I actually get it out and try ;)

some people said you don’t ever need a developer with Content-Management-Systems, themes & etc, well, that’s not true, it depends on each business… anyway, if any of you wanna talk business with a developer you can hit me up salgado.breno@gmail.com

28 Mr Rui November 18, 2011 at 9:48 am

maybe they’ll copy that http://www.nylonguysmag.com/

29 jeff November 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm

You never talked about the product. How did you create the scent your trying to market? The business is a matter of process, but I would have thought that the product would have been at least relivant to the creation of the form of the business.

30 Sean November 19, 2011 at 3:00 am

Great article. As someone who’s researching business ventures, it’s nice to read a story of success, rather than a plea to not start a business in this economy.

31 Phil November 19, 2011 at 11:18 pm

$72? Seriously?

32 Evan R November 20, 2011 at 2:47 am

Glad to see an entrepreneurial post on this site!! Small businesses make up a hefty chunk of your local economy. Small business owners enjoy more flexible hours, income, and possible growth, and feel more fulfilled doing something they care about! This post inspires me to spend more of my own free time on a business venture involving something that I love.

Have to echo Phil’s point though: $72, seriously? The same size bottle of an amazing Armani scent is selling for less than that!

33 Cory C November 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Great Post! I might just echo some thoughts on the last two comments on the price. From the limited knowledge I have on cologne the $72 is very reasonable when you consider the fact that the owners of Moonshine have very limited economies of scale and other factors that would help them decrease the price. Major producers such as Armani are selling milions of bottles each year which gives them a much larger bargaining position with suppliers.

34 Phil November 20, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Cory, while I appreciate the economies of scale fully, it’s not the buyer’s problem. It’s up to the makers of the product to compete. Pricing it where they are, I’m assuming they are hoping that the niche they have will attract enough buyers to help them scale up and then reduce price, but at the price they are at, they are eliminating the majority.

So, yes, possibly could be seen as reasonable for a niche buyer with plenty of disposable income. Not reasonable for most. If the price were half what it is, I’d buy a bottle to try it out and support them. Where it is, no chance.

Regardless, I’m all for starting an independent business and wish them the very best of luck.

35 Ken November 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm

$72 is way too much for me to pay without having smelled the cologne. Sure, my good colognes are similar in price, but I know that I love those ones.

I’d recommend that they buy some small sampler bottles to sell a small sample for people to inexpensively try the scent on themselves (and see how it reacts individually.)

36 Jerod November 21, 2011 at 10:33 am

Great article, and it’s very similar to the process myself and a few colleagues are doing right now with our company Wilderness Athlete. Started out as good simple products, expanding the line as revenue increases, and in the process branch out a bit (apparel, packs, etc.).

We all work our day jobs and spend 10-20 hours a week (fulfillment of orders, however, is taken care of by one of the partners other small business ventures). It’s a challenge and a struggle at times, but we are headed in the right direction.

37 Dave November 21, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Matt, Colin and Charlie,
I love the small batch cologne concept. There is clearly a premium experience to be had here. Have you thought about numbering and dating the bottles? Regardless, great job! I live in Atlanta and will be stopping by Indie-Pendent (one of my favorite shops) tomorrow. It’s smart that you guys are using small shops for retail. Buying a bottle locally also helps these small shops thrive. Can’t wait to try it out!

Brett,
Thanks for posting this insightful case study. In my experience, there’s nothing more old-school Americana than starting your own business, regardless of the size. In fact, my friends & I built a startup after being inspired by your How to Shave Like Your Grandpa post. We initially set out to make the ultimate aftershave lotion. We wound up revising our market strategy after we figured out that while our product is great as an aftershave lotion, it’s INCREDIBLE as something else.

I agree completely with Matt’s assessment that “once you once you lay out the cash, your instincts are to find a way to get it back”. I also believe there’s something more valuable than profit that you get in return; the Experience.

By starting (and funding) your own company, you’re purchasing an Experience that no college course, book, or blog will ever teach. Even if you lose, you’ve gained a priceless perspective on what its like to own a small business in America. Let the significance of that statement sink in for a minute…

We started our company with the mentality of, “Let’s make something amazing, and only focus on breaking even”. This freed us from what I call the “Balance Sheet Mindset”. For example, when being presented with ingredients options for our lotion, we never made cost comparisons. Cost simply didn’t matter, so long as we could at least break even in the end. As a result, we’ve created a product that larger companies simply can’t compete with. Can you imagine what happens to the 1st guy in the boardroom who suggests “Let’s make something so great that we break even”?

I believe our company and Moonshine have a ‘Field of Dreams’ approach in common. It’s the invaluable principle of focusing your efforts around pride rather than profit. By creating something that you yourself would purchase… something special that no one else offers… and make it available to the masses, people will buy it in droves (at least that’s been our experience). Simply put, “If you build it, they will come.”

You can check out our product at http://www.SolotionForMen.com

Again, great job guys. You’ve created a product to be proud of.

38 Phil November 22, 2011 at 10:15 am

Dave, not only are you selling whack-it lotion, which is ridiculous enough, but you charge $25 a tube for whack-it lotion?

LOL.

39 Dan Bradley November 22, 2011 at 10:33 am

Looking forward to buying this cologne soon.

40 Dave November 22, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Phil,
I want to be sure not to hijack Moonshine’s overall encouraging thread by discussing the healthy merits of using the right tool for the job, but I would like to point out that you could grab a free tube just by submitting a clever enough catch phrase to our site’s Catch Phrase Contest. You’re already halfway there with ‘whack-it lotion’.
You can do it!

41 Nicholas November 22, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Nice, good stuff!

If future article are written on the subject, one question I always have for creating a product is PATENTS. At what stage in the process should I apply for a patent, if at all? At the very beginning? Or after some market research? Or does it depend on the product?

For example, does Moonshine have any patents or trademarks, and if so, at what stage in the process were these obtained?

Some product-based companies getting weighed down by the patent costs and that prevents them from ever getting off the ground…

42 Tony November 23, 2011 at 2:52 am

I’m confused. Did you guys come up with a unique formula for a new cologne? Or can you look to places (like France) to find lesser known colognes to bottle and label as you see fit?

43 James November 26, 2011 at 10:27 pm

@Nicholas, you seem to have a gap in your understanding of intellectual property. A lot of people do, unfortunately.

You copyright a piece of creative artwork (book, film, picture, etc.)
You trademark your company logo and product names and packaging graphics.
You patent a new invention. Think “lightbulb”. Think “velcro”. Think “crazy new technology thing”. Etc.
You can also patent the ornamental design of a functional product, with a “design patent” (like the unique shape of a classic Coke bottle).

What is so earth-shatteringly innovative in their cologne venture that deserves a patent? Their subtle play on consumer niche interest? That is a good business model, not a patentable invention. Now, they most definitely should trademark their company logo and product names. As for the bottle, since they mention that they simply choose the design from a bottle manufacturer, then the bottle manufacturer would be the people patenting the bottle, not Matt and the gang.

As for your question in particular, I don’t know the actual time you should patent your various things, but I would assume as quickly as possible/necessary in the whole development of the product, because you know that if you don’t patent it, someone else could before you.

44 R.G. Piovesana November 29, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Matt,

Great article and kudos on your success! Action is always the first step of courage, as anyone who’s moved from the dream stage of business to the actual reality finds out. And, as far as the price, if you’re in the black and product is moving, the price is right!

I like the focus you put on research and determining your particular market. In researching our business, we noticed a gap between small, standard-setting companies making products for niche markets like law enforcement, and the larger consumer arena. We set out to bridge this with the creation of our company, Ridgeland Outfitters. If you’re looking for unique, best-of-industry firearms accessories, hunting equipment and outdoor gear that you can’t find elsewhere, check us out – http://www.ridgelandoutfitters.com

So, now that the first year is under your belt, are you planning another article about the unique challenges the sophomore year brings? That’d be interesting! Here’s to continued success…

45 Benjamin December 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm

February will mark a full year of operation for my small business, http://www.baryonyxknife.com

It’s been a challenging year as I started out–and still am–small but I feel my success is assured due to my intimate knowledge of the market, industry, and the sector of that market on which I’ve focused: low-cost, high-value knives and tools which are hand-inspected before stocked on the website to assure they meet our quality standards and are free from defects.

Also I’ve been working on the development of exclusive designs, and have submitted a couple of them for consideration to a major cutlery producer, which is possibly going to pick them up in their 2013 line. I was able to make that connection through a friend of mine who happens to be the company’s chief designer. Networking is incredibly important, and opens the door for opportunities like that. If you aren’t involved already, get out there and connect!

46 Caleb December 4, 2011 at 10:41 pm

If you have an idea, go with it. My dad and grandfather started an exterminating business that has grown to be a very successful one on Charlotte, NC. I’m going to be taking over the reins one day, but in the meantime I’m doing my part for preparing by getting a college education in marketing and economics so I can better run things. Another thing that you can do, instead of having one business you have everything dedicated to, don’t be afraid to have several businesses. Use money from this enterprise to invest in others. For example, if you own a McDonald’s franchise, open another. Open a Bojangles too. The possibilities are endless.

47 Andrew Pennington December 7, 2011 at 12:20 am

Guys,

Awesome job with the article, and congrats on the business.

I love reading about the struggles of an entrepreneur, as I think too many people get caught up in the ” this (enter catchy web 2.0 company name) made 500 million in 6 months” idea we see everywhere.

And yes, there are very successful companies that are extremely fast moving…. Hats off to em’… But truth is, you’re gonna hear no more than yes, and see long hours more than easy money.

However, entrepreneurs move this world, and without them, it could very well stop.

With that said.

I hope you can check out my business contractoryardsale.com. It’s an online marketplace for people to buy and sell surplus and salvage building and home improvement materials.

I started my business when I was 21, itll be officially a year old on the 18th of this month. With college, a business, and the pursuit of ladies, I can identify directly with your struggle.

48 Dustin December 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Great article! Very inspiring and it’s strikingly similar to the process our company went through to become Man Patch (adventure patches).

We work our day jobs and spend our night fulfilling orders. It’s a challenge to get the product in stores but we are defineitly headed in the right direction.

49 Ace December 13, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Inspiring and sums up what practicing “The Art of Manliness” is all about; courage.

50 Pete Visintin December 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Great article. Inspiring story. My friend and I started a fitness business in our home town 2 years ago and haven’t looked back since. My next goal is to become a full-time blogger. Keep up the good work fellas.

51 billyburgess November 22, 2012 at 4:37 am

@Everic, consider Co-Founders Lab, pretty much a match-making service between business people, marketers, and developers.

http://www.cofounderslab.com/

52 Anoop March 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm

I’ve been thinking about starting a cologne business, like yours (my cologne would be catered to a different audience, so I doubt I would be competition) but I was wondering how does one go about finding a parfumeur in France who will create a custom cologne. Google has not been so kind.

53 Denver Todd September 5, 2013 at 7:44 pm

I started a small business over a year ago using the skillset and doing the same work as at my last job; I just went independent. Here are my tips for success…1. Return all phone calls promptly. 2. If you can’t do that, call and tell them when you will have more time. 3. When in the customer home, I try to be polite. If I want to sit down at their table, I ask permission, “may I sit here while I write?” 4. Set expectations: “I will call you between 9 and 10 tomorrow after I do some research. Will that work for you?” 5. Compete against yourself, not your competition. 6. Take the good and the bad (customers, that is). 7. Be joyful.

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