This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com - #StartingABusiness
Jaime Schmidt started selling natural deodorant at farmer’s markets in 2010. By 2017, she sold her company to Unilever.
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In 2010, Jaime Schmidt took a local class on how to make shampoo. At the time, she was pregnant with her son, eager to experiment with crafting her own natural, nontoxic products. One thing led to another, and soon she succeeded in creating a natural deodorant “that actually worked,” branded as Schmidt’s. Fast forward seven years, and the deodorant she began selling at farmers markets became a top seller on shelves at Target, Whole Foods and Walmart.
Schmidt’s Naturals sold to Unilever for an undisclosed amount in 2017 (but Schmidt puts it in the “nine figures”). Now, she’s focused on her next cause: supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Earlier this year, alongside husband Chris Cantino, Schmidt launched the new media platform, Supermaker, dedicated to featuring, educating and inspiring entrepreneurs and innovative brands. Schmidt and Cantino also founded the investment fund Color, which specializes in supporting early stage companies led by women and other under-represented groups. Finally, Schmidt’s forthcoming book, Supermaker: Crafting Business on Your Own Terms, will offer an instructive, behind-the-scenes look at Schmidt’s business strategies, designed to inspire and advise entrepreneurs hoping to follow a similar path to startup success.
Schmidt was kind enough to share her guiding principles with us:
Start without the end in mind, but start
Was a major acquisition a part of Schmidt’s vision when she was formulating deodorant in her kitchen? Definitely not. At the time, Schmidt was pursuing a passion, driven by a deeply rooted desire to find her own purpose. “I was excited to take on this new identity as a mom, but it was also scary to think I was starting this new stage of life as a business founder at the same time,” says Schmidt.
After her son was born, Schmidt began selling her products at farmers markets, where the next step forward soon revealed itself. “I hadn’t even considered selling wholesale until representatives from local stores came up to me at markets and asked,” Schmidt admits. “I thought, wow, there’s some serious opportunity here. That’s when I really signed on to making Schmidt’s a legitimate business.”
With Supermaker, Schmidt is employing a model similarly driven by community development and customer engagement.
Supermaker’s purpose, according to Chris Cantino, is to “provide an alternative to otherwise homogeneous media that is not representative of the breadth of our society’s diversity.” And if you are wondering what defines a supermaker, Schmidt says you make the cut “if you’re on a mission to make a name for yourself, to better your own business or workplace, or to contribute to a more responsible and equitable society.”
It is obvious that Schmidt’s focus is on serving her audience, wherever that leads. “People from underrepresented and underestimated backgrounds are joining the startup ecosystem in record numbers, and we are here to cultivate a community and support system,” she says.
Focus on your focus group
Schmidt’s first customers were the people she met at local markets. Some began asking about new scents or gave her other feedback on the deodorant. Schmidt realized how much she could improve her product by listening to her focus group.
“I had an incredible community of customers in front of me, and I was able to build a product to their liking. From week to week, continuing all the way to our acquisition, I was focused on incorporating customer feedback directly into our product development strategy,” Schmidt says.
With Supermaker, Schmidt says that spirit of listening will continue. “We are conducting surveys and paying close attention to all the statistics around platform engagement and what types of content are performing the best to understand what our readers want to see more of. We just hosted our first flagship event, Grow Your Own Way, and in 2020, we’ll branch into new content forms, including podcast and publishing, among others,” she says.
Entrepreneurs can use the site as a founders’ focus group of sorts, too. Currently, the site features a growing number of articles exploring topics like systemic barriers to funding or growing a business, how founders manage their schedules while still working a 9-to-5, and advocacy for equality in workplaces and the startup community. The content is notably inclusive of earlier stage companies and founders of diverse backgrounds.
“There’s a huge amount of inspiration and education to be gained from other people’s journeys,” Schmidt says.
Carve out your space intentionally
Schmidt may not have intended to disrupt the natural products market early on, but she was certainly intentional about differentiating her brand from the start.
“I started with a homestead feel, with mason jars, because it fit the farmers market scene,” Schmidt says. “But then I realized that if I really wanted to take it to the next level and get it on store shelves, I’d have to modernize. That was one of my first investments in the business.” After a rebrand with a local design firm, Schmidt says her product looked like nothing else on shelves. The aesthetic was comparatively much more modern than the natural deodorant mainstays of the day.
But marketing and product performance were not the only way Schmidt’s products stood out.“I wanted to do something different than cliche deodorant smells like mountain fresh or chamomile, ”Schmidt explains. “I spent a considerable amount of time working with essential oils to get the most natural and sophisticated scent combinations. This was a big selling point.”
Schmidt is maintaining her enthusiasm for forward-looking design with Supermaker, which is rich with visual appeal, color and illustration. She and Cantino have cultivated a distributed team of talented up-and-coming designers who contribute to the site’s innovative, bold aesthetic.
Through Supermaker, Schmidt is disrupting business media at every point in the supply chain: starting with who is featured, how their story is told and who they are interviewed by.
“Our website is devoted to an inclusive business environment and bringing more attention to underrepresented makers and entrepreneurs — people who are generally left out of the spotlight. And with that, we are also very intentional who we hire — people from a diverse array of backgrounds and perspectives, predominantly women and people of color,” Schmidt says. “This also extends to our criteria for what qualifies as a worthwhile story. While other platforms might require significant traction before considering a feature, we publish a balance of content that’s relatable to day-one and first time entrepreneurs, but also those who are further along in their journey.”
Her No. 1 Rule: Say Yes Now Then Figure Out How
As you find your position in the market, unexpected opportunities will inevitably come your way. Some of these might feel overly challenging or intimidating. To rise to the challenge, Schmidt recommends trying out her own business mantra: “Say yes now then figure out how.”
That’s what helped Schmidt transition from a booth at a local farmers market to meetings with top retail buyers like Target. Today, the mantra remains Schmidt’s number one piece of advice to those taking on their own courageous entrepreneurship journey. Now that Schmidt has said yes to helping the most underestimated sector of entrepreneurs, she is doing an amazing job of figuring out how.
“Our investment fund Color, is where we are able to really add value through our experiences of building the brand and selling it. In growing Schmidt’s, we amassed a wealth of expertise and knowledge that we can now share with others, “ says Schmidt.
“The missions are so aligned between the fund, media platform and the book. Everything we are doing is working toward the same goal of supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs.”