By: Michael Stausholm, founder and CEO of Sprout World (sproutworld.com)
Building Sprout World, a thriving, multi-million dollar company from scratch has taught me a few lessons over the past eight years, so here a few learnings that I hope can inspire other entrepreneurs to take their idea or business to the next level.
- You don’t need brand new ideas to be successful
Good ideas are like gold. People spend their whole lives chasing a good idea. But often, people use it as an excuse for not launching their business and remaining stuck in the same unfulfilling routine. But here’s the thing: good ideas are overrated. You don´t need to reinvent the wheel to create a successful business because an idea is absolutely nothing if you don´t act on it.
The world is full of good ideas. We all have them now and then, some even repeatedly. But what matters is what steps you take to implement it. There are plenty of companies that achieve great things not because they had a great idea, but because they are taking products or services that have been around for ages, and just making them better. So, don’t wait around for divine inspiration for your next great idea because you might be waiting forever.
- It’s all about the team – not the idea
People often think that a good idea is the main reason why a company is successful. This is not true. You can have lots of good ideas, but if you don´t have a team to back them up and execute in a smart manner, then the ideas are worth nothing.
One of the things I spent a lot of time on when Sprout started to grow was hiring people. Finding the right candidates with the right attitude and skills was vital in the initial phase of building up a start-up. Initially I read through all the resumés and personally interviewed all the candidates for a given job.
Today, that is obviously not the case. It is impossible and I should not be involved in every hire any more. If you hire a great management team and strong managers, they will take care of that.
The most important thing when finding the right person is the mindset. Since we are (in some ways) still a startup with a passion for making an actual difference, sustainability and green business, you must show some interest in these topics.
But more importantly, you must be a team player and be willing to help across the board at all times. I still package pencils myself to help out in an emergency, and so does everyone else in the team.
Having a supportive team around you is crucial and it’s important to make sure that everyone feels some kind of ownership of the success that we are experiencing in Sprout. If your employees are successful, so is your business.
Company culture is also important. It’s your job to create an environment where everyone wants to jump out of bed every workday, because the job is never boring, and their colleagues are great. People often say that culture eats strategy for breakfast. That’s not true. Culture eats everything for breakfast, lunch and dinner too.
- Be led by passion, not money
This sounds like a cliché, but in my experience, money alone cannot drive you to success. Of course, making money motivates and helps you go that extra mile to achieve your goals. But if it had not been for my passion, I would have given up more than once; especially at the beginning when times were tough and I worked for months and months without getting paid. My passion has always been in the field of corporate sustainability. I lived in Indonesia for 14 years where I spent most of my time as a consultant helping big companies like Nike and Walmart towards more sustainable apparel production. I have always felt great satisfaction when I could see that I made a difference.
The passion for taking care of our environment and thinking in more eco-friendly ways is still what motivates me today when I wake up. We cannot save the planet just by planting our Sprout pencil stubs, but we CAN make people a bit more conscious about how and what they consume. So, never let money be the driver, always go with your passion. Then the money will follow
- Believe in yourself and don´t listen to critics
When I first started up Sprout, everyone around me was saying: “oh what a neat idea, but it can never be big business”. Even my best friend told me to give up and find a proper job after the first six months when I had no salary and was struggling to provide for myself and my son. At that moment it felt tempting to listen, but I had an inner belief in this project that I just could not ignore. So I decided to carry on and give everything I could for a period of another six months and fortunately things started to work out really well.
If you believe in something, then go ahead and don’t let people stop you, no matter how realistic or convincing they might sound.
That friend is today an investor and invested millions in the business. Always believe in yourself and what you do. If you don’t, no one else will.
- Think international
Think international, not just local. We started out in Denmark, where I come from and where our main office is located. Denmark is a wealthy country but it has a very small population with only 5.5 million people, thus the market is very limited. I soon realised that Denmark would be a test market in order to go international. If something works out really well in one country, it can often work out in other markets too. Today, less than 3 percent of our sales comes from Denmark; our biggest markets are Italy, US, Germany, UK and France.