Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in sustainability, but not sure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ben Bright, Founder of EcoSmart Supply Co. Ben is also a law student from Montreal, QC, Canada.
Tell us all about your business...
EcoSmart Supply Co.'s mission is to eradicate single-use plastics. Our customers on the B2B level are food distributors and restaurants. On the D2C level, our demographic ranges from environmentally conscious consumers too young parents looking for alternatives for their children.
What's your background and motivation to grow as a solopreneur?
I am a business graduate from Dalhousie University and currently pursuing my Civil Law Degree at the University of Ottawa. I was initially attracted to this business when traveling through South East Asia in 2019, and I came across various eco-alternatives to single-use plastic straws. I am motivated to rid our planet of single-use plastics, encouraging more people to become eco-conscious, and breaking the stigma of people thinking the only way to do "your part" is to go to the extremes. You do not have to sell your car for a horse and buggy or replace the lights in your house with candles. Small steps lead to significant change, and that's the same way we should be treating plastic pollution, our environment, and climate change.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
We launched during COVID-19 and survived.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a solopreneur?
One of the most challenging things about being a business owner and a Law Student is transitioning my headspace and time management. I could be preparing for a law exam or in a class lecture and have my business partner, a customer, or a supplier needing my attention ASAP. As a small business owner, I wear many hats. Some days I'm selling, some days I am delivering and prepping orders, and others I'm making deals with suppliers and trying to match client requests with manufacturing capabilities. Being able to time manage and go from student to business owner, specifically, a small business owner wearing multiple hats.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Stop talking about it and start. So often hear people talking about their great ideas, but the reality is "vision without execution is a delusion." While I do agree with Benjamin Franklins saying, "if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail," I would advise entrepreneurs and small business owners to not be so focused on every little detail when getting started but rather to start.
Be bold, pick up the phone and call a potential customer, write an email to a potential supplier, have a conversation with the bank or an investor even if you're not "ready." The snowball effect is discernible in entrepreneurship, and if you're not willing to take the initiative, work out of your basement, or put in hours after your 9-5, you will not succeed. There will never be a "perfect" time to take a leap of faith and start a business. Human nature is always to find 101 reasons not to do something, whether it is timing, money, family commitments, age, etc... but from my experience, it is usually just an excuse.
Customer Discovery. Quite often, I am approached to hear out potential business ideas. While most of the pictures I hear are innovative and grand in theory, they are ultimately hypotheses. Therefore, before spending money on a minimum viable product ("MVP"), an underrated and overlooked concept will speak to 100 potential customers. Through conversations, your potential customers will provide you with the direction to build a successful product or service they would pay for. This is a great chance to find early adopters and champions of your future business who will grow with you.
Most people have it backward. They spend time, money, and resources to build something, and they are often disappointed to learn their hypothesis and what their user is looking for is not the same thing. My famous analogy is don't build a shoe and hope to find a cinderella, but instead find a cinderella and build her a shoe. Entrepreneurship is about being lean - doing more with less. Spending the time to make good customer discovery will help with your lean-approach.
Don't sell features. Solve a problem and sell a solution. Lots of young entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to impress potential clients and investors with features. People don't care about features. Potential customers and investors are interested in the solution you can deliver to their problem.
In the case of EcoSmart Supply Co., plastic straws suck for the environment, and paper straws get mushy before consumers can finish their drink. Our rice straw is 100% biodegradable, making it suitable for the environment and retains its structural integrity for more than 3 hours. We solve both major problems restaurateurs and users have with single-use plastic and paper straws. Restaurateurs don't buy our straws because they are offered in multiple colors or because our packaging is pretty. They choose our product because it alleviates pain that other products do not.
Where can people find you?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.