What did you learn as you got your business started?
It was really difficult to start a business, not having any capital, realizing we had to get a big workspace and all the production equipment. I figured out how to do it piece by piece. The biggest “uh-oh” moment was when Woodchuck launched into 1,800 Target stores nationwide with our first product. But we didn’t know how to work or market for big-box stores, and we had a pretty big fail. We manufactured 18,000 units, and couldn’t get them out in time, so we had to take back a lot of the product, and we lost a bunch of money. But it was definitely a learning experience — we learned about marketing to big-box stores, and how to structure a deal so that we can afford to stay in business at the end of it. That’s when I first realized entrepreneurship is a mindset. We could have picked one of two paths. One was to pay back a lot of money to a lot of people and close up shop. Instead I picked the mindset of, “Let’s figure out how to make this happen, and do better next time.”
How is business now?
This year, Woodchuck did just under $2 million in revenue and became a semi-finalist in the Martha Stewart “American Made” competition. We have 17 employees and just bought an 80,000-square-foot warehouse. Each of those things happened piece by piece.
When we first started getting product orders from big-box retailers, I said, “We want to go to Apple, Best Buy, Target, and more.” When that started going well in the first year, my business partner and I moved to California — we thought we had made it and we were living this ridiculous lifestyle. Eight months later, when a lot of stuff started failing, we realized our business model was not as robust as we thought. So we moved back to Minnesota, moved manufacturing in-house, and really restructured the business — and our lives. It’s now 10 times better because we created a great team and a foundation for something much bigger than I ever thought it could be.
What are the pros and cons of entrepreneurship for you?
For me, entrepreneurship means you truly have the freedom to build something up as much as you want to. I am on the gas pedal 24/7 — I want to create an American manufacturing company that’s the largest of our century and to do that, it’s 100 percent go. I get to travel, meet new people and mentors who’ve done amazing things. But the things that no one sees behind the scenes are the lawsuits that keep you up till 2 a.m., the purchase orders you pray to God go well, the millions of emails and phone calls you get every day — and the amount of financial risk you have to take.
But risk is really just an opportunity — if you strategize, plan well, and have the work ethic, drive, and passion behind your mission, then risk is really irrelevant.