Entrepreneurs Brunch #10
June 2017 marked DodoWorkPlay’s first year anniversary of actively promoting better relationships with our work by supporting aspiring entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs alike in their quest for more rewarding and empowering ways of work. Back in June 2016 we took the leap by running an entire week of events and pop-up coworking, including a poolside Entrepreneurs’ Brunch.
This month, 10 brunches and many other events later, we had the honour to host Sharon, who co-founded vegan soap company Bruce & Peanut with her husband Jérôme, as guest speaker. The discussion “from manager to business owner” quickly focused on the exciting and slightly daunting phase when a business has found its market with a successful product. For Sharon and Jérôme, this success happened very quickly… and unexpectedly.
Here’s a little of their story, and some insight we gained into the ingredients that led to Bruce & Peanut creating a great product which found happy clients asking for more.
A successful product solves a problem
Bruce & Peanut was first and foremost built to solve a problem experienced by its founders, Sharon and Jérôme: the lack of animal-friendly offers on the market, especially in everyday commodities such as soap! Little did they know that many others are experiencing the same desire to become more responsible consumers, and all that is stopping them is the lack of alternative brands and products to turn to.
The problem was ultimately wider than expected, and they quickly realised that the animal-conscious consumer was part of a trend towards greater awareness amongst consumers in general, who seek to buy responsibly to protect the environment as a whole. Sharon and Jérôme’s Bruce & Peanut product went from being a vegan soap to being a zero-waste vegan soap initiative, promoting the production of as little waste as possible and respecting all living beings.
If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you have launched too late
— Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn.
Build, measure and learn!
There is no such thing as overnight success. Many thriving companies have known humble beginnings — in the case of Bruce & Peanut in the founders’ parents’ garage! Choosing to grow organically, Sharon and Jérôme were not afraid to think outside of the box, quite literally, to overcome budget limitations, and to get on the market quickly, learning to listen to customers’ feedback and use it to improve their offers. Practice makes perfect!
They created their first batch of soaps by upcycling a cardboard milk to create a mold. Every soap was hand cut with a knife, ending up with an irregular shape different from item to item, a far cry from today’s carefully crafted products. Looking back, Sharond confided that she’s surprised anyone even bought them — but these imperfect soaps enabled her to validate a key business fact: the brand’s vegan and handcrafted positioning had a market. Bruce & Peanut had effectively produced a minimum viable product, at very low cost and which enabled them to test the market. Any other secondary features (i.e.: beautiful packaging, professional though authentic look) are merely enhancers, not the make-or-break of the product.
Give and take
There are many ingenious ways to bootstrap a minimum viable product, and one of them is not to be afraid to accept help and offer services of your own in exchange, indulging in a virtuous cycle of give and take. In the case of Bruce & Peanut, the entire family has been mobilised — and friends invited — to pitch in in return for delicious homemade meals, communications advice or anything else Sharon and Jérôme were able to give back. A friendly, honest and fun approach to business which enabled this dynamic and passionate duo to quickly fulfil their social enterprise’s mission of spreading awareness of a cause dear to their hearts. It also provided them some flexibility to experiment further with new types of soaps — next in line being a home-grown aloe-vera bar of soap!
Sometimes, we heard, it’s even preferable to give your product for free and obtain feedback, credentials and earn trust — a small investment that has the benefit of building strong relationships.
Having a side hustle in spite of working a full time job is possible. Sharon spoke about being tired when coming home from a full time job and still putting in the work late at night, 11pm.” Passion and determination will give you wings: Passion for your work/a cause helps you overcome obstacles that might seem insurmountable at first. The more meaningful to you the work feels, the more fulfilling it will be, even after all the ups and downs.
—Rushil Ramlochun, brunch attendee
Surround yourself with positivity
Building a business demands courage and an endless supply of energy. It is important to surround oneself with positive forces and Sharon and Jérôme’s open attitude to help and exchange has resulted in a great support network that they can draw motivation from. And positive influences are not just found in people, but in books and videos whether for soft skill development or to deepen one’s expertise and thus increase one’s knowledge and confidence.
Sharon’s advice: create a strong brand
For Sharon, a good company doesn’t just sell a product, it sells an identity, a story and a vision.
Branding, when well conducted, is part of every detail of the product and every step of the customer’s experience: it must be visually identifiable through the packaging, of course, but it must also be the guiding concept throughout the production line, the communications and marketing, the building of partnerships and the acquisition of clients.
At Bruce & Peanut, you’re first buying vegan, zero-waste, authenticity, friendliness and accessibility.
Concretely, this translates into an affordable soap that is hand-made with minimum environmental impact and no animal cruelty, hand-packaged with up-cycled material, and communicated organically through word of mouth and the brand’s Facebook page (no sponsored posts). Products are introduced to clients through free samples, instantly establishing an intimate and caring relationship with customers and showing confidence in the product’s quality. Most of all it’s a product that tells a story —the name comes from the couple’s dogs, Bruce and Peanut, who inspired founders Sharon and Jérôme’s mission to raise awareness of animal cruelty and wasteful practices in the retail industry.
A social enterprise
Bruce & Peanut is an example of entrepreneurship for social good. Watch this video to get up to speed on the concept of social enterprise, and the social, cultural, and environmental benefits these organisations bring:
Sharon and Jérôme are facing the hard decision of whether to scale up and respond to their increasing demand, thereby putting their financial stability at risk, or to continue running two full-time jobs. To assess their risks, they say the next step for them is to create a business plan and work-out the financial sustainability of their current business model and identify the resources required to refine and adapt it should they want to grow it further.