We’ve launched Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, most innovative, most successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.
Meet: David Simnick, the CEO and cofounder of SoapBox, a company whose mission is to empower consumers with the chance to change the world through everyday, simple purchases. Ever since he was an Eagle Scout, Dave’s dream was to found a for-profit company with a social mission at its core. From its start, SoapBox donated bars of soap for every bar sold. Today it sells a full range of products that have relevant social missions at their core.
SoapBox products are sold in Whole Foods, Target, Harris Teeter, Vitamin Shoppe, H-E-B and other chain stores across the United States and the world.
Dave’s got a house full of notebooks—he doesn’t like to let ideas get away from him. Give him a concept, and he’ll start tinkering with it. He’s worked on most sides of the startup industry: helping companies expand, getting the ball rolling with funding and publicity, making connections and putting ideas together from the ground up.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
David Simnick: I went to American University [in Washington, D.C.] because I thought I wanted to go into government, and I interned at multiple places both in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors and at USAID [United States Agency for International Development]. I graduated a year early from American but still had no idea what I wanted to do; then I was offered a full-time job with a subcontractor for USAID. However, I turned it down—it just didn’t push my buttons, and I felt like there was a better way to do aid.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Simnick: I was looking for a job that fully consumed me, and I wanted leadership, service and challenge, so I decided to join the Marine Corps. A week before I finalized all my papers, I met with a friend of mine who told me, “Before you ship out you should help out my startup company.” So I arrived there and started helping him out, and realized I loved it. Everything I was looking for in a job and career just clicked, and I realized, this is it. I called the [Marine] recruiting officer and I told him I would come next season because I’d found something I want to explore.
I had a couple odd jobs here and there after that startup went under due to extenuating circumstances, and I was working for another contractor when it hit me that I wanted to start my own company. I called my best friend, a fellow Eagle Scout, and told him we were going to start a soap company. He thought I was kidding the first time I called him, but we did it.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Simnick: A huge moment for us was when we finally got into Whole Foods. Before that we were sold in a couple of mom and pop stores, but after a year of begging, pleading and just going after Whole Foods they finally said stop calling, stop emailing, just stop, we get it. We’ll let you into our stores and see how well you do.
In March 2012 we launched in our first store in Glenn Mills, Pennsylvania and we did so well there with just our bars [of soap] they expanded us to eight more stores. After that they kept expanding us, eventually to the entire region. Actually, just a few weeks ago we were expanded into five more regions, which basically means we are in every part of the U.S., except the South and the top of the Northeast.
I wish I could say that it was happily ever after once we launched in that first store, but we launched with the wrong product, the wrong packaging, the wrong co-packer—the wrong everything. The only way we stayed alive in the Mid-Atlantic was surrounding ourselves with great advisors and mentors who knew so much more about this industry than we did. Eventually we re-launched with eight new bars at a different price point and that’s where we started to see some really big success.
We started 2013 selling at about 150 stores. At the end of this past year we had grown to over 1,000, so we had about 740 percent year-over-year growth. This year we are going to grow more than 740 percent.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Simnick: Surround yourself with mentors and advisors who have succeeded in your vertical before. Ask them lots of questions frequently and be open to their constructive criticism.
Accept that entrepreneurship is a roller coaster ride. You have to moderate the bad days and temper the great ones in order to win the marathon.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Simnick: The lean startup method can be applied to multiple different types of business. Test your assumptions.
Lesonsky: Do you have a small business prediction for rest of year?
Simnick: This might be a prediction for the next couple of years. Entrepreneurship right now is seen as being cool and one of the chosen careers for Millennials. While the fad may die down, the desire to disrupt the status quo across multiple industries will not fade away.
Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?
Simnick: Enders Game by Orson Scott Card.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Simnick: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you’re right.” –Henry Ford
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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.