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If you think you’ve got the next big business idea but don’t know where to start, LearnVest wants to help.
Each month in our Entrepreneurship 101 series, we interview a female entrepreneur (or in this case, a pair of entrepreneurs) to learn how they navigated their way from seed to success. This month, we peppered Zoe Sakoutis and Erica Huss of BluePrintCleanse with questions, and they answered them all.
In 2000, Sakoutis came down with a bad cold, and on the advice of a friend did a seven-day raw food juice cleanse. Converted to the raw food lifestyle, she found herself in need of a better, more accessible way to approach cleanses, so in 2006 she founded BluePrintCleanse. She and Huss, who came on as a partner in 2007, built up the company to what it is today: a respected and thriving New York City business with 70 employees.
Read on to find out what their most painful mistake was, why you need a good lawyer and what mindset they needed to succeed.
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Get started with a free financial assessment.
Does your prior work experience help you today?
Erica: Zoe and I met when we worked at the Morgan Hotel Group. So both of us are very well-versed in the client service and hospitality service sector, which has helped us.
I did a few stints in bar and restaurant management, catering and event planning, and then I went into the PR arena, where I represented a handful of chefs and restaurants. I was involved in the food world as a hobby, but I was primarily a yoga and dance person, so eating well and living a healthy lifestyle were always an important part of my life.
Having someone you can work with is a dynamic that's tricky to find. Working with a friend seems like such a fun idea, but if egos get in the way, there can be a clash.
Zoe: I was working in the hospitality sector when I became a raw foodist and enrolled in the Wigmore Institute to become a certified nutritional consultant. That was a big turning point for me, but it was just a little too extreme. At that point there was nothing for raw foodists, especially those living in the city, so it was very labor intensive.
The biggest problem for me was the world I came from: Being social in the city, going out and enjoying food and alcohol … Raw foodism wasn’t realistic for me or for other people like me. It hit me that this had to be packaged in a way that wasn’t so preachy, so people could just incorporate it into their lifestyle.
Do you ever get nervous that people will catch you not following your own diet advice?
Zoe: We would never get busted for doing anything, because we don't do anything we don’t condone. Our platform is work hard, play hard, rinse, repeat.
Erica: We are not about the extreme. No one is going to do this if they feel that they are being judged. I’m not afraid to have a martini or a pizza! Laughs.
How did you come up with your business plan? Did you have to tweak it when you got started?
Zoe: I put something down on paper; it was very amateurish. I don’t have a business background or an MBA. I reached out to a friend of mine who has a lot more experience with this sort of thing, who could actually explain to me what a business plan was. Looking back now, it was pretty accurate in terms of scale.
Do you feel like you were at a disadvantage because you didn't go to business school?
Zoe: There were definitely moments when we could have done better. We’ve hired people who’ve gone to business schools, but what makes a person an entrepreneur is their ability to come up with new ways of executing things, which is a skill you can’t learn. Of course, now they are teaching entrepreneurship in business school, which is hilarious to me.
How did you get your website up and running?
Zoe: I was just really lucky to have people around me who were good people. If I didn’t know the answer to something, they would direct me. They are the same people who are gainfully employed here: They shared the vision and were willing to take a risk.
You can always ask people to work on spec. They will probably laugh at you, but you can ask. Put your feelers out and see if there are any people around you who are willing to do work for free. I'm finding tons, including people willing to offer advice or feedback.
Were you nervous about starting your own business?
Erica: It didn’t feel like a risk. In order to be an entrepreneur in the first place, you have to be able to not feel scared, so it just feels like what you have to do.
Our last Entrepreneurship 101 story was about a pair of women who teamed up to launch a business together, too. Do you think that women work better in pairs?
Zoe: I don’t know if it’s gender specific. I think it is an amazing partnership, if you can find someone who has complementary skills. I’ve seen a lot of instances in which people partner up, and then the partnership crumbles.
Erica: Having someone you can work with is a dynamic that's tricky to find. Working with a friend seems like such a fun idea, but if egos get in the way, there can be a clash. You have to be realistic about where your strengths lie. Having a partner provides flexibility. It’s a nice feeling to know that someone has your back.
(Read the previous story we're talking about here.)
How do you divide your responsibilities?
Erica: There’s a lot of crossover and many collaborative conversations about the big picture and brand development. As my background is in PR, I deal more with the client-facing side of things, as well as with the media. Zoe is the backbone; she handles the operations and the numbers.
Is there something you wish you knew from the beginning?
Erica: It is very easy to make mistakes with staffing. Unfortunately, it’s not something you can know from the beginning. You learn it the hard way. We called and checked references, but we should have requested more references and had more in-depth conversations with them. The skill sets were an ideal match, but our experience has taught us the importance of taking more time to learn about the people themselves, as it turned out that some hires did not necessarily have the best interests of the company at heart.
Zoe: References, references, references. That hiring decision was definitely the most painful mistake.
There are a lot of other cleanses out there. How did you differentiate your cleanse from the pack?
Zoe: You might want to ask them! We were the first out there. We had to send a cease and desist letter to a copycat in our second month, if you can believe it. I actually had to—without having made a dollar—hire a lawyer for some legal issues.
Zoe, you borrowed $5,000 from your brother to start the business. Did you have a plan for paying him back if it didn't work out?
Zoe: I told him that I would pay him back with interest, which I did. It wasn’t really an option in my mind to fail. I didn’t have any doubts about whether or not people would enjoy this. I just had to figure out how to do it. If you truly believe in the product, you can make it work. It’s a combination of egotism and ignorance. If it doesn’t work out, you just try another angle.
Erica: That’s a nice metaphor for the whole business. It’s not whether it does work out or it doesn’t. Just find a way to work it out.
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So what are your future plans?
Zoe: Managing growth. It’s a good problem to have.
Erica: We're trying to preserve the approachability that we have of a small business.
Try it for yourself! BluePrintCleanse is offering LearnVest readers an exclusive 10% discount on their products that can be shipped to anywhere in the United States. Just enter the code LEARNVEST10 at checkout on their website. The code will be available until 07/27/11 at midnight. Happy sipping!*
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*Discount valid on purchases made until 11:59p.m. EST 07/27/11. May not be combined with other promotional offers or used retroactively. Code may not be used toward BPC Bridal orders or gift certificates.