BA 101 | #3: Let’s Lawyer

I’ll make this one short and sweet: You’re never too small to be “real”.

Part of building your business (big or small) means finding a lawyer. Sure, the $300+ per hour price tag isn’t too appealing, but for a little investment up front you can avoid pitfalls down the road.

Find a lawyer who knows your space.
Ask other companies who do what you do (for us it was other natural food companies in Portland) and find out who their lawyer is. Pretty quickly you’ll get an idea of which lawyers have experience in your arena. Every industry has different quirks and roadblocks — your lawyer should be prepared for anything you’ll come across.

Make sure your lawyers know your future business plans.
Our first lawyers had the wrong impression about our plans to grow the company and the right trademark precautions weren’t taken. Had we stayed a farmers market business, we wouldn’t have faced the trademark and naming issues we did once we hit the national stage.

Spend an hour or two of time setting up the basics.
Register your company in your state, file a trademark on your name, and get a nice fat binder worth of documents. It feels good to have your house in order (and do your best to avoid a lawsuit down the line).

Sure: start now and start small. But when it comes to getting your legal affairs in order, think big, plan big.

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BA 101 | #2 Finding an (Awesome) Business Partner

Another BA 101 lesson! I think Sundays are a good day for dubious education from college dropouts — don’t you?

Today’s post is a subject near and dear to my heart: Business Partners.

First of all, humblebrag: I have the best business partner in the world.

This is a combination of luck, hard work, and good communication… it’s like a good marriage. (I could extend that into a company = baby metaphor, but I won’t).

Also, like marriage, the “perfect” business partner is different for every person and every business. Even though what works for us might not work for everyone, I’ve learned a lot from being one half of a successful partnership.

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A good business partner… really believes in the company.

Right from the beginning, Erika has been the spirit and driving force of Wild Friends. As soon as we made a jar of peanut butter, there was no doubt in her mind that we had made something delicious and worthy of customer dollars. Her belief has always given me confidence that the company was worth pursuing… even when it was just a couple of mason jars.

This might seem like a small thing, but it’s really not! Nothing has been more important to the growth of this company than strong belief from both of us that the company is worth the dedication. There will be times when you are feeling disenfranchised with everything about your company… when everything just sucks. A good business partner will be there for you to lift your spirits and remind you why your business is worth working for.

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A good business partner… has an opposite skill set.

Looking back at that first day again, it was clear right from the start that Erika and I had very different skills. We made the peanut butter together — that was a total group effort. Then:

Erika told everyone she knew about our new company. She started posting on Facebook, interacting with all our friends, and getting excited about sending product to food bloggers.

I made a website, spent several hours on the phone with PayPal support, designed our labels, and started the hunt for a commercial kitchen.

There was very little discussion about this division of roles… it happened naturally as my logical side took over and Erika’s social butterfly self took flight.

In hindsight, we got lucky. This is an important conversation to have with any potential business partner: What roles do you see yourselves taking on immediately within the company? A year down the road? How about five years?

These are conversations Erika and I have constantly to make sure we’re never stepping on eachothers toes or leaving eachother out.

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A good business partner… knows that if it’s business, it’s also personal.

Can’t stress this enough: EVERYTHING IS PERSONAL. Everything. (Especially when you’re working with your best friend and your roommate… but we are probably in extra-special circumstances over here.)

It’s important to be able to have conversations that make you feel vulnerable, share struggles within or outside of the business that are causing you stress, discuss personal relationship woes, etc.

Really, your business partner is the only other person going through exactly what you are, living the exact same entrepreneurial life, fighting the same fight. Being able to support you personally as well as professionally is going to be really important during those frantic problem-solving nights.

Plus, you’re definitely going to be stuck on a long car ride and flights with your business partner… No iPhones or work laptops allowed. So you better have lots of things to talk about. (Also, similar taste in podcasts/music… but that’s another story).

BA 101 | Lesson #1: Starting Out

StreetFair

I took BA 101 during my sophomore year of college (one of the two business courses I’ve taken).

The class was centered around an online program: we created a fake business, then we experimented with various metrics to see how the business succeeded in the market. Or at least that’s what we were supposed to be doing — I entered random numbers into the online system, worked on the Wild Friends website on my laptop during lectures and ended up scraping by a passing grade in the class (which speaks much more to my guessing skills than anything else). Whatever it was I was supposed to be doing in that class still remains a mystery to me.

Over the past couple years though, I’ve learned some basic things that I think of as my own personal “BA 101” — lessons that I either stumbled upon accidentally or learned the hard way. Here’s the first:

LESSON #1: Starting Out

I get asked all the time: “What would you tell someone who wants to start their own business, but doesn’t know what to do first?”

This is an easy one: Start now, start small. As small as your business idea allows. We made a dozen jars of peanut butter and brought them over to our friends. If the response had been lackluster, Wild Friends might have ended as soon as it began.

Not to say you should take the first bad feedback to mean your idea is a total failure. Rather, just begin gathering as much data and feedback as you can, on a small scale. This will help hone in on what about your product is amazing and what about your product might be unnecessary.

When we wanted to start making peanut butter, we just started making peanut butter — that afternoon, in our apartment. You can iron out details later (website, brand name, flavor offerings, etc). But the best way to test something out is just to start with what you have.

Recommended Reading: The Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries

Eric talks about this concept at length, recommending start-ups aim to spend minimal time time on product development and maximum time on gathering feedback. I also love how Eric addresses the concerns lots of start-ups have with wanting to maintain secrecy about their product pre-launch: he essentially dares founders to email their ideas directly to companies they think would steal the idea, just to prove that an idea alone is rarely worth stealing. It’s all about the execution.

So, go ahead — start something small now. There’s nothing to lose.