Over one too many whiskeys in the cavernous belly of a bus on the outskirts of central Berlin, Obi Kaufmann and Hall Newbegin couldn’t stop gushing about moss and wet dirt, mountain meadows and sunrises in the Mojave. These are the things they love, the stuff they live for. Hall and Obi are, respectively, the founder and the chief storyteller of the wildly popular “wilderness perfume” brand Juniper Ridge, based in California. These guys go off the beaten path to make fragrances the way our ancestors did. And they just might hold the secret to business success.
We were all at a new menswear-focused tradeshow called Selvedge Run, a gathering of like-minded makers with obsessive devotion to craft and detail and heritage – think lots of Japanese denim and American flags, bourbon and motorcycles and wonderful people. A hearty helping of former guests of M24’s The Entrepreneurs were in attendance – Kelly and Scott from Brighton-based Dawson Denim, Pete from San Francisco-based Tellason and others.
Walking around the airy event space, a high-ceilinged ex-factory hall, it was clear these guys were connected not only by their similar fashion interests but also in that they all genuinely love what they do. This, despite slim margins and a tough slog to win new customers. But it’s the passion that really counts. Based on the thousands of entrepreneurs I’ve interrogated and oft befriended around the world during four years of business coverage here, I reckon there are a handful of “origin stories” that most start-up founders fall into:
1 – The rational consultant-type. The goal is to start a business – any business. Researches gaps in markets and picks a promising industry. Lives in spreadsheet-land. Most likely has an MBA. Motivated largely by profit (this is not a bad thing).
2 – Ms Pain Point. Desired a product or service that did not yet exist; instead of waiting for it, decided to build it.
3 – The passion project. This unique species could be ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate their company’s imminent IPO, without realising when or how it ever became a business.
Entrepreneurship is a worthy endeavor and godspeed to all of the above. But I’d wager good money that the guy or gal behind door number three has the best odds of survival in a career choice where survivors are in a slim minority. Why start anything if your heart isn’t in it?
By the end of Selvedge Run you could smell Team Juniper from a mile away, Obi having enthusiastically doused himself in his product for every curious passerby. It was marketing but then again it wasn’t. Based on our lengthy discussions, I’d say Obi would probably be doing the same thing in the comfort of his hotel room.
So at the expense of fortune cookie obviousness, here’s a real, field-tested, battle-hardened pearl of wisdom for the would-be entrepreneur: don’t set out to build a lifestyle brand. Build a business around what you truly, completely love in life. You’ll already be one step ahead. The rest will fall into place.
Daniel Giacopelli is producer and presenter of Monocle 24’s weekly business programme The Entrepreneurs.