First an apology…we haven’t blogged in ages. When we dumped GoDaddy.com due to the CEO elephant hunting, we had trouble porting over the blog. It’s now back up and we’ll start sharing information again.
There are lots of things that you don’t anticipate in starting a company. I often tell people, it’s the biggest differentiator for what makes a company successful and not. One of the fun things I didn’t anticipate was the ability to help other entrepreneurs with their passions. Since starting the company I’ve had the opportunity to speak at numerous MBA programs about everything from things to avoid in starting a company to the importance of corporate social responsibility. And you’ll often find me in random coffee shops working with folks on their plans. At this point, I’ve heard some really great ideas and some ones that needed a bit of refinement.
Often the requests from friends or directly to oru site asking for advice. I’ve made it a point to carve off time every month to give back. And while we likely do have some of the answers, there are of course a ton of things that we don’t know. But there is no question that starting a company takes incredible energy and the willingness to make touch sacrifices.
We were a bit at a disadvantage starting thinkbaby and thinksport over six years ago. There weren’t other companies focused on making safe consumer products that we employed. Despite Austin being home to Whole Foods, there just weren’t that many other small product companies to bounce ideas off of.
Now, there are lots of companies emerging with their stories of leading the charge for being a safe product company. And while their rhetoric is mostly marketing hype, the reality is that the more companies that are focused on health (even if for the wrong reasons), the more likely the information will make it into the public’s eye. But along the way, we have bumped into a lot of false prophets.
There is no question on how difficult the last six years have been. Although, growing a company in an economic downturn builds a lot of character… It has also kept us very lean and also incredibly nimble. We’ve seen baby bottle companies, sports bottle companies, sun care companies come rushing in liek there was a gold rush. But just as fast, we’re also seening just as many companies fall apart. All the while, thinkbaby and thinksport has been successful in growing our product line, promoting the need for safer products and communicating relevant science. This was never some get rich quick scheme. But solidly about “doing the right thing”. And our goal in the process was to build a meaningful company along the way.
We were recently approached by Dell Computers to share insight into what it takes to start a company. It is part of their new Entrepreneur In Residence program. Soon there will be videos from various entrepreneurs (including us) that will be a valuable resource to those wishing to go down the road of starting a company. Who knows maybe there will one day be a movie. If so, I hope Denzel Washington plays me.
The EIR Blog by Ingrid Vanderveldt “iV”
Kevin Brodwick, thinksport: “If you have an idea, you better move fast.”
September 11, 2012
Topics: Entrepreneurs, Money, Technology, Uncategorized
Kevin Brodwick, Founder hinkbaby & thinksport
While filming our “Expert Series” in the Dell Studios for an upcoming initiative-I am beyond looking forward to share- I had the pleasure of meeting with Kevin Brodwick. Over the last 6 years, Kevin Brodwick and his team have experienced exponential growth, and today, have amassed one of the largest collections of safe products. Thinksport and thinkbaby (@thinkbaby_sport) specifically formulate products to be free of chemicals like BPA, phthalates, nitrosamines, lead, PET and biologically harmful chemicals. “It seemed many large corporations had totally lost sight on who their end users were and often they were infants with very delicate systems.” Kevin explained. “We took a page out of Patagonia’s book as well, as we have always admired their focus on social responsibility.
Within the past year, thinksport and thinkbaby have forged a monumental partnership with LIVESTRONG, donating a portion of the proceeds from their LIVESTRONG sports bottles and sunscreen directly to the fight against cancer.
thinksport at expo
“My interest has always been about connecting the scientific world with the consumer world.” Kevin shared with me. “My family was comprised of scientists, and I saw all too often other scientists having a difficult time articulating complex things that could be readily consumed by the rest of the world.” After working for a lab funded by the National Institutes of Health on chemical leaching from consumer products, Kevin launched thinkbaby and thinksport to address the issue.
“Nothing happens as fast as you would probably like.” Kevin shared with me as I asked him to reminisce a little on the first year of launching. “I would not have imagined, though, the amount of hours spent. I’ve certainly seen the sun rise more times than I care to admit.” he continued, “But one thing has been consistent over the last 6 years- I’m excited to get up each morning to get working on it. I often don’t know what day it is and I’m surprised when holidays arrive.”
When asked what advice he has to share with other entrepreneurs as a result of his path, Kevin’s first piece of advice to entrepreneurs is to seek out experts. “Doing so will likely save you a lot of time and help you avoid common mistakes. We have a number of mentors that we go to for various parts of our company’s needs.” Kevin shared. “It is impossible for someone to completely understand all of the aspects of our business.”
Kevin Brodwick at Lance Armstrong Foundation
Next, Kevin urges startups to spend less time writing and waiting and more time doing. “We’ll probably go against some conventional wisdom, but too many folks spend too much time on the business plan. Sure the plan can be necessary for organizing thoughts and goals, as well as raising funding, but if it’s going to take you 4-6 months to write, then you probably just wrote yourself out of a marketplace.”
Thirdly, Kevin believes it is critical to factor in time. “Everything takes more time that you’d like.” He admits. Kevin recommends working things in parallel to the extent. “Being able to multi-task and keep things on track is imperative.” Kevin continued, “In our world, it has never been Step 1, Step 2 Step 3. It’s always Step 1, Step 9, Step 1.3…”
With the amount of success thinksport and thinkbaby have experienced thus far, I had to inquire about what Kevin believes is behind the growth.
“Most companies have far too many layers and too many chiefs with not enough getting down. We have this down to a science. We tend to make a decision when we’re at about 70% sure on something. It takes too long to get to 80% or worse 90%.” Kevin explained. “Our company is also incredibly nimble. Often a brainstorm the night before shows up on our website the next morning.”
When asking Kevin about the climate and future of the industry, he explained there is growing momentum in the area of consumer products being made to higher standards. “What is interesting is that it’s not coming from governmental regulation but from the power of social media.” Kevin shared. “The speed at which social conscious rises on issues has gone exponential.”
thinksport LIVESTRONG Sunscreen
For example, Kevin shared that within 48 hours of consumers becoming aware that Johnson and Johnson’s famous baby shampoo was being created with two different formulas- one for the US and one for the EU- there was a huge public outcry as it was learned that the US version contained a harmful ingredient. “Johnson and Johnson was forced to issue an immediate public statement that they would change the formulation.” Kevin continued. “We predict the online movements for social change will only continue to become more productive for the welfare of people and the environment. “
When asking Kevin about potential challenges facing his team, Kevin explained the current trend around the speed at which new companies enter a space once a problem has been determined. “When we launched into the BPA Free baby bottle space there was really only one other company in the space. Within a span of 3 years there were 40 companies with BPA Free baby bottles.”
Kevin’s ending, get-off-the-couch piece of wisdom, “If you have an idea, you better move fast, because there are likely to be other people that can quickly activate to launch similar companies.”
Congratulations Kevin and team on all you have accomplished. There truly is nothing more valuable than the words of hard earned wisdom that comes straight from the entrepreneur themselves. Rich with humility, robust insight and unparalleled advice that can only come from looking back upon where you have been- never from dreaming where you could have gone.
- iV -
Ingrid Vanderveldt (@ontheroadwithiv) is Dell’s first Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR), CEO of Green Girl Energy, Founding Organizer of The GLASS Forum and the managing partner of VH2 Energy Investments and Ingrid Vanderveldt LLC. She is a clean energy and sustainability evangelist, passionate and practical advocate for WOMEN + GREEN and is the creator and host of CNBC’s “American Made”. iV serves on the Advisory Boards of SXSW Eco, World Blu, Current Motor and Visionary Holdings.