Q & A with Eric Sparrow
The owner of Milkhouse Candles.
What kind of person makes a good entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship is for dreamers.
Entrepreneurship is for doers.
Entrepreneurship is for anyone who looks at the world, and says, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or, “I could make that,” or “I could build that better,” and then goes out and builds a prototype to prove it.
Entrepreneurs have grit, have drive, and never see failure as an option.
Entrepreneurs leave their ego at the door and realize that the business they are in today may not be the business they are in six months from now. They always ask the question, “Am I in the right business in the right way?” then adjust if the answer is ‘no.’
How do I know if I've go what it takes to run a business?
Do you have the ability to put a fresh idea on a blank sheet of paper?
Are you able to take that idea and test it?
Are you comfortable speaking to people?
You need to dream an idea, create it, and get it out there for feedback. If you can do these things, you may have what it takes.
Is a business plan necessary? Where do I start?
We work with a lot of entrepreneurs. All have been encouraged to write a business plan, several have actually written that business plan, and none are actually using it.
Zero. None. Nada. Zilch.
Entrepreneurs need to be nimble, and writing on day one who your key players will be, what your financials will look like, or what your niche market will be are all anchors to the vision.
Set the vision. See that peak of a mountain top in your distant future? I can see you there already, sitting on top of the world, controlling your destiny, making the world a better place, living out all of your dreams.
Keep that vision in your sights, because there is no road map that will take you there. Just you, your passion, and your compass will guide you along the way. It certainly won’t be a straight path. You’ll zig, and you’ll zag, and you’ll hit peaks and valleys along the way. Stay focused, though, and find the time to work with others who have been on that mountain already as you find your way to the top. Their experience will save you years.
Successful entrepreneurs don’t have old-school, irrelevant business plans. They simply have crystal clear visions of where they hope to end up.
If you have created your business plan already, keep it in your back pocket and look at it from time to time on your way up. It will be a great reminder of what you’ve learned along the way.
Should I set goals? Why?
Have you ever done anything truly great without a desire to do it in the first place? A goal is just a desire that you have put out there; on paper, in your head, a promise to a friend, etc.
Set the goal, break that goal into lots of smaller goals (baby-steps), and find out how easy it can be exceed your wildest dreams!
Do I need to have everything figured out before I start?
Again, get that vision set, and be prepared to be nimble.
Milkhouse Candles first made paraffin candles before the world told us they wanted candles made from sustainable soybean wax. It took a lot of figuring out, from formulation, to process, to containers, marketing, delivery, etc. We didn’t need these answers to start. Simply starting, then listening to our customers gave us the information we needed to choose a different path.
How do you differentiate from the competition?
That’s an important question for any entrepreneur. Simply being better or cheaper is almost never the answer. Ask any entrepreneur and she’ll tell you that her products are better.
Most customers want different. Be different.
How do you combat the online digital shopping world?
The online digital shopping world is like a tidal wave that you can’t control. Grab your board and surf that wave! Just like trying to destroy that wave, you can’t combat online shopping, and you won’t win if you try, so embrace it.
Truth-be-told, customers shop on-line for products for the sake of convenience, and maybe price.
Successful brick-and-mortar store owners don’t compete in that space. They create experience. They create a desire to frequent their stores, and put a friend on their arm the next time they visit.
Store-owners value relationships over sales. They are driven to serve their customers in a way that makes their customers feel special. Successful entrepreneurs know that their customers value what they have to offer, and that competing on price alone with online retailers devalues what they offer in what ends up being a race to the bottom that Amazon will always win.
You can use digital to help you in your mission. We live in a world where your customers are easier to reach than ever before. Social media, texting, or emailing are easy ways for successful store owners to let their customers know that new products have arrived that might look great in their home, or to let them know of that special event you have coming up just for them!
Tell your story. How did you get where you are? What’s your Why?
Do you know how traditional candles have a tail of black soot dancing off the burning wicks, sticking to the walls and ceilings of the homes in which they are burned? The world deserves better.
That soot is also going into the air and into the lungs of unsuspecting family members. That soot contains the same toxins as diesel fuel exhaust (paraffin wax comes from the sludge at the bottom of the crude-oil barrel), so it’s like backing a diesel truck into your living room, firing that baby up, and having coffee with friends while the fumes poison your party.
That’s our why. Milkhouse’s natural blend of soy and beeswax contains no paraffin and none of the toxins of traditional paraffin candles.
We’ve heard time and time again how home-owners can only burn Milkhouse Candles because they have allergies to paraffin-based candles. It’s inspiring to know we have given them the peace of mind.
Where do you see this going? What are your goals? Dreams?
As entrepreneurs, Janet and I love to build, to learn, to analyze, to fail (if you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough), to succeed, and to start the process over and over again.
We love working with our team members to bring ideas to fruition and we love knowing that the Milkhouse team is making and supporting products that they believe in.
Right now, I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. Doing this is a dream come true for me!
What has been your favorite thing or part of this journey?
I’m very analytical, so I love seeing how people respond to new ideas. I love having the conversations, finding gaps in what the world has to offer, and finding ways to make the world a better place by filling those gaps. I can have a short attention-span as I am a dreamer and adventure-seeker, and I love building systems. Once a system is in place, it’s liberating to have such an incredible team behind me to ensure that everything keeps working.
When you look back, what, if anything, would you do differently?
I can’t think of a thing that I would change. Even the biggest challenges provided great lessons that made us a lot stronger. We’ve been blessed.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone?
Dream big. Start small. Live within your means.