She didn’t have a plan for what she’d do after selling her wildly popular Schmidt’s Naturals to Unilever a few years ago, but Jaime Schmidt hasn’t missed a beat. She followed the same north star– her passion–that she did when she started the company in her Portland kitchen in 2010.
These days, Schmidt’s passion is supporting other entrepreneurs. She’s sharing what she learned building her pioneering natural products company to help other entrepreneurs–women and underrepresented ones in particular–find their own success.
Schmidt’s new book, Supermaker: Crafting Business on Your Own Terms is one of the best, and most readable, business books I’ve read (and I’ve suffered through dozens). With her husband, Chris Cantino, she’s launched a media platform, Supermaker, dedicated to educating and inspiring entrepreneurs, and Color, a fund that invests in early- stage companies. Schmidt will also be a mentor on the upcoming reality show, Going Public, which will track five companies as they raise money–and for the first time, allow viewers to invest as well.
“My goal is for everyday people to understand that being an entrepreneur is within reach,” said Schmidt. “You don’t have to grow up with parents who are entrepreneurs, or have a lot of capital, or a solid business plan, but you do have to make a commitment to something and have a passion for it.”
Here are the 5 traits Schmidt sees as key to succeeding when starting a business or side hustle.
Have a clear focus
After Schmidt took a class in making her own shampoo in 2010, she began experimenting with recipes for other natural, nontoxic personal care products. Her homemade products were a hit at farmer’s markets and street fairs, but it was only after she decided to focus on a single product that her company really took off. Schmidt’s natural deodorant was one of the first on the market, and quickly became a cult favorite that propelled her to success.
Build community where you can
In the early days of building her company, Schmidt didn’t take the time to find a mentor. “Looking back, I see it could have been really valuable,” she said. But Schmidt said she did find support from other creative makers in Portland. “We didn’t all turn our hobbies into businesses, but I always had people to bounce ideas off of,” she said.
While the pandemic has put in-person networking on hold, entrepreneurs can find plenty of encouragement and advice online. “There’s a lot of opportunity online to meet people and to build a business in public, and get support from strangers who are willing to help.”
Know your value
Even while she was in talks to sell her hugely successful company, Schmidt found people asking her male colleagues questions that should have been directed to her. Women are scrutinized more closely than men, she said, and need to come to the table with confidence in themselves and their companies.
“It’s important that women don’t undervalue ourselves, our time, our products, or the prices we charge,” she said. “Women entrepreneurs need to come into the market with confidence, knowing that what they are creating is of value.”
Schmidt isn’t talking about fake-it-til-you-make-it. Preparation and a deep understanding of the competition are key. When she was first pitching her products to retailers, Schmidt’s emails brimmed with confidence backed up by the data she had from customers who kept telling her they wished they could buy Schmidt’s natural deodorant in stores. “I believed retailers truly needed my product, truly felt they had to have it, and that is where my confidence came from,” she said.
Schmidt sees a lot of entrepreneurs who quickly get frustrated when their businesses don’t take off right away. “I remind them that things do take time and that there are a lot of steps that need to be taken,” she said. “Cross one thing off your list at a time, and don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed with big picture thinking or your long-term goal.”
Schmidt didn’t bring investors into Schmidt’s Naturals, and she advises entrepreneurs not to get caught up in the hype around venture capital. Sometimes the best next step isn’t funding at all, but making a strategic hire, bringing in a consultant or pivoting your model. Slow growth can also give you the advantage of control. “On the operational side, I didn’t have outside investors telling me how to run the business and muddying up my vision for it,” said Schmidt. She ran her company exactly as she wanted.
Listen (really) to feedback
Schmidt talks to many entrepreneurs who have rigid plans in mind, which can mean missed opportunities of all kinds. ”We tend to think something should go a certain way or we think our customers should respond in a certain manner, but that doesn’t always happen,” she said. “You may be surprised at who your audience really is, too. You may assume your customer looks like this, but there is a whole other group that you should target. Flexibility is really key.”
With an open mind, entrepreneurs are more likely to notice when customer needs and tastes are changing. “They can really pay attention to where their opportunity is, and that doesn’t always mean a complete pivot,” she said. “It may be a different way of talking about your product or putting a different spin on it, or changing your roadmap.”