10 Tips for Launching Your Organic Business

Friends laughed when twin brothers Ron and Arnie Koss announced in the early 1980s that they wanted to start the nation’s first organic baby food company. The brothers had no money, no business pedigree, and no relevant experience. Yet they succeeded in launching Earth’s Best Baby Food, the first nationally distributed organic food to sit next to its mainstream competitors on supermarket shelves. Taken from their book, The Earth’s Best Story, here are their ten tips for launching an organic business.

Adapted from their new book, The Earth’s Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution

Do you need prior business experience to launch a nationally successful company? Not necessarily. Do you have to compromise your socially and environmentally conscious ideals to be financially successful? Absolutely not.

It’s not easy to build a start-up on a dream and dime. But you can do it. We did, and despite some heartbreaking betrayals and great disappointments, we have never regretted it. Our company, Earth’s Best Baby Food, revolutionized and empowered the organic foods movement and benefited hundreds of farmers and millions of babies.

Here are some tips for turning your business dream into a reality:

Engage in brutally honest self-assessment. Consider the merits and timeliness of your idea and look introspectively at your motivation, goals, and commitment to the venture.

Avoid avoidance. Recognize red flags, inner voices, twitches, and butterflies that surface momentarily as gifts–opportunities to “morph” now so as to succeed later.

Determine what you are willing to risk. Draw some boundaries and carve out which assets you are willing to risk. Are your kids’ college savings off limits? How about pledging your home as collateral? The clearer you are, the smarter you’ll be in crunch time.

Leverage your strengths and confront your limitations. Get to know your unique disposition (e.g., dreamer vs. detail oriented, marketer vs. number cruncher) and anticipate its optimal expression and location within the organization.

Look beyond family for “angel investors.” Getting family to invest may be easy, but easy may not be best. Family money may dull your alertness to the fact that you have failed to deliver a product that will attract others who do not share your DNA.

Don’t keep yourself isolated in a vacuum. Avoid going in endless circles and torturing yourself with “go nowhere” mental gyrations. Break out and talk with the smartest people you know. Network. Get perspective. Be curious.

Trouble is inevitable, so face it head on. Strategize on how you’re going to meet it. If this prospect is not exciting and doesn’t galvanize you to be ready to work 24/7 or at least 12/6, your start-up fears might be your friends.

Consciously engage.The more you let emotions and preconceived ideas (prejudices) get in the way of clear, conscious decisions–such as our stubborn attachment to Vermont as the best locale–the greater the risk to success.

Keep the big picture in sight.The frame of the house doesn’t make the home. Don’t get so caught up in overcoming the obstacle in front of you that you neglect the magnitude of what remains to be accomplished.

Resist low-balling capital needs. If you think asking for less makes you more attractive to angel investors, think again. Also, trying to launch a business when you’re undercapitalized often leads to premature dilution.

Ron and Arnie Koss, twin brothers and cofounders of Earth’s Best Baby Foods, are the authors of The Earth’s Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution(Chelsea Green Publishing, March 2010).

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