From a crazy idea to a million dollar business in 60 countries

Good business ideas can come from anywhere. My company began with an idea from a group of students at MIT in  Boston back in 2012, who came up with the idea of a plantable pencil with a capsule of seeds in the end. When the pencil is planted, the capsule dissolves and sprout into herbs, vegetables or flowers.

When I saw the idea on the crowdfundingsite, I thought it was a fun idea but I also saw an invention with great potential. Today Sprout has offices in Copenhagen and Boston, and sells more than 450,000 pencils a month to more than 60 countries.  So how to go from crazy idea to million dollar business – these are my five tips:

  1. The team – not the idea

People often think that the good idea is the main reason why a company has success, but this is not always true. You can have lots of good ideas, but if you don´t have a team to back them up and execute in a smart manner, then the ideas are worth nothing.

Finding the right candidates with the right attitude and skills has been vital in the initial phase of building up a startup. I have read through all the resumés and personally interviewed all the candidates for a given job in Sprout. It’s important when hiring to find people with the right mindset – for us that meant an interest in recycling and sustainability.

But more importantly you must be a team player and be willing to help out wherver is needed. I have boxed up pencils myself for our online shop at Christmas and so has everyone else. Having a supportive team around you is crucial and my job is to make sure that everyone feels some kind of ownership of the success that we are experiencing in Sprout.

  1. Passion – not money

In my experience money alone cannot drive you to success. Of course making money motivates to an extent, but if it had not been for my passion, then I would have given up more than once; especially in the beginning when times were.

My passion has always been in the fields of corporate sustainability. I have always felt great satisfaction when I could see that I made a difference, even if it was just a humble contribution to make this planet a better place. The passion for taking care of our environment and thinking in more ecofriendly ways is still what motivates me when I wake up in the morning. So never let money be the main driver, always go with your passion.

  1. Believe – don´t listen

When I first started up Sprout, everyone around me was saying: ‘that’s a neat idea, but it can never be big business’. Even my best friend told me to give it up and find me a paid job after the first six months when I had no salary and was struggling to provide for myself and my son.

It was tempting to follow his advice, but I had an inner belief in this project that I just could not ignore. So I decided to carry on and give everything I could for a period of another six months and fortunately things started to work out well. If you believe in something then go ahead and don’t let people stop you no matter how realistic or convincing they might sound.

  1. Storytelling – not product

In today’s business world, it is hard to stand out just on products and prices – the competition in most markets is too tough. Instead try to focus on your storytelling. People buy dreams, stories and feelings – not only products.

In Sprout we don´t just sell pencils. We sell symbols of sustainability. We sell the good feeling that you get when you buy something that you know is 100% biodegradable and produced under decent working conditions. Storytelling has been a key tool for us since the very beginning and it is because of all the good stories we tell, that thousands of bloggers and media around the world have written about us.

  1. Go international

Think international, not just local. We started out in Denmark where I come from and where our main office is located. Denmark is a rich country but it has a very small population with only 5.5 million people, so the market is very limited. I realised that Denmark would be a test market in order to go international.

If something works out really well in one country, it can often work out in other markets too. Today only five percent of our sales are from Denmark and our biggest markets are Italy, US, Germany, UK and France. In the US we opened up an office in Boston and to successfully enter the American market, it is important for us to have a local team with the right contacts and a knowledge about how Americans think and act which can be quite different from Europeans.

By Michael Stausholm, the founder and CEO of Sprout, the only company in the world that makes plantable pencils

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