Starting Up During COVID-19 | Lessons I learned launching a cleaning company during a pandemic + other tips and takeaways for authentic storytelling.
Authentic storytelling is the most important thing you can do for your company. No matter the size of your business, or the industry you are in, authenticity matters. Your ability to be authentic affects your brand’s growth and ultimately its bottom line.
Many experts often use the “Apple Effect” to prove this point. Apple isn’t the greatest innovator in their industry. They have competitors that often out innovate them, and beat them to market. What Apple does do better than anyone else, is tell an authentic story. Watch this video here with Simon Sinek for the full breakdown on the consumer behavior behind this “Apple Effect” theory.
If you stop reading here and take nothing else from this article, ingrain these 3 things into your brain:
- People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
- Stories stick. Learn how to tell yours.
- Be authentic in how you tell the story of your business, but do it with your end user in mind.
I have built many brands and launched many startups throughout my career. You could say buying domains and dreaming up new businesses is a hobby of mine and my favorite dinner table topic. I once took on a challenge from the author of the $100 Startup, Chris Guillebeau, to take an idea from a concept to market in three weeks. I met this challenge and in three weeks was featured on The Next Web. While I no longer consider myself a “serial entrepreneur,” I am still obsessed with bringing ideas to life and have learned many lessons along the way. However, I don’t believe there will ever be anything compared to launching a cleaning company in the middle of a pandemic.
I’m currently a partner in two brands, Plant Aid and CAUSE+MEDIC. I oversee marketing and brand development for both. One is a plant cleaning solution that’s marketed for farmers and growers in the agriculture industry. The other is a luxury CBD skincare company. These sister brands might seem very different at first glance, but they do have something in common: their ethos. At the core of both of these brands is the belief that we can, and must, create products that are free from toxic chemicals to take care of each other and our planet, which ensures a safer, healthier and happier future for all. This is in our identity, it’s what drives the brands and the humans behind it.
About seven months ago we launched a new product called Clean Republic. It uses a variation of the formula found in Plant Aid, and the same active ingredient – Hypochlorous Acid (“HOCl”). Through CAUSE+MEDIC, we realized there was a need in the spa and hospitality industry for an effective, yet toxin free, cleaner. We knew what we had with Plant Aid could fill this need. We had our chemists formulate two different products, a Disinfectant + Sanitizer and an All-Purpose Cleaner, which we branded as Clean Republic, and officially birthed her at a high-end hotel in Maui this past December.
We were just gaining some momentum in the spa and hotel space when the pandemic hit. It was early March when we realized that this virus was here, at our doorstep. Our small startup was faced with the great challenge of scaling and expanding overnight. Without a team meeting, or really a discussion of any kind we all quickly put our heads down and pivoted. We pivoted faster than I ever knew was possible – expanding our messaging and marketing strategies beyond high-end hotels and luxury spas. We knew we had a moral obligation to share our effective, yet safe, cleaning solution with the masses. We sought to provide an alternative to the harsh, harmful chemicals we knew everyone would be using in greater volume.
My partners worked on creating strategic alliances, calling on everyone they knew that could help us expand our distribution so we could meet demands. It was – and quite frankly still is – a daily marathon without a finish line. It’s exhausting but certainly rewarding. I believe we are the exact team that was meant to do the job, and we were all called together to get it done. Today we are helping families across the nation keep their homes clean and healthy. We’re donating toxin free cleaning solutions to hospitals in need. We’re working with businesses big and small across a variety of industries. From hotels to hospitals, to industrial warehouses and luxury spas, office buildings and universities, and so many mom and pops in between. It’s our jobs, our moral obligation and our ultimate pleasure.
Last month I quietly opened a storefront in my office space on E. Main Street in Buena Vista, CO. Before this pandemic, we planned on opening our first flagship store for our CBD skincare company, coupled with a spa. However, with the state of the country, we decided to launch this shop with Clean Republic as well – to ensure these essential cleaning supplies are available to the community. The shutdown has pushed our grand opening back, but we still plan to expand our inventory and open our spa services in time for summer. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that community, wellness and health should be our greatest priority.
To sum up, here are my 3 takeaways that I learned through launching a business during COVID 19.
KNOW WHEN TO PIVOT
This pivoting moment was of course loud and clear for Clean Republic. During my career however, I have had other cases where this transition wasn’t so matter of fact. In instances where it isn’t so cut and dry, you’ll want to look at your performance, poll your audience, and listen to your intuition. It can sometimes hurt or feel like you’re back peddling, but your future self will thank you for being honest for the sake of your business.
PUT YOURSELF (LITERALLY VISUALIZE THIS) IN THE SHOES OF YOUR CUSTOMERS
What pain points do your customers have and how can you help solve them? What are their fears and how can you help ease them? Here’s one recent example of this I can offer: as a business owner, I can imagine exactly what will go into reopening a business. Staff meetings, rehiring, logistics of hours, time, payroll, not to mention a new sanitation routine and new regulations you have to meet. So many things. And then you have to consider marketing and PR. Instilling confidence in your customers and employees, and convincing them your business is a safe place, will not happen without a thoughtful plan. I knew right away the marketing piece was something we could take off the plates of our clients, by providing them with collateral that shows their business is clean and safe. I created “Certified Clean Republic Company” marketing kits that include window clings, stickers and postcards. We offer this complimentary to new accounts because we know these are pieces our clients will need, and if we can take this small but significant task off their plate, then we’re happy to do so. This has been a win-win because it drives sales, instills confidence and shows our clientele that we are happy to go the extra mile. Our ability to ease these growing pains for our clients allows us to serve them more successfully, which gives us purpose and gives our company wings.
DO NOT GO ALONE (PLUS IT’S WAY MORE FUN WITH MORE PEOPLE ALONG FOR THE RIDE)
I learned through hard lessons that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. We would not have survived without our team. We are small but mighty. We all bring something different to the table. When I hire someone, I seek out people that can help fill the areas where I am weak. We all have strengths and something to offer the world – and we also all have weaknesses and imperfections. Set your ego aside, hire the right people, and then get the hell of their way and watch them shine.
By Robin Vega – Robin is a native Texan with a degree in Communication Studies from Texas Tech University. Robin has over 15 years of experience in entrepreneurship, business, and marketing strategy. She’s worked with clients big and small across a variety of industries, including cosmetics, technology, food & beverage, agriculture, and cannabis. Robin has a gift for helping businesses develop authentic brands and tell their stories through thoughtful design and intentional content marketing. In 2013 Robin’s marketing software company was successfully acquired allowing her to follow her arrow to Colorado and pursue her passion working with entrepreneurs and purpose-driven brands. Currently, Robin is a partner and serves as the Director of Brand Development for Plant Aid and CAUSE+MEDIC.
To hear more about this topic join Robn in a panel discussion “How Do YOU Bring Purpose to Life, Exploring Our Gifts & Sharing Them Through Authentic Marketing.” Held on June 15th from noon to 1:30pm. Register
The Power of We (Women Entrepreneurs) Forum Series, held monthly through the fall, will focus on heart-based thinking, the power or purpose, sharing one’s gifts, reimagining life/work via creativity and innovation and thriving by tapping into one’s authentic self and intuition.
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