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    Burt's Bees: Roxanne Quimby

    Success often combines hard work, skill, and unexpected opportunities. Stay curious, work hard, and embrace the unexpected.

    enFebruary 18, 2019

    About this Episode

    In the 1970s, Roxanne Quimby was trying to live a simpler life – one that rejected the pursuit of material comforts. She moved to Maine, built a cabin in the woods, and lived off the grid. By the mid-80s, she met a recluse beekeeper named Burt Shavitz and offered to help him tend to his bees. As partners, Roxanne and Burt soon began selling their "Pure Maine Honey" at local markets, which evolved into candles made out of beeswax, and eventually lip balm and skin care products. Today Burt's Bees can be found in nearly every grocery store and drugstore around the U.S. PLUS, in our postscript "How You Built That," Leigh Isaacson explains how her sister's break up inspired them to create a dating app – for dog owners. See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Identify unique opportunities, have passion, offer personalized services, and understand customer needs to build successful businesses.
    • The speaker's move to rural Maine led her to question societal values and seek a deeper, more authentic way of living, rejecting material wealth and embracing self-sufficiency.
    • Couple lived off the grid for 7 years, built own house, had 2 kids, survived on $4k/yr, but lack of stimulation led one to leave, remained committed to co-parenting, became known through unusual neighbor selling honey
    • Through an encounter with an eccentric beekeeper, the speaker learned the art of beekeeping and transformed his honey business into a successful venture by collaborating and using attractive packaging.
    • Starting with a limited resource, Roxanne and Bert turned beeswax into a valuable product, leading to a million-dollar business through hard work, determination, and innovation.
    • Despite initial struggles and disagreements, Roxanne and Bert grew Burt's Bees into a successful business by learning on the go and adapting to challenges
    • Atlassian uses AI to enhance team productivity and data security, while Insparity helps build strong company cultures. Atlassian's AI-powered software enables teams to accomplish more together, and Burt's Bees pivoted successfully from candles to skincare for growth.
    • Despite an unconventional background and introverted nature, Burt grew Burt's Bees into a million-dollar company through strategic relocation, grassroots marketing, and learning to manage people.
    • Burt's Bees differentiated itself by focusing on authenticity, using founder's face on packaging, and challenging gender stereotypes. Success came from consumer focus, scalability, and a pulling strategy.
    • B.K.S. Iyengar, co-founder of Burt's Bees, sold the company for a large sum and used the proceeds to buy and donate land for parks, seeing it as a solid investment and a way to give back.
    • Success often combines hard work, skill, and unexpected opportunities. Stay curious, work hard, and embrace the unexpected.
    • Sisters Lee and Casey Isaacson identified a problem in the dating world for pet owners, particularly dog lovers, and created Dig, a dating app to help them find compatible partners. The app has grown to over 20,000 users and generates revenue through partnerships with pet companies.
    • Choices we make, even small ones, can have significant impacts on the world and our personal growth. Listen to Alternate Routes for intriguing sports what-ifs and Life is Short for inspiring perspectives.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Turning small ideas into successful businesses

    Turning small ideas into successful businesses often starts with identifying unique opportunities and having the passion to pursue them. Roxanne Quimby and Bert Shavitz, the founders of Burt's Bees, did just that by selling honey at a local farmers market in Maine and later expanding into other natural personal care products. Similarly, businesses like Amica Insurance and Delta Sky Miles Platinum Business American Express Card cater to the needs of their customers by offering personalized services and benefits. For instance, Amica Insurance focuses on making insurance feel more human by providing excellent customer service and a mutual ownership structure. The National Security Agency, on the other hand, offers exciting opportunities for individuals to advance technology and protect the nation through innovative projects and a supportive work environment. Ultimately, the success of these businesses lies in their ability to understand and meet the needs of their customers, making everyday experiences more enjoyable and fulfilling.

    A transformative journey to rural Maine

    The speaker's experience of moving from the East Coast to San Francisco and then to rural Maine in the 1970s was a transformative journey that led her to question societal values and seek a deeper, more meaningful way of living. She was influenced by Thoreau's writings and the back-to-the-land movement, and with $3,000, she and her boyfriend bought 30 acres of land in Maine and built a cabin without modern conveniences. This experience made her more aware of the impact of material comforts on her life and expanded her worldview. Despite the challenges, they persevered and eventually built a roofed dwelling. This journey represented a rejection of societal pressure to pursue material wealth and a search for a more authentic, self-sufficient way of living.

    Living Off the Grid in Maine: A Simple Life

    A couple lived off the grid in northern Maine for around seven years during the 1980s. They built their own house with no running water, electricity, or bills other than food. They lived on approximately $4,000 a year and had two children born in this simple homestead. Although it was idyllic, the lack of stimulation and curiosity outlets led one partner to leave and live on her own. They remained committed to co-parenting. Burt Shavitz, an unusual neighbor with a long gray beard and long curly hair, who sold honey on the side of the road, became well-known in their community.

    Unexpected collaboration with a beekeeper

    An unexpected encounter with an eccentric beekeeper named Bert led to a transformative experience for the speaker. Initially, they were drawn to Bert's independent lifestyle and his honey sales, but they later saw an opportunity to collaborate and turn his honey business into a successful venture. The speaker apprenticed with Bert for a summer, learning the ins and outs of beekeeping, and later suggested packaging and selling the honey in smaller, nicer containers at local craft fairs. Bert agreed, and they began selling their "Pure Main Honey" at Christmas craft fairs, using cute packaging to attract customers. The experience with Bert not only deepened the speaker's appreciation for nature and self-sufficiency but also led to a successful business partnership.

    From selling honey to growing a million-dollar business with beeswax

    Roxanne Quimby and Bert Geiger started selling honey and then discovered they had an abundant supply of beeswax. They used this resource to create candles and sell them at craft shows. Sales grew, and they eventually rented an old schoolhouse to expand their business, which they named Bert's Bees. Their breakthrough came when a New York boutique ordered hundreds of their candles, leading to long hours and eventual hiring of employees. Roxanne's goal was to grow the business, eventually reaching sales of a million dollars by the time her kids graduated from high school. This success came from their resourcefulness, determination, and the transformation of a byproduct into a valuable product.

    From small business to big enterprise, Burt's Bees founders faced challenges and made strategic decisions

    Roxanne Quimby and Bert Babe started Burt's Bees as a small business selling honey and wax candles, but as it grew, they made strategic decisions and learned on the go. They faced challenges, such as not producing enough beeswax themselves and hiring a high school boy as their accountant. One of their early products, Boot Food, made from beeswax, meats, food oil, and bear grease, was a disaster and spilled all over the floor. Bert, being more independent and resistant to change, had mixed feelings about the growing enterprise. They divided up the work, with Roxanne handling product development and Bert managing overdue bills and maintenance. In 1991, Burt's Bees reached $1.5 million in sales revenue, but the personal relationship between Roxanne and Bert began to unravel as the company took off. Despite the challenges, they persevered and learned valuable lessons along the way.

    Leveraging AI and Building a Strong Company Culture for Business Growth

    Successful companies like Atlassian, which has been creating collaboration software for over 20 years, understand the importance of grit, determination, and teamwork. Atlassian is now leveraging AI with Atlassian Intelligence to help teams make informed decisions, boost productivity, and ensure data security. Meanwhile, building a strong company culture is crucial for growth, and HR providers like Insparity can help businesses achieve this. Atlassian's AI-powered software, such as Jira and Confluence, enable teams to accomplish more together than they could alone. Additionally, Burt's Bees, a successful business, pivoted from selling candles to focusing on skincare products due to consumer demand. This shift towards skin care was more scalable and profitable, leading to the company's continued growth.

    From Counterculture to Million-Dollar Business

    Beeswax Products founder Burt's initial rejection of the business world and counterculture background didn't hinder his success in growing Burt's Bees into a million-dollar company. He drew inspiration from established businesses and learned to manage people, despite his introverted nature. When faced with operational challenges in Maine, Burt made the strategic decision to relocate to North Carolina, where expenses were lower and production could be ramped up with industry expertise. Through grassroots marketing efforts and organic growth, Burt's Bees gained popularity in independent gift shops across the country in the mid-90s. Despite his unconventional background, Burt's talent and determination led him to build a thriving business.

    Burt's Bees: Authenticity and Challenging Gender Stereotypes

    The Burt's Bees brand, started in the late 90s, differentiated itself from other beauty companies by focusing on authenticity and challenging gender stereotypes. Roxana, the co-founder, made conscious decisions to use Burt's face on the packaging instead of exploiting women's images. The company's success came from its focus on the consumer, scalability, and a pulling strategy where customers asked for the products. Despite early success, a personal transgression from a co-founder led to a loss of inspiration for Roxana. The brand continued to grow exponentially, reaching millions in sales within a few years, due to its unique approach and consumer demand.

    B.K.S. Iyengar sells Burt's Bees and focuses on land preservation

    B.K.S. Iyengar, the co-founder of Burt's Bees, sold a significant portion of the company for a large sum of money in 2003 and left the business. He did so because he felt constrained and disconnected from the company that had once been an inspiration to him. Instead, he became passionate about conserving land and has given away a substantial amount of his wealth to buy and donate land for parks. Iyengar saw the excess cash from the business as an opportunity to invest in something solid, and he found that in land. His decision to focus on land preservation was influenced by his experience living on the land and the fact that beauty care companies typically spend a large portion of their revenue on advertising. Despite criticism that he received most of the financial gains from the company, Iyengar believes he was the more responsible party for managing the wealth and using it productively. He plans to give away most of his wealth before he dies.

    From luck to hard work: Roxanne Quimby's journey to success

    Success often involves a combination of hard work, intelligence, skill, and luck. Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt's Bees, emphasized this in her interview, sharing how her business grew from a small venture to a multimillion-dollar brand, with critical events along the way that she attributes to luck or divine intervention. Another topic discussed was health and wellness, with a mention of Cygnos, a tool that helps individuals manage their blood sugar levels and make healthier choices. Roxanne herself has used Cygnos to improve her metabolic health and lose weight. The interview also touched on the importance of community and connection, as exemplified by Roxanne's donation to a Jewish community center in her late husband's name and the concept of a dating app for people and their dogs, emphasizing the role of companionship in our lives. Overall, the conversation highlighted the importance of staying curious, working hard, and being open to opportunities, whether in business or personal life.

    Sisters Create Dating App for Dog Lovers

    Lee Isaacson and her sister Casey identified a problem in the dating world: people with pets, particularly dogs, were struggling to find compatible partners who were open to sharing their lives with their furry companions. To solve this issue, they created Dig, a dating app specifically designed for dog lovers. The sisters recognized that the way people cared for their dogs could reveal important personality traits, such as how much time and money they devoted to their pets and their homes. After overcoming various challenges during development, they successfully launched the app in New York and expanded to other cities. Dig has grown to over 20,000 users and generates revenue by partnering with pet companies for in-app advertisements. The app remains free for users. Although cat and horse lovers may have their own needs, Dig focuses on connecting dog owners for now. If you have a business idea or a story to share, visit build.npr.org.

    Small decisions and missed opportunities in life can change the course of history

    Small decisions and missed opportunities in life can have significant impacts on the world as we know it. Using the example from the show, if Drew Brees had passed his physical with the Dolphins and played under Nick Saban, the outcome of college football and the NFL could have been drastically different. Meanwhile, for podcast listeners, there's a new weekly sports podcast, Alternate Routes, where hosts Dre Wingo and Kevin Frazier explore intriguing what-if questions in sports. And for those seeking inspiration and meaning from various perspectives, Life is Short with Justin Long is a podcast that delves into the minds of actors, musicians, authors, and thinkers to uncover what makes them tick and how they find meaning in life. Ultimately, the podcasts we choose to listen to and the decisions we make, no matter how small, can shape our own experiences and perspectives on the world.

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