Josh Neblett was a finance major at Gonzaga University when he heard venture capitalist and adjunct professor Tom Simpson describe the idea for GreenCupboards, an online retail site for eco-friendly products.
Neblett didn’t waste much time jumping on the opportunity. He approached Simpson after class, and asked if he could write a business plan for the company.
Simpson, the founding partner of Northwest Venture Associates, gladly obliged. It’s a good thing he did.
Today, the Spokane company employs 50 people, and is pulling in more than $1 million in monthly revenue. Even more impressive, Neblett built the profitable business on just $288,000 in seed capital. Now, that’s bootstrapping your way to success. Here’s more on GreenCupboards from our latest installment of Startup Spotlight.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “GreenCupboards sells a vast variety of eco-friendly products through multiple channels of online distribution for homes and businesses.”
Inspiration hit us when: “My professor at Gonzaga University, Tom Simpson, gave an elevator pitch for GreenCupboards during a lecture. After class, I approached Tom and asked him if I could write a business plan. He said yes, and I wrote one with the help of my girlfriend and current wife, Sarah Wollnick. We subsequently entered the plan in a business plan competition between Gonzaga University, Whitworth University and Eastern Washington University. The plan won first place, we moved into Tom’s office, and started the company. Three full years later, and we are a business with over $1 million in monthly revenues, and are profitable with about 50 people.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We have raised $288,000 from our founders, board members and two local angel funds. We adhere to a strict bootstrap mentality, are focused on profitability and plan to build the company for the long-term (haven’t spent any time thinking about an exit). We believe this style is more consistent with angel investors than venture capital funds.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Proprietary systems (with acronyms named after animals) that enables GreenCupboards to identify, source, sell and fulfill products in an efficient, profitable and scalable manner. A winning, employee-empowered and fun company culture combined with a team of young (the average age is less than 25) creative, passionate and tenacious individuals. Over-the-top customer service (including a no questions asked return policy). Fantastic relationships with vendors. A vast array of products. Multiple online channels of distribution.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Correctly identifying the large and growing demand for one-stop shopping for an exceptional variety of eco-friendly products. Most individuals, assuming comparable prices, quality and efficacy, will choose a “green” version of a given product over a “non-green” alternative. However, there are very few stores — either online or brick and mortar — that specialize in offering eco-friendly products, everything from electric scooters to bamboo rugs and solar pool heaters.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Where do I start? We’ve made many mistakes. Yet, we subscribe to the belief that we need to be right only 60 percent of the time as long as we make corrections quickly and learn from our errors. Perhaps our biggest mistake was early on when we bundled our products into “cupboards.” At that time, we offered “cupboards” of products for the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, nursery and for pets. We quickly learned that customers prefer to pick and choose what products they want. We still have some dog and cat “cupboards” left over if you’re interested.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “I’ll take any of these behemoths in my corner, but if I had to pick one, it would be Jeff Bezos. He has a demonstrated an amazing ability to change and morph Amazon’s business strategy and model to adapt to opportunities, challenges and competitive threats.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “Now! However, we have no intention of actually dominating the world. Rather, we intend to become the leading online retailer of environmentally friendly products. We’ll do this by delivering a world class customer experience, offering the highest quality and vastest assortment of eco friendly products and deploying, proprietary, automated systems.”
Rivals should fear us because: “Because we are young, scrappy, tenacious and have been developing supplier relationships, market channels and systems more efficiently and longer than nearly all of our direct competitors.”
We are truly unique because: “We have achieved such tremendous growth and profitability in such a short time despite the fact the average age of our team is less than 25 and we have only raised $288,000 in equity capital.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Our youth and inexperience. However, this is also one of our key assets.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Stay lean, flexible and be ready to pounce when an opportunity presents itself. Trust your instincts; no one knows your business or vision as well as you.”
Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Seattle area startup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out the questions above, send photos of the founder(s) and company logo to firstname.lastname@example.org. Past profiles can be found here.