Have you ever wanted to be the spouse of an entrepreneur? It’s an exciting career choice. And one that I didn’t know I’d come to love.
First, you better be comfortable with brainstorming and “what if” games. You must also not get too attached to ideas nor possible solutions. Entrepreneurship is a space of curiosity and taking chances.
A friend of ours, also an entrepreneur, once said he thinks about ideas as though they drift (or rush) by on a river. He likes watching the ideas float by. Some of them he’ll pluck out of the water and hold for a bit. Turn them in his mind for a moment, and toss them back. But some of those ideas, he holds onto and further explores to learn their secrets.
In the earlier years of Soapy Gnome, Jenny would often start talking to me with the following preamble, “Now don’t get to worried or freak out, and I’m not yet doing this, but what do you think about this?” She’d then go into an in-depth explanation of what this was.
It would’ve been easy to confuse those ideas and musings for “I am doing this.” Her preamble let me know that she was thinking about this, and not implementing the idea.
These days she abandons that whole preamble and just says “I’m thinking about this.” So many ideas float down that river.
Second, get ready to run all kinds of experiments.
Let’s break down the anatomy of the experiment:
- Articulate the observed problem
- Explore a few possible solutions
- Take small, concrete, yet reversible steps to address the problem
This is a bit like the scientific method. It’s about holding lightly to each step. You can also see echoes in Bringing the Whole Toolkit to Problem-Solving.
The successful product experiments are the easiest to recognize. Jenny brought in socks and Turkish towels as an experiment, and they’ve proven very popular. Other experiments, like the silicon toiletry kits, were less so.
There have been other experiments that she’s ran based on listening and observing. Years ago, we’d close our store at 1pm on Saturday. That was when we closed up at the Goshen Farmer’s Market. Even when we stayed open a bit later, like 1:30 pm or so, we saw very few customers come through the door. It made personal sense for both of us to pack up and head home.
Then we heard Keith Graber Miller—the co-owner of Found—say they were open until 3pm on Saturdays. They would get customers stopping in around 2pm or so, each commenting about other closed stores. Turns out Goshen is a weekend destination for people from Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, and other metropolitan areas.
Immediately, Jenny worked at shifting our Saturday schedules to test staying open later. And sure enough, people started rolling in around 2pm on Saturdays. After a few months, we checked the numbers, and Saturday from 2pm until 3:30pm showed consistent numbers. With that experiment, we’re now open until 4pm every Saturday.
Another less obvious experiment was exploring wholesale opportunities. Jenny would find a trade show, and we’d pack up a van full of products and displays and work to get wholesale accounts. This experiment wasn’t wildly successful (yet), but it did teach us about another side of retail. We learned a lot and have continued to roll out our wholesale options.
That little experiment is one reason for our long-standing relationship with the Purple Porch Food Co-Op. They’ve carried our products since or so.
For those curious, Jenny wrote How to sell wholesale products to Soapy Gnome, a guide on how you might approach Soapy Gnome to carry your products.
And third, accept and embrace that your partner’s brain is always on. Anything can spark an idea. And as our friend said, you gotta look at those ideas floating by. Maybe pluck one out of the stream and just turn it in your mind’s eye for a bit.
Be prepared to give those ideas space. I’ve learned to be curious, to listen, and ask questions to help Jenny as she discerns these ideas. This may sound like work, but seeing Jenny passionate and curious is amazing. I’ll take that every day of the week.