What goes through the mind of someone who wants to start a company?
How do they keep going when things are tough?
How do they market themselves on the internet?
To answer all these questions and more, I interviewed Maria Bloom, the founder of the company Little Bloom
Her company is a web store for children products that are organic and better for the environment in many ways.
She lives in Sweden but have costumers from many parts of the world. Among the countries she sells to are USA, Japan, Australia and most of Europe.
She started Little Bloom back in 2009 and she have worked hard to accomplish what she has today. In the beginning she worked from home and kept all her inventory at home. Today she is renting a part of an old army base where she has her office and all her merchandise.
One thing about Maria that impresses me is that she manages to run her company while parenting three small children.
I conducted this interview over the phone and over email.
Q: Why did you decide to start Little Bloom?
A: I have always been environmentally conscious and when I had my first child I wanted to use cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers. I soon realized that the ones you could buy weren’t all that good. Every one of them lacked something. One didn’t fit right. One was made of the wrong material. And another didn’t have a good way to close them and keep them closed.
From this I came up with the idea to start producing and selling cloth diapers on internet. I had myself bought all the cloth diapers I used over internet so I knew there was a market for it.
The first thing I did was go to the bank to get a small loan to buy a sewing machine and be able to build a website. I bought some fabric and tried to sew them myself. Then, since I am kind of impulsive, I contacted a woman through Blocket (The Swedish version of Craig’s List) and she helped my build my website. Suddenly I had a web store for cloth diapers.
Soon I noticed that it was very hard to find organic and environmentally conscious products for children. To get hold of the products you had to search and look through a lot of different websites. I came up with the idea to gather all these products in one place. Soon I didn’t only sell cloth diapers but also clothes, pacifiers, shoes etc.
Q: What is your business philosophy?
A: I had to think hard about this one and I came up with the following. My philosophy is that it is perfectly possible to combine good design and still care for the environment. And of course to bring the best to our children.
Q: What is your target market?
A: When I started I focused on pregnant women and mothers, parents, grandparents. And of course in the beginning I sold mainly to old colleagues, family and friends. My market have grown through the years and now I also sell to daycares, pre-schools and pediatric institutions.
I also sell to maternity wards and NICU departments. One of the things I sell is baby carriers where you carry your baby close to your body. At the maternity wards and the NICU they want the parents to have the opportunity to bond with the baby this way.
Q: What has been the hardest?
A: The hardest part have been to survive economically. It takes a long time before you start to make any profit and I am still waiting for my first real salary. The money I have made I have simply put into the company.
Another hard part has been getting traffic to my site. Marketing is tricky and I started this business without knowing anything about marketing. I have had to learn everything myself.
One thing I wouldn’t do now that I did in the beginning is to use money for magazine ads. I spent a lot of money on this and it didn’t give me any traffic. There are better ways in the beginning that doesn’t cost as much but gives better results for a website. Of course it all depends on who you your target market is. But for me it was not worth the money.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned along the way?
A: To listen to my gut feeling and never do business agreements over the phone. A lot of people say they are SEO experts and the things they have in common are that they all cost money and it is very hard to measure any results.
Q: You have been around for almost 7 years now. What is the biggest difference for you now and what is your biggest achievement up to date?
A: I have spent a lot of money and time on getting high up on key word searches. I have recently become number 1 on Google.se when you search for “organic children clothes” in Swedish. To me, this is an enormous achievement since I started from nowhere.
Now I will change my marketing strategy slightly and put more effort into AdWords campaigns.
Q: Can you tell me a few things you do regularly to market yourself?
A: I update my Facebook page almost daily with new products. I also send out a newsletter with products and new merchandise. I feel for me these two work the best and draw the most traffic to my site.
I also work very hard to keep my costumers satisfied. A satisfied costumer comes back again and again. And word of mouth is important.
Q: What is your best advice for someone who wants to start a business?
A: Make a business plan and think it through. Calculate how much you must sell to cover all your expenses. Think carefully about how you will manage economically. Research your competition and see what they offer. Also try to estimate how long it will be before you have reached your “goal”.
Q: If you could go back in time and talk to yourself when you just started, what would you tell yourself?
A: Make a realistic budget! Estimate your competition. But then again, if I had known how tough it would be I might never had dared to do it. Sometimes it is better to take a chance than know how everything will turn out.
Q: I know it has been very hard at times but you have kept going. Why haven’t you given up?
A: From the start I believed in my project and I have slowly, and systematically worked to take a spot in the market. I have figured out most things by myself and learned from my mistakes.
I am very stubborn and I do not want to fail. I also strongly believe in bringing more environmentally safe products to my costumers.
This is what I want to work with and to have my own business is the most exciting thing I have ever done. I can’t envision myself to be employed by someone else again.
I work best under a bit of pressure. I really want to be able to make a living on Little Bloom.
And since I was little I have always dreamed about working with design and textiles. So in many ways this is my dream come true.
We’d like to thank Maria Bloom for sharing her insight and experience with us. And now, some questions for our readers:
Can you relate to Maria’s experience of learning marketing along the way?
What lessons have you learned since starting your own business?
Is there anything you would have done differently given what you know now about marketing and business management? What do you wish you had known when you were starting out?