Five years ago, Lindsay McCormick was working as a TV producer on HGTV's "House Hunters." She was traveling the country, living out of a suitcase, and relying heavily on travel-size toiletries. "I kept going through toothpaste tubes and I was just like, this feels so wasteful," McCormick says.
An avid surfer and former surf instructor, McCormick was keenly aware of where those empty toiletries ended up: the ocean. And she was shocked to discover just how wasteful one particular toiletry item was. "Every year, more than 50 Empire State Buildings worth of toothpaste tubes end up in landfills or oceans," McCormick says. So she decided to formulate an alternative.
In 2016, she spent $6,000 of her own savings to start Bite, a vegan, zero-waste toothpaste tablet company. "I didn't have much money," McCormick says. "It was like any of the money I would've used for something fun was now being funneled into my business."
Within a few years, McCormick has turned that $6,000 into a multimillion-dollar business. She even landed an investment offer from Mark Cuban on ABC's "Shark Tank" last March.
McCormick and her co-founder and boyfriend Asher Hunt ended up turning down Cuban's offer of $325,000 for 15% of their company, because they were only willing to give up 7% of their equity. Even without Cuban's investment, though, business has been booming and McCormick attributes much of Bite's success to keeping costs low.
Anyone can "start a business with an iPhone and some money in their bank, like a few hundred dollars," McCormick says.
Here are some of the money-saving hacks McCormick used to turn her savings into a fully fledged, successful business.
McCormick set out to formulate a sustainable toothpaste with "clean" ingredients, despite having no formal chemistry training. But she didn't let the learning curve didn't deter her. A combination of networking and free online courses helped her get up to speed in a way that didn't break the bank.
Reddit was a surprisingly helpful resource: "I feel like it's like a business built on Reddit," she says. "I found this page that a user put together that was like, if you want to take chemistry classes all the way from senior year of high school to Ph.D. in organic chemistry, here's how you take it for free."
She took free online classes through the University of Phoenix and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even after successfully developing the Bite toothpaste formula, McCormick is still taking advantage of free courses online, like an accounting and finance module she recently completed on YouTube.
Learning is the best way to continue to grow your business, McCormick says: "Your business will end up demanding a bunch of different skill sets, and I think it's all just breaking them down, taking classes, and learning them yourself."
After McCormick perfected her product, she spent nights and weekends making toothpaste to sell on Etsy, while maintaining her full-time gig in TV. Within Bite's first year of business, she made $6,000 and broke even.
Once sales started ramping up in 2017, McCormick decided to create a website to sell her products directly to consumers. "I put up a little website using a template, and I used iPhone photos that I took and they were not great," she recalls.
So in lieu of a birthday gift, McCormick's boyfriend, Hunt, who has a background in website and graphic design, redid her website and her product's labels.
McCormick was using a tableting machine she bought online and hand-pressing toothpaste bits in her living room to keep overhead costs low. And when friends came over, they helped her hand-label her products, so she didn't have to immediately hire employees to meet the growing demand.
In 2018, a Facebook video of Bite toothpaste bits was picked up by outlets like Cosmopolitan and NowThis. The product went viral and and sales began to skyrocket. "I thought we had been hacked because we started getting so many sales and we did $200,000 in sales in that first week," she says.
Two months later, McCormick and Hunt left their day jobs to work on Bite full time. Keeping your full-time job until your sales can supplement your income is a path McCormick suggests for new entrepreneurs.
"I get a lot of people asking, 'Should I go all in?' [I say] if you have a full-time job, or even a part-time job, keep that and see yourself as an investor in your company," she says. "Use that money to put towards your passion or your side hustle."
Having a mission you care about helps, too, McCormick says, especially during those moments when you will feel overwhelmed.
"You're going to come to times where you need something beyond the idea of freedom or money so you can step back and have a solid reason to lean on," says McCormick. "For me, it's the mission of sustainability, that's the whole reason why I started the company."
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