Grow Your Company More Slowly Said Nobody Ever

June 11, 2015

The message I get from the business world is that you have to move fast. You want to be first to market. You have to get there before your competition. You have to scale quickly.

Vasco de Gama

When I think about scaling quickly, I think about weighing my peppercorns at a quicker pace. 

Oh, I know, there's definitely some truth that growing a company fast is a successful strategy. Companies first to market often win market share because they get head starts. The problem is, moving fast usually doesn't work well for customers. Compromises have to be made. Hey look, Comcast is growing at a healthy clip, but I doubt their customers would agree that they should move faster.

I definitely wasn't first to the spice market. Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus had a jump start on me. And they weren't first either.

I was fortunate enough to be able to start The Reluctant Trading Experiment without investors. The only people I report to are my customers. If you like what I offer, you buy. If you don't, you skip it. There's nobody telling me to go faster or slower. It's my choice to go slowly. It just doesn't make sense any other way.

I started Reluctant Trading with a single item: Tellicherry Peppercorns. I never planned on starting a spice business. But the floral, citrus aroma of the wrinkled, shriveled black beauties drew me in. Peppercorns? I know, that's a pretty odd business choice after running a successful children's furnishings company for 14 years. Let's just say I like challenges.

Did I think peppercorns alone would be enough to sustain a business? To tell you the truth, I had no idea. But in hindsight, starting a company with an item that is consumed in small quantities and reordered once a year was not exactly my Howard Schultz moment. Peppercorns do not sell like coffee beans. Or hot cakes for that matter.

But the peppercorns spoke to me. And I answered. I knew that the exceptional quality of this spice would be the standard for all other items going forward. I just wasn't sure if I could honestly find more spices that would be as good. One of the reasons I called my company an "Experiment" was in case I needed an out. What if I couldn't find anything else as extraordinary?

My partner Divakar and his staff in Kerala, India

Plus, did I really want to carry 100 spices just like everyone else? Spices are a commodity product, aren't they? You just want to buy the cheapest you can find, right? Head on over to the big box store and buy a gallon jug of peppercorns that will last years for just a few bucks! That's what I thought. And I think most people think this way. There was no reason to think otherwise, until, of course, I had my pepper epiphany a couple of years ago. (See the reenactment in this video that we made that went viral.)

I've discovered that the big spice companies buy huge volumes and let their inventories sit in warehouses for years. I've seen small artisan spice companies buy their supplies from distributors who buy huge quantities that sit in warehouses for years.

Seems like everybody is moving too fast, working with a business strategy of having the biggest selection at the lowest prices, taste be damned.

I think everybody in the spice business forgot about the customer experience.

But were there really spices out there that were as jaw dropping as the Tellicherry Peppercorns and Icelandic Sea Salt that I had found? I've spent the last couple of years looking into it. 

I've been working with my close friend in India, Divakar, to find more of that epiphany stuff. We have no distributor. No large warehouses. No investors. Just the two of us looking around India for the special stuff.

I am the tortoise. Goo goo g'joob.

We buy directly from the farmers. Divakar does most of the legwork, traveling around to the farms. We make decisions with our noses, not our wallets. We only look for the freshest, most aromatic spices in the best growing regions of India. We look for small farms where they care for their workers, the land and their crops.

I'm excited to say that during the last few months, I've had several more epiphany moments.

Of course, I can only move so fast. Even if the tortoise carbo loads before the race, there are still limits to what he can do. After all, the tortoise is still a tortoise. 

I've been taking my new spices to top chefs in Chicago and Portland. I've been getting second and third opinions. I wanted to make sure I wasn't just drinking my own pepper laced kool-aid. One by one, I have watched the chefs have their own epiphany moments. I'm confident now that I have something special to share.

There won't be tons of new stuff. Just a handful of things. Selected slowly. Sign up for the Reluctant Newsletter and I'll let you know as soon as the new spices hit the site.