Kari Warberg Block, Founder and CEO of earthkind®
I started my company, earthkind®, makers of natural preventive repellants, because I was on a mission. As the wife of a farmer and daughter of an entomologist, I couldn’t understand why, at the time, 98% of pest control solutions sold were kill methods and poisons. I started out on my mission to create products that eliminated the need for poison use in the home, and in 2007, earthkind® hit store shelves with the first-ever botanical repellent to meet EPA efficacy standards for control of a public health risk pest. Today, earthkind® is a multi-million dollar national business, with potential to grow to $100 million+. But getting to this point wasn’t easy. I was constantly makings plans, changing plans, and always seeking ways to learn and grow. And while my business has come a long way from where it started in my kitchen years ago, it’s still growing and I’m working every day to find new ways to make it a success and take it to a whole new level. My new mission is to mount a global initiative with a robust philanthropic component—but that’s a whole other story.
Following are some of the best lessons I’ve learned about starting and growing a successful brand, which I hope will help and inspire fellow entrepreneurs, and aspiring entrepreneurs.
1. Keep seeking ways to disrupt the market, and never settle into the status quo.
I created earthkind® because I noticed a big gap in the marketplace, and had an idea to fill it. I’ve been successful because I’ve been able to meet the need for natural pest prevention, and manage the scale, scope and complexity of demand for the products we offer, as the business has grown. At the time, natural pest prevention was a novel concept and a market disrupter, but now, as earthkind® has grown, other companies have entered the space, so now I’m busier than ever looking for new ways to grow the business. That’s what drives me, a passion to create solutions with a purpose that will continually disrupt the market. If you settle for the status quo you’ll lose momentum.
2. Network, network, network! Not long before I began earthkind®, I was a single mom on government assistance and food stamps. I knew things had to change, so I looked for positive role models that I admired and found supportive communities to help me think bigger and learn by example. Since launching earthkind®, I’ve gone to every industry event and trade show I’m able to, and have become involved with the North Dakota Department of Commerce. Since North Dakota is where my company and I are based, it’s important for me to see the state thrive, and so I reached out to the ND Department of Commerce to share news about earthkind® and the success the company has had. As a result, they’ve in turn supported the company and me by helping to promote the success of earthkind® and other ND-based businesses. I’ve also been fortunate to have been selected as an Ernst & Young “Entrepreneurial Winning Women™,” which is a national competition and executive education program that identifies a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose business shows real potential to scale, and helps them do it. The program has afforded me many opportunities to interact with other successful entrepreneurs and learn from them, as well as share my insights. Most recently, I was selected to attend the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year™ 2016 Forum in Monaco, which is the most prestigious award for entrepreneurial leaders who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement, while also working to improve the quality of life in their communities, countries and globally. Also while I was there, I was selected to participate in a pre-kickoff Summit focused on Women in Leadership, which connects women and ideas for economic empowerment. At these events I was able to meet with CEOs of the world’s largest companies, and I set out to learn everything I could from them. I also made some amazing connections that will help propel earthkind® to the next level. Without my constant networking, none of this would have been possible.
3. Lead with purpose. Purpose-led companies are focused on doing work that makes a real difference, so they are committed to becoming the best, rather than the biggest, which in turn attracts more loyal consumers. This is especially true among millennial consumers, which have become the nation’s largest living generation. Millennials are focused on buying from and working for brands that have a firm purpose, and successful companies are making ‘purpose’ a driver of both innovation and decision-making. When ‘purpose’ becomes a company’s compass, it spurs creativity, which in turn drives innovation and growth. I’m a prime example of how operating a purpose-driven business can help scale you from one person with an idea, to the owner of a multi-million dollar company. Following our purpose of ‘preserving the good and preventing the rest,’ as we scaled the company, we now support American farmers by buying our ingredients from them. We’ve hired a handicapped workforce and built our equipment around their needs. We’ve also been able to stand up to pressure to manufacture overseas and avoid plastic packaging, while continuing to grow our retail presence in major retail chains across the country.
About the Author
Kari Warberg Block is the founder and CEO of earthkind®. She was the first to develop, manufacture and commercialize non-toxic rodent and insect repellents for home use. A highly regarded public speaker, Kari was chosen as one of the top three Small Business People of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2013. That year, she was also awarded the SBA’s highest honor in her home state of North Dakota – Small Business Person of the Year. She is a member of the National Women’s Business Council, which advises the White House, the U.S. Small Business Administration and Congress. As a member of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, Kari is committed to supporting economic independence for women around the world.