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Paddle North started as a side hustle originally intended to be a fun way to make some extra cash on the weekends and maybe a full-time business someday. There’s a more in-depth background store HERE.  We started in 2014 and 2017 was our first year that we had more than $1 million in annual revenue. Perhaps not coincidentally that 2017 was our first year Peter and I were both full time employees of Paddle North. Our first few years of revenue showed explosive growth.

  • 2014 ~ $15,000
  • 2015 ~$103,000
  • 2016~ $480,000
  • 2017~$1,240,000

We learned a lot of lessons through these years. Getting from 0-1 million is arguably the biggest uphill climb in any business.

Use any available resources in the beginning.

We scraped together everything we could to get this business going. Using our own houses as storage when needed as well. The picture above is my garage being used for overflow storage in 2015. Early days had little overhead but also little extra cash. We did everything as cheaply as possible. We traded photographers’ time for boards. Our wives and friends helped for free or for free pizza/beer. We had cheap warehouse space, called in favors, and worked unimaginable hours to get it done.

Find out what works and double down.

We did our first tradeshow in 2015 and it was a significant portion of our yearly revenue.  In 2016 we did 6 more tradeshows and opened our first pop up shop in Rosedale Mall. These events were a significant amount of not only direct sales but also introducing our brand to retailers that would purchase from us for resale. We continued that trend in 2017 increasing events. The sales from Jan/Feb 2017 were more than our entire yearly revenue in 2016.

Building a business takes time, incremental improvements are a win.

There were a lot of headaches, stress and hard times building the business. We tried not to make the same mistakes twice but occasionally we did. The business was more than doubling every year and that can be very difficult to manage. We made a lot of incremental improvements along the way. It’s important to recognize those as you grow. It’s easy to focus on the stressors and squeaky wheels in the business. But occasionally recognizing how far you’ve come will do wonders for your mental health.

Flexibility and adaptability are paramount in the beginning.

Building a new business is full of unknowns. The direction our business is going now is not at all how we imagined it would be when we first started. Analyzing and scrutinizing your business constantly are important to make sure you’re on the right track. Being able to be flexible to change your business to meet your goals, or the changing marketplace is important to longevity. Being set in your ways or doing things the way they’ve always been done can be a death sentence. Constantly evaluate what you’re doing and why. Be open to feedback from customers and employees on ways to move forward, this is where some of your best intel will come from.

Organization and processes will make your life easier.

It took us many years to get this right. If there was one thing we went back to redo this would be it. We didn’t document a lot of processes early and it cost us time, money, and customer dissatisfaction. The earlier you can get this part down the more it will be ingrained in the culture and set you up for scaling.

Asymmetrical bets for the win

Look for areas where the risk/reward may be a bit asymmetrical. Tradeshows were this for us in the beginning. Our first show maybe cost us $1500 to be in and produced 10x that in revenue. It seemed obvious to us that betting on a bunch more of these shows could produce similar results. While relatively low risk there was a big chance for huge gains.

In conclusion

While every business will have a different path and different struggles. One thing will remain the same. Getting to your first year of $1million in revenue will be your most challenging. Scaling up from there will still have its set of challenges but ultimately feel easier than the beginning was.  The lessons you will learn in the beginning will go with you for a lifetime. Starting and growing a business can be stressful but it has been more rewarding than I ever imagined it would be.


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