This week, I’m featuring my interview with Maggie Poeske, founder of Eight Maple – an online home decor brand with a focus on elevated and giftable everyday pieces at an accessible price point.
Over the last year, I’ve been highlighting some incredible small businesses in the Twin Cities and around the country. To learn more about why, read the first article in this ongoing series: How to Help in the Pandemic.
You can also read previous interviews with:
- Cardigan Donuts: 4 Simple Reasons Why I Absolutely Love Cardigan Donuts
- Gus Dean Coffee: How to Flip Obstacles into Opportunities with Gus Dean Coffee
- Sprinkles & Confetti: 3 Important Muscles You Need To Hustle With Heart
- Be Rooted Co.: 3 Excellent Questions For Your New Be Rooted Co. Journal
- Inspire Dance Studio: How to Make Decisions You Can Be Proud Of …with Inspire Dance Studio
- Coimatan: 3 Great Reasons Why You Need to Shop Small Business
Maggie, my friend, and the founder of Eight Maple, loves to travel, try new restaurants, and visit friends and family around the country. But, in a pandemic none of that is really possible.
So, she thought, why not start something new to fill that space?
“All of a sudden with the pandemic, I’m like, I have no hobbies left – outside of outdoor exercise, which is quickly fading – so as I was figuring out what to do during the winter, it was kind of something that I had always wanted to do and now felt like the right opportunity.”
Except, she didn’t “just start.”
Maggie started Eight Maple with intention and clarity – with a clear vision for her brand and a specific customer profile in mind.
EIGHT MAPLE SOLVES A PROBLEM
If you want to start a business, you need to answer an important question: What is the specific problem you want to solve for your consumer?
Maggie’s personal experience in various retail jobs, gave her the clarity she needed to start Eight Maple:
“I worked in a number of retail stores in college, both at a high-end boutique and then at Nordstrom, and I learned that there are very few people who truly love shopping. People like having nice things, they like feeling good about their space or their clothing, but they don’t always love the experience of trying to put together a whole scheme or wardrobe. Customers always appreciated when I could guide them and make that part a lot easier for them – so, that’s my philosophy with retail.”
And, that philosophy permeates every aspect of Maggie’s strategy with Eight Maple:
“My customer demographic is roughly ages twenty-five to forty. They’re decorating their first home, and in the midst of buying housewarming gifts, and wedding gifts, and baby shower gifts, and not wanting to spend all their time searching for the perfect item. When they come to Eight Maple, I want them to connect immediately with what we offer and say ‘oh this will go great in my home’ or ‘this will make a great housewarming gift that’s under $50.’ I don’t want to have a ton of options. I want it to be very directed, where you can come and say ‘I’m looking for x-y-z items and here are two options that look really great’ and then move on.”
So, what problem are you solving? How is that reflected throughout your business?
SEE THROUGH YOUR CONSUMERS’ EYES
To navigate your startup journey with clarity, make all of your decisions from your consumers’ perspective, ensuring that their needs are put first.
It’s a practiced skill. It’s not easy. And, sometimes it means you’ll need to check your own assumptions and preferences.
“When i’m looking at bringing in something new, it’s always with an eye toward: is this something that could have been in someone’s home in 1910, as well as 1940, as well as now? Or, is this thing just super trendy right now? There’s this one set of glassware that I keep coming back to and, I’m like, these are so cool – but they’re so trendy. In a few years, someone is going to say ‘this is a weird glass, why do I have this?’ So, it doesn’t make the cut.”
Maggie isn’t just shooting from the hip. She’s seeing the world through her consumers’ eyes in order to make decisions about her business:
“How do I over-index on the joy aspect of home decor? That means (1) eliminating the frustration of the search, or the frustration of ‘I found something I really like, but I can’t afford it’ and (2) being able to give them really special pieces that they’ll have in their home for a long time that will continue to bring them joy day-in and day-out, but doesn’t have that huge upfront effort associated with it.”
What mindset are you using to make decisions about your business?
EMBRACE THE STRETCH THAT COMES WITH THE JOURNEY
You’ll learn and grow the most when you’re stretched, just beyond your comfort zone. And, make no mistake, entrepreneurship will stretch you.
It’s up to you to acknowledge when the stretch feels healthy and when it’s too much.
I asked Maggie how the experience has stretched her so far:
“I’ve definitely hit roadblocks, getting some ‘no’ responses from vendors – for me, that’s always tough. I’ve had to ask again and restate my case. Initially they said ‘we won’t sell product to an online only retailer that hasn’t launched yet,’ and I thought ‘but I can’t launch if I don’t have any product.’ So, to work through that, I focused on building a relationship until they were willing to make an exception for me – while also trying to work other options if they wouldn’t budge.”
A healthy stretch – she leaned into discomfort and kept going. She continued:
“The other stretch for me is on the creative side. The business operations side of it? I can do that in my sleep, it’s not a problem. For the creative piece? I found a graphic designer on Fiverr who did the branding for me. I can’t do that, I don’t have those skills, and it was really helpful to narrow in on the look and feel of this brand, so definitely a worthwhile investment. But, I’m not at a point where I can afford to hire a photographer to do lifestyle shots whenever I get something new, so I bought a light box on Amazon and taught myself how to use it – that’s been a cool way to stretch myself.”
You’ve got to appreciate Maggie’s self-awareness, acknowledging where she needs help, but keeping it targeted.
Where are you feeling stretched? Is it a healthy stretch or is it too much?
LOOK FOR PROOF POINTS
Starting a business can be a big time investment. I asked Maggie if there’s been a standout moment where she felt like Eight Maple was a good use of her time, here’s what she said:
“Yes, I got an order from someone I didn’t know. In my second week, I got an order from someone that I had no personal relationship with and that was so exciting and validating and of course it was a friend of a friend but it just made me think: this isn’t just in mind as a good idea, it’s being validated by real people out there.”
I followed up: what has it meant to you to see the idea actually become real?
“It’s been really cool. I started this because I really did believe there was a white-space here, both in terms of the assortment and what I’m trying to solve for people. And it’s been really cool to see the website come to life, and for the vision to actually play out. Someone texted me and said how classy my site is – and I thought ‘wow, that was the word I was going for.’ I also heard from a couple people who said, ‘I want all of this on my wedding registry’ – and I thought ‘exactly, that’s what I was going for’ – because I went through that whole process of registering not feeling like I found exactly what I wanted and feeling like it took so much time to pull it all together. So, it’s just been really cool to feel like what I wanted to do, I’ve actually been able to execute on and that it’s really resonating with people.”
What proof points are you looking for? How will you know what you’re doing is resonating with people?
ORDER FROM EIGHT MAPLE TODAY
Still doing your holiday shopping?
Looking for a housewarming gift?
You can order from Eight Maple’s website today to shop timeless home decor for under $50.
BONUS: START A SIDE HUSTLE
Lastly, I asked Maggie, why should someone start a side hustle?
“It’s definitely a creative outlet, but if there’s something you’re thinking about doing, then I would absolutely advocate for it starting as a side hustle. For me, I’m used to a certain salary, I have bills that are dependent on me bringing in a steady income, and it’s going to take time to actually build a business and get consistent revenue. If I had quit my job and started this and launched it, I would be having anxiety attacks, I would be making bad business decisions in an effort to just generate some quick revenue and it wouldn’t be fun. It would just be a stressor. It’s been really nice to do this and have the space to play around with it, see how it goes, and learn – with an eye toward how can I make this into a longer term thing? But, without the pressure of ‘this has to be successful immediately otherwise I won’t be able to pay my mortgage.”
ONE MORE THING
Starting and growing a business is not a straight line.
It can feel messy. It zigs and zags. It starts and stops. It can feel frustrating even for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok.
It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself.
And, that’s why it’s worth it.