Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Mikael Soderlind, I started Knife Aid in January 2019. Knife Aid is a mail-in knife sharpening service, modernizing an antique service by giving anyone who mails in their cutlery access to a master knife smith using the highest quality in techniques and materials to revive your knives.
As of January 2020, we are currently trading at $250,000 per month and have seen a steady increase month over month and continue to see the same in this coming year. Some of the main reasons for our success are that we are a service that pretty much every American home is in need of. Creating a business that speaks to the masses ultimately leads to great success. We have also had tremendous PR just this past year including top national publications and TV shows including Shark Tank and The View.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have a long and successful history in branding and starting businesses, one of them being my biggest success, Happy Socks, which I started 12 years ago. The biggest motivator for me to create my own companies is being free and in control of my own destiny and constantly living an adventure. It’s about the journey of creating something from the beginning that is built on the need or desire of people and then trying to put it in front of as many people as possible to be successful. Shortly after writing our business plan I found Magnus Petersson. With 30 years’ experience in knife sharpening, and having achieved celebrity status among chefs in the high-end restaurants in Los Angeles, and coincidentally originally from Sweden, Magnus was the perfect lead Knifesmith for the company.
Me and my family, moved to California to start this idea, and Knife Aid was established in Malibu with Mikael as CEO and Magnus as Master Knifesmith, training and overseeing a team of knife sharpeners.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Our mission was to develop a sustainable business that does not contribute to more consumption, but instead maintains and restores the value of what we already own, while at the same time bringing joy to the preparation of what we like the most – food and life in the outdoors.
We have an appreciation for the craft of knife sharpening and know convenience is paramount in a day and age when everything is available to us at the click of a button. That is why we have taken the old trade of knife sharpening and modernized it to make it easy and accessible to anyone in the US via our online platform.
Whether you’re a professional chef, self-taught home cook, or just learning your way around the kitchen, you’ll quickly find that quality knife sharpening will add joy to your cooking.
We started at a small scale in January with a very small quantity and then we noticed the issues, looked at how to make it easy for the consumer and how another knife sharpening wasn’t consumer-friendly, they required people to leave their homes. Kept small to friends and family to test and get feedback and test the packaging. The problems we had issues with were things that we could work on when doing it on a small scale.
The biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make, myself included, is looking too much at the details and not the bigger picture. You can get caught up on every single minor detail and lose sight of what’s on the horizon.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When starting a business, you must always first thing of a business that isn’t currently being offered. I did this with Happy Socks, no one prior to the company launching had created playful socks. From there, start your business small. With Knife Aid, we launched in January 2019 with close friends and family so we could get feedback on what was working and what wasn’t. From there you’re able to perfect your business model, so when it’s going to the masses, you’re confident in your product.
We financed the business ourselves, with a small seed investment into the business, but once we got through our trial and errors, we decided to accelerate the launch because we were still the only ones in the market offering this service. We did this by adding money to Facebook ads, and targeting, and also Google. We also brought on a public relations firm to help us spread the news about our business to media, which we believe is a strong driver for growth. While we have seen growth in sales of 10-30% per month since launch, a monumental moment for us was being on Shark Tank. Being on a national show like Shark Tank and getting the support of the Sharks that your business is fulfilling a hole in the market is game-changing. As of today, when you Google “Knife Sharpening” we’re the first to pop up, showing that we are changing the game in terms of knife sharpening and the leaders in the space.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have been fortunate because we offer a great service that has customers coming back and spreading the word organically to their friends and family. Customers initially find out about our service through our publicity.
As with Happy Socks, I’ve found that PR can be an extremely effective tool for helping to grow a business and spread the word. Once we get the customer’s attention, many of them may start by only sending us a few of their knives, but once they experience the service, they are open to sending us more of their knives. Our service also brings customers back because it’s customary to have your knives sharpened every 9-12 months, so there is a need for customers to repeat the use of our service.
With PR and word of mouth aside, the biggest thing that attracts customers attention is creating a business that the customers truly need and isn’t currently available in the market. When your business is something new and has never been offered before, it’s easy to make people aware of it and to drive growth. It’s the key to sticking out.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As of today, we are hitting a 10% growth month over month and will be hitting profitability in May, which is just a little over a year after launch. We are seeing that our business is resonating with customers, so we are only going to continue to perfect and offer the same great service for years to come.
As a result of our increase in customers, we will be moving into our third workshop this summer, with even more space for our knife smiths to cater to our customers. If you want to show profitability fast, you must start small, which we did with our first workshop.
Don’t start too big too soon, with any business that you’re starting. Try to maximize your current space and team, and then expand once you know that you have the demand. For us, instead of building a bigger team we are working on building better efficiencies, it’s not just about adding more people because that’s expensive you have to look at how you can optimize and by doing that you hit profitability faster.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When starting a business, it’s important to find a new sector, or hole in the market, and something that will lead to long-term profitability. A lot of times people love their business concept or fulfill a personal passion, but you have to always be looking at the books to see if you can actually make money off of it. That’s why you have to start by doing small batch tests with customers before going large scale. That’s the best way to ensure profitability and make sure you’re fulfilling a need in the market.
As an entrepreneur, you have to know, and start your business with the expectation, that things will happen outside your control and make sure that you have backup plans in place to handle these situations. One of the biggest setbacks we experienced was during the Malibu fires in 2018. Our headquarters were burned down during the fires and thus we lost all of the envelopes we had perfected after months of development. Our launch had been originally planned for holiday 2018, which is a key time for people to want their knives sharpened with holiday entertaining, but as a result, we were forced to launch in January 2019, a three-month setback. Versus counting our losses, we made sure that come January we were presenting our best possible service, and product, so we used that time to perfect our business model.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Being just a year old, we have taken our time in terms of using outside platforms and tools. We have kept it inhouse, so we have control and direct insight into how our business is running and what is working best.
That being said, as we grow, we know we will need to look into more outside resources, particularly in customer experience systems and managing customer support. It’s taxing to answer individual emails, social media posts, etc. so we are looking for ways to respond to all of these different platforms in a cohesive way.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Books, podcasts, and outside resources haven’t impacted my business decisions or my growth as an entrepreneur. It has been my own trial and error that has taught me the most.
You have to constantly be curious and trying new things. It’s this firsthand experience that is the most fulfilling and leads to the biggest learnings.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Throw yourself completely into your business. You have to be fully dedicated to it and be prepared to start it full time. Your business won’t be successful if you try to start it on the side, or as a part-time gig, you have to plunge fully into it and give it all your attention. I would also advise that people make sure it’s a concept or business model, that you 100% believe in and are dedicated to. Most importantly look at the big picture and see that it’s a business that will lead to long term profitability.
The biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make, myself included, is looking too much at the details and not the bigger picture. You can get caught up on every single minor detail and lose sight of what’s on the horizon. You have to be looking ahead at the long-term vision of your business. Looking just at the short term will keep you from seeing the larger growth of your business which in turn can impact sales and the profitability of your business.,
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
As a start-up and growing business, we’re hiring all the time. We recently hired a Content Manager which is a huge asset to our team and are looking for our next hire to be a Director of eCommerce.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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