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Finding The Right Niche For Your Sustainable Business

In starting Ecomom, a site which vets eco-conscious products for mothers, Jody Sherman realized that people don’t care about green, they care about health.

Finding The Right Niche For Your Sustainable Business
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Jody Sherman is an entrepreneur. He’s a bright, confident guy who’s at ease with superficial contradictions and unafraid to buck convention. He’s the kind of man who plans on passing the bar exam without going to law school. He’s confident enough to be the dude with a girl’s name and no kids, behind a business built for moms. And Sherman is launching Ecomom, his eco-friendly business, in the decaying core of Las Vegas, which many consider America’s least sustainable city.

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Ecomom is an e-commerce site that specializes in selling curated products to moms. Many of them can be found elsewhere online but, at Ecomom, the hook is that they only sell products that have been through a rigorous selection process. “Our effort is in making sure that every single product that a mom buys is healthy and useful and safe and cost effective,” Sherman explains. “So, basically, our product is trust.”

All Ecomom products go through an evaluation according to a set of criteria set up internally by experts, including doctors, nonprofits, and scientists who look at every single product for 70-plus different criteria. They take what Sherman calls a 360-degree approach, looking at the products and the companies behind them and the people behind the companies.

“We interrogate these companies. They go through a very length evaluation and audit process where every ingredient is examined. And then we actually put these products to use because that is the only way you can tell whether or not they’re useful and then obviously, we look at the products to make sure that they’re priced cost effectively. And then, last but not least, we look at the companies themselves to make sure the company or companies with whom we want to work looking at the business practices. Do they have maternity programs? Do they have conscious types of business practices? Is there anything that we would be concerned about if we found out later on that would cause us to go ‘Wow, why are we working with them?’”

How did Sherman come up with Ecomom? He doesn’t even have kids. In fact, it was the result of both analysis and accident. After helping start a company that was sold to Richard Branson’s Virgin, Sherman was determined to follow Branson’s lead and start something that did well by doing good. “Working with Richard I got to see that you can build companies that made a difference financially, that made customers happy, and also that did good in the world.”

With his severance package from Virgin he gave himself a year to come up with a new venture. But first he created some rules to guide his decision. The first rule was that it must solve a problem that people actually had, as opposed marketing a solution to a problem that no one really has. The second one: Make sure they know that they have the problem. The third one was to make sure it is a big problem. That’s key according to Sherman: “If you come up with a big idea in a small market you can build a small company, but if you come up with a good idea and a big idea in a big market when you start to see competition or price erosion, there is still a big enough market that you could build a meaningful company.“ And finally Sherman felt that it had to align with things that he cared about personally.

But the actual idea for Ecomom was born in the aisles of Whole Foods. Sherman noticed a pregnant woman and a young mom with her kids, who were complete strangers, stop and talk for over 15 minutes about doctors, service providers, and products. When they were done, he asked around to see if this kind of interaction was unusual. He heard that moms were overwhelmed with choices and info as they struggled to find out what was the safest, healthiest choices to make for their children. That’s when he became, what he calls “a mommy shmoozer.” He observed that every single mom whether a new mom or a third-time mom shares the same concerns and started looking to see if there were there any companies solving this problem. “The problem that I saw that needed to be solved,” says Sherman, “was how do you make it easy for moms to know that the products that they are buying are safe and healthy for their families. So they could go back to this really important job of raising their family.”

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He saw a marketplace where there was either too much choice without enough good information that would allow mothers to choose easily and wisely, or a so-called “green” section of huge online retailers where the greenness of products was questionable. He also had another realization from his mommy market research: “People say they care about green but they really care about health.”

That insight shaped the entire way Ecomom presents itself. “In fact, if you look at our site,” says Sherman, “we almost never talk about the planet. You are not going to see a whole bunch of preachy-ness about you’re doing it wrong or anything like that because we don’t think we need to tell people about the planet. If every single thing that they buy is healthy and safe and useful and cost effective, they are happy.”

Sherman does recognize the irony of being the man with no kids behind Ecomom, and seems to even suspect that one day he won’t be needed there anymore. “Well, you couldn’t do this without a bunch of moms and my co-founder is a mom. She is head of products,” says Sherman. “I’m a business guy who came at solving a problem. I’ve been a sales guy my whole life and a really empathetic sales guy. Certainly in this case I can’t get as in the head of a mom because I don’t have a womb. I can’t make a baby. I don’t nurse. I don’t have any of those issues or experiences. So for me I have to be a good listener and I have to be empathetic and I also have to know that I don’t know everything. The most challenging thing to me about running a company with a lot of women is that one day I’m going to walk and it’s going to be mostly women. They are going to gang up on me.”

About the author

Carrie Norton is the Founder and President of Green Business BASE CAMP. Her professional mission is to prove the business case for sustainability.

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