Paul Shrater calls himself a "serial cereal" entrepreneur because cereal was the inspiration for minimus.biz, the successful e-commerce business run by Paul and his family.
It was at the end of a family vacation when his family lamented having to throw away boxes of cereal and other uneaten food that the thought came to him: "Too bad there's not a marketplace for miniature products." That was the inspiration for minimus.biz, which he calls the "Amazon of miniature things" and which ranks in the top 1,000 highest grossing e-commerce businesses in the U.S.
From there he leveraged his opportunistic nature and strengths in distribution to create other businesses and divisions in e-commerce, third party logistics, contract packaging in food and beauty, promotional products, foodservice distribution, private equity, compostable tableware, and supplements.
During a presentation at the Cal Lutheran Center for Entrepreneurship, Shrater shared his keys to success:
- Always be 1.5 steps ahead. Markets change and opportunities arise quickly, but distribution is a long-lead business that is hard to change quickly. Thinking one step ahead is not enough to be able to capture new opportunities.
- Hold weekly meetings to improve systems. System failure is a main source for business missteps and by focusing on it every week it’s possible to anticipate issues and improve processes for greater efficiency and no business-critical missteps.
- Funnel profits into hiring people as this is the engine for growth.
- When trying something new - go small first. Shrater relates a time when he had an opportunity to advertise on a travel site for $10,000. That was a huge sum and he decided not to participate. But in a twist of fate, that travel site became an affiliate advertiser of minimus.biz and earned just over $8 dollars. In retrospect, not spending the $10,000 was a great decision.
- Be opportunity driven and be bold in taking on new business that is close to your central business and core competency. When presented with a new opportunity identify the risk and reward profile and let that guide your decision making.
- Follow what’s happened in history or culture. Timing is important and by understanding cultural undercurrents it’s easier to do the right thing at the right time. Ask the question, "How can I fit into a need that is happen right now?"
His last advice was to have a passion for your life's work. If your job or business is only about making money then you will burn out.