Scaling Big on a Bootstrap Budget

Episode 27:

What does it take to scale a business from a $2,000 initial investment to one that serves customers in tens of thousands of venues all over the Midwest? Let’s dig into that.

On Episode 27 of the podcast, we talk with Dereck Lewis about how he took his grandma’s cookie recipes and turned them into a business that has had a 100% growth rate each year since it started in 2012. For one thing, it takes the right mentors. It might take a little bit of “this is my last best chance” kind of mental motivation. And it takes a ton of hard work.

Dereck Lewis is the owner of Thelma’s Treats, makers of handmade ice cream sandwiches that are, well, delicious. Dereck started this venture after sticking a toe into the worlds of insurance and real estate.

This is a fascinating conversation – it’s kind of the podcast equivalent of a buddy movie for start-up nerds. Dereck digs into the challenges he faced early on, talks about two great mentors that helped immensely and also provided some tough love.

If you are looking for an engaging, fine-grain look at how to scale up a business, this will be time very well spent.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How to scale a business starting with a bootstrap and a prayer
  • Lessons from growing up in a family business
  • How to build in resilience in an up or down economy
  • How to pivot to the segment of the business that is working best
  • The role of faith and principles in the way you run your business
  • Knowing when to level off growth in a business
  • Building a track record that will attract lenders
  • Finding the right mentors who will tell you the truth and help you grow
  • How to scale a physical infrastructure-heavy business
“I remember at one point thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, this might be tough and we might have to suffer a little bit or sacrifice some things financially, but this is the right career for me.” – Dereck Lewis Click To Tweet “This was my third shot at an entrepreneurial idea, so my wife and I were in agreement – this had to work or I had to get a regular job. That is some powerful motivation.” – Dereck Lewis Click To Tweet “It kind of surprised me. We had gotten just big enough and had enough track record that the bank agreed to loan us money to buy the building.” – Dereck Lewis Click To Tweet “We started VERY small, like with $2,000 invested in equipment. The hardest hurdle is probably that first little push and then once you have some sales history, then you have data to make the right decisions for the next step.” – Dereck Lewis Click To Tweet “Scaling a perishable goods company is complicated. There are tremendous obstacles with manufacture and distribution to overcome.” – Dereck Lewis Click To Tweet “I’m a little iffy on the value of a college education. If I had it to do over, I would choose better classes, instead of skipping them.” – Dereck Lewis Click To Tweet “When I was in college, the business program was geared toward teaching people how to be in middle management. Turns out, I was totally not interested in that path.” – Dereck Lewis Click To Tweet “Some things are just happy accidents. We designed a box that looked like a little vintage oven. It won awards and opened a lot of doors for us.” – Dereck Lewis Click To Tweet