“I didn’t actually think it was commercially viable…”

That was Michael Stausholm’s first reaction to a product that’s now his company’s best seller. Fortunately, the CEO of Sprout stuck with it…

Michael Stausholm is CEO of the company behind the world’s ‘first sustainable and plantable pencil’. You read that right. The Sprout Pencil features a special seed capsule at one end and when it’s too short to write with, it can be stuck in the ground to grow into a tree, a flower, herb or vegetable plant. It’s a neat idea that also sells – the Danish firm delivers 450,000 pencils a month in more than 60 countries and clients include the Vatican, IKEA and Disney. And, like the pencils, the business keeps growing…

Seize your opportunity “Before Sprout, I was working as a consultant advising companies on sustainability, but I was finding it hard getting across to people what that actually meant. I came across the Sprout concept on Kickstarter.com and it struck me immediately as a great idea and the perfect way to illustrate what sustainability was all about. I made contact with the young students who had invented it, and did a deal with them to sell and distribute the product. I didn’t actually think it was going to be commercially viable, but I thought: why not?”

Hold your nerve “I went from making a lot of money in consulting to making absolutely nothing. Sprout was a constant demand on my time and I was starting to wonder if this was such a good idea – and then it went mad. Interest exploded and we sold 75,000 pencils in Denmark in a few months. This was late 2013 and it’s just mushroomed since then. Last year, we sold 1.7 million in 60 countries.”

Hire slow, fire fast “One year ago, there were two of us in the business. Now there are 20. It’s growing faster than I could imagine, but it’s so important to make sure that you take on the right people. I look to personality and chemistry as much as the skills that a person might bring to a role. The culture within your company is important and if you get the wrong fi t, it can have a big impact on your success.”

It’s about passion “Forget about the money. If you don’t have passion, you’ll never get anywhere. A lot of young people ask me how they can grow fast and make lots of money, but it doesn’t work like that. Starting and running a business takes dedication, time and commitment, and you need to make sacrifices to get there. You need to go all in and the rest will follow.”

Switch off “You can’t run a business at a million miles an hour, day in, day out. You have to try to turn your brain off from time to time, which I find very difficult. Last weekend, I visited Paris with my girlfriend. When I returned, there were 65 sales enquiries waiting.”

Stick up for your staff “The staff enjoy themselves and we all appreciate that we’re making something that makes a small difference to the world. I believe it’s important to support your staff . I had a distributor who wanted me to fi re my customer-service manager. I told the distributor that I would rather fi re them.”

Everyone can play a part “Perhaps it’s a Danish way of doing things, but we have a very loose structure in our company and people have a free hand to be creative or develop their ideas. I don’t need to be in control of everything. Once, during a meeting, a member of staff said we should produce a pencil where you didn’t know what the seeds were. So, you plant it and get a ‘lucky Sprout’. I said it was the worst idea that I had ever heard, but she was persistent. We put it up on our social media and, within an hour, 150 people said it was a great idea. I learned to listen.”

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: http://www.ink-live.com/emagazines/easyjet-inflight