Small-Business Startups

Four budding Bellingham entrepreneurs with new ventures they started in the last two years attended Western Washington University at the same time, but didn’t know it. Jarod Faw AND Hayley Boyd (above), Nick Meza, and Dylan Green met after becoming business owners, and since they have become good friends who’ve collaborated on ideas and products.

In email and telephone interviews, the start-up foursome offered their contributions to a Small-Business Survival Guide. Their thoughts ranged in extremes—from exercising boldness and derring-do (“just pull the dang trigger!”), to a more cautious pause-assess-proceed approach. And they all agree that a good designer is perhaps the most valuable item in the Guide.

This WWU pride of young lions is as green in business as the plants in Nick Meza’s shop, Babygreens, which he opened in April this year on Cornwall Avenue. Hayley Boyd and Jarod Faw, wife and husband, started Apse in November 2015 while still in art school, featuring their hand-crafted jewelry and art. They opened a studio and retail shop in November 2017, also on Cornwall.

Dylan Green joined a partnership in May 2017 that overhauled the former Lion’s Inn Motel on Elm Street, built in the 1950s about a mile from the center of downtown. As project manager and marketing director, Green linked with renowned downtown developers Bob Hall and David Johnston and the design firm of Smith & Vallee in Edison to open the self-described “boutique” 17-room Heliotrope Hotel.

“You’ve got to look good. Brand ID and development is essential. Make that investment early.”

Dylan Green, Owner, Heliotrope Hotel

Hayley and Jarod met Dylan when he worked for the Downtown Bellingham Partnership and Johnston. “We participated in a couple of Commercial Street Night Markets where Dylan was working, and he loved the wood bolo ties we created. He’s been a massive supporter and even modeled for us.”

Nick joined this friendship and support circle when he dropped into Apse shortly before opening Babygreens. “We’ve stayed in touch through various events and plant adventures,” Hayley said. “Now we have all (four) collaborated on a couple of products in our Bellingham line.”

This feel-good narrative feeds into the No. 1 item Hayley and Jarod would have in the Survival Guide. “A community of innovators,” they stated in an email questionnaire. “Good feedback, peers who will represent and support you, and inspirational people are all priceless and vital for staying relevant and excellent. Without a support system of creatives, it can be hard to know when or what to upgrade or change, and difficult to see your operation from your audience’s perspective.” And they ended with an invitation: “If you’re isolated or lacking community, come say hey.”

Each of the four shared “survival” thoughts about starting a business, based on what they’ve experienced early-on. Excerpts from their input:

Meza started up from personal savings out of a “passion for plants… and a strong appreciation for their cultural value. A straightforward indoor plant shop in Bellingham made sense because the town didn’t have one—at least not one quite like the shop I envisioned (as) the perfect small business to start, and a totally manageable one, too.”

“Accept the risks and just pull the dang trigger!” Proper, and critical planning is crucial, of course, but just dive into things. Be aggressive and stay excited.”

Nick Meza, Owner, babygreens 

He cited boldness as a key to a successful startup. “Accept the risks and just pull the dang trigger!” he said. “Critical planning is crucial, of course, but I think there’s a point where you just need to dive into things. This pressure forces you to take the action you need to take. If you have an idea you believe in, be aggressive and stay excited.”

And what would he place in the Survival Guide? “A design consultant to help get you started in the right direction. A big part of our early success has stemmed from our interior design and branding. People appreciate intentional details,” Nick said. He also mentioned “hiring trustworthy, genuine staff to constantly demonstrate company values. For our plant shop, these values are warmth, kindness, and top-notch customer service.” 

Green at the Heliotrope seconded Meza’s notion. Dylan’s work during the three years since earning a degree in journalism/PR at Western (aside from writing music and touring with bands) has primarily centered on “design, branding, and marketing…that’s how I earned my equity as a partner.”

He was strong on the point of design. “You’ve got to look good. Brand ID and development is essential. Make that investment early. And holistically. You can’t just slap up an image or a logo. Look good online and when they walk through the door. A customer must know what your product and services are, so set your guidelines on what your brand represents and what you want it to do for your business. Keep your vision in the forefront, stay on track and avoid distractions. Otherwise, a customer doesn’t know who you are or what to do.”

Hayley and Jarod have grown from scratch. “We’ve rolled with the punches and put everything we’ve made back into the business,” Hayley said. “We stepped out into the community and invested time and energy into quality products and customer service.”

Where boldness surfaced in comments from Meza and Green, the Apse team suggested, “Don’t be afraid to hit the brake pedal a little bit. It doesn’t mean you are failing (or) messing up. Sometimes it’s crucial to pause, reevaluate, and take a counterintuitive action. In the long run, it could mean the difference between burning out and going for the long haul.”