You have an incredible idea that you can’t get out of your head. It’s all you think about day in and out, but you’re kind of reluctant to share it with anyone because you’re afraid you lack the experience, knowledge, or capital to put it into action.
Our next guest, Benjamin VandenWymelenberg, not only believes in your idea. He thinks it’s essential to the survival of our planet. Ben’s book is The World Needs Your F*cking Ideas, and today, he’s going to share with us some of the expertise and straight talk that he drops in the book. Here’s our chat with Ben.
Benjamin VandenWymelenberg: When I started Woodchuck USA about seven years ago, originally, I had never planned to start a business. I originally didn’t have these big plans to build a manufacturing company. It just kind of happened naturally. I wasn’t born into a family with money. I had to work my way through college and work a couple of different jobs. I didn’t go to Harvard Business School.
I went to architecture school at the University of Minnesota. But through the journey of starting that business and having great mentors and being fortunate enough to travel to all seven continents and meet hundreds and thousands of different people. I started to realize that people have incredible ideas to help change our planet and to make a positive impact on the planet.
But so many of these people weren’t doing those ideas. They had been sitting on them for, some of them months, some of them years, some of them over 10 years. I realized, “Holy shit, what if these people actually went out and did those ideas or at least tried those ideas?” Or even if they didn’t go out and start their own business or start their own thing, what if they tried to do those ideas within the corporate structure there within?
Our world, our planet, our communities would be so much better if people would engage those ideas. Through traveling and through meeting these people and just seeing time and time again that people were sitting on these ideas and that a lot of these people were going to essentially go to the grave with these ideas and never trying them was, one, kind of sad for them, but two, kind of lit this fire under my ass and said, “Ben, you have this great mission of wanting to reforest the planet and protect nature spaces. There’s no way you could do that by yourself.”
“You’re going to need other people to start their ideas if you really want to save the planet, if you really want to protect mother earth, and there’s a lot of other areas that can be improved as well. You need to help other people and help light this fire under other people’s asses and help pull the inner entrepreneur out of these other people if you want to have a bigger impact.”
I said, “You know what? I don’t know how to write a book. I don’t know how to do that, but I’m going to fucking do it.”
That’s part of my mindset and how I’ve been able to start the business.
That’s kind of how the book transpired, that’s who it’s for. It’s for these people that have ideas that maybe don’t know how to bring them into action or maybe have these barriers that they’re telling themselves, “I don’t have enough money to start it.” “I didn’t go to Harvard,” or “I didn’t go to business school.”
My book walks through these common themes that people tell themselves and it talks about practical ways to get out of those and to kind of engage your idea. And it talks about personal journeys that I’ve gone through to get through those, as well to kind of expose, “Hey, I’ve started multiple multimillion-dollar companies. I’m a normal fucking dude. If I can do it, you can do it as well, here’s a couple of the things that I learned along the way. I’m going to help you start your business.”
Living Your Vision
Rae Williams: What you do and how you are executing your vision?
Benjamin VandenWymelenberg: Yeah, the primary business is Woodchuck USA. And Woodchuck USA is a company that’s dedicated to putting nature back into people’s lives, bringing jobs back to the US, and bringing quality back to products.
Woodchuck USA was founded about seven years ago, and it started with just a simple wood iPhone case and now has launched into manufacturing hundreds of thousands of different custom wood products every day, things from custom wood wine boxes, custom wood journals, custom wood flasks, still custom wood iPhone cases. Branding those things for corporations for corporate gifting.
For example, 3M or Delta might come to us and say, “Hey, we’re having a sales conference for 10,000 people and we need 10,000 journals next week in Florida.” Okay, great. That’s what we do. We work with a lot of different corporations, One, to not only create a quality product and get them that product in a timely fashion, but also, to reforest the planet.
We started the buy one plant one program about three years ago now, and for every product we manufacture, we plant a tree. Delta buys 10,000 journals; we plant 10,000 trees, and every single one of those journals comes with a little buy one plant one card that shows you exactly where your tree is. What is it like in that area, who planted it? How long does it take to grow, what other impacts is that tree having on the planet as a whole?
We’ve been able to start to tell that story and communicate that story to the end user, the person that’s getting the journal and also the corporation, and have a great message around what for profit businesses are able to do for the planet. That’s Woodchuck.
Another company that resulted as an opportunity, as we were starting to grow this company is a co-working space located here in Minnesota. So we have about 300,000 square feet of co-working space and that’s for entrepreneur and small businesses and startups anywhere from one person up to 60 people, that we help them get space early on.
It’s very hard for early stage companies, especially without proven financials, to get a space for them to be in. We realized this as an opportunity early on when we couldn’t find space.
Even though we had a business that was starting to grow, we didn’t have enough financials to prove. Landlords wanted us to put you know, five or six months down of rent. Well, we didn’t have that in cash. They wanted us to prove financials, well, we didn’t have multiple years of financials and approved.
We started this space specifically for those businesses. We’ve been 100% occupancy ever since and we’re continuing to expand the footprint of this co-working space as well.
The World Needs Your F*cking Ideas
Rae Williams: What do you think is the main idea of this book that people can take action on?
Benjamin VandenWymelenberg: Yeah, the main idea of this book is to help people understand that the world and all of the world’s problems right now can be solved if everyone who has an idea to do something, to make change, whether it’s big or small, steps forward, tries it, tries to do that idea, tries to do that business. All of those problems can be solved.
My goal with the book is to help lower that barrier to entry or that perceived barrier to entry and help pull the inner entrepreneur out of everyone that reads it.
Rae Williams: How do we start to overcome our insecurities? What is the beginning step?
Benjamin VandenWymelenberg: In the book, I lay out in the beginning, these three primary reasons for people or the excuses that they’re giving themselves as to why they haven’t started that idea or why they haven’t started that business. We kind of said, it’s typically one, “I don’t have enough money to do this or I need millions of dollars in order to do this idea,” which was not true. The second is, “I need to have some business experience or business background or I need to have gone to some prestigious business school in order to do it,” and that’s also not true.
The third is primarily a confidence piece that people don’t think that they have the ability or the inner ability to become that. That’s also not true.
The way that I go through and prove each of these things and help people understand that each of these things can be overcome is by simply telling my story. Simply communicating my story as I grew up on a small farm in Wisconsin, didn’t grow up with any money, worked really hard to go to college, didn’t go to college for entrepreneurship or for business.
Had no idea how to start a business and through the journeys that I had and the journeys that I walked them through in the book. Some of them are super raw, some of them are about getting my first lawsuit and what type of mindset was I in?
I thought the business was over, but really, it had just begun. I essentially graduated as I say to the next level of business. I walked them through hiring and firing and the level of commitment and loyalty that you have to look for.
Some really baseline things. I never even thought I’d write a book. I was probably the worst speller in my entire high school, and I’ve been able to write a book and publish a book and help other people start their own businesses.
Look, I’m a normal guy. If I can do it, so can you. If I can do it without a business background without money, etc, so can you.
Rae Williams: Give me one of your favorite or maybe least favorite stories of your journey that can teach us something?
Benjamin VandenWymelenberg: Yeah, I think one of my most favorite stories is one of the stories I used to help communicate this idea of graduating mindset as I call it. That you’re going to have so many of these opportunities for change or challenges that come up within starting the idea or pushing the idea forward and you’re going to have to graduate your mindset.
One of my favorite stories is the first time that I got sued. There was a couple of months prior to this that there was a printing company that was helping us kind of get started and start to do some marketing. Eventually came back to us and said hey, “I need a million and a half dollars from you guys for all of these random things.”
We said, “What do you mean? There’s no contract, we don’t have any money.” And I was completely taken of guard. This person, this company was kind of a mentor to us throughout the first part of our journey, and I remember just thinking to myself, growing up, what I remembered of people getting sued was that that person was a terrible person or that they’re going to be working at McDonalds the rest of their life or their life is completely going to be screwed, you know? By getting sued.
I remember exactly where I was standing, and I talk about this in the book too. I remember standing outside of a liquor store that I was walking through in Hermosa Beach, and my head was up against this rusty pole and I was like, “Man, shit, my life is over. I’m going to be working at McDonalds, I’m going to be working three jobs. It’s done, it’s over.”
I remember picking up the phone and calling one of my really close mentors and still today, one of my closest mentors and closest friends Ken Rutowski and I said Ken, “Fuck, man, it’s over. I just got sued for a million and a half dollars, I don’t know what to do, it’s done.”
He said “Ben, congratulations.”
I was like, “Ken, what the fuck are you talking about? I just told you I got sued.”
And he said, “Yeah, I know, I heard you. Congratulations.”
And I was like, “God, is he on drugs or something right now? What is going on?”
He said, “No, I heard you fine. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the next step.”
He said, “Do you know how many billionaires out there have multiple lawsuits going on right now? 15, 20, maybe even 30 lawsuits going on at the same time. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the next step. You can’t look at this as a negative thing. You need to look at this as a positive thing and say, I have arrived to that next level and yes, I’m going to have to deal with this opportunity.”
Not a challenge, I’m going to have this opportunity. I’m fortunate to be here because it means I’ve made it to that next level of business. And from that minute on, it totally switched my mindset, this mindset of being down and in the dumps. It was over instantaneously, with this great mentorship and leadership from Ken to “Wow, this is fantastic. This is great, I’ve made it to the next level” and “Yes, I’m going to have to deal with these challenges and opportunities throughout the rest of the business.”
That was probably one of the most poignant times that I remember and one of the best stories I remember as to graduating mindset and this idea that no matter what happens in business, no matter how big the challenges are that we can graduate above them and we can elevate to the next level.
Sometimes we need mentors and sometimes we need people around us to help us understand that or see the silver lining, but it’s there.
The Real Secret to Success
Rae Williams: What do you think is the biggest key to entrepreneurial success?
Benjamin VandenWymelenberg: Yeah, for me, the number one contributing factor to building a business or starting your idea is hard work. For me, I realized at a young age I had two incredible parents that helped instill this incredible work ethic in me, and then I had two wrestling coaches throughout grade school and high school that helped me understand at an early age that I could work 10 times harder than anybody else and even though sometimes I wasn’t the best, I could push myself 10 times harder than anybody else and work 10 times harder at the end of the day than everybody else.
So I am very grateful and fortunate to have learned that at a young age. I think all of us have that potential. Some of us aren’t exhibiting that work ethic now and maybe they have to practice that work ethic, but I think at the end of the day, it comes back to the work ethic and coupled with that is knowing your why, which is definitely something I talk a lot about in the book.
I mean, you can work really hard, but if you don’t understand where you are going or that vision or why deep down you are doing something, you are not going to be successful at it.
But if you have that work ethic, you can push through essentially anything. You have that why, that vision at the end of the tunnel, even though sometimes the tunnel get super tiny and you can barely see light.
Sometimes it might even go dark as long as you continue heading towards that mission and towards that why, you are going to be successful.
A New Lease on Entrepreneurship
Rae Williams: What happens when people aren’t doing entrepreneurship the right way?
Benjamin VandenWymelenberg: So, two things, one they don’t end up starting a business or they don’t end up engaging that idea. In the more critical piece—obviously that’s sad, from my perspective. That is one of the things that I said earlier on this and I talk about it in the book. I think that is really sad for them, because I have personally seen the amount of personal growth and business growth and world perspective that happens when you start a business or when you launch an idea.
So, one I think it is really sad from that perspective that they don’t get that personal growth. They don’t get that world perspective; they don’t get that life perspective by doing that.
But the more important reason in my opinion and the real reason why I started this book and why the book title is so aggressive is our world needs those fucking ideas. This isn’t like a, “Oh it would be really nice if people started their ideas and that would be neat and cool. Thumbs up good job.”
No, our world needs these ideas now.
And people need to start engaging these ideas if we want to have true traction on some of the biggest challenges that we are facing today. Poverty, hunger, health, healthcare, global crises, deforestation, water issues, you know these issues need people’s ideas.
Governments aren’t going to fix them. People need to fix these problems with their ideas, and that is why I am so passionate about it.
That is why the book is really written and transcribed in this more of an aggressive fashion because people need this fire to get going, but more importantly our world needs this fire for people to start these businesses and ideas.
Sometimes You’re an Asshole
Rae Williams: Why do we need to be the assholes sometimes? What do friends have to do with it? Tell us all about those chapters?
Benjamin VandenWymelenberg: Yeah, totally. That is one of my favorite chapters. So sometimes you have to be an asshole. I describe in the beginning of the chapter the difference from a definition standpoint, from Miriam Webster standpoint of selfish versus selfless. And those can a lot of times get confused by yourself and by other people around you when you are launching your idea or starting a business because the people that don’t understand your vision or that why or that mission can think that you are being selfish, but really you are being selfless.
I walk through a few examples in my own personal life of that selfish versus selfless, and really there is a lot of times in business that you are going to seem probably 80% of the time that you are going to seem from an outside perspective like you are being selfish.
For example, one of the stories I talked about in there was this opportunity—well, not opportunity. I had a friend’s wedding one weekend, and my mission, my why, my purpose for being here on this planet is to help reforest the planet and help our nature spaces be preserved for hundreds and thousands of years to come. That is my mission.
I had this wedding I was supposed to go to the wedding on the weekend but we had this opportunity come through that was to get into a lot of bookstores with our product that would in turn obviously help plant a lot of trees. But we had to read through about 130 pages of legal documentation. At the time, we didn’t have a lawyer.
We did not have a lawyer read through it, so we had to read it, I had to read it. So, I couldn’t go to the wedding. I had to sit down and lock myself in the room for three days straight and read through this documentation.
There are a lot of people, a lot of friends that said, “Dude, what the fuck? You are an asshole. Why would you not come?” And you try to explain to them, “I can’t. I have to read through this because this is going to help further our mission. I would love to go, but look…”
First and foremost, I’d love to be there. That sounds awesome, but that would be a selfish thing to do for me because just by going to that and forfeiting this opportunity to be in hundreds of stores and help plant tens of thousands more trees by getting this contract done and helping the planet. So, it is really more of a selfless thing if you understand the person’s mission.
And that is going to be confused a lot.
I walk through a handful more stories in that. One of them also about having to fire someone on the team that was liked by everyone. The other story was we hired someone from an operational perspective and they were managing 10 or 15 people from an operation standpoint. Everyone loved this person, but they loved the person because the person just let them do whatever they wanted to do. So we tried to help this person get back on the right track multiple different times. Documented the processes and everything, and he just couldn’t get there.
He could not get them to do what he needed them to do. So, eventually came down to it and we had two decisions.
One was well, we’ve got to let this guy go otherwise the company is going to go under. We just continued to spend money and not get enough product out—and that would be, viewing it from their perspective or everyone else’s perspective, that would be a pretty selfish thing to do.
Well this guy is a nice guy, why would you do that? You are such an asshole. You know yada-yada-yada.
But from a selfless perspective, look my mission and my vision is to plant millions of trees all over the world and help reforest the planet and help protect this nature spaces, and in order to do that we have to stay in business. We have to stay in business.
I would love to keep this guy. This guy is super cool, he’s awesome. This is one of those guys you would love to hang out with.
But he doesn’t get it. He can’t get us there, so I have to let him go. The next day to that entire team I think it was about 14 or 15 people decided to enter Monday morning meeting make this big deal about it and they thought I was a huge asshole for doing that. So, one by one each of them said their piece of why they thought I was an asshole, and they quit. So, we lost our entire operations team that day except for one person. So, it was a pretty big day.
That was tough for me. That was absolutely tough for me. That was seemingly from the outside an asshole thing to do, or selfish thing to do, but it was selfless. That was more difficult than keeping this guy on. It was more difficult making that decision, but the people that don’t align with that vision and didn’t align with that vision did not understand that. All they saw was “oh you’re an asshole or you are not coming to our wedding or you are not doing this or you are not doing that”.
But really the bigger picture was always in my mind of how do we get to this bigger spot? So out of that, actually one of the only people that stayed that day, was his first day. He witnessed all of these people, literally the entire team except for him quit. His name is Mitch. Mitch is still here with us today. I am very proud to have them on our team and an incredible asset to our team.
Mitch runs the operations, and from that day, being able to communicate, “Hey Mitch, here is the mission, here is the vision, here is where we’re trying to go. Obviously those people didn’t understand that but let me tell you something. If you are aligned with this vision, if you are aligned with this mission, I want to keep you here for eternity. I want to build this company with you. You are going to have a huge role. Some huge shoes to fill, because we have to make up for all this work. The next couple of weeks are going to be really fucking hard.”
“But let me tell you, if you are going to stay here if you are aligned with what we are trying to do here, I won’t ever forget that you stayed today.”
He did, and he is still part of the company and things have gotten incredible since then. So that is selfish versus selfless thing that a lot of people are going to have to battle with and deal with as they launch their idea or their business.
Rae Williams: Give your readers, our listeners, a challenge. What would you challenge them to do?
Benjamin VandenWymelenberg: Yeah, so the challenge would definitely be to take one step every day. Take one step every day. Maybe it’s sending that email to ask about how do you manufacture your product. Maybe you send it to a random manufacturer, “Hey I am looking to manufacture products and I don’t know how to do it. Can you help me?”
Maybe it is reaching out to ask someone to be your mentor through the process. Maybe you have never started a business before. Maybe you have, and maybe you are not even starting a business. Maybe you are just trying to launch an idea within the corporate structure that you are in.
Send that email, make that phone call. Do one thing every single day that is going to help you get to that point. Before you know it, in a week, in a month, etc., things are going to completely explode.
The hardest step is taking the first step, always.
You know I’ve had to deal with some incredibly complex issues since starting this business and in my opinion none of those issues or none of those things as complex as they are. I mean 50 million times more complex than the issues that we had initially from the business perspective, none of those are more difficult or more challenging than it was to start the business.
When I started the business, I had two full ride scholarships to go to grad school, for architecture. I had asked two of my mentors, “Hey, should I start this business or should I go to grad school?”
Both of those mentors said to go start this business, you’re going to learn more in two years starting the business than you ever will in grad school.
Deciding to turn down those scholarships, deciding to turn down what I had wanted to do my entire life to do this was hands down the hardest step in the entire business to date.
Looking back on that, these issues and what I deal with on a daily basis are 50,000 times more complex than that was, but that was the hardest step. Just by taking a step every day or maybe sending that email to a mentor or trying to get a mentor or asking questions would be the challenge that I give to the people listening is take that step.
They know in their minds what it is, but they’re afraid to do it. They’re afraid to send that email to their mentor. They’re afraid to ask for a mentor, they’re afraid to send that email about the product.
Do it, do one thing every single day, and you will be amazed at the progress that happens over a week, over a month, over a year.
Rae Williams: How can people reach you if they want to find you, get more information, connect with you, check out your products?
Benjamin VandenWymelenberg: Yeah, my website is benvw.com and they can log on to the website, they can also follow me on Instagram. I have an extremely long handle which is BenjaminJoVandenWymelenberg.
If you’re looking for a speaker, if you’re looking for someone to come to your next sales event and talk about how to incorporate an environmental aspect in your business or if you’re looking how to start a business or if you’re looking how to talk about variable data, mass customization in this kind of ever-changing ecommerce world…I’d love to speak on that. You can find all that information on the website.