There's a growing movement to appreciate our everyday household items, and a new wave of entrepreneurs have taken up the flag to craft designer items you would be proud to leave on your kitchen countertop. Neotus is one of these ventures with Michael Eich at the helm, a 43-year old entrepreneur who envisions a new and exclusive type of pepper mill handcrafted out of the most noble woods.
"I have no ambition to replace the classic brownish or acrylic pepper mills but to offer an alternative to design enthusiasts and daring personalities." - Michael Eich
We appreciate those with dedication and passion to provide products and services to fill a gap they see in the market, and the Neotus designed pepper mills look to provide a luxurious alternative to what's currently stowed away in your kitchen cabinet. Today, Michael shares his journey transitioning from his 18-year banking career into designing handcrafted pepper mills in the Geneva countryside.
Entrepreneurs reading this Q&A will undoubtedly resonate with his struggles, and aspiring entrepreneurs will get a taste of the real world of owning your own business, which is 99% blood, sweat and tears with a 1% (or less) chance of succeeding.
P: Why did you decide to go from banking to designing pepper mills? Tell us about the decision process that led you to make the leap into entrepreneurship.
M: Everything started with a talk with my boss. Basically he told me « you are not fit for this job ». It was the trigger, it was time to move on. I’ve been frustrated with my job for so long but the fat pay-check was blinding me. At 43 years old I just did not imagine myself continuing the same life for 22 years! I told myself “let’s do something you really enjoy”. I’ve always been attracted by design but without formal training I’ve never really considered working in this field until now. I know in the worst case scenario I could go back to my previous industry. My wife fully supported me in this change process.
P: Tell us how life has changed for you since transitioning out of your banking career and into building your pepper mill business.
M: A total change. I’ve exchanged a banker lifestyle with a student lifestyle. The business officially started few months ago, so there's no paycheque yet. It’s the best school, the school of hard knock. To give a chance for my business to be successful I had to step outside of my comfort zone and do things very difficult for me such as cold calls. On the another hand I’ve had the privilege to have breakfast with my kids every day and to play with them once they return from school. Being an entrepreneur also gives me the luxury to do what I love, creating. I massively cut my expenses because I discovered I could live with much less. Overall I’m happy I had the guts to make the change.
P: Building a new business takes courage, especially after an established history in an industry; what gave you the energy and courage to get started?
M: I simply did not want to have regrets to never try living my dream. To have an established career is a safety net - you could always come back to it if needed. Without the full support of my wife I probably would not have done it. She’s the one bringing money home.
P: Since you started your pepper mill business, what is a key lesson you have learned?
M: Fail big and fast. If nothing is working never hesitate to pivot or to do something differently. Never be afraid of being wrong, but don’t take too much time to realize it.
P: Is building a new business different from what you imagined?
M: A million times more difficult than expected. I reckon I choose a very challenging path, going into a total unknown industry. I have underestimated that to have a good product is not enough, you have to make people know about it. I thought to have a nice website and a bit of advertisement will be enough, and I was so wrong! If you don’t have money, you have no other choice than to leave your house and to knock on doors. I did not expect to meet so many people ready to help me, to support my adventure, without asking for anything in return.
P: The company is relatively new, what goals do you have for the business? Is the product being distributed in stores or are you an online shop only? Do you ship worldwide?
M: I’ve got two mains goals. The first is to create a model I would be proud to put on display. It took me 18 months of R&D, hundreds of doodles and 20 prototypes to come up with this. The second goal is to run a successful business. Currently Neotus is an online shop only, with free worldwide shipping. We are developing a B2B component, with highly customized mills.
P: Why did you choose the country side of Geneva to set up shop?
M: Because it’s where I’ve grown up.
P: How many staff do you have?
M: None. I made the choice to outsource the production to an artisan and to use freelancers. It allows me to have minimal monthly fixed costs and consequently maximum flexibility. I don’t forecast to have employees until the growth of the business forces me to do it.
P: How do you select the wood you use for your pepper mills? Where do they originate from?
M: For wood turning you need hardwood. In comparison to ash, a cheap wood used for 99% of pepper mills, I prefer using noble woods. I choose walnut because of its colour, from a lighter pale brown to a dark chocolate brown, and cherry wood for its reddish colour. We also import Black American walnut from the United States (it is only grown there), with the other materials sourced in Europe.
P: How many pepper mills are you able to produce per day?
M: A handmade production limits production to a very low level. It might be possible to 5 a day.
P: What's the next challenge for your business and how do you anticipate on overcoming it?
M: My current challenge is clearly to increase sales. I’m in a niche market, luxury pepper mills. I have to reach people who value European craftsmanship and design, and have the disposable income to pay artisanal prices. It’s not easy to convince people to buy a USD 180 pepper mill because it’s not a status object. My biggest mistake was to think having the best product was enough. I’ve no other choice than to continue to build brand awareness. The best way I found to convince people to buy it is to give them the opportunity to touch it. I’m going to participate in several design fairs. In parallel I’m knocking on doors in order to have Neotus sold in design shops.
P: What words do you have to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?
M: Make sure there’s a real market for what you want to sell (products or services). Choose something you like (if not passionate) and not the most lucrative business you can think of. It’s going to be tough and if you don’t like what you do you’ll quickly quit. To be ready to work twice as hard but you will know why you are working. There’s no need to “burn the boat”, you can start a lot businesses in parallel with your current job to test the market and see if you like this new life. Never forget life is short and as we say in French « It is better to feel remorse than to regret »
Clearly from a short Q&A you can feel the passion exuding from every word of this newly-minted entrepreneur. We wish Michael all the best with Neotus and look forward to seeing the products at interior retailers around the world.