After watching the documentary “Burt’s Buzz” I was reminded about why I have to be an entrepreneur. Everyone talks about passion, but the real reason for being an entrepreneur is freedom.
This was the running theme in the film about the unconventional life of entrepreneur Burt Shavitz, the icon and co-founder of Burt’s Bees. Before there was ever a billion dollar, all natural brand of personal care products, there was just Burt and his bees.
On the surface, Shavitz seems like an unlikely businessman. But if you trace his history, being an entrepreneur was really the only thing he was ever suited for. He had no interest in a 9 to 5 job, and ended up using his skills with a camera to pick up freelance photography work for publications like The New York Times and Life magazine. He was in the right place at the right time and capitalized on the turbulent times of the ’60’s in New York City. But as TV became more popular as a way of highlighting the emotion of the times, he saw that as his chance to move out of the city and reinvent himself in a small town in upstate New York.
Without any kind of long-term plan, he found odd jobs and lived in an abandoned house. The guy he bought honey from gave him all of the tools he would need to be a beekeeper except the bees. Then, in a total twist of serendipity, he found a hive of bees on a fencepost. Before he knew it he had 26 bee hives and enough honey to make a living. He was never an entrepreneur because he thought he could make millions of dollars and drive fancy cars. None of that ever mattered to him anyway. He was an entrepreneur because it gave him total freedom with no one telling him what to do.
A chance encounter with hitchhiker and single mom, Roxanne Quimby, was the turning point that changed Burt’s Bees into a brand. He had the bees and she had the business sense. Before long, the bee business started proving to be quite profitable. Ironically it wasn’t the honey, but the byproduct, beeswax, that would launch them to a multi-million dollar brand.
By the time the two split up, Roxanne had two thirds of the company and Burt had one third. He was forced out and ended up with a home worth $130,000. Years later Burt’s Bees was sold to the Clorox company for $970 million dollars. Roxanne got $173 million of that and Burt ended up with $4 million.
Burt could easily have been bitter about it, but for him, money was never the goal. Like many entrepreneurs, he had his freedom. And that… was priceless.