Semiha Manthei founded First Step Organic in 2009.
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Tell me about First Step Organic.
First Step Organic is an importer and online retailer for organic baby clothes. All our products are strictly made from 100% organic, certified cotton. We are also committed to running a low-emission business by keeping our impact at a minimum.
How did you come up with your business idea?
I always wanted to import from Turkey as my background is Turkish. I saw this as an advantage since there wouldn't be a language or culture barrier when conducting business. Turkish cotton has always been very highly regarded (think Turkish towels). So when I found out that Turkey was also a leader in organic cotton production a light went on and I immediately started making contacts.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Yes, this is my first business. I was working as a finance professional.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
The greatest benefit is that it eliminates travel time and saves on rent. However, you have to be much disciplined and not mix your business and domestic areas, both from a space and time management perspective. It's too easy to get caught up in chores for the family and steal from the time you could use to grow the business.
Did you have a partner when you started your business?
My business partner is also my partner in life. I started First Step Organic with my husband. It was a natural selection since he was right there and contributed a great deal with brainstorming… He is perfect to work with as we have strengths in different areas and complement each other.
Green business is all the rage right now. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur to incorporate green business practices?
For us going green was a no-brainer. The main reason we chose to specialize in organic products is our commitment to environmental sustainability. We practice 3R (reduce, reuse, recycle) in our everyday life and it was only natural to apply it to our business as well.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I was naïve to believe that if I have the website up and running I would get customers… I couldn't be more wrong. It is quite a challenge to improve visibility and search engine ranking, especially if you are doing it all on your own. To day this has been my main focus for the business.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start an online retail business?
First you have to have a great product. Then it's all about marketing, increasing visibility and SEO. It takes a lot of effort to get the word out and to optimize the website for search engines.
Thank you for taking the time to share your business expertise with us, Semiha.