Generation-E is an entrepreneur who had a vision of something — and the gumption to build it. These business owners refuse to live in the shadow of large corporations; they carve their own path. Most importantly, they never settle. They’re always looking to hire the best people, create the best products, and use the best tools to manage their business.
We’re thrilled to spotlight these intrepid entrepreneurs for our Generation-E series this month, starting with Vanessa Resler of Six Strawberries.
One word comes to mind when describing Vanessa Resler: effervescent. The kind of person who’s great at warming up a crowd (which she does in her side-gig as Baby Van Beezly, professional DJ and karaoke host) is also right at home making thousands of popsicles with her husband/business partner, Will Lemke, for Six Strawberries, Seattle’s first artisan ice pop shop.
Six Strawberries was conceived when she and her husband were video-conferencing with her cousin, Alex, who was in the hospital for a heart condition. They had discussed the idea of opening Seattle’s first popsicle shop.
“The three of us had been brainstorming these delicious ice pop ideas,” said Vanessa. “Super sour apple, ice pops with cake in them, even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich pop. We decided that as soon as Alex was out of the hospital, we’d start a business selling these crazy pops.”
Sadly, Alex passed away one week later. He was 27 years old. “Alex was like a brother to us; he was our best friend,” said Vanessa. “We couldn’t think of a better way to carry on his legacy than to turn the vision into a reality. Alex truly is our third founder.”
From bike-drawn carts to retail stores
Before they knew it, this husband-and-wife duo were cooking up a storm in their Seattle kitchen, testing different recipes and packing their freezer with pops. They didn’t have any culinary background, although “Will is inherently a good cook,” said Vanessa.
Vanessa has a masters in accounting; she decided to quit her job as a CPA so she could focus on Six Strawberries. Will was a filmmaker who’s now devoting all of his time to the business.
“Seattle recently experienced a boom of artisan ice creameries, but nothing popsicle-related,” said Vanessa. “It’s nice that we were able to differentiate.”
Not only that, but their popsicles are dairy-free and they do their best to source as much local produce as possible. Even their PB&J pop is made with peanut butter by CB’s Nuts, a nearby store in Kingston, WA.
Six Strawberries started out by launching in the Queen Anne Farmers Market, differentiating themselves in the mobile food scene with their mode of transportation. Gourmet food trucks are no stranger to Seattle’s urban foodies, but bike-drawn carts selling treats at farmer’s markets? That’s different.
“The city of Seattle had no idea how to deal with us, permit-wise,” said Vanessa. “They had permits for food trucks, but nothing for bike-drawn businesses. We actually became the first permitted bicycle food business in the city.”
Vanessa and Will definitely have the bootstrapper hustle. As Vanessa recalls, “we launched on our Christmas money — about a thousand bucks in total.”
She even tapped into her CPA skills in order to secure their first bike-drawn cart. “I did taxes for this builder and in exchange, he made us these wooden crates. They looked amazing on the outside, but unfortunately, the construction wasn’t the best. I remember there was all these staples sticking out that kept poking me while I was riding.” (Fortunately, they’ve since upgraded their cart from the early days.)
Not only has Six Strawberries carved out a presence at farmer’s markets, they’ve since branched out to wholesale and launched in local retail stores in Seattle and Kingston. With these orders increasing weekly, they’re hoping to open their own storefront someday, to be a Seattle staple.
“Our own shop would let us make and sell more flavors on an ongoing basis for our customers,” said Vanessa. The possibilities are seemingly endless, ranging from Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (dusted in graham crackers) to Caffe Vita Latte (“captures the quintessential flavor of the 206”) and seasonal delights like Thai Iced Tea and Blackberry Pie a la Mode.
Plus, if their 5-star Yelp reviews are any indication, we think their storefront will do just fine.
Tools that help Six Strawberries shine
“I love running my own business, but not one day goes by that you don’t make a monumental mistake,” said Vanessa, looking back on her journey as an entrepreneur.
When they embarked on their venture, Vanessa was shocked by the sheer amount that needed to be done to get up and running.
“The food industry is permits upon permits upon permits,” she said. “There are so many hoops! It took me three months just to get everything together.”
Tip: If you’re an entrepreneur who wants to get your permits as quickly as possible, Vanessa advises, just go to the government office and wait in person.
Fortunately, Vanessa is able to streamline her back office with modern, cloud-based tools like Quickbooks Online and Gusto, which already integrate with each other, streamlining the process. She also uses apps like Glympse, which allows her to share Six Strawberries’ real-time, bike-drawn location with hungry fans.
Even with Vanessa’s background, payroll is something you don’t learn in accounting school. “Originally, I was terrified of hiring someone because of all the paperwork, filing and taxes involved. I was blown away by how easy and stress-free Gusto was. You guys have everything completely taken care of,” she said.
Vanessa is a big fan of any software platforms that can help her small business save time. “Running your own business is the most time-consuming thing in the entire world,” she said. “If you’re helping me reduce the amount of tasks I have to do, that’s amazing.”
Not only has this duo instigated a Seattle ice-pop revolution, they’re also helping other entrepreneurs get started. Will has started a forum on Reddit for artisan popsicle businesses around the world, assisting with questions ranging from permits to production.
An enormous thank you to Vanessa and Will for sharing their story with us! These two truly embody the enthusiasm, heart, and resolve of Generation-E.