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Jill Blashack Strahan: Tastefully Simple

Jill Blashack Strahan dropped out of college because she wanted to “connect the dots” of what she was learning. She worked at a department store and a gift store, and then co-owned and managed her father’s restaurant before starting her own gift basket business. Though these efforts were not huge financial successes, they were very rewarding in providing some of life’s greatest lessons.

When her son, Zach, was born, Blashack Strahan realized that the scarcest ingredient in life is time. To make every hour count, she closed her gift basket business, which required long hours but resulted in earnings less than $6,000 per year.

And then another door opened. She was invited to sell foods from her gift basket line on the Holiday Crafter’s tour in Alexandria. She decided to offer taste-testing, and to her surprise, her easy-to-prepare foods sold out.

But there was no big “aha.” A year went by and the search for her mission continued. She repeated the tour the next year, and again sold out. One week later, after reading an article about the success of home parties, Blashack Strahan says something suddenly went, “Ding-ding!” She got the inspiration to sell exceptional convenient foods through home parties. She shared the idea with Joani Nielson, who loved the idea and offered to invest as soon as she heard it.

With humble beginnings and big dreams, Blashack Strahan bootstrapped the business with a total of $36,000 – personal savings, an investment from founding partner Joani Nielson and a $20,000 Small Business Administration loan. She discovered that people were interested in hosting parties, buying and selling delicious products, and she was off to the races.

She had a clear vision, set goals, did taste-testing parties, and one by one recruited a sales team. But it was a slow start, causing Blashack Strahan to lose confidence and get frustrated. Realizing that she had begun to lose faith and that she needed to believe before others would, she renewed her determination and expanded beyond her wildest dreams. When she finished her five-year business plan Blashack Strahan was not sure she could ever run a company with sales exceeding $11 million. In 2008, Tastefully Simple’s sales were in excess of $140 million, the company was debt-free, and Blashack Strahan continued to hold 70 percent of the company. Until 1998, Blashack Strahan had never earned more than $14,000 in any year. Dreams don’t just come true. You make them happen.

This is how she did it.

This introduction is excerpted from Bootstrap to Billions: Proven Rules from Entrepreneurs who Built Great Companies from Scratch by Dr. Dileep Rao. Copying or reproduction in any format or medium without the prior express, written consent of the author is strictly prohibited.

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