Nick Shepard had $40 in his pocket when he bought the first supplies for his new startup. “I figured there’s never going to be a perfect time, so here we go.” That kind of well-considered risk-taking and belief in his business have characterized the 24-year-old’s career as a young entrepreneur. One year later, Vermont Vegan Tattoo Soap can be found online, in Vermont tattoo parlors, and at Healthy Living.
“You’re putting yourself out there. It’s scary stuff,” he admits, but an Associate Degree in Business Technology from Vermont Tech helped him identify a market and find the right niche for his product. Unlike many skin care offerings, Vermont Vegan Tattoo Soap is made of plant-based materials, including vegetable, coconut and avocado oils—products his Facebook page says have been used for millennia to prevent infection, relieve pain, and accelerate healing. Tattoo artists use the liquid soap to wipe away excess ink, and customers use it during healing.
“There’s definitely a market for it,” Nick says. During his research, he learned that the Dial soap was the industry standard for tattoo care. He believed he could make a natural alternative, so he began experimenting in the kitchen of his Colchester home. “There’s more chemistry involved than I ever thought I’d be doing,” he laughs. He started with a bar soap, but then learned tattoo artists prefer liquid. He went back to his high school chemistry teacher and visited the online communities of people who make their own soap.
Eventually, he reached a critical point in the start up phase. His side business of soap making was starting to require more of his time and attention. His wife was due to deliver their second child any day. He took a deep breath, quit his day job, and directed all of his energy to his fledgling operation.
“I’d been reading a lot and listening to motivational speakers,” he said. “Most successful entrepreneurs have made big decisions in their lives. You have to put yourself out there.”
Nick admits that much of his success has been hard-won. “I definitely made some mistakes, but I’ve learned along the way,” he said, including how to raise money for more sustainable packaging through an online Kickstarter campaign.
Nick credits his business professors at Vermont Tech, especially Allan Rodger and Joyce Twing, with planting the entrepreneurial seeds in him. “I remember a lot of conversations at Vermont Tech,” he said. “We didn’t have the Entrepreneurial minor when I was there, but we talked about politics and economics. We were always told, ‘The point is to go out and create a business.’”
Now that he has, he’s moving quickly toward his five year goal of having an internationally-known product within the tattoo industry. “Everyone says they want to be known the world over,” he says. “But given the state of this niche market, I believe that’s an attainable goal.”