As fascinated as I was by Paul Hawken’s The Magic of Findhorn, I had no idea when I read Hawken’s early book that he would become one of my favorite entrepreneurial gurus. That didn’t happen until I stumbled upon his 17-part PBS series, Growing a Business. Sometime in the late 1980s this visionary program became a Saturday afternoon ritual for me and my friend Chris, who would call from Connecticut to discuss the latest installment and what we’d learned. The series, written and produced by Hawken, introduced us to all sorts of innovative entrepreneurs including Ben and Jerry and Yvon Chouinard. We were dazzled. The companion book for that series remains one of my all-time favorite books on creating a business that’s an extension of who you are and what you value.


Hawken, best known as the co-founder of Smith & Hawken, the mail order gardening tools company, was an early player in the natural food industry, opening a store in Boston when he was barely out of his teens. Today, he spends his time writing and speaking about the responsibility of business in caring for the environment. His book The Ecology of Commerce is a popular textbook in colleges around the country.


But the advice Hawken dispenses is in sharp contrast to much of the business writing out there.  He says, “When I started the natural food business in Boston, my knowledge was scant. I did the best i could and began reading everything I could lay my hands on…The more I searched, the more confused I became. I began to doubt that I was in business at all. I seemed to be doing something entirely different. I get that same feeling today when I read most of the standard business literature. I believe that most people in new businesses, and some in not-so-new businesses, have the same problem. They don’t feel connected to the conventional wisdom…as if a small business is just a flake chipped off the larger corporate world.”


When it comes to entrepreneurial advice, Hawken is a vocal advocate for bootstrapping and believes that hands-on learning is one of the great gifts of operating on a shoestring. Here’s an example of how Smith & Hawken put those ideas into practice. Hawken writes:


We did it ourselves or not at all. I never thought much about this in-house advantage until 1985, when a friend launched a new catalog company. He started with an initial mailing of 500,000 catalogs (our first effort had been 487), which he hired a large company in Dallas to create. My friend and I were having lunch when the subject of production costs came up. I asked him how much he spent and he replied nearly $100,000 for production alone. He noticed me choking on my dim sum and he asked how much my last catalog had cost (by this time Smith & Hawken was up to about 1 million circulation). I suggested we break the costs down.


His photography cost $25,000. Ours cost $4,000.

His copywriting costs $12,000. I did all of ours.

His layout and design team ran $25,000. Our in-house labor came to $6,000.

He paid $15,000 for typography. We paid $2,700.

He paid $5,000 for a stylist. I asked who or what that was.

He paid $82,000 in total. Our catalog cost us $12,700 for the same number of products and pages.


It’s not coincidental that my friend’s company is not in business today. He got further faster in the beginning because he had more money to spend, but he thereby forfeited a critical amount of self-education and development.