Matthew Rowell owns The American Edge, a B2B knife-sharpening business run out of Lee, New Hampshire. His goal is to help end consumerism and encourage people to maintain high-quality equipment. While he sets up shop at farmer’s markets and other gatherings, he’s looking to add a mobile sharpening station to his business to roll right up to any business that could use his services. The American Edge is the first runner-up for Nav’s Small Business Grant, and Matthew took some time to answer some of Nav’s questions.
When did you start your company?
I began learning my trade while deployed to Djibouti in 2015 and did a few jobs for money while there, but opened more officially for business shortly after returning in 2016.
Why did you start the company?
Two primary reasons. First, as a step toward taking ownership of my life by having control over where my money comes from. Second, as a funding stream for a sustainability project for my family on our homestead.
What makes your business unique/different?
I have a unique dropbox which makes it very convenient for customers to securely drop off and pick up their knives and tools. I also have a monthly newsletter that serves as a mechanism to grow my relationship with customers, which I think is uncommon among service providers in general, and sharpeners specifically.
I include a hand written thank you card with every batch of knives and tools returned. I’m happy to teach people how to sharpen and maintain their knives and tools, which may go against conventional wisdom that would suggest my teaching would result in lost customers.
I’m happy to welcome sharpeners into the fold. My observation is that sharpeners are very territorial and reluctant to share information for fear of competition and lost business. My philosophy is that the biggest problem in our domain is customer awareness so the more people spreading the word, the more business for all of us.
How did you get the money to start the company?
I fronted all the money for the business from my personal account and worked hard to keep overhead low.
Have you used any form of financing (credit card, line of credit, business loan, etc.) for your business?
No, all growth has come from revenue the business generated.
How will you use the prize money from Nav?
The prize money will be used to purchase equipment to grow into business to business services. Specifically, approximately half of the money will be used on a precision barber shear sharpening system, and the other half will be used on equipment to properly sharpen clippers.
What do you love most about your business/having your own business?
Owning the source of revenue is very important to me, but I’ve also really enjoyed sharing what I learn about sharpening knives and tools with my customers, and the relationships that grow from that. Also, I’ve been vocal in advocating sharpening as a viable business model and it’s been rewarding to hear from people who take action and start their own business.
How do you manage cash flow in the company?
On the scale of business, mine is still very small and cash flow is managed with an excel spreadsheet.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the company? What’s the biggest challenge your business is currently facing?
Marketing is my biggest challenge, and ultimately, maintaining a consistent amount of product in the queue. It seems that everyone shows up at the same time, and then it’s dry for a week.
This is another reason why this Grant is so important. By enabling me to grow into servicing businesses, I hope to be able to get on a routine schedule with local salons and groomers to more evenly distribute my workflow.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
The most rewarding thing is that it’s actually working! I’ve tried several businesses in the past and this is the first one that is actually growing legs.
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting the company?
Not adequately communicating my intent with my spouse. It’s a large time commitment and a lot of work and something I’m proud of, but I had a tendency to keep it to myself, which was unfair to her.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were first starting out?
Something I hear a lot. Not letting perfect be the enemy of good enough. I’ve learned a lot about the trade as I’ve done it, and if I waited until I learned everything to start, I never would have started. I jumped and figured it out along the way. Still do!
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Fear of failure prevents so many people from trying. Embrace failure. When it happens, say thank you, because you’re one failure closer to a success.
What’s next for your business?
With this Grant comes the opportunity to venture into an additional market in sharpening, beauty salons, and pet groomers. I aspire to continue to be the best service available within the community while adding consistency and volume with local businesses.
This article was originally written on May 15, 2019 and updated on February 19, 2020.