Who knew doodling curves as a teen and a pottery class assignment at Unity would lead to a career? Unity College professor of pottery, Squidge Davis, asked each student to keep a notebook of ideas. Tyson Weiss ’03 framed his ideas by playing on his high school curves doodle theme. The ideas percolated for years, while the notebook languished in a drawer.
After 10 years of thinking about curves, Weiss started a landscape design business. Being self-employed was all he knew. “Growing up, when I wanted something, my parents pointed me toward the lawn mower and said earn it.”
A huge part of owning a business is being self-motivated; something Weiss is convinced can’t be taught. Every night he made lists of what to do next, each day’s tasks adding to the growth and success of his business during the housing boom.
In 2007, the economy changed and the need for landscapers dropped. He wasn’t ready to go back to his high school days of operating a mower. Cubicles were out of the question—his need for physical work and creativity a prime motivator to find the right fit.
One day, stepping out his front door, the fish-in-a-garden concept emerged from the many years of contemplating curves. He imagined schools of sculptured fish undulating through the garden. “Would I buy that? How much would I pay? Is it being done? Those were the questions I had to answer,” says Weiss. “Business isn’t about being impulsive or emotional. It’s research and planning and bringing your idea to a place where it mirrors the vision in your head. If that means making a bazillion fish to get it right, that’s what you have to do.”
As Weiss developed the concept into a sound business plan, he found himself in the right place at the right time. Invited to show his product at the Botanical Gardens in Boothbay in 2008, he was given staging at the entrance of the exhibit.
The feedback from art lovers and store owners showed immediately—and in the form of checks to buy his product. “You can give artists compliments all day long, but when they buy your work it gives the artist permission for full-speed ahead.”
Weiss still operates out of his home, which has caused its own set of problems. He has built the business up to enable him to sell product at major garden shows across the country. And he continues to mentor his employees to go out and fulfill their own dreams.
His advice to entrepreneurs: Trust your instincts and ideas, research, take risks, seek help from those with more expertise, know your demographics, seek consumers outside your local area and go to that customer. Above all, make it easy for the customer to procure your product.
“Building a business is more than making money. It’s contributing to the community by treating workers decently,” says Weiss. “Capitalism and entrepreneurship aren’t dirty words, but entities that should be part of the social change. I love empowering employees, friends, and anyone else I meet into upward mobility.”