Peter Smith


Words Peter Smith

Photography Geoffrey Butler
I had wanted to leave finance for a long time. It was always a means to an end, so I treated it like paid Business School. I thought I'd do it for two years, it just happened to be ten. I had a flat in Notting Hill, doing really well, and I dropped everything to move into my parent's basement.

People thought I was crazy. Like, off-the-deep-end crazy.

I wanted to start a business where I was selling a unitary thing. I knew the barriers to entry had to be low, because I didn’t have any money to patent things or any of that stuff. And I wanted to avoid venture capital and private equity. So I started making a box for what a successful idea would need to fit into.
Danone bought Evian in 1979, and created the bottled water market out of thin air. I needed to do something like that. I needed to take something that was ubiquitous, free, culturally pervasive, and 100% overlooked. And then brand it. People would have to think the idea is fucking crazy, because it had to be like the Evian idea back in the '80s. It needed all the same criticisms. Because if it didn't have that, it meant somebody had done it before.

So when I started, people were like, Toothpicks? You're nuts. You're just nuts.

Toothpicks are in 97% of all households. They’re in 100% of all hotels, restaurants, and bars in the world. The toothpick predates the wheel, predates fire, and predates us as a species: Lucy, the early hominid, cleaned her teeth with sticks. The toothpick is the oldest human tool. So there was an innate human need, along with great data points. Fuck it, I'm gonna have a go.
My bank gave me a credit card with a $1200 limit. What am I supposed to do with this? I'm starting a manufacturing business and I can’t buy anything in Canadian dollars, even if I wanted to. It was like I had been given a monopoly money credit card.

Shopify didn't exist. I was one of Shopify’s very first customers. Literally, I think we might have been the tenth customer on Shopify; our customer number is nine zeros and a ten. The whole e-commerce revolution that’s happening now, that didn't exist, that wasn't a thing. None of that infrastructure was there. So it was a ton of legwork trying to figure out how the hell to make that work.

I firmly believe you need to be an autodidact. I think there are benefits to a classic liberal arts education, and the critical thinking and the writing skills it teaches you. But when you run your own business, and you don't know how to do something, you Google it. You watch the fucking YouTube video. How do you think I learned how to do graphic design? I was working in front of an Excel spreadsheet, 16 hours a day for 10 years.
I realized ages ago when I was working like a maniac, that the most valuable commodity in the world, more than gold, or diamonds, is time. There's nothing you can do to get it back. It's finite. It's fucked up that humans basically fetter away their time. Now, I probably put my head down way too hard to start Daneson, I didn't get paid for six years. It was a really hard slog. But I was like, Okay, I'm going to take a huge flyer with this business and if it makes money, amazing, but what I really want out of it is time.
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