26 Jan 2016

The First Five Years: Jill Applebaum (MBA 2015)

Jill Applebaum on “germy fears,” clean smartphones, and starting a company with one of your best friends.
Re: Jillian Ressler (MBA 2015)


What inspired you to launch Spruce & Co?

“My mom is a total germophobe, and throughout the years I’ve picked up on some of her anti-germ tendencies. After living in tech-obsessed San Francisco for five years and becoming glued to my devices, I realized I didn’t have a great solution for keeping my phone clean. I tried using hand sanitizer on my iPhone, which completely ruined the speaker—which was upsetting at the time but also helped inspire a better solution.

“At HBS, I met Jillian Ressler (MBA 2015), who worked as a first-grade teacher in a tech-enabled classroom prior to business school. She shared the same germy fears and so we teamed up to launch Spruce & Co—our consumer goods startup focused on simple products for everyday healthy routines.”

What have been some of the most enjoyable and most challenging parts of running your business?

“Meeting a Sprucies fan is incredibly rewarding. From time to time, we’ll receive unsolicited emails from customers who tell us they can’t live without our product. Those touches of positive reinforcement definitely keep us motivated and energized. It also helps that Jillian is one of my closest friends, so our days are just generally a lot of fun.

“We have a lot of challenges, but inventory management is one of our biggest. Even though our wipes are simple and small, there are still several materials that need to be sourced to put it all together—and all of these add variability to our lead times. On top of that, we’ve never done this before! We sold out of our holiday sets for the season right after Cyber Monday (which was a good problem), but we’re continuing to experiment with how to better predict demand.”

What’s a typical workday like (or is there really no such thing)?

“We have an office space where we stock our inventory and do fulfillment for our e-commerce orders. First thing in the morning, we pack and ship the orders that came in overnight. Beyond that, every day is different. One day, we might be out of the office meeting with prospective distribution partners and giving them samples (e.g., hotels, offices, gyms, retailers). Another day, we will be testing formulas for a new product, sending pitch emails to editors for PR coverage, and meeting with our designers on packaging updates.”

What do you know now about startup life that you didn't know when you were first starting out?

“I now realize how important it is to be experiencing this journey with my cofounder. On any given day, there’s a lot to stay on top of and there’s also a lot of uncertainty. I feel very grateful to have someone who understands all of the ups and downs.”

What advice do you have for current HBS students who are thinking about launching their own startups?

“My advice relates to seeking advice: A lot of people will offer advice about your startup. I think it’s valuable to listen to and consider all of it, but you need to be cautious about becoming impressionable. Most people offer advice colored by their own past decisions and experiences. What made one startup successful may not be the same thing that makes your startup successful, so make sure you’re taking in all advice thoughtfully, but never stop seeking it out.”

How do you use what you learned at HBS in your role as cofounder of your company?

“We are only five months into working full time on Spruce & Co, so everything we are trying to do we are doing for the first time. In the HBS classroom, I learned the importance of having conviction in my decisions and charging ahead. The amazing thing about the HBS case study method is you look at a lot of different scenarios, regardless of the industry, and can actually apply the learnings, from real circumstances, to your own.”

What was your favorite HBS case, and why?

“My favorite was the ‘C&S Wholesale Grocers’ case in LEAD my RC year. It was the first time I came to what I thought were obvious conclusions about how people think and what motivates them, and I was completely wrong. It really inspired me to create and facilitate a work environment where people are inspired and given the opportunity to work creatively and independently for the good of all.”

Can you finish this statement? “A germ-free smartphone is…”

“A smartphone you want. Make yours a little brighter at Spruce & Co!”

To learn more about Spruce & Co, go to http://www.spruceandco.com.

Follow Jill on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JillApple22.

Photo credit: Tat Sarkar (MBA 2015)

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2015, Section D

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