10k Hours

Malcolm Gladwell made the 10k Hours Rule famous in his book Outliers. The Rule essentially says that it takes about 10k Hours of deliberate practice to obtain world class expertise. Personally, I find it frustrating in business.

I’ve accepted this Rule in sports (more than 10 years as a paddler) and even learning a language (currently in my 3rd year of Spanish classes). However, for some reason I feel like I should be going faster and better with my business – especially with the recycled plastic products.

Maybe it’s because I already have so much business experience, but the reality is that I only have about a year in the recycled plastics industry. I get incredibly frustrated that I’m not progressing with my ideas and experiments the way I want to do so. And I admit that I beat myself up for so many mistakes and failed projects.

Bucket of recycled plastic mistakes and shavings
Bucket of recycled plastic mistakes and shavings!

I have plenty of mentors and YouTube videos, but the latest set-backs have convinced that me that I need a “teacher.” Given the lack of such teachers in Canberra, I’ve decided to learn how to do more things with wood. Therefore, I joined the local Woodworking Guild. Just maybe by learning from masters in this area, I can translate that to my plastic experiments.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to remind myself that it will take years to achieve 10k hours to master these new skills. For my ambitions and networks alone will not allow me to move any faster on the learning curve.

Christmas is in the air

Christmas is in the air – at least for a product maker like me. I feel behind the curve already as I try to get both the Harvestcare and The Refoundry products ready for the Christmas buying season.

We already have a Christmas market scheduled for the end of October.

And if the Old Bus Depot Markets ever reopens, we’ll be there at least once a month.

Plus, I just found out that our hotel customer is ready to do the pilot next month as occupancy has being picking up. This is the trial of our non-plastic, single-use toiletries that was originally scheduled for April. I unfortunately had to throw away about $800 worth of products that I had already packed because the shelf-life isn’t long enough on some of our natural products.

Still, it will be good to see how this pilot goes, and whether we really can both change the amount of single-use plastics used in the hotel industry and make it work financially too.

As I try to balance all of these competing business needs with the consulting work I’m doing on the side, I think that the next few months are going to be a complete blur until after the holidays. After all, Christmas is in the air and it’s only September!

Highs and lows

Another interesting week with highs and lows. I really think that’s just what happens when you are a entrepreneur.

No go on grant

No go on the Icon Grant. I had some technical problems with the presentation last week which shortened my 3 minute preso to just 2.5 minutes. That means I didn’t finish. Regardless, their questions already convinced me that I didn’t get the funds this round.

While I haven’t received the feedback yet, I felt that the panel couldn’t see how my business would ever scale from a hobby shop. In reality, they’re right (at least at this moment in time).

I’m still struggling to create saleable products in quantities. Stupid issues like the band saw is bending when I try to cut things is prohibiting me from advancing.

So, I’ve joined the Woodworking Guild in town and hope to gain some new skills that will translate to plastic. I feel like I’ve exhausted my learnings from YouTube. So, time to get some hands on experience instead. I popped down on Saturday to check out the workshop, and I’m already convinced that I made the right decision to join.

For the love of work

I’m so blessed to have as much contractor work as I want right now. I was even offered more from another client. Still, I’m struggling on projects that don’t have hard deadlines even though I’m trying to create artificial ones.

Yesterday I sat in my space for six hours at the client’s site, but only manage to do 2.5 hours of billable time. The rest of those minutes were spent on other work I had – things I actually enjoy doing.

This is the balancing of act when the things I love are not bringing in enough income compared to work that I can competently do well for money, but don’t love. I suppose this is everyone person’s struggle when you have to make that decision.

It’s going to take every ounce of discipline I can muster to hit my financial goals while wanting to spend more and more time on my other ones.

Market Opportunities

While indoor markets are not yet open, Harvestcare has been selected as a stallholder for the Old Bus Depot Markets on the 4th Sunday of every month. This is a great opportunity given the number of people that visit that market every week.

Also, we have been accepted as a stallholder for the Merry & Bright Christmas Market in Pierce. If the Old Bus Depot Markets are reopened in October, we’ll have a conflict of dates, but at least we’ll definitely be doing one of these markets that weekend.

I plan to submit Recycled by The Refoundry to the Handmade Markets once I feel like I can make enough products for something that big. I’ll be working on more cufflinks tonight. I think I finally created something that will help me center the holes consistently.


Just another week of highs and lows, but it wouldn’t be a normal week otherwise.

DILO 9-9-2020

Another big week! With so many different things going on, sometimes it’s easier to write DILO (Day in the Life of) the Refoundry.

Abode Hotels A+ Magazine

This week, our Harvestcare brand made it into the Abode Hotel A+ magazine as a feature story: two pages of great content which I’m so grateful for. It will be in their guest rooms for the next two months.

Moved into new workspace

I also moved into our new workspace in Mitchell over the weekend. I have plenty of room for new machines. I just need to sell more Harvestcare and Refoundry products to fund the additional equipment I need.

The final grant pitch is also on Thursday. I’m asking for $30k to help me fund a much larger machine. In my practice run, I took me 9 minutes without any prior timing. I need to get it down to 3 mins. So, I have a lot of work to do today to make the cut.

Poor income week

Despite my busyness, I haven’t spend enough time on contractor work this week to bring in personal income as the grant prep has taken a lot of time. Given the grant’s potential value though, I really can’t stuff around.

It is proving to be a difficult challenge for me to do external work for income that has no hard deadlines when I’d rather be working on my own business. Next week, I think I’ll need to spend more time at the client’s office to try to create the discipline and balance that I need right now to keep things going financially.

I also need to find more time to make the recycled plastic jewelry. I’ve sold about half the ones I had available for sale already. I think having my new workshop space will make it easier to focus and not get distracted when I’m making those products which has been a challenge up to this point with lots of half done pieces.

Just another DILO of The Refoundry!

Shortlisted for a grant

I received some good news yesterday! We were shortlisted for the Icon grant. Now, I need to prepare for the 3 minute pitch for next Thursday. I lot to do between now and then including finishing these prototype projects!

First All Nighter in ages

On Friday night, I pulled my first all nighter since I left the consulting world. It was for some contract work that I’m doing to keep personal income coming in while I get my business going. We had a hard Monday deadline, and therefore I did what was needed to hit it.

According to my time sheet I did 58 hours for them last week on top of my business stuff and podcast. Needless to say, I’m a bit tired, but in the same sense grateful to bring in some personal income again.

Etsy Store Sales

I’ve also my first two sales of the new recycled plastic products: these two cufflink pairs below. I really hope they like them once they receive them as that will be my true tests.

recycled plastic cufflinks

New workshop space

I’ve also been able to confirm some workspace in a friend’s business. They’re not using the bottom floor. So, they’ve offered up some space so that I can do my bigger projects. Once again, I’m so grateful as I have been really limited by what I could do up to this point.

Future workshop space for The Refoundry
Future workshop space for The Refoundry

Overall it’s been a really good income week. So, who cares if I have to do an all nighter now and then to get stuff done. It’s the purpose that keeps me going!

Eureka moment

Just had an Eureka moment this week as I finally figured out the right glue and technique to complete my recycled plastics jewelry projects. This has been in the making for months, but I just couldn’t figure out how to glue the backings to the plastic pieces in a consistently secure way.

So, about ten techniques and adhesives later, and I finally figured it out. And just in time too as the Canberra Weekly article about my Father’s Day cufflinks is coming out tomorrow! Eureka!

Recycled plastic cufflinks

Positive momentum

It’s been a big, busy, positive-momentum week especially since I’ve taken on the side hustle work I mentioned earlier.

Highlights include:

1. Submitted an application for the Icon Grant to help fund some things I need to create the prototypes for the furniture line. There were apparently 54 applicants that should be narrowed down to about 15 for the shortlist presentations.

My requirements don’t nicely fit into the criteria which seems to be more focussed on IT type projects. So, we’ll see. All I can do is try. The non-perfect 60 second video pitch I did is here which I actually taped at 1am in the morning! I don’t think my tiredness shows.

2: New Etsy Store: I also turned on the Etsy store for The Refoundry. I hesitated to set up one more website since I’m already managing so many right now. Still, I needed the presence for some media stuff coming out next week. At least with Etsy, the overhead costs are really low even though I don’t own the customer database like I do with our Harvestcare site on Weebly/Square.

Screen shot of new etsy store

I’m still having huge issues with finding a strong enough adhesive to hold the metal backings to the plastic consistently despite all my efforts. I found another potential glue solution online late last night. So, wish me luck because this is the final thing I need to fix to finally get these products to market.

3. More Harvestcare sales. Without really trying (because of supply bottleneck issues), I still managed to bring on one new retail customer and received a new order to restock an existing one.

Furthermore, I finally heard back from the Old Bus Depot Markets, and it’s looking promising that we can sell out of there twice a month. Fingers crossed as I’ve had to send them an incredible amount of information. I’m sure that none of the cooked food providers are being asked where they source their ingredients. So, I don’t know why my products are under such scrutiny.

As I said, a lot of positive momentum this week. So, hopefully the amount of work put into this business so far is starting to pay off a bit.

side hustle

New Side Hustle

Most people think that side hustles are for people with full-time jobs. However, my new side hustles are part-time jobs so that I can continue with my business.

I’m picked up some work – writing proposals and other operational docs for some friends. And I might have some part-time strategy work in the future too for another client. While this adds a lot more to my already full basket, I am thankful to be bringing in personal income again.

This week I also have a grant application due. Unfortunately, the local grants (and most investors) seem to be focussed on IT businesses rather than products based businesses like mine.

I respect the fact that they can be easier to scale. However, at the end of the day, people still need and want physical stuff, and there can be innovation, scalability and job creation in manufacturing.

In fact, with all the issues with imports because of Covid, as well as the need to create more non-desk jobs, I think there’s an even greater need for local “makers.” Therefore I’m hoping that the grant committee might positively consider my pitch anyway even though it doesn’t fit nicely into the criteria.

In any case, a lot more to do this week with my side hustle. At least I can keep my business dream alive this way.

Strategic risks

One of the greatest challenges with trying to do a start-up on a tiny budget is that I can’t afford to take as many risks. In fact, as as my savings get smaller each month, my strategic risks taking has almost comes to a halt because of cashflow.

As an example, when I need to make a decision between buying 5k of shea butter or 10k of the same product, it would make sense from a unit cost perspective to buy the larger amount. However, not only do I not want to tie up cash in inventory, I don’t have the physical storage space to house much more than I have already.

And so, my margins are smaller because I’m making tactical decisions (instead of strategic ones) which is not good for the business when I have a much bigger vision.

A bit of courage

This past week or so though, things have started to change for me mentally. An opportunity for part-time government contract work has come up, and that potential for personal income has allowed me to think bigger again. So big in fact, that I’m finally advancing work on my recycled plastic ideas at larger scales.

Yes, I can make tiny things like jewelry, but I have greater ambitions than that. For how else will I really fulfil the mission for reducing plastic waste where it actually makes a difference?

Pin made from a recycled milk bottle lid
Example of what we can do at a smaller scale with recycled plastic.

Making recycled plastic furniture

Specifically, I’m looking at making furniture from recycled plastic.

Right now, there are some concerns that outdoor recycled plastic products from less qualified manufacturers are creating other environmental problems.

Some products are not lasting as long as promised, and/or resulting in degrading microplastics. Some of those issues are related to the beating these products take outdoors in the elements. Of course, the better manufacturers have overcome these challenges even so.

However, if the recycled plastics infrastructure in Canberra is getting a $25m upgrade, there should be cleaner plastics available locally for recycling – as well as a potential bottleneck with no demand.

I think that I should be able to take some of their less valuable plastics like PP (#5) and PS (#6) and turn it into something nice like furniture that will not have to stand-up to external environmental factors the same way.

Salvaged furniture bases
Salvaged furniture bases that I’m practicing with right now.

And I think there could be a demand for Australian made, recycled plastics indoor furniture too. Right now, most furniture of any kind appears to be imported and cannot be recycled. The supply chain bottlenecks from Covid are making these foreign dependencies obvious, and when local jobs are in need, more people want to support local businesses too.

So, with grant money readily available right now for business ideas like mine, I think it’s time to push forward and to take more strategic risks.