Should I start Business #2?

Call me crazy, but I think I’m going to have to set up Business #2 as my consulting work is getting bigger than I can do alone.

While I’ve been working well past midnight this week getting ready for our first Harvestcare market ever, its actually the consulting work that is taking the majority of my time.

Dozens of Harvestcare bottles waiting to be labelled.
Dozens of Harvestcare bottles waiting to be labelled.

Thankfully, I was able to get a little help from a friend to fill the bottles. However, I still have hundreds to still label and more shea butter products to make before I go to sleep on Friday night.

As for Business #2? I suddenly have a number of clients and potential clients that need help in moving their training programs from face to face to digital within this new Covid world. And while I wasn’t looking for this kind of work, I’m absolutely loving it because I can be strategic, technical and really creative all at once.

In fact, it’s the creative stuff that gets me the most excited. For how awesome would it be to turn a boring Zoom lecture into a fully interactive course online.

I’ve always wanted my own production team (something bigger and skilled than we had at my last job). And with enough contracts I could also help out actors that have been really hurt during Covid.

So, while it may be absolutely crazy to start Business #2 right now, it’s certainly helping from a cashflow perspective. Plus, I’m enjoying the work too. And during these strange historical times, I feel the need to say to yes to almost every opportunity that comes my way right now. For who knows what will actually work?

Funny. Though I’m crazy busy, I’m actually less stressed by having so many fires burning.

Hotel Pilot Starts Monday

It’s been a very busy week preparing for our non-plastic hotel pilot. As mentioned before, this was originally scheduled for April before Covid shut everything down. Apparently local occupancy is back up to 65% or so for this particular hotel. So, it seemed like a good time to try it again.

What this meant was that we had to pack 2500 individual aluminium tins by hand. While I had already packed about half the order previously, we are past the 6 month shelf-life of these all natural products. So, it’s no longer safe to use them.

Thousand of tin containers

I did try to see if I could reuse the tins from the previous batch, but the time it takes to do that (not to mention the difficulty of not scratching or bending them) proved to be too hard. So, at some point, I’ll empty them and put them in my growing “To Recycle” box.

Lessons Learned So Far

So, what did I learn from this experience so far?

  • Packing everything by hand way required us to handle each unit about 5 times each. We could reduce the handling to 3 times if I had the manufacturer separate the lids and bottoms, and we had them printed on both the top and bottom.
  • Putting the labels on the back took the most time. I was able to get the manufacturer to print on the front, but we didn’t have the ingredients list finalised when I put the order in back in February. So, we had to do the back label with stickers.
  • It took over a minute each to unscrew the tins, fill, screw the lids back on and put the label on the back.
  • I’m worried about the quality of the tins. By handling each one, we could notice if there were any dents or scratches, but this will be challenging if a machine was doing the filling.
  • I also now realise that I need to order about 20,000 units of each design i.e. shampoo, conditioner etc. to get even close to the per unit cost I need to make this work financially.

Post Pilot Decisions

From this information, I know that there is no way that we can profitably do the post-pilot packing by hand. We absolutely must invest in proper machines.

We also had a bottle-neck issue with some of the ingredients even though they were coming from Sydney. Why in the world did it take 3 weeks despite many phone calls?

The packaging itself is an issue too as it’s coming from China since there are no manufacturers currently in Australia that make these. Having said that, if we have enough volume, we may be able to change that and even use recycled aluminum which would be great.

If we can do that, I also want to redesign the tins so that we don’t need the plastic liner that sits in the lid. This seals the container to prevent leaks and is standard for most liquid products regardless of whether it’s in plastic or aluminium. However, I feel like there has to be a better way.

Basically this means that if the hotel pilot is successful, and we are able to turn this into a proper contract, I’m going to have to get a lot of capital (either through banks and or investors) to scale quickly. Fingers crossed that all goes well, and that we have this problem!

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.

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.