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.

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.

Am I overextended?

How do I know if I’m overextended? For me, it’s when I make too many dumb mistakes.

Yesterday for instance, I managed to drop off the wrong order to a customer. Then today I switched some items on an invoice and had to stop by a second time to give them the corrected version.

Last week, I managed to produce a whole batch of lip gloss with the wrong colour forcing me to throw it all away.

Discarded lip gloss
That’s not the watermelon lip gloss colour!

All of these mistakes cost me valuable time and sometimes money – both of which I am very short of lately. My challenge is that every time I look up to be more strategic, I tend to make more of these mistakes as the maker, account manager and admin person combined.

Forced refocus

I’m about to get a tiny break though – well, sort of. I have a supply bottleneck right now with the pumps for my aluminium bottles. Thanks to Covid, they won’t be restocked until late August/early September. This means that I have to actually slow down my new sales activities to ensure that I don’t run out of stock for existing Harvestcare clients.

So, for the month of August, I’ve decided to refocus on my recycled plastic work where there is no shortage of free, local materials. These products cost me so little to make (except for time) in comparison to the Harvestcare line. And therefore, if I can perfect the technique so that I can do things faster and more consistently, it can help from a cashflow point of view too.

Stretched across two product lines

With my making and sales activities ramping up for the recycled plastics products under The Refoundry logo now, I’m completely overextended at the moment as neither are at a business as usual state yet.

I’ve also just started doing interviews again for my podcast which has taken a break for the last month due to difficulties in scheduling guests during the end of the financial year. While that particular work does run fairly well now, it still takes about 8 hours of my time per episode (down from about 20 hours).

I’m afraid that something like the podcast might have to give soon. While my work capacity is far above most people, even I am struggling right now. And honestly, I just don’t have the time or money to make all of these dumb mistakes because I am overextended.

Am I reducing plastic waste?

I was able to get into two new retailers this past week with the Harvestcare line. However, my brain keeps asking the question, “Am I really making a difference in reducing plastic waste with this brand?”

When I started working on a body care line, it was to replace the single-use plastic in hotels. Of course, most hotels are still in hibernation. And so the Harvestcare brand is a consumer pivot during Covid. While I know that it’s good for the consumer and the environment, I don’t really feel like I’m making that big of a difference on the plastic side.

In the meantime, while I was doing sales calls this week, I actually found a retailer that preferred my recycled plastic jewellery products over the body care line. It was just my words in passing as I could see that her interest was not there. So, I showed her some pictures of some things I did with recycled plastic. She said that she wanted the products right away in prep for Father’s Day.

So, on top of selling and fulfilling Harvestcare orders, I’ve been melting plastic again. I quit doing this a few months ago because I was so frustrated with the results, but now I realise that I need to push through the learning curve to really demonstrate recycled plastic’s value – that it can be used for far more than just outside furniture and bollards.

Plus, if I can pull this off, I can sell products that cost me little more than time to make – unlike my Harvestcare like where I have a lot of cash in inventory.

So far, I’ve made a lot of mistakes – again! But things are looking better as I experiment with a retailer customer and deadline in mind. I hope to have access to a friend’s shed while they are away on school holidays so that I can try out some of my bigger project ideas. I just need a place where I can make a mess first.

Cufflinks from recycled bottle lids
Newest recycled plastics experiments

So, back to melting plastic. If I only use these to show people that used plastic is a great resource, then maybe I can make a small difference in reducing plastic waste now that leads to bigger things later.