The Art of Rest

It occurred to me the other day that I had not gone more than 30 minutes outside my home city of Canberra, Australia since I went to New Zealand last Christmas in 2019. As someone who usually travels overseas 2-3 times a year minimum with countless domestic trips, this is truly been a weird year. But now as we get to the end of 2020, I realise I need to learn the Art of Rest.

Why Art and not the Science of Rest? Because it were just science, it would be easier. I would get my 7-8 hours of sleep each night. I would work less than 45 hours a week. I would get in 30 minutes of exercise every day. If I left it up to science, my life should be somewhat predictable. However, as an entrepreneur, it just doesn’t work that way.

Rest as an Entrepreneur?

Instead, I have to work when the opportunity presents itself. I don’t know if or when it will land. I don’t know if I’ll have two consulting projects accepted at the same time when I get a large order for Harvestcare. I don’t know if my hotel client will give us a contract that starts a chain of massive operational activities.

Over the weekend, I reviewed more than 700 pages of enterprise architecture standards and supplemental information so that I could submit two IT consulting gig proposals on Monday. Was it the way I wanted to spend the weekend? Of course not! Who would? Still, I know that effort would put me in a better position to hit the ground running if they accept my proposals (and of course a lot of much needed cash).

stack of papers
Some of the hundreds of pages of enterprise frameworks and standards I reviewed over the weekend.

Of course, this hasn’t been my only working weekend this year. I’d say 80% have been. I also did three all-nighters this year to meet schedule deadlines – something I haven’t done since my old consulting days, but predicable since I’m once again doing consulting work as a side hustle.

Art of Rest

Since I turned in those proposals two days ago, I realise now that I probably won’t have anymore consulting work until the new year. And it feels…strange. Suddenly, my days are not filled with back to back to-dos and meetings. Instead, I can actually work on the business full-time at my own pace.

With this influx of free time, I’m finding that I’m actually less productive in all areas of my work and life. Instead of working on important business tasks, I’m wasting time sleeping and browsing the internet. It makes me feel incredibly guilty. But then, I had a thought…

Maybe, I need to give myself a break. Maybe I actually need all this sleep and mindless activities to recharge for the next surge of work. Just maybe, I need to learn the Art of Rest.

Harvestcare market stall

Lessons Learned about Markets

So far, I’ve done two small physical markets for Harvestcare: one indoor and another outdoors. Plus, I’ve done the virtual Handmade Markets for all four of their pre-Christmas events. Already, I have a few Lessons Learned about Markets from these experiences even though the big physical ones are still closed due to the pandemic.

Lessons Learned:

  • Know your market demographics – Suburban markets haven’t been that great for me though I’ve certainly done better with my products than other stalls. Everyone says that my products will sell with a younger, more environmentally conscious consumer at the physical Handmade Markets. So, hopefully they’ll be back on next year.
  • People buy what they can test – my biggest seller at the Markets has been the orange hand balm as I have it out with sampling sticks. It smells amazing, and so it’s hard for people to ignore it once they try it. My bottled products on the other hand have barely sold, and I have way too much stock right now as a result.
  • November is still too early for Christmas Markets – I didn’t sell but a few gift packs in all these markets. Instead, the attendees are still buying products for themselves.
  • Make sure to have products at different price points – I had products from $8 to $50 for sale at these markets. The biggest sellers were around the $20 mark.
  • Use the Markets for market research – I had plenty of feedback during the markets including that I should charge more for my products because they look amazing, and I needed a normal lotion. Yes, still working on that one!
  • Consider the Markets as a branding exercise for a new business – I knew that I might not recover the cost of the registration fees when I signed up. I had to take that risk though and considered it as a branding exercise. For the more people that see my logo, the more likely they’ll take a chance on it when they see it at a stockists’ store.

What to do with leftover stock now?

Since I have so much leftover stock from the Markets – especially in bottled forms, I need to ramp up my sales activities to stockists or online to see if I can move them. The challenge though is that I have a different pump on the bottles than what was sold to retailers previously because of the 3-month stock shortage. Furthermore, I usually mail bottles with the pump separately because of leakage. So, I’d have to throw away a lot of used pumps if I change the selling model now. I’m not sure that I have much of a choice though.

Oh well. I’ll chock it up to lessons learned about Markets. At least I had the chance to practice before the big ones reopen – hopefully next year.

Harvestcare hotel tins

Second Single-use Hotel Pilot

Conversations with our hotel client have been really positive in the last few weeks. Right now, we’re looking at doing another single-use hotel pilot with one of their locations for a 12-month contract.

This will be a part of the hotel’s much bigger sustainable vision. And the good news is they should know if they’ll deploy this to all their properties soon after it starts.

The biggest challenge for us now is finding the cash to pre-pay for a year’s worth of packaging from overseas. The minimum quantities that we need to get to a reasonable price point is 20,000 units of each design. That’s 80,000 units of sitting inventory.

At least by doing just one hotel and not all of them at the beginning allows my soap maker and I to figure out how to scale productions and packaging with a smaller order. It’s obviously a bigger risk to an investor or bank if I ask for $500,000 for machines and packaging rather than just $50,000. So, this is very doable.

If we do get the larger contract, my plans right now are to spin-off Harvestcare as a new company and bring my soap maker on as a business partner to run our operations. This is exactly the incubator model I had in mind when I started The Refoundry. So, it would be great to get this first fruitful idea out there fully.

In the meantime, there’s a lot to do for this single-use hotel pilot including a decision about whether or not the hotel uses our State Circle brand or our consumer Harvestcare brand. If they choose the Harvestcare branding, it would be like free marketing for our consumer-size products. So, I really hope they choose that one as we’ll definitely sell more overall.

3rd Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day

Sunday was the third time that I organised Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day. I started this event in 2018 with a lot of help from regular users of the lake in our hometown of Canberra, Australia. However, not everyone knows why I started it.

Rubbish from Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day

That year, I left my job as CEO at RSPCA ACT. And rather than moving right into another job, I decided to take some time off and travel for a while. It turned into a four month sabbatical that took me around the world from Honolulu to S. America to the US and Finland and then Singapore before heading back to Australia for a few domestic trips.

All along the way, I always found ways to paddle – kayaks, white water rafts, stand ups, surfskis – basically anything that could give me a local experience on the water and a little exercise. And just about everywhere I went, I saw rubbish.

It was during this trip that National Geographic published the iconic front cover below and talked about the issues of plastic in the ocean. I bought the issue at one of the airports. Then, I saw it everywhere first hand in just about every body of water. Needless to say, the article hit me hard.

Plastic Iceberg cover

When I finally returned to Canberra, I had such a sense of duty to do something about this problem. So, after some research I decided that cleaning up Lake Burley Griffin made the most sense as I paddled in it every week. What I had started as an one-off clean and an educational message has now just completed our third year over the weekend.

Will Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day have a fourth year? I hope so. I just need a lot more support with the event planning side of it as the mission is still important, but I’m so time poor these days. So, we’ll have to see.

One day, I hope that we don’t need to do clean-ups. In the meantime, I want to send a shout out to everyone who has made this event a reality each year. After all, it truly does take a community to clean-up a lake as big as Lake Burley Griffin.

Hotel Pilot Progress

Today I met with the General Manager to discuss the hotel pilot progress for single-use toiletries, and where we should go from here. I was extremely worried after our “champion” within the business resigned recently, and therefore had no expectations especially when there’s still the uncertainty of COVID.

The only thing I knew for sure was that customers seemed to like the product based on feedback so far, and that my one Linkedin post about this pilot was getting a lot of traction.

Sample of customer feedback  card
Sample of customer feedback so far

So, I was pleasantly surprised when their GM still showed genuine interest in considering our products further.

Of course, they still need to do a detailed business analysis before making this decision as I know that we will cost a lot more than their current suppliers. However, they also would be the very first hotel in all of Australia (and probably beyond) to make this determined move to get away from single use plastic in this way.

How awesome would that be to start such a chain reacton in the industry!

In the meantime, I was really honest with him about what I need to do to make this happen too, and it all starts now with knocking on a bunch of doors to find the capital to make this a reality just in case they actually say yes.

There is obviously a lot of more work to do now. Still… here’s to the hotel pilot progress and my one idea that might actually achieve our goal of reducing plastic waste in a big way!

Recycled plastic workshop space

While I only had it for two months, I’ve decided to close down my recycled plastic workshop space for The Refoundry until I have more time to make these products.

The Refoundry Workshop 1,0
The Refoundry Workshop 1.0

To be honest, I suppose it’s more than time that I’m struggling with. It’s also the frustration with all the technical issues on the tiny projects. I need more time to learn skills like in woodworking or to find the right person to bring onto my team who already has them.

And I’m not in a position to do the larger products until I can find the capital for the machinery.

So, rather than taking up valuable space in my friends’ warehouse, over the weekend I moved the bigger equipment into storage. In the meantime, I can still make some things from home like I did before.

To be clear, closing this recycled plastic workshop space does not indicate that I’m done with this project line. I’m just taking a breather to reevaluate and learn more.

Hotel Pilot Update

Our hotel pilot has been running for about two weeks now, and feedback has been incredibly positive. So positive in fact that I’ve been pleasantly surprised, and I think the hotel has been too. Unfortunately, not everything is good news.

Our State Circle hotel amenities

This week, I’ve also learned that our “champion” within the company that helped us get this pilot off the ground has resigned. Given the uncertainty in this COVID world, I really have no idea where that will leave us after the pilot is completed.

I have a meeting with her boss set for next week. So, fingers crossed that all is not lost with her leaving.

I’ve actually thought about what I might do if we can’t secure a long-term contract with them right now, and my instincts say to keep going with the this product line regardless. It may just be that I need to wait out this pandemic.

First Harvestcare Market

I did our first Harvestcare market this weekend with some help from friends. It was a tiny one with only 30 people allowed to go through at a time because of COVID.

First Harvestcare stall

Still, I said yes because I wanted the learning experience, and this was the first indoor market available since we started the brand back in April.

Overall it went pretty well, though I’m exhausted from also bottling and making products into the late hours each night. We only sold about 10% of it, but now I have inventory for the virtual Handmade Markets too which starts next weekend.

Lessons learned from our first Harvestcare market?

  • Know your demographics – everyone told me that we would do really well with a younger, more environmentally conscious buyer like at the Handmade Markets. This one was more of an older, suburban crowd.
  • Raise your prices for markets – Other stallholders said that our products looked so good that we really needed to charge more of a premium price especially if we were paying a stallholder fee at a market and the customer doesn’t have to pay for shipping as a result.
  • Samples work when they smell amazing – I was offering samples with a testing stick. Probably half the people that tried our Orange Hand Balm bought it, but we didn’t sell very many products in bottles because you can’t exactly trial the soap. This gives me the incentive to finish our product development of the normal body lotion.
  • Presentation matters – We had a lot of positive feedback on our presentation too, but I also know that we need to invest in something more if we do a physical Handmade Markets in the future.

Overall, we sold only about $800 in products which was way more than the stalls on either side of me. Still, it’s not enough to justify my time right now especially when I know the demographics are wrong. So, I’ve decline the offer to participate in another Christmas Market at the same location in December because I’m not convinced that we would do much better.

More to learn, but I’m glad that we finally have experience with our first Harvestcare market.

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!