New Harvestcare displays

The realities of starting a business

Every business begins small. I started this blog over a year ago because I wanted to show the realities of starting a business. It’s rarely a direct path, and the chances of failing are extremely high.

Few entrepreneurs have publicly shown their journeys while they are going through it – probably because there are always a lot of failures and unpleasant things that you have to experience. The realities aren’t sexy, and most the world would rather only see the successes. But once you get there, what do you really remember?

This video below is focussed on my new consumer brand, Harvestcare which is a pivot from our hotel-line that’s currently in hibernation. Both are designed to reduce plastic packaging waste.

This is still my attempt to document the good, bad and ugly of being an entrepreneur. I truly miss having a team especially when I have to do things like this that I’m not naturally good at. Yet, these are the types of things you have to do when you are starting something new.

So, I finally just set up a public Facebook page after some urging so that I can more easily share the day to day. It definitely takes me more time to capture everything in video rather than just using photos and words, but hopefully the preservation of this journey (however it ends) will be worth it to help someone else one day.

The realities of starting a business? You might decide not to start one after watching these videos and reading my blog.

Understanding the mind of a consumer

People are interesting. They don’t always do what they say they will do, and thus understanding the mind of a consumer is difficult.

Based on feedback so far of the pet barrier, I do believe that I could sell quite a few of the product. My challenge is that they don’t want to pre-order the product through the crowd-funding campaign. Instead, they want to buy it now – not wait for it or invest in it.

Hershey the Dog
Hershey, another successful prototype tester.

Of course my challenge is the ability to pay for the moulds so that they can be made in the first place. Could I sell 1000 units to break-even if I invested the money up front? I think yes if I did home shows and expos, but really I need to get it into a major retailer to make any real money off of them. And to fulfill that order, I would once again need more cash.

So, I’m pushing forward on the digging product which requires less capital. I spoke to my manufacturer last week, and he’s only capable of injection moulding which is what my original design was based upon.

However, I’m considering the fact that many people have larger yards and probably don’t want to put down one 25cm of the “no dig” product at a time to cover their fence line or yard in general. For them, a different type of product design would be more suitable.

So, I have a chat scheduled with a different kind of manufacturer next week that does more garden product type manufacturing. The good thing about this product is that it can definitely be made with 100% recycled plastics including possibly soft-plastic rubbish too.

I’m trying to line up some focus group conversations now for the digging product. Understanding the mind of a consumer is critical so that I don’t lose a ton of money by making the wrong product. Gee, this would be so much easier if I could just read their minds and of course, have a bank account full of cash.

The launch is over, now the work begins

The big launch night has come and gone, and I am so thankful for the many people and businesses that made it possible to get to that point including friends that provided moral support. And now the real work begins.

Dogs from the Launch Party
Dogs from the Launch Party

The toughest thing about making a new product is to know if the market is happy to buy it. Using a crowdfunding campaign to market-test the concept before significant investment was a good way to see if people would truly put their money where their mouth is.

When doing market research, it’s one thing for people to say that they have a problem and will spend $X on the product. It’s another thing – the only real thing that matters is whether or not they are willing to actually pay for the product when it comes time.

So far, the results are less then stellar for the pet barrier. Enough people have seen the product now with plenty of shares and publicity. And yet, we’re nowhere near where we should be in terms of pledges at this point. Plus the surveys were pretty average meaning that only a handful of the people at the launch really loved the product. Others were sitting on an ‘okay.’

I still have a couple of major media things happening over the next week or so. So, we’ll see if it gains anymore traction then.

In the meantime, I had so many people asking about the digging prevention product for pets at the launch that I contacted my manufacturer to ask that we go back to the design work for that product. I’ll go ahead and push the button to get the prototype made now to see how the market responds to that. It will unlikely be through a crowd-funding campaign though.

Such is life as an entrepreneur. I have to pivot until I find the sweet spot now. It happens all the time for other businesses like in tech. So, I shouldn’t be too surprise for this to happen with my business too. Now the real work begins – first with the right mental attitude, and then to make this pivot happen if the first product is not selling to the first target market.

Stray No More pre-launch thanks

It’s Launch Day! I thought that we’d never get here, but we did.

Stray No More Crowdfunding Campaign
Stray No More Crowdfunding Campaign

Starting a new business is scary. Putting yourself out there in front of the world to potentially fail is something that most people won’t do, especially if they have already proven to have a successful working career up to that point.

I took that crazy step a number of months ago, and regardless of what happens tonight at our Stray No More product launch and over the next 30 days of the crowdfunding campaign, I am extremely grateful for all of the support from both new friends and old.

An update and a bunch of thank yous!

On the homestretch

With just a few days to go before our product launch, we just finished about 90% of the video shots today and all of the photo shots yesterday. Yes, we’re still way behind schedule, but at least we are on the homestretch.

The display is trying to kill me

I finally picked up my display on Tuesday, but it’s not the best looking or steadiest thing you’ve ever seen. I totally regret buying an old door I found at the Green Shed rather than buying a new one for this project.

The display was designed to fold in half so that it would fit into my car, but this feature has also been it’s undoing. Who knew that it would be stuffed with cardboard to keep it’s form? I just wished my carpenter told me earlier (and got me it on time), and we could have swapped it for a $40 new one.

Old used door for my display
Old used door for my display

So, I spent the last two evenings painting it in my apartment complex’s garage to try to improve it’s appearance. I picked colours from my logo, but quickly realised that I should have used the darker green. The lighter green looked like a Canberra Raiders supporter lived behind the door. While I am actually a Raiders supporter, the colour also made my white prototype appear lime green too. Oops!

Display painted in Canberra Raiders' colours by accident
Painted in Canberra Raiders’ colours by accident

Blood fell from my fingers as I cut myself again that night. Then I scrapped the paint when I loaded it into my car. Ugh!

Photo shoot

At the last minute, I decided to do the photo shoot without the display which I think was a good call. “Iggy,” the photographers’ dog at Lightbulb Studio helped too as a model, showing off the product.

Iggy the dog
“iggy” at the photoshoot

Painting again

Last night, I once again spent the evening in the garage painting the display a darker colour and to hide the scraps. At one point, the whole door started to come apart as it did the previous night. I tried superglue, but it didn’t work. This time, I resorted to black duct tape which did a pretty good job, but is obviously hard to hide.

Trying to superglue the door back together
Superglue not working

As I tried to paint over the tape and the lime green, I accepted the fact that it was not going to be perfect and then decided to only partially paint the door so that it’s more of a creative mix of greens which also better hides the paint scrapes from the previous night and the tape.

Multi-colour green door.
The now multi-colour green door loaded for the video shoot.

Video shoot challenges

Early this morning I stopped at a retail store to pick up a baby gate for the video, and then headed across town for the video shoot. I thought it might take about 2 hours, but with all the set-up issues, it took about 3.5 hours instead.

3 hour video shoot location
3 hour video shoot

We had purposely decided to film this video outside because we weren’t pretending to be an expensive commercial shoot. Instead, this was a grassroots campaign like crowdfunding used to be. But shooting outside does have its challenges.

First, the door blew over and bent the metal frame. From the side, it was pretty crooked, but we managed to hide it in the front-view. We had to put things behind the door to keep it from falling over again.

Then, the baby gate I had bought (I did try to borrow one first), was harder than I expected to put together. When I finally did, I realised that it was defective and wouldn’t close properly. Ugh!

We had planned to use a teleprompter that I could read since the script was fairly long, but unfortunately the glare made it difficult for me or the cameraman to see. So eventually, I had to try to memorise a few lines at a time which wouldn’t have been so hard if it were not the fact that my brain is really full right now.

Other issues included the wipe board being swept away by the wind in the middle of the scene (I thought a bird had jumped on it by the noise), I struggled to remove some extra panels on the prototype for one scene because I worked so hard earlier in making sure they would stay together, and the general issues with “looky-loos” and people passing with skateboards and basketballs as you would expect during school holidays in a public place.

The final issue was when we went to take the door back to the car, and the whole thing broke into two pieces. At least it was lighter to load.

Embrace the faults with some cheese

By the time we were done, I could have been crying, but instead I told my cameraman from the beginning that this was not going to be a fancy product commercial. So we might as well embrace the faults and make it slightly cheesy. In laughter, we agreed that a blooper reel would have to be created afterwards which would include scenes from the pets.

At this point in the journey, I haven’t had a perfect week or day, but we’re on the homestretch (at least to Milestone 1A), and I cannot possibly try any harder to get this business off the ground, That’s really all I can do. The results will reveal themselves soon.

Workaround for Prototype

After speaking with my manufacturer, I think that we might have a new workaround to properly test and show the functionality of my prototype. This problem will be obviously fixed once the product is manufactured, it’s just a pain right now due to my time constraints.

In some ways, this issue has likely resulted in a better outcome. Because I was concerned about how hard it was to properly show the product working within a normal home, I’ve hired a carpenter to build a portable display so that I can demonstrate this product live at the launch, as well as for the video.

It seems like everything I touch these days requires me to draw something, and God didn’t give me that gift. I hope my carpenter understood.

Rough sketch of product display for carpenter
Another rough sketch

I also have a meeting this afternoon with a company that will edit my videos for the crowdfunding campaign, and it will be good to hear what they think of my revised storyboard idea.

This is just proving to me once again that a roadblock on this entrepreneurial journey might actually be a detour to a better route in the end!

Stray No More product line launching soon!

I’m very excited that I’ll finally be launching our first product line for the The Refoundry in October. We’ll be introducing our first product of the ‘Stray No More” line to be pre-sold via the crowdfunding campaign. These are essentially products created to prevent a pet from escaping a home or yard – an issue I knew well as the former CEO of RSPCA ACT.

Stray No More logo

Technically I could launch later in the year on a different date than all of the other social enterprises in this round, but I don’t see a point in pushing out the deadline as everyone just works to deadlines anyway.

However, we are still waiting for the prototype to arrive in Australia, and if it doesn’t get here next week, we’re really pushing the amount of time we have to film it in use. I know that my manufacturer would love more time to assemble and test it, but each time we push the date, the closer we get to Christmas.

Furthermore, I just submitted my package for another grant, and those were the milestones that I gave them. So, really I’m committed to the date at this stage.

Stay tuned for more info about our Stray No More product line launch soon!

Need a bit of help from my friends

I was informally notified last week that I was successful in winning a small grant to help pay for some of the marketing for a crowdfunding campaign. How much? I’m not completely sure yet, but it’s unlikely to pay for much more than the editing for a documentary I plan to make for the campaign.

It don’t have a lot of time to film this, and neither do I have any real film making experience or skills. In fact, I’m still working through the script and the scenes in my head which makes it hard to start scheduling the necessary interviews to make this story full and complete.

I actually love all of this creative work, but I am getting a bit stressed over the amount of stuff to do over the next few weeks. Furthermore, even if I make a great documentary, I also need to create an awesome marketing campaign to support it and ensure that it’s seen by as many people as possible.

Right now, I’m trying to raise $200k – likely the most money this particularly crowd funding platform has ever raised before. I admit that I’m incredibly nervous about the ability to achieve this goal, and I also know that there’s absolutely no way that I will be successful if I don’t get support from a good chunk of friends and contacts.

I hate asking for help. In fact, I usually try to pay for help rather than asking friends to do something for me. However, in this one chance, it will be make or break for the business. So, I don’t have a choice. I simply cannot go this alone.

Thankfully, I’ve already had a number of friends that have offered to help. I need more though, and that means putting myself in a position of asking more people and likely being rejected or ignored too which will hurt. Still, I know I have no other choice. Right now to be successful, I can’t be ashamed to say that I need a little bit of help from my friends.

How a little bit of plastic can do so much good and bad

Have you ever wondered how plastic products are made? They begin as a petroleum liquid or gas, and are turned into these pellets or microbeads below:

Virgin plastic pellets

I took this picture at one of the manufacturing plants I visited this week. These pieces are about the size of a rice kernel, and the few black ones in this batch will make the whole mix that colour. Because of the size of the beads, they’re easy to melt and then mould into something useful.

Now imagine shipping containers full of these microbeads spilling into the ocean. This is what was found in 2017 on beaches in the UK after that occurred.

Nurdles on a beach
Credit: Deborah Fuchs

The reality is that any plastic product will eventually break back down into these rice size pieces and even smaller over time. Yet, it will be centuries before they can degrade back to petroleum.

This is why there’s so much talk about plastic in the news these days. This is not new knowledge. It’s just that the physical impacts to our environment and wildlife have finally reached such high levels that it’s hard to ignore.

Plastic isn’t a bad product by itself. It’s light, durable, flexible, and lasts forever – the same traits that are also causing harm to Mother Nature. The challenge for product manufacturers is to design their goods for the full cycle of life, not just the making stage.

If everyone thought about the disposal of the product and not just the making and using stages, they would probably make it very differently.

At The Refoundry, we will have a take back system in place where any used product can be sent back to use to be donated for reuse or recycled back into the same product. It will no doubt be expensive do to this with storage and transport costs, but I don’t see how we can consider ourselves an environmental social enterprise and not do this. I can only hope that our customers will value this too.

Plastic manufacturer quotes are in

I finally have all the manufacturer quotes even though not everyone quoted on every item or even every part of the process. Of what I can see, it looks like 2 of the 3 products can be made at a reasonable cost here in Australia with recycled plastic. The third product needs to be redesigned to lower the cost.

Of the moulds (or tooling as they say), the most expensive quote is three times the cheapest one even though everyone says they get their moulds made in Asia. Since this difference is so dramatic, I need to understand why before I choose a manufacturer. Otherwise, the reasoning for the cheaper price may hurt me later if I go that route.

More to learn every day.