Earning $5,000 Per Month Selling Eco-Friendly Goods

The Story of Our Goods Matter

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hi, I’m Tippy Tippens, Chief Eternal Optimist at Goods that Matter.

The basis for the company is that all of our goods are made of eco friendly materials, in the U.S., and give back to social or environmental causes. Each product poetically ties to the partner cause, for example notebooks that give to education, blankets that give to disaster relief, etc.

It all started with a black, bird-shaped soap that contains a smaller, white ceramic bird at its center, symbolic of going oiled to clean, which raises funds for BP Oil Spill Cleanup. I got my start on Kickstarter to make the first batch and then was inspired to start the company.

To date, Goods that Matter has donated 31K to date and is the first Benefit Corporation in the state of Louisiana. I’m also honored to be in the GOOD 100, named as 1 of 100 people pushing the world forward.

Benefit Corporations are now available to businesses in 34 states - this business structure and certification process uses business as a force for good. Many B-Corps are focused on a triple bottom line: people, planet, and profits.

image 0

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

When the BP Oil Spill happened in the Spring of 2010, I was living in NYC at the time and felt really helpless watching the spill unfold from afar without any end in site.

I became determined to find a way to help. My background is in product and furniture design, eventually I came to the idea that I could create a soap that raises funds for cleanup.

It’s my opinion, you can never really be fully ready or prepared - the important thing is to begin and start filling in the gaps as you go along.

Launching this product on Kickstarter (which was brand new at the time in 2010) both provided the funding for the first batch of soaps and also provided proof of concept. If the concept didn’t connect with backers we wouldn’t have gained our needed funding.

Kickstarter was a great experience - I focused on creating a great video, with the help of two friends - one of which was an amazing filmmaker, which was a big help! I needed to raise 5K, but set it at ½ so that if I didn’t reach the goal, I could still make some progress.

We reached the $2500 goal in 5 days & then made it to 6K by the end of the 30 day campaign. It was a lot of work pushing it on social media, but it was really exciting to see all of the backer emails to come in.

At the time, I was freelancing in New York, so had the flexibility to make a big change without having to leave a full time position.

I visited New Orleans for the first time to ensure that I was designing the product respectfully to the area and during this 2 week visit I decided to move to New Orleans. I wanted the project to occur in New Orleans so that all of the money would stay in the area - working with a local soap maker, printing boxes, etc.

I didn’t know anyone here, so it was a real leap of faith.

Since I didn’t know anyone in the area, I think it forced me to reach out more - I initially reached out to friends of friends as well as Tulane’s Oil Spill Response Team and they connected to many groups and people around town. One of which was Tulane’s Social Entrepreneurship Dept., as a designer I’d never heard this term before and it really clicked with me.

I’d always wanted to start my own company but was unsure of my niche, when I heard this it really sealed the deal - I would start a design for good company.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

All of our goods are handmade by local makers, 95% in New Orleans.

For every product, I tend to make the rough prototype and then find a local maker or expert to produce each product. (As an industrial designer, I have experience with a lot of different kinds of materials / manufacturing.

I also used to design / build furniture for around 10 years, so I’m very comfortable exploring and experimenting with new materials or processes.)

We use only eco friendly materials and try to be as sustainable as possible in all of our processes as well. For each product, there is a research / development period where we dig in to the topic that we’re focusing on (pollinators, oil spill, ocean currents, etc.).

The details from that research informs which materials we use, our selected donation partner, and what function the product should perform.

In the very beginning, I found a lot of pro bono services as I was on a tight budget. The Arts Council provides pro bono legal services to setup your LLC for example. There is a pretty healthy startup community in New Orleans, I found the group that was a good fit for me - Propeller, an accelerator program for Social Entrepreneurs.

I was accepted as a fellow in their first guinea pig class in 2011 and they really helped me establish my basics. As a designer, this was all brand new to me - I had zero experience in excel, tracking sales, etc.

I had two consultants on my team and one mentor, they helped me improve my website, get started on wrapping my head around the numbers, and provided some accountability for me weekly. As a new solo entrepreneur, they were my team and it really made a big difference for me.

The abstract bird shape is symbolic of all animals affected by the spill and the ceramic bird in the center is a symbol of hope, which remains as a keepsake once the outer soap has washed away.

image 1

Describe the process of launching the online store/business.

I got my start on Kickstarter, from there I had a very basic website using Big Cartel and a thrown together messy crutch of a site that I hacked together (I am not a coder).

Due to my timely response to the oil spill, I received a lot of press both online and in print which really helped in the first couple of years with online sales. I believe that we received a lot of interest due to our beginnings on Kickstarter, that really helped us get the word out.

Around 70% of our backers were people that I didn’t know & lived all over the world. The business has changed a few times over the years, shifting between higher % of wholesale sales or more online sales, then opening our own brick and mortar 3 years ago.

For financing, in addition to Kickstarter, I have used personal savings as well as credit cards in order to purchase materials.

I had a big learning curve on the business aspect, as I’d never run a business before. I have a purely creative background, so learning excel, projections, tracking sales, marketing, social media, basically everything was brand new to me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and asked a lot of questions!

image 2

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We mostly use social media and newsletters to stay in touch with our customers. I have experimented with google and facebook ads, but have found it difficult to track the success honestly. I am just beginning to work with a company to create and optimize our facebook ads for us.

I find that it’s important to keep your website fresh, updating images and featured products as well as writing regular blog posts. It’s like moving items around within our brick and mortar shop, keep it interesting for people that are returning.

If you’re starting a product based business, try to be patient, it really does take time and retail is really tricky. It’s been 8 years for me at this point and as a bootstrapped, small business, it’s very hard to get over the hump to the next level. I’m still working on it!

I try to write posts that are helpful as we all have such busy, oversaturated with info lives these days. I also focus on things that are related to the environment + home / lifestyle.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is when you feel stuck, don’t let yourself stay stuck.

I have not yet sold on Amazon yet, I’m still on the fence! Is it a good fit for our brand? Is it worth it? As a small business, it’s outside of our budget to do fulfilment by Amazon, so I have heard mixed reviews from others whether it’s worth it if your goods won’t be included in Prime searches.

If you have info, please let me know!

I have found having the brick and mortar helpful in attracting and retaining customers as well. I have done this with very low overhead and started in an out of the way location. I share a shop space with three other local businesses, so we share overhead and marketing costs as well as staffing for the store.

Despite the popularity of online shopping, people still like to touch, smell, and feel products before purchasing them. Having a physical shop also adds a layer of integrity and makes last minute shopping possible for local customers.

As a tourist city, it also helps us reach people that are visiting New Orleans.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Our business’ sales are a blend of online, wholesale to boutiques across the country, online, and through our own brick and mortar shop in New Orleans. It’s pretty equally divided amongst the 4 channels.

I would love to expand to another region, many of our customers are in California and I would love to open a small brick and mortar in Los Angeles. It’s also part of my long-term plan to open in other locations around the country, each location partnering with local makers and non-profits in its respective community.

Ultimately, my dream goal is to donate 1 million dollars - we would need to achieve some significant growth in order to meet that goal!

image 3

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is when you feel stuck, don’t let yourself stay stuck. Little steps can help, ask a question, mention how you’re feeling / what your problem is to a fellow business owner or mentor.

Also, I ask myself all the time, what’s preventing me from accomplishing this goal? Roadblocks can be both big and small - the point is to notice what it is.

Also, I find that writing really helps. In the morning, I take a few minutes to write with pen and paper, it really helps clear the mind. I also think self care is really important.

As a business owner, your business becomes so consuming and you are responsible for everything. Since owning the business, I’ve become much better about taking care of me - exercise, meditation, healthy diet, writing, and making the time for relaxation and recharging.

Being a completely stressed out / exhausted person only makes you freeze and unable to make good decisions.

If you’re starting a product based business, try to be patient, it really does take time and retail is really tricky. It’s been 8 years for me at this point and as a bootstrapped, small business, it’s very hard to get over the hump to the next level. I’m still working on it!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I actually wrote a blogpost about my Top 10 tools, check it out here.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

Teux Deux - An online to-do list

Beautifully designed (from the maker of tattly & swissmiss), affordable ($2/month), desktop & app versions, you can cross of your to-do list (gratification is important!) & if you don't check it off rolls over to the next day (accountability, yasss).

I use this as my daily/weekly checklist and to add don't forget items/ideas when talking w/ folks and out in the world and away from my computer. I love the humor in their support & FAQ section too.

Shopify - Online shop, website, 'buy buttons', payment system, & payment reader*

Beautiful themes, great interaction with customers, automated emails for orders, shipping, and other customizable replies. Shopify card reader with slightly lower transaction fees than square (like .02% lower, but still a teeny bit lower).

Also, slightly lower transaction fees for your online orders if you use their payment system. New 'buy buttons' allow you to incorporate a place to purchase a product anywhere on blogposts, webpages, etc.

Awesome control of shipping options, discounts, and the interface is easy to use & looks nice. Bonus, the app makes a cha-ching sound when you have an online sale : )

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Podcasts

How I Built This - I love hearing all of the different startup stories. Some of them are really inspiring and helpful,

Tim Ferriss - I love his tips. I use one of his recommendations to start the day. Write for 3 minutes, 3 items for the following questions: ‘What will make today great?’ ‘I am grateful for’ ‘Affirmations, I am:’

Books

Eco Barons, The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet - A great book about some inspiring business founders including Patagonia and Burt’s Bees

DO / FLY - I love this whole series of books, each small book focuses on a specific topic. DO FLY is incredibly inspiring and motivating. A quick and easy read. Also check DO / PURPOSE..

TV

I also really like the TV show, The Profit - it’s interesting to see common mistakes that business owners make and the ways that the show’s host turns them around.

It features all kinds of businesses, everything from restaurants to candle businesses, there’s something to learn from everyone.

Also, the longer you’re in business, the more you may want to rediscover ‘you’ and enjoy things that aren’t about business. Nothing like unwinding with 30 Rock or Insecure!

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

If you haven’t started yet, I recommend starting wherever you can. I know that it’s overwhelming and daunting, many people want everything to be ‘ready’ before they begin.

It’s my opinion, you can never really be fully ready or prepared - the important thing is to begin and start filling in the gaps as you go along.

Start wherever you can, maybe you need to reach out to someone to ask a question or write a basic brief about your idea. No matter where you begin, get it rolling and start a to do list, also build in some accountability for yourself to keep yourself going each day / week / month.

If you’ve already started your endeavor, it’s important to keep your motivation up. The to-do list never ends and it took me a while to accept that. You can’t work all of the hours forever.

Set a time each day that you won’t work later than unless it’s an emergency. Also, set realistic goals each day. If your day’s to do list is 30 long, unless they’re all brief, it will be impossible to accomplish. I find that 6-10 (dependent on complexity) items per day is actually doable.

Also, list exactly what needs to be done. For example, don’t write ‘build website’. Write instead, ‘list website pages’, ‘take photos for x product’, ‘write copy for x product’. If you only write ‘build website’ it will be too overwhelming and get backburner-ed each day.

Also, do whatever you can to improve your focus. I start the day with a couple minutes of meditation, which I find significantly helps me to stay focused. Depending on what’s most important to your business - do those things first.

When I first started my biz, I would start the day w/ the punch list items to get them out of the way. But I found that they took all of my energy and the items that I needed my brain or creativity for kept getting pushed until the next day when I wasn’t tired.

Now, I start with the high level tasks and then leave the more auto pilot tasks to do when I’m more tired. I also protect my creative time, so don’t check my email until around midday, so that I allow that brainspace the time that it needs.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

This is our slow season so we aren’t currently hiring.

We did just hire someone to help us with our social media which has been a big help, it’s become a lot more time consuming than it was when we first started. When I started in 2010 it was mostly facebook and some twitter.

Now, I feel like it’s mostly instagram (which is my favorite anyhow), and then some pinterest, twitter, and facebook.

Where can we go to learn more?

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business.

By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

- pat-walls Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story

Share the story of Our Goods Matter!


More interviews like this:
Learn how e-commerce businesses are earning as much as $100K per month.