How Our Sustainable Corporate Merchandising Became a $40K/Month Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Gonzalo and with my partner Gala, we run a business called Sheedo.
Our main product is a paper made out of waste cotton from the clothing industry, so we don’t cut trees or use toxic chemicals in our production line. But what really makes us different is that we add seeds to the composition, so after using it, you can plant it.
Nowadays we are selling our products as an alternative to conventional merchandising products, such as business cards or corporate gifts.
We started this project around 2 years ago, the first moments were taught, but nowadays we are growing and setting about 40K€ per month and have worked for big brands such as Coca-cola, Inditex, Sony, Deloitte or Air France.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I met Gala at the university, we both studied a brand new degree called LEINN. LEINN is about innovation tools, team management and project entrepreneurship, so we had the chance during our academic life to startup some projects.
We tried many different small projects, all of them short term, but then, we came up with an idea: To startup our own espadrilles brand. As a first step, we made a market research, and having a look at one of our future competitors we realized that they were using “plantable tags” for the espadrilles.
You have to launch your product even if it's not perfect.
We fell in love with the concept so we asked that espadrilles brand for a sample and started looking for plantable paper for our tags. But after long research, we realized that the existing plantable paper was not printable and nobody was doing this kind of paper in Spain. So we decided to do it by ourselves.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We were so young by that time so as you can imagine we were experts at nothing.
We knew nothing about papermaking, printing, seeds or the market so we tried to surround with people that had experience in those fields.
As a first step, we needed somebody to develop the seed paper for us. Unfortunately, nobody listened to us due to our age. But then we met Toni, who by that time was in a bad situation (economical and in terms of health). He is a handmade paper master and when we explained to him our idea he fell in love with it and started making the first prototypes.
The most important learning for me these years has been to focus on important things.
After many many tests, we finally came with our first seeded paper: The chamomile one. Then we needed to figure out how to print it without damaging the seed. We started printing our firsts orders by ourselves, in a domestic printer. Of course, that was not sustainable at all so we started a research process to find a scalable way of printing and after one year we found it! How we print is something can't explain here as is our main secret…
Describe the process of launching the business.
As we launched this project during university, we started up without any investment. We did everything by ourselves. Our first website was developed by myself (yes I had to learn website coding), we had a free office in the university and our first customers were friends, fools and family.
During 2 years we re-invested our profits on marketing, website, product development…
Shit will happen and you have to be flexible to make changes on your plan.
As a key to launch our project I have to mention the contests and awards. We applied for all incubation programs and all the possible awards, luckily we won many of those awards so we raised some money and got a lot of presence in newspapers, social media and tv for free, that's a great communication tool when you are starting and nobody knows you.
The biggest learning for us during this process is to keep the expenses as low as possible and really work on the communication and storytelling of the project.
And of course, we learned that you have to launch your product even if it's not perfect as you will be able to improve it later.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As we are a B2B company, we don’t focus a lot on social network marketing campaigns. Our communication strategy is based on fairs and SEO. For us, is crucial that potential customers find us on the internet when they are looking for sustainable merchandising to use in their campaign.
Usually, our customers are happy, the word-of-mouth is also really important for us to reach new customers. Apart from that, we are present in different congresses and fairs to get knowledge in the industry.
So… How do we measure it? Of course, we use tools such as Google Analytics, SEO plugins and email marketing. This last tool is so important for us to bring existing customers back as we keep them updated on promotions and new products.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our short time goals are two:
- Increase our production capacity to reduce costs and sell more.
- Standardize and optimize our internal processes. As we are growing, we are working on our ERP and different politics to work more efficiently.
Our long term goals are the following:
- Increase sales x2. Invest in SEO agencies and sales force with more salespeople.
- Sell in other European countries. We already have some partners to start selling our products in France, Germany and the UK.
- Innovate. For our business model is crucial to keep developing new products and added services for our customers.
Today our operations are based on customer retention, production management, process optimization and product development.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Of course, I learned many things. But the most important learning for me these years has been to focus on important things.
Set realistic and measurable objectives and go for them.
When we started the company, we lost a lot of time in non-priority activities and leave unattended urgent and important issues to face. For example, focusing on packaging instead of product. Or giving too much importance to the experience of the customer instead of selling.
In our case, it helped a lot that we applied for many incubation programs so we learned there to prioritize, to plan and to focus on the important things to solve first.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We have tried many different tools but what really works the best for us are the following:
- Odoo (ERP)
- G Suite
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
During our college years, my partner and I read a lot of business and inspiration books.
Our favourites were:
- No Logo: We applied a lot of learnings from this book in terms of branding.
- Lean Startup: Really helped us to launch our first product, test it and change it.
- Green Marketing Manifesto: We learned about storytelling.
- Delivering Happiness: Showed us the importance and the added value of a good customer care.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Common sense - Please don’t innovate too much. Most of the times the easiest way to achieve something is the best one.
Don’t fall in love with your idea - When you are starting up, shit will happen and you have to be flexible to make changes on your plan and on the concept. Don’t fall in love with the initial idea as it will change monthly.
Just focus on the important things - Dedicate most of your time to work in fields that are crucial for you tomorrow. Don’t lose a lot of time on perfection or in detail.
Don’t plan too much - Plans are useful to know how bad are you planning. When you are starting a business nothing will come as you are planning so don’t take a lot of time on making perfect plans. Just set realistic and measurable objectives and go for them.
Be ready to fail - Sooner or later shit will happen, so be ready for that and don’t take it personal.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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