How I Started A $220K/Month Brand Of Sustainable Everyday Products
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Anders Ankarlid and I am the founder and CEO of Agood Company, a sustainable and social impact startup founded in Stockholm, Sweden. As an ethical online retailer, we sell elegant, everyday products in sustainable materials.
Our flagship products are our mobile case made out of 100% linseed waste, designed and produced in Sweden and part of a closed loop system – and our stone paper notebooks made from recycled industrial waste marble and completely photodegradable. We have many other products as well, like bamboo toilet paper, BPA-free water bottles and bamboo toothbrushes. We generally try to look at your everyday life and needs and see how we can improve the products while making them in sustainable materials. Our community of customers is spread across the globe. Our first customer was from Indonesia and on it went, as we decided to ship worldwide from the start.
We’ve only been up and running for a little over a year but in that time we have grown to have a global customer base of about thirty thousand customers and average monthly revenue of $220,000.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
You know those child-entrepreneurs who scale up their lemonade business to earn real cash? That was me growing up. Appreciating a hard day’s work, setting goals, and learning from both success and failure were values instilled in me by the closest members of my family, most of them hippies-turned-entrepreneurs.
After high school, I wanted more imminent and tangible challenges than college could provide, so instead of jumping on the business school-track I heeded the call of my entrepreneurial side and launched my first eCommerce venture.
It did not go very well.
But the next one was a little more successful and on it went. I was hooked on the thrill of diving headfirst into new ventures, reaping both success and failure and collecting learnings as I went along.
For me, the idea to start AGood Company came with the cataclysmic environmental effects of the summer of 2018, where the highest temperatures in Sweden were measured in recorded history. The drought caused wells to dry up along with forest fires all across Sweden (a country covered in forests). We have a farm that’s been in my wife’s family for generations and being faced with the very tangible risk of our cattle dying of thirst and the effects of the burnt grass looking like scorched earth leaving little or no food for them to eat – that sent me into a sense of environmental despair.
After the most imminent danger had passed, I started reviewing my life and my family’s habits. And from this experience, AGood Company was born. I wanted to address the climate crisis in a way that I knew how; eCommerce. If I could have a positive impact on consumption, both what, how, and why people buy the things they do, I knew that I would feel I had made a difference.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Our very first product was a stone paper notebook. We had been fascinated by the un-common material for a while and wanted to make a product out of it that people could use in their everyday lives. We went on a long sourcing trip to find the right factory (there aren’t that many stone-paper factories to go around) and finally found a family-run factory that checked a lot of the boxes for us. For a sustainable and social impact startup, diligence in ensuring a sustainable production line is key. We could neither afford to cut any corners (or else our trust capital would be gone with the wind) nor did we want to. But with this mindset, sourcing takes a really long time.
We at AGood Company were familiar with the production technique and were looking for a supplier with the same appreciation for detail as ourselves. Our sourcing team in Hong Kong located the factory, and we researched the company extensively before making contact.
Upon meeting the founder, we came to realize that we had found what we were looking for: a passionate, family-owned company with deep-rooted craftsmanship and a genuine commitment to sustainable product development.
The Stone Paper Factory has spent two decades perfecting its own unique method to create a beautiful paper-like material from stone, in a dry process that uses no chemicals or water. In close collaboration with us, the factory produces our range of exquisite, high-quality notebooks, as well as all of our packaging materials.
Making paper out of stone is a fascinating process, where leftovers from the neighboring construction industry, mainly limestone and marble, are crushed into a fine powder of calcium carbonate. The factory only uses leftover residue and isn’t engaged in any mining activities to source its raw material. Calcium carbonate a natural product, and while not renewable it’s abundant and used in many industries, such as construction, traditional paper making, and in everyday products such as toothpaste, medicine, and baby powder.
We began working with micro-influencers pretty early on but after a while, when we couldn’t see any effects, just costs, we decided to look further into the industry. We found that a lot of engagement and followers were fraudulent.
The calcium carbonate powder is then mixed with recycled non-toxic high-density polyethylene (HDPE) -- a material that can be recycled almost indefinitely -- to create small white pellets the size of candy. In a 100% dry process -- applying no acids, bleach, or water -- the pellets are squeezed into a material that resembles traditional paper. This process is carbon neutral, generates no pollution, and only requires a small amount of power, which the Stone Paper Factory produces from its own solar panels.
Once we had the material, we began the process of producing the first notebook. Our two-person product design team had spent the majority of the time we spent looking for a suitable factory, behind their desks, sketching away on the design of the notebook.
We wanted to get the details right the first time, even though we knew we could always develop and improve the product over time.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We are a privately funded company and so there is no private equity or venture capital involved in any step of our process. This means that there was no massive launch fund available at our fingertips so we pulled on every string that we had to make use of competencies within our closest network of friends and family. I remember feeling a little overwhelmed at all the support from people who wanted to lend a hand to a sustainable startup. I heard from a friend who said it almost felt like he was doing an extra good deed helping us set up, because of our purpose as a company. I can tell you, that’s not something I’ve heard when I launched any of my previous eCommerce projects.
We primarily used Instagram and Facebook, both organic and ads, in addition to word of mouth for our launch early last year. We could see steady growth in our customer base from a couple of weeks in. Much of that may have to do with our immense effort with customer service and asking customers to review us both on our website and on Facebook, and then sharing this information with our new potential community members.
We began working with micro-influencers pretty early on but after a while, when we couldn’t see any effects, just costs, we decided to look further into the industry. Lifting the cover, we found that a lot of engagement and followers were fraudulent and we even took it so far as to do a research study on the subject - which was featured in The Wall Street Journal.
We donate 4% of the net price of each sale to causes that promote sustainability and tackle issues such as climate change.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As we’re not funded by venture capital or private equity, we’re not in any acute hurry to grow massively each quarter. We want to grow organically in a sustainable (pun intended) way, making sure we really excel and don’t cut corners in quality, delivery, or customer service to the benefit of quick growth. We want to retain our customers, whom we refer to as our community, because they are often much more engaged in us and our causes beyond “just” buying one product, for a long time.
We did find that earned media helps build our trustworthiness and thought leadership gravitas, which has a positive impact on both algorithms and customer engagement.
We recently launched a very appreciated weekly newsletter, where we share product updates, upcoming launches, the general good news (in the light of COVID-19), and our weekly editorials and interviews published on our inspirational platform Agood Community. The latter has been a great way to build a relationship with our customers and have a base for social impact.
And the most appreciated section:
How are you doing today, are you working on any exciting projects?
Yes, in fact, we recently launched Agood Foundation.
Agood Foundation was born from a wider conversation about how we as a company can make an impact outside of our normal scope while sharing our values and expertise.
Our mission is to inspire people to transform from mindless consumerism towards making more conscious decisions. As one of the few climate positive eCommerce companies in the global industry, we wanted to expand our scope from ethical online retailing to help support long-term educational projects.
When you purchase one of our products, you are making a statement that you value the world we all live in and that you are conscious of your impact on it.
Agood Foundation was launched to spread the message further still, to all corners of society, in all parts of the world.
We donate 4% of the net price of each sale to causes that promote sustainability and tackle issues such as climate change.
It’s often the case that in charitable foundations, a great deal of the money collected goes to administrative costs and working with intermediaries in the different local communities.
We’re doing the opposite of that.
100% of the funds donated will go to the initiatives we are supporting. We can make sure of this by excluding all intermediaries and working directly with the people on the ground in each respective community.
The strategy for Agood Foundation is based on our belief that education and training are key to accomplishing long term change, and that we can work best by leveraging our core areas of expertise.
Our work is focused on, but not limited to, these key areas:
- Resource preservation
- Recycling and individual circularity
- Industry circularity
- Sustainable entrepreneurship
- Consumer Culture and its environmental impact
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
After a little over a year as a company, I am humbled and proud to say that there are a lot of people that share our values. And we are lucky to count many of them as our customers and partners.
In just 1 year, we have shipped to over 60 countries where thousands of individuals have joined our consumer activist community.
As mentioned earlier, we initially worked with an ambassador program mostly based on nano- and micro-influencers. After a bit of digging and a full-scale research report, I came to a couple of conclusions:
Our new influencer strategy at a glance
- Don’t trust any data.
- Influencers can be great for sales and possibly for brand positioning. But the effect is difficult to measure without direct results generated by the ambassadors.
- Trust only sales.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your ambassadors to pay a certain amount for your products. This way, you know that they are actually interested in your brand and what your company stands for. And, not to forget, you are slowing down the mindless consumption train.
I have also learned that the more engaged you are, the more engaged your customers or community will be. This might sound very basic but I think many companies mass-produce their engagement – but the customers can always tell. We have also learned a lot from our community. We ask them about product development all the time, especially in our Friends of Agood Company Facebook Group – a team of ambassadors and very engaged customers who share our values and want to amp up their individual activism while also helping others do the same. We ask them about patterns and ideas for new products and then highlight the individual contributions that led to our product developing in one way or another.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Shopify and have a great collaboration with them. Slack for internal communication, very useful. We have a very large community of followers (75.8k) on Instagram considering how young we are as a company and as a social “impacter”.
Facebook, as mentioned above, is a great tool to communicate with our community, as is Instagram.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Try and you shall fail, fail and you shall learn. Cheesy but true. Of course, you shouldn’t be a reckless manager but you won’t know if something is right for the development of your company unless you try it, and if you’re wary of catastrophe – why not do a small beta trial?
I have launched several eCommerce in the past and some of them failed horribly. Not one of those lessons was redundant in my current day-to-day though!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not currently, unfortunately. We have managed to stay on track in spite of COVID-19, not laying off any staff but we are not currently hiring. We are always interested in freelance content writers though so feel free to drop our Communications & PR Director Emilia Cullborg a line on [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
AGood Company has provided an update on their business!
Over 1 year ago, we followed up with AGood Company to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
9 months ago, we followed up with AGood Company to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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