The making of... the Better Packaging Co.
Welcome to The making of... blog series. To start, can you give us a bit of a background into who you are and where you’ve come from.
Hello. I’m Kate Bezar, co-founder of the Better Packaging Co. Becs and I have really similar backgrounds and values, but polar opposite (we like to say 'complementary') skill sets. We both studied science at uni, then cut our teeth as management consultants and when that spat us out, did our own things. Becs co-founded a tech start-up called Starshipit which facilitates the fulfilment of eCommerce orders and I founded Dumbo feather magazine. I was 28 when I decided that I wanted to make a magazine for people like me. Check out dumbofeather.com if you're keen to know more. After seven years at the helm, I sold the magazine to impact investors Small Giants - that was about 11 years ago - and they've now been making Dumbo feather magic for longer than I did! What I realised through the process of conceptualising and then making Dumbo Feather was that I loved creating values-driven brands - and that's what I've done ever since, firstly as a freelancer and most recently as co-founder of the Better Packaging Co.
Thanks for the intro, and nice to connect with you again (the other time was back in your Dumbo feather days). First, can you tell us how you came up with the concept for the Better Packaging Co.
It was Becs' nutty idea! With no background in packaging at all, she wondered if she could come up with a more sustainable way of packaging eCommerce orders than your traditional plastic satchel ... and asked me if I was keen to help. We spent months investigating different materials and evaluating them against the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Circular Economy model and principles. This was over four years ago and soft plastics recycling was in its infancy, so when we found a material that functioned like plastic, but was home compostable the appeal was immediate. Here was something people could dispose of in their own backyards, and at the same time we could encourage a home composting movement - something we were already passionate about.
Having spent months exploring different materials, how did you arrive at what you've got now? How did you test your product-market fit?
Not much, other than on the materials front. Having worked closely with eCommerce retailers through Starshipit, Becs knew their pain points. We also had a strong hunch that they'd prefer something stylish and beautifully designed, rather than the standard AusPost mailing satchels they were currently lumped with.
Bringing beautiful design to a typically boring functional category like eCommerce packaging is definitely a smart move. Having said that, what were the first iterations of your product like?
We made the bags matt black and came up with some quirky communications to help the messaging cut through. These satchels were different and that needed to be VERY obvious. So we printed "I'm a real dirt bag" on them and then proceeded to tell people exactly what to do with them and what they were made of. They were an immediate hit. Our first production run sold out in two weeks so we doubled it and that sold out in two weeks - we've been hanging on for dear life ever since.
As soon as you said “I’m a real dirt bag” our minds went straight to branded merch… okay, back on track. Can you tell us how you initially funded everything?
Ourselves. We both pitched in dollars to fund those first few production runs. But the business was actually profitable within the first year. We have since taken on external investment to help us grow faster and make even more impact - most recently to fund the R&D needed to produce our POLLAST!C Range. It's a world-first range made from 100% recycled Ocean Bound Plastic pollution.
Image by © Roses
That’s great news to hear you were profitable within your first year. And what about the branding? Can you tell us about the process and how you arrived at where you are today?
Ha, after calling my magazine 'Dumbo feather' and having to explain the name EVERY SINGLE time I said it, this time I was pretty keen to make it self-explanatory. We tried a few options but what we loved about "Better Packaging" was that it spoke to our desire for continuous improvement and "betterment". We see sustainability as a journey, not a destination and our name reminds us that there's always room for further innovation.
As a way of describing what you’re doing, we concur that “Better Packaging” is spot on. What about brand awareness, and how are you getting the word out there? How are you scaling the brand?
For the first couple of years it was all viral. When brands shifted to using Better Packaging, they would tell their followers on social media and word spread that way. We have also now made over 100 million bags, so that's 100 million 'flyers' out in the world containing our messaging and brand information - it's pretty powerful. We had the Sustainability Manager of a large tech co. contact us recently because his daughter had received a bikini in one of our mailers and he was curious as to how we might be able to lower the impact of packaging in their supply chain. These days, supplement that with some paid advertising through the usual channels.
WOW. 100 MILLION BAGS. That makes us smile. That is the real impact right there. So what would you say your biggest challenge or challenges are moving forward?
From a brand perspective, it's Greenwashing. It's just getting so hard to cut through all the crap out there and it's so frustrating when you do have products that are genuinely some of the most sustainable in the world, that people have become so jaded to the messages.
Oh yes. As a creative branding agency we’re fully aware of this happening in the industry, but hopefully this will change as more people call out the marketing speak through social media.
This brings us to our final question. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give another entrepreneur who is embarking on their own startup journey?
I've loved creating Better Packaging with Becs - it's been a completely different experience compared to running solo on Dumbo feather. I'm not saying going into partnership is the right thing for everyone, but if you can find the right person, I'd highly recommend it. And of course, follow your values. You're going to need a truck tonne of passion to keep you going and the best source of that is genuine motivation from the core of who you are and what you believe in.