Viola Sutanto bootstrapped her first company, but she knew she would need to raise outside capital to properly address the shipping and logistics challenges she’s taking on with her newer business, LimeLoop. Like us, she’s starting with a crowdfund. Read on for her insights around fundraising, sustainability, and staying inspired in the day-to-day.
To give our readers some background, you founded MAIKA, which makes stylish and functional soft goods from recycled canvas for delightful travel and living, and more recently founded LimeLoop, a full circle shipper packaging company that combines technology and innovative design to create a more sustainable supply chain. We notice there’s a common thread: sustainability. What led you to create businesses with socially conscious missions at their core?
For me, good design goes beyond form and function. It should also take into account the source and end-of-life use of materials the product is made from. This could mean using recycled materials to create the product, the manufacturing process itself, and finding ways to recirculate the material back into the market as a new/ recycled iteration.
Tell us about the unique challenges you’re building LimeLoop to address.
Raise your hand if you shop online on a regular basis. Yup, me too. Piles of cardboard boxes in recycling bins everywhere is a common sight these days. With e-commerce set to increase 250% by 2021, this is not going to change anytime soon. Recycling is complicated and expensive, and to add salt to injury, as of this year, China is no longer taking our waste for recycling. LimeLoop is our answer to this growing issue. Our smart shippers are a durable, lightweight and reusable alternative to cardboard boxes in e-commerce.
The process is simple. Our brand partners rent a fleet of shippers from LimeLoop. They mail out their products in our bags the same way they would a cardboard box, except on receipt of the shipper, the consumer uses a prepaid shipping label to return the shipper so it can be used again and again. With our proprietary software, brand partners can manage their fleet and the environmental impact of their shippers every step of the way.
What are some key business lessons you learned through MAIKA that have proven useful as you build LimeLoop?
I bootstrapped MAIKA with minimal funds, so it was crucial to make every penny count. Sometimes “good enough” trumps perfect and continual refinement is part of the journey. I won’t mean putting out a bad or defective product; rather, get it to the point it’s close enough to test the market. I can’t emphasize how important it is to listen to your customers, and gain early feedback. Yet, it’s also important to be aware of the source of feedback. Not everyone is your customer, so listen to the feedback, digest and then edit ruthlessly.
Sourcing and manufacturing can seem like a paralyzing challenge at first. Learning to break down the supply chain into a step-by-step process has helped to keep me sane. The art of vetting factories and negotiating with suppliers while maintaining empathy is a skill that has proven useful over time.
What were the factors behind your decision to crowdfund this time around?
In addition to raising awareness with brands, we also knew we needed to get our product into the hands of consumers like you and me. Our crowdfunding campaign killed two birds with one stone: helping us to raise funds, and raising awareness to the public. Just like we are constantly testing and evolving our product design, we are testing crowdfunding as a source of capital. It isn’t however, our only source of funding. We are currently raising our seed round in addition to our recently launched crowdfunding campaign.
How will accepting outside funding allow you to grow LimeLoop?
We were fortunate to gain early traction, and inbound inquiries have been steady. We launched in April and are already running pilots with 10 brand partners, and more on our waitlist. The funds will help us increase our fleet of shippers, and take on more apparel and soft goods brands.
What is your best advice for other mamas launching a crowdfunding campaign?
Having clear goals and a roadmap is key. We used Meistertask to keep us accountable to our to-do list. From writing the video script, to filming and editing, creating the perks… a lot of prep goes into a crowdfunding campaign, so be sure to plan it out well in advance and be realistic about the amount of time each task will take.
How do you stay inspired in the day-to-day?
When you’re running your own business and having to juggle multiple tasks, it’s not easy to stay inspired on a daily basis. My community inspires me deeply everyday. I feel extremely lucky to be working with my team on a day-to-day basis. Every single one of them has something valuable to bring to the table, and I often walk away from each conversation with a valuable nugget and a lighter heart. Knowing we are in it together makes us stronger. I’m an introvert, so being surrounded by people all day can be overwhelming at times. Taking time to be in solitude, whether it’s a morning run or squeezing in a yoga class, energizes me and helps me be ready to be around others again. Break the routine. Once in a while, engage in something you don’t typically do. We used to host “Friday Crafternoons” in our studio where we invited fellow founders and creatives to gather and just “make stuff” (ok, with wine) for 2 hours. Short and sweet, and the perfect way to end the work week.
How do you talk with your kids about your work life? How might they answer if we asked them “What does mama do?”
As my 8-year old daughter would say “my mama is a designer; she makes things I like to use, and she runs companies.”
Balance. Within this community, we talk about it often and everyone seems to have different ideas about what it means. What does it mean to you?
I’ve been thinking about this topic often. This year has been especially tough for us as I was constantly traveling overseas due to my dad’s illness. Being away from my family is so hard, and even more so during difficult times. Yet I keep thinking about how this time has brought me closer to my siblings and my mom. In a way, that’s balance too. Work-life balance is a bit of a myth to me so I just play with what works for us as a family. My husband is an entrepreneur too, so our schedules are hectic (or flexible, says the positive). It’s about valuing the moments and not compartmentalizing it as work versus home or personal. As I grow, I’m learning that balance also means saying no to things that don’t nourish you.
You don’t know what the other person’s story is. Being kind doesn’t cost you anything.
Appreciate the micro-moments.
Be involved, but with restraint. Let the kids figure it out.