When I saw Elizabeth for the first time in Ubud earlier this year, she was celebrating her 37th birthday. Quiet in her corner and graciously thanking her guests, her gentle smile was the first thing that struck me. It was later that I got to know she is building a business. Two weeks later, she told me the business is doing better than she ever imagined. To be precise, she is on track to gross USD 250K by the end of this year.
“This has been the most incredible, transformative year of my life. Last August I left New York for Bali, with the last of my savings, determined to find a way to create a business I could run from anywhere. I didn’t know how, or what it would be, but I knew staying in the corporate race was no longer an option. In just 8 months, I went from feeling confused in New York, to living in Bali with a profitable company that I run from my laptop.”
To get a sense of how far and how quickly Elizabeth has reached here, following is a screenshot that shows $33,670 gross sales for the first 30 day period.
The company that Elizabeth founded is Baloo Living, a product company founded on the principles of self-care and holistic wellness.
“We launched in April with a weighted blanket, which helps people feel calm, and sleep more deeply. ”
You guessed it right, Baloo comes from the bear from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. He has an open heart and spreads joy where he goes, but he’s a bear, so he’s also a strong protector. Elizabeth’s weighted blanket gives people the same physiological benefits as a bear hug; a feeling of safety, grounding, and comfort, by applying a gentle pressure to the body which tells the nervous system that it’s safe; the body responds the same way as it would to being held in a warm hug.
Let’s backtrack. Elizabeth has a marketing degree from The University of Texas and a rich varied experience in different industries.
“I’ve tried several careers and invested a lot of energy in searching for my calling. I’m so happily surprised to see that what I’m doing now draws on each of my past experiences. My first job was on Capitol Hill in D.C., working for a lobbyist. I then worked for an international advertising agency in Chicago, in finance at BlackRock, and as an executive assistant to the CEO of a luxury consumer brand, Casa Dragones Tequila. In my most recent roles, I was the manager of a startup content creation company called Egg in the Hole Productions where I oversaw all aspects of the business while also working as a project manager at Scholastic, a children’s publishing company.”
These varied experiences gave Elizabeth a chance to understand her customer needs very closely.
In a heart to heart, she shares the journey of getting up to here.
As a child I was always setting up impromptu lemonade stands or poorly promoted garage sales, washing cars, or weeding neighbors’ gardens for extra money. For years I was saving to buy a horse, but fortunately for my parents, did not reach that goal.
It wasn’t until a few years out of college when I picked up my first marketing client, an antique rug gallery, that fell in love with being my own boss. I was inspired by small business owners and motivated by seeing my work make an impact. I knew I had much to learn, so I moved to New York where I was fortunate to work with some very talented entrepreneurs.
Launching through Amazon provides access to the market unlike any other platform. The key to success is offering something people are already searching for, but where competition is weak or there’s an opportunity for improvement. I used a tool called Jungle Scout to research keyword demand. There’s an art and a science to picking a product that starts with sifting through reams of data.
I saw that weighted blankets were in high demand, and felt that I could create a thoughtful, quality product that people would connect with. There was a clear gap in the market at that time. Baloo as a brand stands for respect for the body’s innate wisdom and self-healing ability. We are different from every other brand because we use premium cotton certified by the Oeko-Tex 100 standard to be free of harmful chemicals, and lead-free glass microbeads. We contribute to the Carbonfund Foundation.org to offset our carbon footprint, and we partner with a nonprofit called Pajama Program, to help children living in homeless shelters feel safe at bedtime.
The interesting thing is that I started this process because I was looking for a way to make an income, but discovered a passion. As soon as I tried my first sample Baloo weighted blanket, I felt my body relax more completely than it ever had. I am deeply moved by what these blankets can do for people.
One of my first customers was a friend who is also an entrepreneur. She was suffering from insomnia and anxiety to the point that she was prescribed medications; her anxiety about the insomnia was creating a vicious cycle. Within a few days of receiving her blanket, I started getting texts and emails regularly from her, to tell me how excited she now was to go to sleep! Sleeping well when you’ve struggled is a significant change in someone’s life. I hear stories like this often now, and it makes me so, so happy. Our bodies are amazing, and designed to feel good naturally, but we live in a world that doesn’t always support that.
I launched Baloo with a three-month supply of inventory and we sold out within two months!
It became a “good problem” when I ran out of stock. On the one hand, it was a blessing because it showed me that I’d become dependent on sales numbers — if sales were good I felt great, but if they were slow, I would doubt myself. Being out of stock gave me the chance to separate my emotions from my business results. Happily, we are now back in stock!
This business has changed my life in that it’s given me total flexibility. In the past month, I’ve traveled and worked from Croatia, England, Iceland, New York, and Texas. Ironically, work has become my favorite thing to do, and I say a prayer of thanks every day for my challenges, as frustrating as they may be because they’re mine, and I love building a business that’s so close to my heart.
Believe it or not, I have not done any paid marketing yet. I have partnered with a couple of social media influencers which was very fun, but apart from that it’s a combination of Amazon listing optimization and word of mouth.
Follow BalooLiving on Instagram for some wellness visual delights!
Product businesses are cash intensive and require a lot of working capital. Cash flow planning is something to consider before choosing a product. The best way to prepare for that is to find or build a community of fellow entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds, because I don’t think it’s possible for one person to master it all.
Amazon is great for launching a product that people are looking for, but they will always have the upper hand. For instance, fees for sellers often increase, and the review policy just changed, so many business owners are losing hundreds or thousands of customer reviews.
For a brand to have control of their long-term future, it’s essential to have a direct relationship with its customers. For that reason, we also sell on our website, balooliving.com.
Almost every aspect of building Baloo was impacted for the better by the digital nomad community. It was through a free skill-share presentation at Hubud (a co-working space) that I decided to pursue Amazon as the path to launching my business. I met fellow entrepreneurs who advised me on best accounting practices; I learned almost everything I know about digital marketing from weekly meetups; and found so much encouragement and permission to explore new ways of thinking.
There are challenges to being so far removed from the US; for instance the wire transfer to my factory for my very first order was flagged by the bank as suspicious. I was told the only way to lift the alert would be to appear in person in a US branch with identification — not possible when I was in Bali half a world away. I was up until 5am until I was able to connect to my accountant’s banker who was willing to release the funds for me.
I am very fortunate that both of my sisters help me while I’m traveling. Jennifer is my power of attorney in case of any legal or correspondence issues (she gets my mail!); Kimberly manages products that are returned by customers at our family’s office space in Texas. So many little things would become big things without their help while I travel.
Celebrate your accomplishments! It’s so easy to stay focused on the next goal and forget how far you’ve come. Celebrating isn’t selfish because it acknowledges all the people who believe in you. I held a small launch party for Baloo in Bali, and it was very powerful for me. It’s not my natural instinct to be the center of attention, but marking the occasion with friends was meaningful because the victory also belongs to the people who encouraged me along the way. Nistha, you can attest to this because you were there! [I can :) ]
Another thing I have found very powerful is working with an accountability partner for Monday morning check-ins. The format we use is to prepare a short list of the top three to five objectives for the week ahead. We also share the one thing we are the most proud of from the previous week (see advice #1) :)
Lastly, I always remember that energy is my most precious resource. If my energy is low, I don’t try to power through. I honor my body’s rhythm by taking a walk, phoning a friend, or closing my eyes for a few minutes under one of my weighted blankets. We are not machines meant to work without rest, and ultimately, I am far more creative when I’m relaxed than when I’m wound up on coffee and to-do lists.
I found the expat community in Bali to be extremely respectful and egalitarian. But launching a business was an invaluable experience in that it forced me to confront the limits I had internalized as a woman. I was shocked to see that I was uncomfortable with being excited to make money for its own sake; I was conditioned to believe that it was more acceptable to be motivated by being of service to others. It was very surprising to realize how disempowered I was in my relationship to making my own money, in a way that I don’t think a man would be.
I notice that I approach this business very differently than men as well. I’m intuitive versus analytical. There have been moments when I have worried that I’m missing something because my approach is so different, but I have a beautiful product that I believe in and that people are delighted to buy. I believe combining the desire to serve the greater good with the freedom to build a business and wealth is a powerful combination, and I’m excited to see more women on this path.
I’ve created a list of 15 business books you have not heard of that insanely successful founders swear by (apart from the same old Zero to One and Lean Startups!)
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