Struck by the waste their e-commerce business was generating just to ship out products, parents Anaita Sarkar and Vike Davé knew there had to be a better way. So, they created one.
They founded Hero Packaging in 2018 and, since then, their sustainable, durable postage bags have been embraced by the likes of Cue, Ripcurl, Lush Cosmetics, Piping Hot, JAGGAD and Veronica Maine – just to name a few.
We spoke to Anaita and Vik about the inspiration behind Hero Packaging, the small business juggle (especially with kids) and their advice for anyone hoping to follow in their footsteps.
What was your inspiration to start your own business?
Hero Packaging was created after our first e-commerce retail business, where we were shipping over 80 to 100 products a day… in plastic. When we would see our customers opening up our packages, we started to feel incredibly horrified at the amount of waste we were creating (and we were just one business!). The real cherry on top of the plastic pie was when our two girls were in our office during school holidays and were sitting amongst a pile of plastic, playing with the bubble wrap. We knew there had to be something better. We Googled alternatives to plastic mailers and the only solution we could find was paper-based packaging – which is great but not waterproof, so it wouldn’t work for our products. When we saw first hand the amount of plastic building up in our office, we knew there was something that we could do.
When did you know the timing was ‘right’?
Anaita: There is usually no final trigger with me, if I think something is a good idea I’ll just do it. I don’t really think too much about it, I’d prefer to just give it a go, have it fail really quickly and then change what I’m doing. In terms of an ‘ah ha’ moment, when I saw there was a need for a plastic free alternative, I was researching that night and within three to six months Hero Packaging was up and running.
Vik: I guess the other ‘ah ha’ moment was, when Anaita had the idea for Hero Packaging, we had a really poorly designed landing page which was set up based on Mailchimp, we didn’t have a domain name or anything. It was literally just a page with text on a black background with a signup form for free samples of home compostable shipping mailers. We ran a really cheap Google Ad campaign and within a week we had over a thousand signups, it was crazy. That was our other ‘ah ha’ moment when we said to ourselves that this is something and we knew then that there were other businesses thinking along the same lines.
How did you make your big break?
Anaita: I don’t know if I’d call it a ‘big break’, I think it was more of a realisation that working for someone wasn’t my thing. I started as an accountant but, after six years and becoming a Chartered Account, I decided I hated accounting. I then took a 50% pay cut, went into the media industry, did my Masters in Marketing and started working in the industry. It was at that point that I decided that working for someone wasn’t my thing and decided to start my own business whilst she was pregnant with my second daughter.
What was your training prior to starting your own business?
Vik: I have a Bachelor of Commerce, specialising in Marketing and an MBA. I’ve worked in sales, marketing and ecommerce my whole working life. From starting in door-to-door sales through to the Head of ecommerce of one of the largest online retailers in Australia, where I increased sales by two and a half times in my five year period there. I’ve been involved in every aspect of sales and marketing from both a face-to-face perspective and online.
Anaita: My path was a bit different. I grew up in a family that owned a small business and began my working career behind the reception desk. In 2013 I began guest lecturing marketing subjects at Macquarie University and whilst pregnant with my second child I started my first ecommerce business. I’m also the author of the digital marketing book Sell Anything Online.
What are the biggest challenges of being a mum/dad and a businesswoman/man?
The biggest challenge of being a Mum and Dad and business owners is that work/life balance. Your business becomes your ‘baby’ so you want to dedicate all your time and energy to it, but you can’t as you’ve got your other babies to look after. This is where having the right people around you comes into play and hiring people that are way more experienced than you. Previously we made the mistake of hiring people in roles where we thought we were the experts, for example a social media intern. Speaking from experience we can tell you it’s better to hire people that know more than you and put them in that position. It makes your life easier, it makes the business better and it allows you to disconnect emotionally as they do the work properly as opposed to us doing it from an emotional standpoint.
What is your top tip for maintaining a work/life balance?
You need to work out what works for you and run with that. Even if it’s unconventional and friends or family don’t agree with it. It’s your business and your family so you need to do what’s best for both. We stop working around 3pm so we can both pick up our kids from school and then we spend the afternoon/evening with them before they go to bed. Once they’re in bed we go back to work for three or four hours.
Running a business isn’t a nine to five job so often you need to think outside the box and get out of the nine to five mindset, especially if you’re coming from a corporate job.
What is your biggest learning since starting your own business?
One of our biggest learnings since starting our own business is that if you’re going to offer something for free, place a cap on the number! We didn’t when we first started but we’re lucky it worked out well for us, so we can laugh about it now. When we started offering free samples we thought that we may get five to 10 people maximum signing up. We ended up with over a thousand in a week and thought ‘oh crap’! And we didn’t have any specifications either as to who could receive the free samples, so we ended up having to send the free samples internationally too – it ended up costing us about $10,000 in shipping!
Initially we had the mailers on our dining room table and we thought at the start we’d send out one day. But then we ended up with all these orders so we were spending hours at night shipping orders after we put the kids to bed and not sleeping. We won’t make that same mistake again!
What do you do in your spare time to keep yourself sane?
Spending time with our kids keeps us grounded and sane (for the most part!). We are a family first business second operation so the more time we can spend together as a family keeps us sane. We always aim for two long walks a day with our kids and puppy. One thing we do as a couple though is each night before we go to bed, even if it’s at 11pm, we watch an episode of something on Netflix and have either a cup of tea or a glass of wine together. This is our time to relax.
What’s one thing other mums/dads should do who are looking to start their own business?
Our piece of advice is to time block activities. If you think you can handle everything at the same time, it just won’t work. Allocate tasks (including kid’s tasks) in 15 or 30 minutes blocks so you can concentrate on one specific task at a time.
I also think mums and dads should articulate their values for both their personal lives and their business, as this will help them when they’re trying to achieve a work/life balance that works for them. You will probably find that your personal and business values overlap/intertwine but until you articulate them they won’t know what you should be prioritising. Once you know your values and what’s important to you you’ll find these become your guide.