Jake McKeon, Founder of Coconut Bowls
The Power of Focus
How Jake McKeon of Coconut Bowls stopped chasing new ideas, and scaled a business and community that he’s passionate about.
Jake McKeon considers himself an idea man, and that’s not always been a good thing.
For years, he lept from one idea to another, always enchanted by a shiny new business possibility. With a thumb on the pulse of social trends and a knack for testing new business ideas, McKeon always had two or three ventures going at the same time.
It’s common for new entrepreneurs to begin their journeys by following their ideas, imaginations, and curiosities. But McKeon was taking that to the extreme, and eventually found himself a little scattered. He needed to find a way to center himself, and ultimately that meant being grounded in his personal passions.
Through some tough experiences and hard lessons, McKeon learned to mute the part of himself that saw potential in every new idea. Instead, he turned up the volume on the interests he personally cared about the most, and let that guide him to his sole venture today—Coconut Bowls.
The name may sound a little funny when you put it in such a serious context. But today, Coconut Bowls is a thriving business with a charitable initiative that supports rural coconut farmers and local artisans in Vietnam and Indonesia. In the process, the company is providing people with ethical and healthy livelihoods and reducing environmental waste. Here’s how McKeon is proving that having a heart is good for business.
The Creation of Coconut Bowls
McKeon had already experienced a few failed startups by the time he finally connected with Coconut Bowls, but when this one took shape, it was an entirely different story.
“Coconut Bowls has been the most natural of all my businesses,” McKeon says. “The product fell into my lap.” McKeon was walking through a market in Bali and came across some handcrafted coconut products. He was running a health and superfood business at the time and thought that his customers would love this simple concept—bowls made from coconuts.
So, he had a bunch of bowls made, filled his suitcase, and started selling them online back home in Australia. He found that—on his shoestring budget—it was actually cheaper to fly back and forth to Bali with empty suitcases than to ship the product.
McKeon ended up making a few more trips, each time bringing more and more luggage. On one trip, he brought along a couple friends and a load of empty surfboard bags. “We didn’t have any surfboard equipment, just coconut bowls. So coming back through customs was ridiculous, but they let us through, thankfully,” McKeon says.
It wasn’t long after that trip when Coconut Bowls started to see sales and momentum build (and made the switch to sea freight).
But what originally brought McKeon to Bali, and to that fated market that brought him face-to-face with his most profitable business venture yet?
It was a thirst for travel and healthy food—and failure.
To understand McKeon’s story, let’s back up to the very first business he started, six years prior, Moodswing. Moodswing was a social networking app for sharing emotions. “I wanted to create a safe platform for peer-to-peer emotional support, for people to speak openly and honestly,” McKeon says.
With no experience in business or tech, McKeon came up with the idea for Moodswing, and simply assumed people would want it. Following that assumption, he went on to spent all $40,000 of his savings—money he’d originally intended to use to travel.
“Moodswing was my most outlandish business concept,” he recalls. “I was very naive at how hard the process was going to be.”
McKeon hooked up with a co-founder and developed the app idea. On top of his savings, he raised another $20,000 from family and friends, increasing his overall funding to $60,000. He also put significant efforts toward marketing it and growing his user base.
His growth hacking worked. In 10 weeks, Moodswing had reached a user base of 100,000 people, faster than either Instagram or Facebook had experienced early on.
Moodswing’s significant and immediate growth only fueled McKeon’s naiveté. “I thought I was the next Mark Zuckerberg.”
He flew to the States and met with a few investors, namely Snapchat investor Jeremy Liu. During McKeon’s pitch, Liu promptly asked about his app retention metrics, and McKeon was stumped. “I thought, ‘What are ?’” he says, laughing.
It turned out that only 10 percent of those who downloaded Moodswing returned, which reflected poorly on the user experience of the app. McKeon returned to Australia, humbled.
With only $20,000 left in the bank—not enough to improve on the app—he decided to pitch to an accelerator. They agreed to invest $25,000 in exchange for 10 percent of the business, but only if those friends and family who invested were no longer involved.
“So I used the remaining $20,000 to pay back our friends and family members who’d invested,” McKeon says. “I didn’t want them to lose out, and it was good, because I’d never do business like that with friends and family again. I learned that lesson and got out scot-free.”
McKeon and his team spent three intensive months creating a beautiful new app for Moodswing, then returned to the US to raise more money. “At this stage, Moodswing had a 60 percent retention rate, which was really good. Forty percent of users returned seven days later, and 30 percent returned 30 days later,” McKeon says.
Investors essentially told McKeon that if Moodswing could get to 10,000 daily users, they’d be able to raise whatever they wanted. But the app only ever got up to 8,000 weekly active users.
It was the end of the road for McKeon and Moodswing. “We just couldn’t get there. We didn’t have any more money,” he says. The business also started to lose McKeon’s attention. His co-founder’s, too.
With Moodswing in his rearview mirror, McKeon switched gears and started an organic superfood business called SupermixME. This time he took a more traditional route, ordering a batch of products for $5,000 on his credit card, packaging them at home, selling them, and buying another batch. But things were moving too slow for him.
So he took a step back and asked himself, “What am I good at?” He realized that, although Moodswing didn’t work out, he’d gained valuable insight into the world of social media marketing. He used that experience to start an agency, 7 Star Social, and quickly landed a few profitable clients.
At that point, McKeon was ready to take a break. “I decided I was going to travel for six months and work online,” he says. “I didn’t want to focus on growing anything.”
His travels brought him to Central America, Europe, and—you guessed it—Bali. When McKeon returned, armed with a suitcase filled with coconut bowls, he started to scale his social media agency. At its peak, 7 Star Social was servicing more than 35 clients, each paying between $500 and $2,000 per month.
And in the background, Coconut Bowls was growing slowly. Eventually, McKeon decided he didn’t want to work for other people anymore, so he turned his sole focus to Coconut Bowls.
A Few Valuable Lessons
McKeon walked away from his experiences with Moodswing, SupermixME, and 7 Star Social with much more than the idea for Coconut Bowls. “I look at my journey like an apprenticeship,” he says, one that gave him a crash course in failure and success.
McKeon’s first major lesson from that time was around building a minimum viable product—a process he failed to follow when launching Moodswing. “It’s all about finding product-market fit before doing anything,” McKeon says.
That can be a hard thing to define, exactly, but when you’ve got it, people will start buying and enjoying your product organically. “It shouldn’t feel like a hard sell,” he says.
McKeon thought he had a good idea and spent all of his money without testing whether it was something people wanted. Looking back, he realized that he could’ve created a simple website or Facebook group and asked for feedback. “There are so many ways to test . It’s cheap to do and saves time and money in the long run,” McKeon says.
The second major lesson he learned was to avoid doing things too fast. “Take your time. Don’t expect immediate success.”
With Moodswing, McKeon spent all his time getting those 100,000 users as fast as he could, but in reality, he says that businesses shouldn’t want to achieve that level of growth until they’re happy with their product.
“When our users tried , didn’t like it, and deleted it, they weren’t going to give us a second chance,” McKeon says. “Focus on product first, make sure people like it, then look to marketing.”
The Power of Focus and Community
McKeon’s biggest takeaway, though, was about focus. He had always given more attention to new ideas than the things he was most passionate about, despite the advice he’d heard countless times from others.
McKeon found that with every new business, there was always a new, more exciting idea that held more potential—hence his quick transition between Moodswing, SupermixME, and 7 Star Social. But he doesn’t recommend the same for other entrepreneurs.
In his opinion, when you focus on just one business, you learn more about the product and industry, and you invest more time into talking to your customers. Over time, McKeon has found that this only strengthens your passion, or develops a new one.
When it comes to Coconut Bowls, for example, McKeon has always been passionate about health, and has since become passionate about running a socially responsible business. “While I’ve always been mindful and conscious of sustainability, it’s never been a passion. But it’s been developed since I’ve fed off excitement and passion of our community.”
McKeon has derived valuable learnings from his community since creating Coconut Bowls three years ago, none more so than from a live strategy session with Quest Nutrition co-founder Tom Bilyeu.
The duo conducted the session on a live Foundr podcast, and McKeon walked away with some valuable lessons. “We were one year into Coconut Bowls and had some epic growth,” he recalls. “But we were chasing our tails. We didn’t have a long-term strategy, a community strategy, or a brand strategy.
As an avid supporter of building community, Bilyeu helped McKeon learn the value of “supporting the people who support you.” That conversation helped shape the Coconut Bowls business and influenced a lot of McKeon’s current marketing and growth strategies.
One of his biggest marketing wins with Coconut Bowls has been building a customer base that markets for them. Through social media engagement, a thank-you card and follow-up email, McKeon and his team encourage customers to share on social media what they made in their bowl.
“We started with this strategy and are still using this call-to-action today,” McKeon says. “We’re very lucky that our customers do our marketing for us, and it’s basically been the driver for our growth.”
Another successful tactic has been creating something to do with the Coconut Bowls community. Along with his customers and other content creators, McKeon and his team came together to create a cookbook, Vegan Bowls for Vegan Souls. It’s had tens of thousands of sales to date.
“We’ve had feedback from customers saying that it’s changed their lives,” McKeon said. “It’s not just a cookbook; it’s also built around having fun in the kitchen and being mindful about where your food comes from.”
Eventually, McKeon sees the Coconut Bowls brand expanding, which will allow him to expand the product line and its “made-by-nature” concept.
But McKeon and his team don’t only see Coconut Bowls as a brand—they view their business as a community and a collective of people who are all passionate about health, nature, and sustainability. “We share recipes with each other. We share inspiration and experiences,” McKeon says. “It really brings people together. … It almost comes back to the root of Moodswing—people who support each other.”
- How a couple of failed ventures led to what he’s doing today
- The story behind how Coconut Bowls came to be
- McKeon’s history of testing multiple product ideas at one time
- The key difference between Coconut Bowls and his other ventures
- How he leveraged user-generated content and social media to grow
- The biggest lessons he learned from his previous business, Moodswing
- The power of focus to combat “shiny object syndrome”
- Where Coconut Bowls is going next, particularly with product line expansion
- How Coconut Bowls is fostering its community for growth
- The Instagram strategies he’s used that he thinks will last long term
- The challenges Coconut Bowls is facing, even with its success
Full Transcript of Podcast with Jake McKeon
Jake: Thanks Nathan. Awesome to be here. Feel pretty lucky to have such nice words spoken about me by a good friend. Usually you’re taking the piss out of me, so it’s nice to hear those words from you, mate. So, awesome to be here.
Nathan: Yeah, so actually you were on another podcast a couple years ago which, yeah, was really awesome. We got Tom Bilyeu, one of the co-founders of Quest Nutrition. He’s a friend of mine. And we got to basically do a strategy session where people could be a fly on the wall. This wasn’t a video podcast. It was an audio interview. And you took a lot away from that right?
Jake: Yeah, yeah. Ah, having the opportunity to talk to Tom was phenomenal. We were only probably 12 months or so into the business and what I felt then was some epic growth. Looking back now we were only really just getting started, but we’re a very small team. Because we had had the growth we were chasing our tail, didn’t really have a whole lot of strategy for where I wanted to take the brand to. And having someone of Tom’s calibre and success, he really instilled in me to support the people who support us, which were our customers and our fans. And that’s definitely been something that I’ve taken away. And I revisit that conversation every now and again and just it’s always in the back of my mind to support our community, and it’s pretty much been the number one driver of our brand moving forward. So very, very grateful for that conversation.
Nathan: Yeah, it’s awesome man. So yeah, the first question I ask everyone that comes on is how did you get your job?
Jake: How did I get my job?
Jake: Very lucky to do what I do, so I don’t really feel like it is a job, but I got it after a couple of failed jobs, a couple of failed startups. And funnily enough, Coconut Bowls was the most natural of the businesses that I’ve done to start. The product basically fell into my lap. I was just at a market in Bali and came across these coconut shell handicrafts. They weren’t bowls, but they had the similar kind of finishing on them and they were being sold to tourists as souvenirs. And I had a health food, superfood business at the time and thought that if they could be turned into bowls that my customers would love them. And got some made, brought them home with me and started selling them online. And yeah, here we are.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. And you took a big suitcase full, yeah.
Jake: Yeah. Yeah. The first time I basically fit as many as I could into my existing suitcase. The early days, the lean startup principles, on a shoestring, on a budget. It was actually cheaper to fly to Bali, pack my suitcases full of them, and return home, than to actually air freight them. So I think it was two or three trips. I flew over there every time with some more luggage. And the last time I did it I actually flew over with two of my mates with empty bodyboard bags, surfboard bags. And it was hilarious, because we didn’t have any surfboard equipment, they were just coconut bowls. So coming back through customs, it was ridiculous. But they let us through, thankfully, and after then we were getting some pretty good sales and some momentum, so I thought now is the time to actually treat this like a proper business, not just a business that took me to Bali every couple of weeks.
Nathan: So actually let’s talk about that, because I think one thing that you’ve done really, really well since I’ve known you is you’re very, very fast at creating … Not anymore, but before Coconut Bowls, you were very, very fast at testing business ideas. And you at one point in time might have three or four different things going on. And that’s actually something that I’ve never seen that many people do, so how did you conceive this idea and what made you think that this would be a good product idea?
Jake: I think I’ve always been very aware of social trends. So my first business, Moodswing, which you mentioned in the intro, I started would’ve been five or six years ago now was a social media app. So I got to learn intimately how people behave on social media and I used social media and marketing to get our users at the beginning. So I spent a lot of time on social media. I saw what people were doing, saw the new brands that were starting and I kind of just … I’m very resourceful so if I thought something could have worked or something that people would want or need, I just found a way to get that product or make that product.
And yeah, I just made it happen. Created an Instagram account, created a little website, which is very, very cheap, with Shopify and stuff like that. And yeah, I just test it for a month or so and if it didn’t work I’d move onto something else. And with Coconut Bowls it did work so I just kept going, and over time I stopped doing my other things till it was a full time hustle.
Nathan: Yeah, so tell me about the difference between Coconut Bowls or any other perhaps ventures or things that you tested. How did you gauge that this was one that had legs?
Jake: Yeah. Great question. And it was such a natural sell. So in the past some products I felt like that I was creating something that I thought people wanted, and I would almost … On social media you know it’s a platform to have conversations, not to sell. And in the past I was using social media to sell exclusively almost, or somehow trying to manipulate people to want what I was trying to sell. And with Coconut Bowls, it’s a vessel for food, or that’s what we’ve turned it into, and it fit in so naturally with what people were doing at the time, creating smoothie bowls, creating ice cream, just basically healthy foods.
And I thought to myself, these people, they need a vessel, and Coconut Bowls meet that criteria of being natural, it’s good the environment. So when I saw what was a similar product, I almost knew that people would want it. But again, I just started small, tested it, and very quickly I realised that what I thought was going to happen did happen and that was that our customers were doing the marketing for us because all we did was ask them to share what they were creating in their coconut bowls, and very quickly, a large percentage of our customers were taking phots of what they were creating and posting them on social media, which has allowed us to grow.
Nathan: Yeah. And so the way that you were telling them to share what they were putting in their bowls was when you sent the bowl to them you have like a little card or something.
Jake: Yeah, yeah, a little thank you card with obviously a thank you email as well. And just our conversations on social media, snap and share your creations, basically. It’s something that we started with and we’re still using that kind of call to action, yeah.
Jake: And we’re a fun business. Coconut Bowls give that feeling of being in the tropics and it’s a feel good kind of product. So we just want people to have fun, try and inspire them to be creative with what they’re creating, and yeah, just share that. Creating food’s not a critical kind of industry when you’re just a home cook.
Nathan: Yeah, no, because the thing that’s really cool around what you’ve done is you’re inventing a really strong industry. We were just talking offline and you said there’s all these different competitors now and you guys were the first to sell coconut bowls and there’s many different copycats coming out now and I think that’s quite interesting. But before we go … I want to go more into Coconut Bowls, but let’s talk about some of your other businesses, because I think people will find this interesting just because a lot of people watching this right now might not have a business or they’re trying, or they just launched something or they may not have hit product market fit. And you’ve been on a journey there, man. Tell us around your first business. And you did exceptionally well for your first business with Moodswing, and I think that should did not be considered a failure in that aspect because you learned so much.
Jake McKeon: Yeah.
Nathan: So tell us about that and what happened there and that … Because that was your first, when you started Mood Swings I just started Foundr and I remember we first caught up for a catch up at Nando’s. We were both in our day jobs and we were just talking about our outside hustles. And yeah, you were working on Moodswing. So tell us about that, and yeah.
Jake: Yeah. So, looking back I look at my journey as an apprenticeship.
Nathan: Yeah, it is for everyone.
Jake: And it turned around very quickly for me. But yeah, so my first business Moodswing was probably my most outlandish business concept and idea. And I was very naïve at how hard or easy I thought it was going to be. I basically created this concept in my mind, thought that people would want it and invested all of my money into making it happen, without any experience in startups or businesses or tech, anything like that. But I’m a very self confident person, and I don’t take life too seriously. So yeah, so Moodswing was basically a social network where we encouraged people to share their emotions, because I didn’t feel like that was happening on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
And I wanted to create a safe platform for peer-to-peer support and helping people with their emotions, basically, and hopefully allowing them to be able to speak openly and honestly and get the support that they need. And yeah, basically I saved 40 grand, had planned to spend that money travelling, but got that fire in the belly to start my own business, and yeah, spent 40 grand on it, found a technical co-founder, offered my friends to jump on board, because I’d told them that we’re creating Facebook. I’m Mark Zuckerberg, we’re all of his staff. I was literally selling shares for like 200 bucks.
Nathan: It’s funny, but it’s cool. We can laugh about it now, because I was there. I was thinking of buying, man
Jake: Yeah, I know. I remember you calling me. Do you want me to buy . Oh, it was so funny.
Nathan: It was like we had no idea what was going on.
Jake: No. I don’t know. I look back and I was like, you’re crazy man. You’re crazy.
Nathan: It’s funny we can laugh about it five years down the track. And that’s kind of cool because … Please go on. Yeah, yeah.
Jake: But anyway, I think the best thing was I just jumped into the deep end and just tried. I gave it a crack. And anyway, yeah, I think that was 20 people that … Friends and family. They invested anything from 200 bucks to, I think $3000 was the most. And I think that gave me an extra 20 grand in total for my 40 that I had. And yeah, and funnily enough, if you have 21 shareholders it’s like you’ve got to … You’re a public company or something like that. So, ridiculous. But anyway, yeah, so built this app which I thought was awesome and at that stage I thought it was about 20% product, 80% marketing. And anyway, did all these kind of growth hack style marketing strategies.
Nathan: And that stuff worked. You generated a hundred thousand users-
Jake: I had a hundred thousand users in 10 weeks, which-
Nathan: And that’s super for first business.
Jake: That was faster than Instagram and Facebook, any of them grew. And we got a bit of media and stuff and flew to Silicon Valley and we’re like, “All right. We’re going to get some money.” And basically I met with Jeremy Liew which is an investor of Snapchat and all these different people and I was like, “All right, Jeremy’s going to invest. We’re laughing.” And he asked us, “What’s your retention metrics like?” I’m like, “What are they?” And that’s obviously how sticky your business is and how often people came back. And we realised we didn’t know that.
And it turns out that I think it was only 10% of people who downloaded the app came back to use it again. So it showed you the quality of app that we had. And it was a great app, but it was hard to use, the user experience behind it. So came back to Australia. We ended up spending about 45 grand, I think, to build the app, and the rest of the money was on marketing activities or server or something like that. So we ended up spending, I think, about three or four grand to get those hundred thousand users, which was awesome.
Nathan: That’s incredible.
Jake: Because apps were spending two dollars to get a user and we were spending five cents. Came home, pitched to an accelerator called AngelCube, and they basically said, “We will buy in,” I think it was 25 grand, “for 10% of your business. But all of your friends and family have to be out.” So I used that 20 grand to pay out my friends and family what they originally put in, because I didn’t want them to lose out and …
Nathan: Yeah, that’s a pretty good thing to do, man.
Jake: Yeah, it was good. It was good because I would never do a business like that with friends and family again. I learned that lesson and got out of it scot free because I didn’t lose anyone any money.
Nathan: Yeah, yeah. That’s a great result, I think.
Jake: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So went through this accelerator where we got mentored and spent three months intensive working on our app and basically created a beautiful app, an app that considered user experience and all that jazz, and basically spent our last $3000, I was pretty much broke at this stage, to go back to America to pitch again. And at this stage, we had, I think, 60% of the people who downloaded the app came back, which was really good. 40% were still using it seven days later, and 30% were still using it 30 days later, which were awesome metrics, those retention metrics I spoke about before. But we only had about 8000 users, active users. Met up with some more investors and they said, “If you can get 10,000 daily users, daily active users …” I think we were at 8000 weekly users at this stage, I can’t remember exactly, you could pretty much raise what you want, because that proves that your product is sticky.
Nathan: Sticky. It’s got growth.
Jake: I mean, it was trying to people. Anyway, we couldn’t get to that stage and didn’t have any more money and came back to Australia and the business started to lose my attention. And my co-founder had an app web development business as well, and he obviously couldn’t give the time to it anymore and eventually kind of fizzled out. But at that time I ran out of money and I was like, I don’t want to get a job. So I started a superfood business called SupermixME and good little business. We were selling 100% organic superfoods. It was more of a traditional business where you’d spend 20 grand. I did that, I spent five grand on my first and I was packaging it myself at home. Five grand on a credit card, as a lot of people do, ended up selling that batch, invested in another batch, but basically if you’re making, say, 20% profit, that’s going to your next production run. So you’re taking out very little money.
And that was too slow for me. So I took a step back and thought, what was I good at? And that was social media marketing. And used my experience to start an agency. And I got two or three clients on board paying about a thousand bucks a month and I was like, “All right. That’s enough. I’ve been working your hard.” SupermixME was still running. I think I was taking out a little bit of money out of that and I was like, “I’m going to go travel for six months and just work online.” I wasn’t trying to grow anything, just wanted to make enough money to survive.
Nathan: Is that when you went to Europe?
Jake: Yeah, so I went to Central America and Europe via Bali on the way home.
Nathan: Ah, got you.
Jake: And that’s where I came across coconut bowls.
Nathan: Got you.
Jake: So yeah, I came home, brought the coconut bowls with me, just thought it was just something cool. This is in about November and at that stage I was prepared to … I wanted to scale up my social media agency. So focused on that largely, and built that to I think 35 clients at its peak, all paying between 500 and a couple grand a month, which was really good. And Coconut Bowls was just doing its thing in the background. I was just building it slowly.
Nathan: And I remember one time, well actually before we go back to that, I’m curious, let’s talk about some lessons. What are some of the lessons you learned from that Moodswing experience, because I know you took a lot away from that. And I think you could share some really good gold with the audience, especially around product development, which you’re quite good at now.
Jake: Yeah. The biggest bit of advice, or the biggest learning I have is based around building a minimal viable product, MVP, and finding product market fit before doing anything basically.
Nathan: Yes. Yes. Can you elaborate on both of those please?
Jake: Yeah, yeah. So what I did was I thought that I had a good idea. I spent all of this money on building an app without really testing if it’s what people wanted. With looking back, I probably could’ve created a website, or even just created a Facebook group and asked people to share how they felt. There’s so many different ways to test a market. You hear about people with products all the time is they’ll get one made, use it for an Instagram account or Facebook ads, send people to the site, let them buy, and then refund their money saying we’ve run out of stock or something like that. And it’s very, very cheap to do things like that. And it can save you a lot of money and time.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s something Gretta talks about doing a lot.
Jake: Yeah, so that’s the biggest learning for me. The second learning for me is don’t try to do things too fast. Take your time.
Nathan: Oh really.
Jake: Well do things fast in terms of testing, but don’t expect things to be so successful overnight. We spent all this time and energy getting 100,000 users, and really you don’t want to achieve that until you’ve been working on your product and you’re really happy with that. Because the problem was, a lot of those users were from Melbourne, because we were making a lot of noise locally, and once they had downloaded the app and canned it because it wasn’t good enough for them to spend their time on it, they weren’t going to give us a second chance. So I think focusing on your product …
Jake: … making sure people like it, then look to marketing.
Nathan: Yeah, got you. And you talked about product market fit. How do you know when you get product market fit?
Jake: It’s a question that I can’t really answer specifically, but I think it’s when people are buying your product and liking your product and you’re getting sales organically.
Nathan: And it doesn’t feel like a hard sell. You don’t have to work hard to get them to buy.
Jake: Yeah. People naturally like your product, or people would naturally want to buy your product. It’s not something that you have to spend $100 to get one customer and stuff like that. It’s happening somewhat organically.
Nathan: Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. So yeah, just coming back to, I guess, Coconut Bowls and where you’re at now and you’re doing really, really well. And you’ve been on Shark Tank, and you’re getting a lot of growth right now. You’re hiring people and you’re starting to scale things up. And I’m curious, one thing that you shared with me a while back was around focus, because you had many different businesses and I remember we had a good conversation where you said, “One thing I’ve realised was between all these things that I’ve been starting a business on this, starting a business there,” you said to me, “One thing I’ve realised is all between that you’ve just been chipping away at Foundr, and you’ve noticed the power of focus.”
Talk to me around that, because that was something that you had to really make a really conscious decision about. And I think we all do, right, as entrepreneurs because there’s this thing called shiny object syndrome, and we just all want to create the next new shiny thing. And even within Foundr we’ve got one brand, but we’ve got so many different products I want to do. There’s so many different things I have to keep pulling myself back from wanting to do it. I think it’s something that everyone face. Even people who haven’t launched yet. You want do this, you want to do that, you want to do this. It’s hard to stick with one thing, and that was something that you had to work through.
Jake: Yeah, I guess I was always an ideas person and I gave more attention to ideas than what I was passionate about. And that’s something that no matter how many times I read quotes from successful people or business books, they all say choose a business that you’re passionate about, or work in an industry that your passionate about. And it was something that I had to learn myself as an ideas person, because with every new business I started, there was always something new that I thought was more exciting or had more potential. And I say that now with entrepreneurs and people starting businesses now, I can see them starting businesses that they think will work, but they’re not passionate about it. And I’ve seen with you, Foundr’s probably been public, in the public domain for five or six years, but it probably started years before when you were thinking about it.
And it takes five, seven, ten years to really build a strong, great business. And I think that regardless of how successful a business is going, like the social media agency was going really, really well but I wasn’t passionate about working for other people. So it just lost my attention. And yes, I had something better, but I think that to give yourself the best chance of succeeding you need to be passionate about whatever it is you’re doing. So for me, initially I was just like, I just couldn’t get enough of starting new businesses. And that’s what I love. And I still love doing it, and I still have all these ideas.
Nathan: We all do, yeah.
Jake: But I need to put them aside. And when you focus on yourself, I mean you focus on one business or one product or whatever it is, you learn more about the product, you learn more about the industry, you invest more time into talking to your customers. And it breeds passion and it’s something that like now I think I’ll be doing this business, or something to do with sustainability or the environment for the rest of my life. And I definitely couldn’t say that about any of the other businesses I started.
Nathan: Yeah. And one of the things interesting as well still this was a passion that was developed as is was same with Foundr, right. I didn’t know this was what I wanted to do. Yeah, just like you, you didn’t know this was what you wanted to do, but you fell in love with the process. You fell in love with the market. And you can still create a brand, like what you’re doing. And you’ve got other products man, and these are essentially other ideas.
Jake: Yeah. Well I think Coconut Bowls it’s like, why are you passionate about that? But I’ve always been passionate about health. And I’ve always been passionate about doing good. By doing well by doing good. So doing something that brings happiness to people’s lives, the coconut bowl is something of a tropical, beach, summer business.
Nathan: Yeah. And you’re a surfer.
Jake: And also incorporates health with what people eat out of the bowl. There’s wellness. I’m quite spiritual and I’ve got lots of gratitude for the business, the coconut bowl, what’s in the coconut bowl, where the food comes from. And then sustainability. Sustainability, I have to be honest, it was something I was always mindful and conscious of, but it wasn’t a passion. And it’s been developed because I’ve fed off the excitement and the passion of my community, to the point where I’ve basically abandoned all kind of waste products that I was using previously, because I feel part of something that’s bigger than myself now, and I want to contribute to it.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s incredible.
Jake: And it’s awesome fun.
Nathan: So talk to me about Coconut Bowls and where you plan on taking this business now and what is on the horizon. It’s like you’re expanding product lines. You’re not just doing coconut bowls. Yeah, tell us about what’s coming.
Jake: Yeah, so obviously Coconut Bowls, it’s limited progression within the business and the business name, essentially. But we’ve built our brand around some core values. Health, wellness, sustainability, and community. So I’ll touch on sustainability and the health aspects here, but we’ve built a range of products made from natural materials. So our tagline is, made by nature, crafted by hand. And that’s something that we hope to continue with any product that we introduce. So the first addition to the Coconut Bowls product range was wooden spoons and forks, made from discarded furniture offcuts, which is really cool because it’s, again, a sustainable practise. Then we moved into bamboo straws, again with the goal of reducing single use plastics.
You know, I’ve mentioned before that we’re very lucky that our customers do our marketing for us and it’s basically been the driver for our growth. And we’re very fortunate to have a business that can work that way, but after the conversation with Tom, he actually inspired me to think about something that I can do with our community and that led us down the path of creating a cookbook where our customers and some of the content creators we’re working with, we all came together to create recipes and published a cookbook which has now had over 10,000 sales.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. That’s amazing.
Jake: Which is amazing and for people … We’re not editors. We’re not chefs. We’re not recipe developers. We’re not even photographers. And we’ve had feedback from customers and people saying that our book has changed their lives because it’s not just a cookbook, it’s also built around having fun in the kitchen and being mindful about where your food comes from. It’s 100% plant based, so it’s a softer way of eating on the environment. There’s also ethical considerations and it’s often healthier as well. So that was amazing experience putting together a cookbook and working with over a hundred different people to put that together and see that come to life. And we have now introduced some kind of products that help reduce waste again in bags, made from organic unbleached cotton and soy based ink. So there are some of the products that we’ve introduced since then, but I think that we will eventually look to build a brand behind Coconut Bowls which will allow us to look at more broader products with that same kind of made by nature concept.
Nathan: And the values that you …
Jake: And the values, yes. Yeah, we honestly are a community where we’re not really … We don’t see ourselves as soon as brand. We see ourselves as a platform, as a group of people who come together with shared values to do cool things, and to do good things.
Nathan: Tell me more about your community. What does a community member look like? Mainly female, or …
Jake: Yeah, mainly female. Somebody who is conscious of their contribution to waste. They’re conscious about their contribution to the environment. They want to be healthy. They want to be feel good about themselves. And they just want to be part of something that is bigger and beyond themselves.
Nathan: And what are you doing now to foster that community?
Jake: So we basically … So the way that most of our engagement with our community happens via email and on social media. And we use it as a place to share recipes with each other, to share inspiration and stories. A lot of people have came from health challenges and we find that there’s so many inspirational stories that come from people that have got through those challenges. And it really brings people together to support … It’s almost funny because it comes back to the roots of Moodswing, where it’s people that support each other. You know, life’s hard, but food and preparation and fun and friends and family and community are some of the things that come together based around food. And it’s important to share and we foster lots of relationships with people who don’t know each other in real life, but they come together over this funny little product and that is the glue that began their relationship, which is awesome.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s where the real gold is at, to be able to facilitate that kind of conversation or growth or change in someone’s life. That’s incredible.
Jake: Yeah, it’s awesome.
Nathan: So, you know, you talked about the product and that it has an inherent component of virality behind it around where there is a trend on social media now where people take photos of their food. 20 years ago social media didn’t exist, people didn’t take photos of their food. I once read a story where this company, or this restaurant was around for 30 years and they were starting to lose money, so they wanted to do a study, so they got one of these big consulting firms to come into to work out what the hell was going on. And what they worked out was between now and 30 years ago it takes people an extra 20 or 30 minutes, on average, to eat their food, or something ridiculous.
And that is because people who spend so much time taking photos of everything they’re eating, or using their phone and stopping in between, and that was actually losing because they couldn’t get as many customers through the door. So the point of my story is, a lot of people take photos of their food and you really … It wasn’t strategic, but luckily this product has been able to spread like wildfire. But what other things, well I know the other things, so I’d love to hear what you think from your perspective are some other things that you’ve strategically to help get your brand out there and help fuel the growth.
Jake: Yeah. So to the naked eye this is just a product, basically, and we tried to really educate people about the experience of eating out of a coconut bowl, because it’s a bowl that grows on trees, essentially. And we really pushed that message of you can’t serve anything unhealthy in a coconut bowl. It’s got to be natural foods, real foods. And yeah, I mentioned at the beginning, it was very much asking people to snap and share. And I think that we might have had five or so thousands followers at the time and at that stage we were posting probably once or twice a day. And it was really funny because we’d only had a couple hundred customers, but we were probably getting 10 or 20 people share photos every day in their coconut bowl.
Nathan: Wow, so that’s 10% a day. Wow.
Jake: Yeah, for sure. And some people were posting every single day what they were eating in their coconut bowl.
Nathan: So wouldn’t just post once.
Jake: Not just once. Every single day. On their stories, sometimes videos. And it was just amazing content to see how much people loved our bowls. And we didn’t have anywhere to share all these other photos that people were posting. And I think this was probably one of the smarter things I’ve done is Instagram allowed you to manage five Instagram accounts at a time where you could toggle between the accounts. So I was like, “All right. What are people creating in our coconut bowls. They’re making smoothie bowls.”
So I created a Smoothie Bowl Instagram. They were creating Buddha Bowls, which are … In the foodie community that’s typically a fancy name for a salad. And so we started using that platform to share different recipes that met that criteria. And we created one Vegan Bowls because we found that probably 99% of recipes that people were posting were vegan. And you know, it turns out that those 10, 20 photos we were getting a day, we’d post two of them on coconut bowls, two of them on smoothie bowls. And we basically ran these four accounts simultaneously and over time, that has grown from maybe 5000 at the time to now a community of over 3 million.
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Jake: Yeah, and you know, those other accounts don’t … They’re not revenue generating, they’re basically community supporting.
Jake: With the exception of vegan bowls because that’s what we named our cookbook.
Nathan: Ah, Vegan Bowls for Vegan Souls.
Jake: Yeah. But basically the strategy has maintained the same. we just share more of the recipes that people are creating and tagging us in in our coconut bowls.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, yeah. So you’ve been really good at using Instagram marketing to spread your message of your brand but also rally and build a community at scale. I know that you have got, you mentioned those four accounts, but you have many more. You’ve done a really, really good job at that. I think people would love to know a little more. Foundr’s done really well on Instagram, we’re not going to talk about that though. I want to hear about you and what you have to say. People can be watching this video at one year from now, two months from now, what kind of strategies would you give, or what kind of longevity based strategies are you thinking about on how you can apply to your Instagram accounts or brands to continually make them grow? What are some strategies that you have in place that you think won’t age?
Jake: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for any successful business on social media is they’re putting out high quality content to their audience. And at the end of the day, no matter how much you hack it by follow for follow or all these strategies, which they’re still good strategies to get started, but if your content isn’t amazing quality and it’s not something that is going to engage or invite conversation or providing value to people, no matter how hard you try it’s not going to be sustainable. It’s not going to work. And I think the biggest advice I have is you’re not limited to just your product or whatever it is you’re selling.
It’s who are your ideal customers, who are your target market, what else are you interested in, and how can you provide value to their lives so that … I mentioned before it’s not a hard sell social media, it’s starting conversations and building trust and sharing things that add value to people’s lives. And if you do that, whether you only have a thousand followers, if you have a thousand followers of people what love your content, that’s going to be so much more valuable than a hundred thousand people who followed you because they wanted you to follow them back.
Nathan: Yeah, no, I think that’s a good one, because that’s never going to change. The quality of your content always has to be good. But how do you define quality content?
Jake: It’s got to provide value to someone, really. I like to think of Instagram as the photo is the glossy sparkles and stuff that gets someone’s attention, but it’s the caption that provides value.
Nathan: Yeah, you’re really big on the caption. You’ve mentioned that to me before, like long form stories because you can fit a lot of text in there.
Jake: Yeah, absolutely. And the best thing, when you’re using Instagram to sell, is if you get their attention through the photo, they read your caption and at the end there’s a call to action so you can actually encourage them to do something that you want them to do. And I think with photos, if you’re a business, you’re going to run out of content that is product related or whatever it is. But you can educate people, you can inspire people, and you can share a story from you or your brand, or your customers have had a great experience with you. And that’s what’s going to get someone’s true attention and potentially get them to visit your website and potentially one day buy from you.
Nathan: Yeah, awesome. So I have to work towards wrapping up. I just wanted to ask what’s exciting for you at the moment, and also, talk to me about some of the challenges that you have with Coconut Bowls even though you guys are doing really well.
Jake: Yeah, I’m really excited at the growth that we’re seeing. We’re almost approaching our third birthday and we’ve grown our business so much since we began. You know, year on year, I think the first year we were at five times bigger than … Second year five times bigger than the first year. This year three times or more. And we’re actually finally catching up. So, as you mentioned in the intro that I’ve began hiring more people and more staff for the support that I need. And it’s really important because I think when you’re a higher growth business that you kind of do patchwork along the way to make things work. But eventually it catches up to you and a couple of things that … Our customer support wasn’t where it needed to be.
There was just a lot of inefficiencies in the business. I was still handling a lot of things. And that’s, I guess, the challenge. As a founder, you need to look back at to why you started the business at the beginning, and I have felt at times that I’ve just got a job, which I hate. I started my own businesses because I wanted to be able to design my lifestyle basically and live the life that I love. And at times you just can’t do that. So it’s really been a challenge mentally at stages because I was … You know, three years in, business is going really well, revenue’s really strong, people are happy, people love our products, but I was still working long, long hours and yeah, it’s always a challenge. Yeah.
Nathan: Yeah, no, that’s an interesting one. And me and you have a lot of conversations around this, because you fall in love with your business, you want to grow it more. You want to get … You want to help more people. You want to grow it. You want to build something so much bigger than yourself, but then at the same time the lifestyle stuff can be good, but at the same time you can’t have both. Not at this stage, no.
Jake: So I’ve spent three months overseas this year. And while that just overseas has been fantastic, it’s meant that when I come home, I’m just so far behind, and taken me a week to get back to emails.
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, it’s a sacrifice. Yeah.
Jake: It’s a sacrifice. And you know, I think you can travel and work, but you’re not going to be as efficient as you would be at home. And I took 12 days to go on a surf trip, with no reception or anything, and that was in October, coming into the busiest period of the year, and where … Almost at Christmas. And I’ve only just caught up.
Nathan: Wow. Yeah, it’s tough. When you start hiring people, the level of responsibility goes up like massively and you’ve got to always be there. And you’ve got to actually always as well, I’m really big on leadership now, and I’m sure you’re getting into all that kind of stuff. It’s really by example.
Nathan: You can’t just be gallivanting around travelling all the time and then expect your team to …
Jake: Yeah, essentially, you’ve got to support their careers as well. And they’re working … You’ve got to feel privileged that these people want to work for your startup. So they obviously think that there’s something to learn there. And I think you have to be there to help facilitate the learning and make sure they’re having fun.
Nathan: Yeah, 100%.
Jake: So I’m constantly following your lead. I’m just a couple years behind you. Focus. Less travelling. But yeah, I just want to have fun.
Nathan: Yeah, and that’s where it’s at.
Jake: I got to have fun by doing the right thing.
Nathan: Yeah. I think you can do both. It’s just yeah, you can’t have it one or the other extreme.
Jake: Yeah, totally.
Nathan: But you can … Look, it’s a whole another conversation. But look, last question. Where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Jake: Yeah. Love for everyone to check out Coconut Bowls because we are truly doing amazing things and I think we will inspire you to change your life, will become a little bit more mindful of how you live, which I think’s awesome. I’m just my name on social media as well, and I’m very responsive to talking to people. I’ve had a real interesting journey in my startup career and I think that hopefully that can help people in their own journeys. And I’m more than happy to help.
Nathan: Yeah, no, man, you’ve had an incredible journey and I’m really privileged to call you a friend, and congratulations on all your success thus far.
Jake: As am I, mate. Cheers.
Nathan: Oh, awesome. Thanks man.