Powering forward with Sarah Rudd
In building a sustainable business by selling a more sustainable lifestyle, Sarah Rudd has channelled a passion for design into bringing Caye Life from concept to reality.
Caye Life is an Australian business making sustainable products, such as water bottles and reusable cups, for everyday use.
Founded and run by Sarah Rudd, the company focuses on minimal design, optimal functionality, and creating goods as sustainably as possible.
Sarah’s key learnings from Caye Life:
A little market research goes a long way – When starting a business, a solid proposition will allow you to start selling, but in order to have that you’ll need to have a clear vision for how your offering addresses a market need
When the market changes, change with it – The pandemic forced Sarah to rethink how she was selling her products, which in turn led to a more diversified business offering
Resilience comes in many forms – Whether it’s your business or your own mental wellbeing, you need the right tools to cope with whatever gets thrown your way. By simplifying her bookkeeping and accounting activities with MYOB, Sarah now has more time for what really matters
The idea for Caye Life started overseas
“I think, like any good business, it started over a beer,” Sarah says.
“I was traveling through Belize, on holiday, with no intentions of anything. And I was startled by the incredible amount of rubbish that was washing up on these beautiful, pristine beaches.”
This started the conversation for Sarah. She wondered what could be done to make the scenario better and educate people.
Initially, she wanted to live in Belize for a year to clean up the islands first-hand. But she soon realised this wasn’t a realistic option. Instead, she turned to design.
“The idea came in terms of, how can we start to educate people and enable people to be more sustainable in their everyday lives?” she says.
“Caye Life is named after Caye Caulker Island and Caye Ambergris in Belize, which was where the business concept started.”
Designing a product business from blueprint to reality
Since then, Caye Life has gone from strength to strength.
“We’ve built up a really authentic, supportive audience for our brand and our products. I think that comes down to the quality of our products and giving something that people want to use every day and are proud to use,” says Sarah.
“I think it's a combination of a good quality product and responding to the customers' needs and pain points.”
Some of the biggest success stories for the business revolve around smaller impact-based positives rather than necessarily achieving large financial goals.
“We see people using our cups at a local café, and we know they're using that instead of a disposable cup,” she explains.
“They say the average coffee drinker uses 500 disposable cups a year, so a goal for us is having someone purchase one of our products and using that instead of a disposable product that goes to landfill.
“Little wins to us are those purchases of sustainable products and people making everyday changes.”
Of course, Sarah has still dealt with plenty of ups and downs along the way.
Like most entrepreneurs, she found the first year in business pretty tough, when things were mostly trial and error.
“I had a lot of challenges finding manufacturers that had the same values as what we were looking for,” Sarah admits.
“A lot of people would produce these beautiful goods, but then they would send them to us in plastic wrapping, and that's just not what we were about and what we were looking to do.”
Getting the product to market and building relationships with suppliers wasn’t easy, either, and it took patience.
“We don't have a huge product range, but finding those suppliers that weren't using plastic and who were doing carbon neutral shipping…that’s what we were looking for to really align to our brand values,” Sarah says.
Still working in a marketing role for another business while running Caye Life on top means that Sarah is also very busy. However, she makes it work.
“I'm very passionate about both, and I probably wouldn't have it any other way,” she explains. “If I had one job, I'd probably be bored!”
Pandemic pre-empts change in go-to-market strategy
Of course, running a business during a global pandemic hasn’t been a walk in the park, either.
COVID has brought more challenges to Sarah’s work days.
“We were predominantly a wholesale business stocking retail shops with our products. When COVID first happened, and small businesses were closed and on hold, it created a lot of uncertainty for our business as well. The retail side of things slowed down for us,” says Sarah.
“So, we obviously needed to make some changes and be more present online and do more online orders. We became a predominantly online business, which has served us well but was definitely a large hurdle.”
While the year was tough, Sarah feels like the business is emerging intact on the other side of it.
“COVID certainly changed our business goals. We're heavily investing into our ecommerce strategy now,” she notes.
“To think that wasn't in the plan before now seems slightly alarming. But it’s been a significant advantage, making us look at our revenue streams differently.”
Developing rapport and trust with consumers has helped Caye Life, too.
Sarah notes, “We have built up a very authentic, supportive audience, whether that's through socials or the customer relationships we've built through the retail stores we stock to.”
Today, the business has built up fans who advocate for the brand and its products.
Since COVID, Sarah has implemented a more digital strategy to get results, and considered ways to reach customers online.
She has focused on more online advertising and increased the advertising budget to get ecommerce sales.
“We've done this through advertising with Facebook and Google ads,” says Sarah.
Resilience requires tools fit for the job
To keep her focus and stay well within herself, Sarah has had to manage her mental health.
During the height of COVID lockdowns, Sarah found herself sitting in front of a computer for eight to ten hours a day, and she didn’t get up and move. She soon realised this had to change.
“I implemented what worked for me, and that was getting up for a walk in the morning, trying to stretch my legs again at lunch, and seeing the sun in the evening where possible,” she explains.
“I think everyone just has to find what works for them, whether that's via an app at home or just getting regular breaks. It was trial and error discovering what worked for me, then trying to make that a routine.”
Sarah has made technology her friend beyond its role as an avenue to generate sales, too.
For example, she uses MYOB as her bookkeeping and accounting platform.
“MYOB is very well known in the space for supporting small business, and I've certainly seen the company support a lot of events within the industry,” Sarah says.
“Once we jumped on the tool and started playing around, we could see that it had a great user experience, it was easy to navigate, and solved all of our needs as a business.”
Sarah has noticed many benefits from using MYOB, in particular when it comes to reports.
“All the reporting tools, which I think are above and beyond other platforms, have allowed us to manage our cash flow and forecast for the future, short-term and long-term.”
Sarah also saves time thanks to MYOB.
“There’s a lot of automation within MYOB,” she says, “which has allowed us to save time on reconciling some of our transactions and generally automates a lot of the processes. The automation frees up time for us to spend in the business.”
Invoicing is simpler with the tech tool, too.
Sarah says, “MYOB allows for really seamless transactions with your customers. Once you send them an invoice, they can safely pay for that invoice in whatever method they want to.”
This not only assists business owners when it comes to administration and accounting but with regards to customer service, too.
“It builds a good relationship with the customer,” Sarah acknowledges. “They know they're paying for their goods in a secure manner.”
Plus, Sarah appreciates MYOB’s mobile app, which means she can do accounting on the go.
“When you have a receipt, you can simply take a photo of it and don’t have to hoard all your pieces of paper until uploading them later,” Sarah explains.
“It saves time when you're out and on the go, and it certainly saves space in your handbag as well!”
Building a business for tomorrow
While Sarah had plans for 2020 that had to be put on hold due to the pandemic, especially since cashflow was tight and forecasting was unpredictable, now she’s looking ahead.
“The exciting news is that we will be launching new products and getting them out to the market in 2021,” says Sarah.
“We're ready to go, and we're fired up. We've reached a whole new audience that we didn't have before and a whole lot of support that we didn't have previously. So, we're excited to bring on new customers and new products.”
Sarah has a suggestion for other sole traders within the industry who are looking to get ahead.
“I'm very fortunate that during 2020, I moved into an e-commerce warehouse space called Click Collective. There're probably 40 ecommerce businesses there,” she says.
“We were all able to connect and chat about what was happening during COVID; what was working, what wasn't. Ultimately, though, we supported each other throughout this period.