Belinda Coker brought the Envirosax from Australia to the USA back in 2007. Seen on the arms of major celebrities, the brand grew from humble kitchen table beginnings to become the world’s most popular reusable shopping bag.
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Worst Entrepreneur Moment
- Belinda built something so beautiful, but then watched it turn into something she never intended it to be… or something she enjoyed. You’ve gotta listen in to this one!
Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- This AH-HA moment catapulted Belinda into the celebrity world, and it’s a DOOZY!
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Best Business Book
- The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill
Belinda Coker: John, I do believe I'm in the hot seat.
John Lee Dumas: Yes, you are. Belinda brought the Envirosax from Australia to the USA back in 2011. Seen on the arms of major celebrities, the brands grew from humble kitchen table beginnings to become the world's most popular reusable shopping bag. Belinda, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro and give us a little glimpse into your personal life.
Belinda Coker: Seriously, John, I'll tell you I'm a woman who is passionate about my business. I'm lucky enough to work the hours I want to, earning a decent income to sustain the lifestyle I choose to spend with the people who are the most important in my life, which right now for me are my three children. I live in the rainforest in Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast in Australia and, if any surfers out there know, it's famous for its fabulous point break.
I travel a lot with my children. I'm passionate about community. I try to teach my children the importance of this and how lucky they are. Actually, when my children turn 14, I take each one of them to a third-world country and we work in an orphanage for a week.
John Lee Dumas: Wow!
Belinda Coker: My middle daughter is up next and we're off to India. It really gives them a sense of how lucky they are, and the one other thing is I love my work and, as I will expound on later, I've managed to single out the work that I'm good at and license out the tedious bits that's [inaudible] [00:1:24] to excite me.
John Lee Dumas: Wow! I mean, I love how you started this and I love how you ended it. Where'd you take your first child?
Belinda Coker: Thailand.
John Lee Dumas: Thailand. Wow! I can tell you I spent four months in Guatemala back in 2007 and did some work at an orphanage there. That really does ground you about just how lucky you are.
Belinda Coker: Yeah, it really does. And when they are 14 and they are just at that really impressionable stage of… we've got all that social media there with the kids now and it really takes them back to what it's all about.
John Lee Dumas: Now that's the kind of stuff that needs to be mandatory. Not algebra but that kind of stuff. Belinda, say you are at a networking party and someone walks up to you and says, "What exactly do you do?" How do you respond in just ten seconds?
Belinda Coker: Okay, well, I assist people negotiate manufacturing and production in China and Taiwan. I smooth out production issues when they arise and by offering these services at the start of the supply chain, we genuinely help clients increase their bottom line.
John Lee Dumas: We might have to talk. I got something going on in China as we speak. So, Belinda, you have your entire business dialed in. You figured out how to scale, how to leverage, how to enjoy what you do, and how to take the things that you don't necessarily like and outsource them or at least bring in a team. I mean, this is all amazing stuff but things haven't always been amazing. I say that with confidence because you're an entrepreneur; I'm an entrepreneur. We go through the bad times; we go through the good times. And we know that there's going to be some rocky roads ahead. That's just the world that we live in. If you had to say in your journey thus far, what would be your worst entrepreneurial moment? And, really, get us down there, Belinda. Tell us that story.
Belinda Coker: It basically was right in the thick of Envirosax and can I just tell you a little bit about Envirosax –
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, let's hear it.
Belinda Coker: Because that will actually lead us into what actually happened. So, I'll just quickly gloss over it but back in 2004 when environmentalism was a concept in its infancy, I was living in a house off the grid with only rainwater so my family and I were pretty much caring for the environment right at the early stages. Anyway, so I had this idea to create a reusable grocery bag that looked good. My first prototypes were the regular tote bags and that took a few months to realize that these didn't fill the need that was out there. So I had to develop something which was portable so the bags weren’t left in the hall closet, so to speak.
So, I came up with this brilliant idea and… long story short, it became a huge success. And, lots of bits and pieces happened in between but over the next four to five years, Envirosax basically grew exponentially and rather unsustainably. We basically grew so fast and we had to downsize. Now, many people have read The E-Myth but I didn't. I'm not going to sugar-coat my journey as an entrepreneur. So many people have this expectation that you have to be good at everything and enjoy it.
But a management consulting board was brought in to assist restructure and I was in a meeting and I intuitively knew that a decision that was being made was the wrong one. Well, not so much the wrong one but they were going about it the wrong way. But at the time… and I think I was pretty naïve. I just didn't have anything to back it up with. It was to close the EU office. The end result was that it cost far more than what was expected both monetary-wise and from a brand perspective. No money was saved but we sustained terrible losses from that decision and from that, I have learned that the number one lesson that entrepreneurs usually have a heightened intuitive sense. And you've just got to use it.
It was also around about that time that I had lost my initial passion for the business and if we can go into the story of how the business was built, how it was like this huge, big sort of wave. It was around that time that I had lost my initial passion for the business and the brand. I was running this big company and it really just wasn’t me. I no longer held the passion, which was the designing for the bags and the production. I knew that I needed an exit strategy and not necessarily for the business but for myself.
John Lee Dumas: Now, Belinda, I want to jump in here because you're sharing a lot of great things and what are the key points that we talk about all the time. Because this is something that in over the thousand interviews that we've done, it just seems like in 25 to 30 percent of them, the biggest failure moment has come when these guests of entrepreneurs on Fired don't listen to their gut, don't listen to their intuition, and see these red flags. And fuel the red flags, ignore them but push forward so, Fire Nation, believe me when I say, "When Belinda says you need to listen to your intuition, we're not just saying follow your intuition blindly." We're saying, "Hey, at least listen to us."
Sit back and say there's a reason why my gut is giving me this emotion right now. I need to actually sit back, give myself some space and identify that. Go forward in the right direction because we can start something that we love and it can grow into something that we absolutely hate. And Belinda was heading in that direction. I mean, that's kind of a scary thing and that's something we really need to think about. That's why I need to be deliberate and intentional along the way so, Belinda, that's my big takeaway from your worst entrepreneurial moment.
Belinda Coker: Yes.
John Lee Dumas: What do you want to make sure Fire Nation really gets from that period in your life?
Belinda Coker: Basically, if you are in that situation, if you can pick the bits of a business that you like and be able to separate that and be able to keep that. And if it's something which you are passionate about and something that you love, you still have all that experience that goes along with that. You've still got a lot of relationships that you may have built with doing the part of the business that you actually did like. So, don't just throw the baby out with the bath water.
John Lee Dumas: Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. This is a little bit of a foreshadow to a future question in the lightning round, Fire Nation, so stay tuned with how Belinda handles that. What I want to do, Belinda, is shift and talk about a different story. This one being an epiphany… an "aha" moment when a light bulb went on in your journey. So, take us to that story and tell us that moment in time.
Belinda Coker: I think that I've had about two "aha" moments and the first was the conception of Envirosax. When I was looking down the barrel of going back to work with my two youngest children and they're 18 months old and I just wasn't liking my options. I think a lot of people actually find themselves in this position where they are going to go back into corporate. They're thinking about… especially women… they're thinking about dropping their kids off at childcare at 7:00 a.m. and picking them up at 6:30, or having a nanny bring up the children and I just did not want to do that. So, late one night I opened up a bottle of wine and just drew out the business mode map and that was the start of Envirosax.
John Lee Dumas: Wow! So, Fire Nation, there's a lot of things going into this and what I really want you to pull out, Belinda, is what were the steps that you took after having this idea… this "aha" moment that really started to get you down the road toward success?
Belinda Coker: I sent my first prototype off to China, as the local production was looking way too expensive to be financially viable. And it probably took about 80 months to get it right.
We are talking about back in 2004 where the internet wasn't as vast as it is today. A lot of small businesses just didn't have an internet presence. It was only really large companies that had the internet presence. Anyway, basically, I managed to do it. I think I found somebody in the yellow pages… but going back that far. I finally got some production going and I started to produce and sell in Canada and Australia because of similarities between the two countries. And Canada at that stage had begun to develop environmental strategies at a corporately level so it was an easy target market.
So over the next year, we attended trade shows in Europe and very quickly expanded. Now, I knew the USA market had huge potential but, believe it or not, America was not environmentally aware back then.
John Lee Dumas: Right.
Belinda Coker: And we are talking about 2007.
John Lee Dumas: That's the thing too. It's hard to generalize because there are definitely parts and pockets of America, like California, you know, good portions of the northeast but, I mean, America is a huge country. There's vast amounts that's still is not very environmentally friendly.
Belinda Coker: But nowadays, states like California are just at the forefront. They really are. I love America!
John Lee Dumas: Are you talking trash about USA? Just kidding.
Belinda Coker: The funny thing is I [inaudible] [00:11:16] was… knocking on doors, contacting sales reps, distributors, and I just got repeatedly knocked back. I can remember someone saying very pointedly to me, "We just don’t need them here. I doubt anyone will want to carry their own bags. Just can't see it." You know, this is back in the olden days. But, anyway, I persevered. Mainly because the brand was becoming a success from other parts of the world so I knew I was onto a good thing. We showed up at a new [inaudible] fair and I can remember we had 35 orders from people who liked those cute little bags. Anyway, I actually thought we had done quite well. I can remember saying to my staff, "Well, it's a start."
John Lee Dumas: Right.
Belinda Coker: Then over the next six months, things changed dramatically. Our generalist coined the phrase, "Going Green." The next trade show we were 60 at the booth and ended up with that problem that can potentially be disastrous but which everyone wants where production can't keep up with demand. Basically, the rest was history.
John Lee Dumas: Wow! That is a problem… you're right… that everybody does want to have. People are buying more stuff of mine than I actually have. Let's get back and crank things up but the reality is that it does come with its own set of issues as well. I mean, there's always that happy medium that we all want to operate where we are growing at a nice steady and profitable margin. So, Belinda, there's a lot of stuff that I am pulling out of your "aha" moment. You know, number one would be hustle. You had to hustle. You had to just face fear, face rejection, have doors slammed in your face, and have people talk down to you.
It kind of reminds me of the guy back in 1899 who resigned from the Patent Office because he said, "I've worked here for 20 years. There are no more unique inventions that will ever be invented. They invented them all." That was in 1899, so just imagine how wrong that guy was and that's a story that I think about whenever I hear somebody say or kind of poo-poo an idea. I'm like, you know, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Patent Office, the top guy thought that there was no more inventions that were forthcoming so he quit.
It's mindboggling to see where we stand today. So, what I want to move into now, Belinda, because we are entrepreneurs. We are looking to grow viable businesses. How do you generate revenue today?
Belinda Coker: Okay, well, after my worst entrepreneur moment, I decided when I didn't throw the baby out with the bath water. I kept the part of the job which l loved, which is designing and production and I licensed out all the other bits and pieces. Basically, what I do from this I get an ongoing passive income from license fees and plus I contract out my services to the license fees for the designing and the manufacturing. It's a great gig. I love it. I design and I have this passive income.
The second form of income, which comes to me now, is from Belleuco Consulting. Belleuco Consulting was borne when I was licensing out. Because I had a team in China, a number of people started to ask me how to produce in China and what they needed to do and asked me for assistance so we started to contract out my staff, the source and suppliers, and conducting equality control. So Belleuco Consulting started from a need in the marketplace. That's where my main two strains of income come from.
John Lee Dumas: So, Belinda, what's your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur?
Belinda Coker: I'm too nice. People management is not one of my strengths. I think a lot of entrepreneurs love good relationships. They love networking with people and all that sort of thing. But for me, it's the people management. It's really not my thing, which is probably why I manage stock in China so well. Culturally, they never ask why. They just do.
John Lee Dumas: That can be good and bad. That can be good and bad. Now, Belinda, I want to dig a little deeper because saying that one of your biggest weakness is that you are too nice is kind of like sitting at a job interview and saying, "Yeah, my biggest weakness is I'm a workaholic." That is what everybody wants to hear but dig a little deeper. I get it. That's a weakness but what is one of your weaknesses that you would love to improve upon?
Belinda Coker: Time management. I'm very easily distracted by a new idea or a new passion. I'll be walking on the street and I'll be "Oh, that's a lovely color for a bag." Suddenly, I'll just be off and I'll start designing.
John Lee Dumas: The bright, shiny object syndrome. Weapons of mass distraction just coming down upon you, Belinda. Of everything that you have going on, what's the one thing that has you most fired up right now?
Belinda Coker: What really gets me going is helping people to do what they need to. This comes from some of the calls I get. For example, I was approached by a woman the other day who had borrowed probably up to about $40,000.00 to get a container of some new product produced. She had done no due diligence. We doubt there was any quality control whatsoever, and she had borrowed this money. So, a container of unsalable goods had arrived down in Sydney down on the shores. She wasn't able to recoup her investment, literally make any profit. This kind of thing gets me worked up but being able to stop issues like this happening to people. That's what gets me fired up. There's a lot of tears when people are producing in China. There's a lot of hair pulling; there's a lot of tears. You know, some people lose a lot of money.
John Lee Dumas: Scary. Speaking of fired up… Fire Nation, we're about to enter the lightning rounds. Before we do, let's take a minute to thank our sponsors. Belinda, are you prepared for the lightning rounds?
Belinda Coker: I sure am.
John Lee Dumas: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Belinda Coker: Nothing, actually. I was blissfully unaware when I first started. I just had no fear.
John Lee Dumas: What's the best advice you've ever received?
Belinda Coker: Walk with integrity, talk with integrity, and think with integrity.
John Lee Dumas: What's a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Belinda Coker: I swim. I swim one hour four times a week. When people say to you when you are stressed, "Oh, take a few deep breaths and you kind of go [takes deep breaths]. Swimming makes you take a deep breath and let it out slowly on average every six seconds. Plus, your distraction as you are swimming your lane is minimal as all you can see is the bottom of the pool. Plus, I have a waterproof MP3 player.
John Lee Dumas: That's huge by the way.
Belinda Coker: Yeah.
John Lee Dumas: I was actually picturing you swimming on Point Break out there so –
Belinda Coker: No.
John Lee Dumas: I guess the pool… okay… we'll take it. What's an internet resource like Evernote that you can share with our listeners?
Belinda Coker: Okay, my internet resource is a bit obscure and it came about because so many applications are not available in China, such as Google's Dropbox, Space Camp, and even Skype is trying for a third party. So this might be very interesting for anybody who has stock or has dealings with China. So we use Bitrix 24. It's basically united workspace that handles CRM, file sharing, time management, task allocation, calendars, email… it even has video conferencing.
John Lee Dumas: If you could recommend one book for our listeners, what would it be and why?
Belinda Coker: It would have to be the Book of Success by Napoleon Hill and basically because it covers everything. It's just classic advice that never goes out of fashion.
John Lee Dumas: I love it. Now, Outwitting the Devil and his other great book, Think and Grow Rich, are two that always get mentioned, but I think this is definitely an overlooked one. And, Fire Nation, I know you love audio so I teamed up with audiobooks and if you haven't already, you can get an amazing audiobook for free at EOFirebook.com. And, Belinda, this is the last question of the lightning round but it's a doozy. Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world identical to Earth but you knew no one. You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have. Your food and shelter is taken care of but all you have is a laptop and $500.00. What would you do in the next seven days?
Belinda Coker: Okay, I'm going to talk really fast here because I've got a lot to say. Now, some of my 500-week journey may be only applicable in Australia. Secondly, I would be setting myself up to be doing exactly what I would love to do as a life choice. And when you do that by nature, the risk will follow. One other thing, my passion is nonorganic GMO gardening. So, day one, internet connection, hire a mobile phone under $100.00, put together a basic website, blog, Facebook, and other social media applications. In the afternoon, I would be researching people who are land-banking. In Australia, property owners on the registrar identity identify land in the area for a twenty kilometer radius of where I want to be.
I'll research my go-to person at local council and chamber of commerce for networking. Every evening that week will be spent drawing up a basic business proposal and tirelessly working on the social media campaigns. Day two, three, and four, I'll hire a car under $200.00. I'll spend it meeting landowners, counsel local community groups, and the Men's Shed organization, which is a nonprofit community-based organization that gives older generation who have moved to the city and in apartments a place to putter around and teach the younger generation about all the schools that are slowly being lost.
It's this group I want to target to get onboard from the experience I know that I will get by. By this stage I am confident I would have found a property developer who is willing to lend their land out for a community cause for a minimum period of two to three years. Day five, I will reach out to local media: television, radio, and newspaper, and ramp up my social media. I'll research a local business that will hire me out a mini excavator. I picture I will only need about a one-ton. Now, this may be a major expense but it would bait the budget; however, I have pushed the community organization aspect of it and seen as I'm tied between local businesses, it's likely I will be able to wrangle some sort of deal.
I've worked on one of these before so I'm confident I would be able to use it myself and not have to hire labor. I would buy irrigation pipe and tour some community site such as Craigslist or Gumtree in Australia and then I would buy some vegetable seeds and this is probably my cheapest purchase. Day six, I would start digging with what I need to start with. I'm willing to bet it would take me probably about six hours max with a couple of coffee breaks. Day seven, community work would be with a local school I've brought onboard, community organization such as Men's Shed, and invite the media. And that evening, I’m going to take a long, hot bath.
What I will have achieved is a community garden, which involves the older generation who are full of knowledge who will give them a sense of involvement with the community, provide local schools with a curricular activity. I'm thinking of bringing on at least one school group per day each week. I'll provide fresh vegetables for those community organizations that feed or provide food for families who have struck difficult times financially due to various circumstances. Plus, as a week ago, I didn't know anybody, I would've made quite a number of friends and acquaintances, and that's one basic human need that needs to be filled.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, that is what you call a detailed answer to the $500.00 question, all the way down to the bath. By the way, she did deserve that bath. So, Belinda, let's end it today on Fired by you sharing a parting piece of guidance the best way we can connect with you. Then we'll say goodbye.
Belinda Coker: "You are never too old and the cloud is never too gray to turn everything around and do something." I'm now 50 years old and I'm looking for anything exciting to do that's around the corner. There's no limit.
John Lee Dumas: What's the best way we can connect with you?
Belinda Coker: The best way to connect with me is through my website, which is Bellouco.com. That's B-E-L-L-O-U-C-O.com, or through Facebook, or Linkedin. Belinda Coker.
John Lee Dumas: Love it. Fire Nation, you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You've been hanging out with Belinda and J.L.D. today. So keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com and just type Belinda into the search bar. Her [inaudible] [00:24:25] page will pop right up with everything that we've talked about. Her website, her recommended book resource, all of the goodies. Belinda, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we solute you and we'll catch you on the flipside.
Belinda Coker: Thanks, John. It was a pleasure.
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