Updated: Aug 18, 2021
— The Journey of Plaine Products
Over 300 million pounds of plastic waste are dumped into the ocean every year, most of which don’t get recycled. How we live every day makes an impact on our planet. We can't let profit be our only goal — we should all aim to create sustainable businesses for good. By making ethical choices, we can slowly reduce our carbon footprints and live environmentally friendly lives.
In this episode, Christina Sjahli introduces guests Lindsey and Alison Delaplaine. Alison and Lindsey are sisters and co-founders of Plaine Products whose goal is to reduce the plastic waste on our planet. They talk about the journey of starting a sustainable business using a circular approach and decreasing waste. Since then, their business has been growing steadily at a slow and sustainable pace.
Are you a mission-driven female entrepreneur who wants to scale a sustainable business for good? Do you want to make a career out of providing solutions for the world? If yes, then this episode is for you!
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
You will find out how much plastic waste has been damaging our planet and how we can make a difference.
Learn how to face the challenges of innovating and financing your product, from research to development.
Take inspiration from Lindsey and Alison's business journey — from scaling a sustainable business to providing solutions!
Visit Christine Sjahli’s website! Learn more about innovating and scaling your business through the Her CEO Journey podcast series.
Chat with Christina and set up a time here!
Identify the financial gaps that can stop you from building a profitable and sustainable business. Download this quiz!
Download this Action Guide to help you make clearer business decisions that balance your purpose and profits.
[5:57] The Beginning of Plaine Products
The idea of Plaine Products started when Lindsey was working in an environmental education nonprofit.
There may be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.
Their lightbulb moment began with thinking of a practical and sustainable business for reusing plastic bottles.
“Well, even if this isn't as successful as it would hopefully be, it'll be a great educational tool to teach people that this is a problem. And we just wanted to make people aware of what's going on.”
[9:31] The Issues Plaine Products Addresses
We’re conditioned to not think about our waste. We are convinced that disposability and convenience are the most important things.
Plaine Products is an awareness campaign.
[10:13] Lindsey’s Blind Side
The bottles must look good and aesthetically pleasing.
They had to go through five different manufacturers before finding a good one for their product.
Lindsey likes to go get started, while Alison acts as the brakes to slow down and ensure quality.
The balance between the two sisters’ personalities made a huge difference in launching a sustainable business.
[11:34] What Was Going on Before the Launch
The sisters spent their time learning, calling people, asking the wrong questions, and getting to know bloggers.
Neither of them had a personal care background, so everything they did was the first time anyone had ever done it.
They had to figure out how to educate consumers on what to do with the bottle and how to send it back.
It was a process of becoming a part of an amazing community of sustainable businesses.
[13:27] The Biggest Challenge During Research Phase
The material to use for the bottles was their biggest hurdle.
They initially thought to use stainless steel. However, steel rusts and higher-quality steel would be prohibitively expensive.
Plaine Products eventually settled on aluminum.
The design and cost of the bottle had to align with their company’s vision of sustainability.
[14:23] The Beginning of a Sustainable Business
They had to do a lot of research, decide on the packaging, and look for different manufacturers.
There's no point in creating environmental products and then dumping environmentally unfriendly chemicals into them.
There are many questionable products, so they narrowed down what manufacturer they would use by setting a high standard.
[15:41] Designing the First Plaine Products
Plaine Products launched with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.
Most products on the market today are mostly water. Plaine Products primarily uses aloe.
Their product needed to be super concentrated to last longer, which also cuts down on shipping.
As they started researching more about ingredients, they decided that going vegan is the direction they want to head.
[18:39] Managing Finances During Research
Creating a new formula and asking somebody else to make it is an expensive process.
Ask yourself, “What already exists that we can afford?”
The sisters completely bootstrapped every bit of the way, both while working other jobs.
Being very frugal helped the two sisters manage their funds.
“We were just very frugal. We only spent money when we absolutely had to; we called in a lot of favors...And we did as much of it ourselves as we could.”
They got friends and family to help with other aspects of their business, such as marketing and logistics.
[21:17] Challenges in Terms of Innovation, Product, and Process
Alison was able to innovate their packaging design despite the circular approach to their business that hasn’t always given them a lot of room to innovate.
Plaine Products went through multiple cardboard companies for their packaging but eventually found one that used 100% recycled cardboard.
It’s always a process of constantly making everything more streamlined and simpler to use. There’s something new every day that we could innovate and make better.
Plaine Products is continually learning and keeping an eye on what new technology is out there.
[24:24] Step-By-Step Processes in Scaling
Lindsey’s background in nonprofit management helps her keep a close handle on their finances.
They have been growing at a steady, organic, sustainable pace.
After paying their people, whatever they make goes right back into the business to buy more for their product.
[25:35] Keeping a Sustainable Pace
Plaine Products sometimes turned down marketing opportunities that would have taken them to the next level but would have required a huge amount of product.
They don't put a lot of money into marketing and advertising. Instead, they work with a lot of influencers.
As part of the research process, they got to know many people in the green beauty and zero waste space.
It helps to delegate so that you don’t burn out. Alison and Lindsey hire people to help them so that they can take a break.
“We've been growing but not at a crazy pace; not at a don't-sleep-constant-24-hour-a-day pace, which I think has been good and has allowed us to not outstrip our capital.”
[27:28] Why a Loan and Not Investors?
Plaine Products became profitable early on because of low overhead and sweat equity.
Investors may push you to grow faster than you can or want to grow, make huge marketing choices, or add products your company may not be comfortable handling.
Lindsey and Alison preferred to retain control over their company, so they chose to use debt financing.
“We made the choice not to take on investment. And we made the choice to do this debt financing so that we could continue to retain control.”
[28:50] The Structure of Debt Financing
They started with a small business loan and decided on a regular commercial loan because of their profitable business.
Plaine Products financed their renovations using cash flow from their business to prevent further debt.
While further debt could have paid for all renovations at once, they elected not to take that option. However, a little cash infusion makes things faster and less stressful.
[30:46] Vision for Plaine Products
They hope to keep growing more and starting more pilot projects.
Plaine Products wants to have another warehouse in the West to help reduce their carbon footprint and reduce shipping.
“My vision is to just see more and more products and more and more companies thinking about things in a circular way.”
[31:32] Metrics to Measure Progress
Plaine Products' primary impact metric is the number of plastic bottles they've eliminated or replaced — 300,000 bottles since they started.
From a company perspective, they use subscription renewals, churn, growth of new people, and gross on socials.
They also check if people are talking about them and if they’re a part of ongoing conversations.
[32:08] Going Global
Going global would need a separate operation.
You don’t want to be shipping bottles back and forth across an ocean.
[32:32] When Your Business Needs a Part-Time CFO
A CFO is vital to keeping an eye on critical aspects of your business, such as projections and cash flow.
A CFO can help you understand your company, especially if you don’t have a business background.
Lindsey meets with her CFO every quarter. Every business is a little bit different, but you always need to have a handle on your numbers.
Regular check-ins with a CFO help you see how your company is performing, especially concerning others in your industry.
There are lots of data-driven questions that a CFO can help you answer.
[34:45] Their Advice for Female Founders
It helps to have partnerships and relationships with other people.
Word of mouth is the best way to grow a sustainable business.
Ask questions and be curious. A lot of people are scared to let people know what they don’t know.
Curiosity is important. People have a fear of being judged, especially for female founders.
About the Guests
Lindsey and Alison Delaplaine are sisters and co-founders of Plaine Products, a sustainable and eco-friendly personal care business. Their goal is to reduce plastic waste in the world in the most sustainable way possible.
With Lindsey's background in nonprofit management, she has made a career out of providing sustainable choices for many. With Alison's degree in design, she has ensured the best quality control for all their products. Together, they've carefully curated and designed everything that goes into their product, making sure it's free of chemicals and nothing is wasted.
Plaine Products is a sustainable business and is certified vegan and cruelty-free by PETA. IN 2021, they received the Real Leaders Impact Award for solving business problems in socially constructive ways.
“I was pretty clear about where my blind sides were getting into something like this. So I called my sister and asked her if she would do it with me because we are an incredible balance of skills together. Together we make the perfect person.”
“Our consumers are educated on what they are supposed to do with the bottle when they're done with it, how they can send it back. It's this whole language that we created.”
“‘What already exists that we can afford?’ We worked with existing bottles. We found this manufacturer that had a formula that we could white label. We were going about it and we ordered the minimum of everything that we could order. That's how we went about it. We completely bootstrapped it every way."
“There's something every day, it seems, that we could innovate and make better.”
“Those metrics; how they're changing, what we need to be aware of, how we're performing compared to others in the industry, which is again, something I wouldn't have a clue about, not having a background in these things to be aware...Just lots of data-driven questions that I probably would never get around to. It's important to know.”
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Lindsey Plaine: My vision is to just see more and more products and more and more companies thinking about things in a circular way. And I hope that we're right in there mixing it up with everybody else that's doing it. We count how many classic bottles we've eliminated or replaced. So we're just about to hit 300,000 since we started. That's probably our main sort of impact metric.
Christina Sjahli: Most of us likely aware that the earth's surface is 71% water, and 96.5% of this water exists in oceans. And I remember learning this back in elementary school, but honestly, I was oblivious; oblivious to the fact how we live everyday had an impact on the oceans. The sad part is, I grew up in a third-world country. And there was this one big river going across the city where I live, but instead of a blue clean water, the river was filled with plastics and garbage, the water looked filthy. It didn't occur to me at the time, the damage done by plastics to our planet, including the oceans. 17.6 billion pounds of plastic end up in the marine environment every year. Toxic chemicals used in our day-to-day life end up in the ocean, one way or another. We are learning as we go. And at a personal level, I tried to make changes in how my family lives everyday to be more conscious of the impact we have on our planet.
But in our humble opinion, the best learning tool to create this change is actually by talking to female founders who create the future we want. That's why we are curating this podcast series featuring female founders who are building businesses to create the future we want and the future we need. They also consciously choose long term viability over short term profit; they bootstrap. And all of them are scaling and building meaningful profit. These female founders are also part of a global community of 4000 B-Corp certified businesses. If you are not familiar with B-Corp certification, in that case, I encourage you to listen to Episode 101 at christinasjahli.com/herceojourneypodcast where you can learn about B-Corp; why it matters and the certification process.
Throughout this podcast series, you will learn that having a social mission means the company's long term viability takes precedent over short-term profits. As a result, these founders and CEO do not take investors' money. Instead, they bootstrapped and found alternative financing to support their growth. Today's episode is part one of three of the Business For Good series. Lindsay and Alison Delaplaine are the co-founders of Plaine Products. They are on a mission to get all the plastic bottles out of the bathroom. They share the innovation Plaine Products continue to undertake; not only to remove plastic bottles out of the bathroom, but also to create non-toxic products and reduce plastic waste overall, how they create profitability within four years, the type of alternative financing they choose to support their business growth and the benefits of having a part-time CFO.
You're listening to Her CEO Journey, the business finance podcast for mission-driven women entrepreneurs. I'm your host, Christina Sjahli. If you are new here, a big warm welcome. If we are not connected on LinkedIn, please reach out and say hi because that's where I hang out and share my business finance steps. If you have been listening to this podcast for a while and you are a regular listener, I want you to know I appreciate you. My podcast won't be around without your support. This is a free weekly show where my guests and I want to inspires you to balance between mission and profit to create an impact in this world and to achieve financial equality through your business for good.
When you choose to build a long-term viable business over a short-term profit, knowing where the financial gaps are in your business becomes more important than ever. This is where the quiz I have created for you comes in handy. This quiz can help you identify the financial gaps that may stop you from building a long-term viable business that is profitable. You can find the link to the quiz in the show notes. And I encourage you to take this quiz, then take action to fill in the financial gaps. We are here to partner with you. We understand business finance can be confusing, but it doesn't have to be complicated. You want someone who is as passionate as you are, and takes your business to the next level. Once we show it to you, you will understand and trust your financial numbers. We make sure you are making business decision with your purpose, front, and center. Connect with us at christinasjahli.com/let-s-chat.
Now, let's find out Lindsey and Alison's CEO journey. Lindsay and Ali, welcome to Her CEO Journey. It's a pleasure to have you both here.
Lindsey Plaine: Thank you. We're thrilled to be here.
Alison Plaine: Thank you.
Christina Sjahli: I'm excited because two sisters, co-founders talking about sustainable products, plastic waste, and everything else. So before we get started and dive into more details, I'm going to let you share what is your journey like.
Lindsey Plaine: It's been quite a journey. Either one of us took a direct route here. My background is actually in nonprofit management. That's what I did for 20 years before we started this, and Allie has a design degree and did interior design. I was working for an environmental education nonprofit. So we were doing a lot of cleanups and you physically see all the plastic in the islands. There's not the same infrastructure there that there is here to make things disappear. So you'd see the plastic on the beaches and the waterways. And I heard this back, there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. And that just hit me hard. So I started doing the things that we're all doing now carrying the reusable water bottles and the straws, escaping the straws, carrying the reusable bags. One place I couldn't find a solution was all of those little plastic bottles in my shower. And it really started to bug me honestly. So I think my lightbulb moment was in the shower. And this is gonna betray my age a little bit but I started thinking about Netflix. I don't know if you remember when they used to like send you the DVD, and then you'd watch it.
Christina Sjahli: Oh, yes. I remember that. I still remember Blockbuster, so...
Lindsey Plaine: There you go. We're in the same category. But I was like, "Why can't we just do that with bottles? Why can't I just use a bottle and send it back?" And I was like, "That's actually not a bad idea." And my husband's from the Bahamas. But as a family, we were talking about moving back to the US. And I wanted to take a break from nonprofits. And I was pretty clear about where my blind sides were getting into something like this. So I called my sister and asked her if she would do it with me because we are an incredible balance of skills together. Together we make the perfect person.
Alison Plaine: And I, of course, said yes because anything my sister does is successful because she's such a hard worker. So I was running a business with my husband, just a small business. We already had UPS coming to our house every day to pick up packages, I was like, "Sure, I can help. I'll just pick up. Well, if I ship a few boxes a day, it won't be a big deal. We can turn the garage into the warehouse, no big deal at all." But four and a half years later, we are way beyond that. And it is very successful.
Christina Sjahli: I know. It's exciting because–
Alison Plaine: I had no idea what I was agreeing to. But as I predicted, she would make a huge success of it.
Christina Sjahli: So okay, I'm curious, though, Ali, did you see the same issue? How did Lindsey even pitch to you to join this journey? I'm curious about that.
Alison Plaine: That is interesting. I was kind of like, "Well, I could see..." And I'm a much more practical hands-on person. So I was like, "Well, how are you going to design these bottles to last? And it's got to be aesthetically pleasing for someone to want it in their shower." And I grew up visiting the Bahamas as well and visiting her so I could... I knew this was an issue. And, I think, I took it from... Well, even if this isn't as successful as it would hopefully be, it'll be a great educational tool to teach people that this is a problem. And we just wanted to make people aware of what's going on. And here in America, "Yay! I just put my trash out today, got picked up. I'll never see it again." But that's not what's happening on these small islands and ocean communities. And who knows where my trash is actually ending up today?
Lindsey Plaine: I feel like we're really conditioned to not think about it. I mean, there's a whole industry that's trying to make sure that we don't think about it, that's convinced us that disposability and convenience are the most important things, and we shouldn't have to worry about it. And so I really feel like, especially, when we're getting started, we were swimming upstream a little bit and asking people to think about these things. But I do think once you do start to think about it, once you see it, you can't unsee it. And you start to realize all the things that are going on. So what Ali said is true, we really consider this as an awareness campaign. And maybe that's the nonprofit girl in me as much as the business.
Christina Sjahli: So what was your blindside, Lindsey, that you've realized that you had to ask Ali to join you?
Lindsey Plaine: Well, when she said it's important that the bottles look good and are aesthetically pleasing, that would be a blindside for me. I'm about problem-solving but I'm probably a little too pragmatic. And Ali, also, has this amazing sense of smell and this amazing sense of what's the right product and how well it works. So I would have probably gone with the first manufacturer we tried who it was terrible but I was just so excited to get started. "We'll figure that out. It'll be good." She's like, "No, this is terrible. Nobody wants to put this in their hair, we have to keep going." And she forced me to go through four or five different manufacturers before we found a good one. And it took time, and I was impatient. And I threw together a bottle, and she's like, "That looks like a five-year old drew it. Let's hire designer. And that's gonna take time to and you're gonna have to be okay with it." And so that balance made a huge difference. There's no way we would have been this successful with what I probably would have originally put on the market.
Alison Plaine: And if it was all me, it still wouldn't have launched yet because I'm definitely the brakes and it's got to be perfect. And we can't do this yet. And she's like, she says, "Go," and I say, "Stop." So we meet in the middle, and it's worked out.
Christina Sjahli: Okay, so from May 2015 until you launch on Valentine's Day 2017, what was going on in between there?
Alison Plaine: There was never an agreement that we were going to launch on Valentine's Day 2017. We were supposed to launch in October. First of all, I will just say we spent most of the time just learning; asking questions, calling people, realizing we ask the wrong questions, calling back emailing people, got to know a lot of the bloggers in this space. Neither one of us had a personal care background. We were making up the reuse of bottles as we went along, just trying to figure it out. Everything we did was the first time anyone had ever done it. So we were inventing everything, how that how to teach this process because, really, our consumers are educated on what they are supposed to do with the bottle when they're done with it, how they can send it back. It's this whole language that we created, and the product. My hair went through terrible times of really bad product. My poor family, I feel like, "Now try this one." And they were like, "Ugh." It's been nuts. Maybe it was fun. We always can laugh about it but it was fun learning. Everything we have done is starting from scratch because no one's ever done anything like this so it all took way longer than we anticipated it would.
Christina Sjahli: And then that was only about six years ago. And nobody realized this. Nobody had done this.
Lindsey Plaine: It was just really coming on the scene. I would say plastic really only started to make international news just in the last few years. I think we were incredibly lucky in our timing. But nobody was really talking about this much when we were getting started. And then since then, happily, we've become a part of a really amazing community of sustainable businesses.
Christina Sjahli: What were the biggest challenge during this research phase? Is it figuring out the material to use for refillable bottle? Is it finding the right manufacturer to formulate the ingredients? Is it finding the right suppliers for bottles?
Alison Plaine: It was all of that. They were all a huge hurdle. And we're all going on simultaneously in that pre-stage of launching.
Lindsey Plaine: We actually originally thought we were going to use stainless steel. And we have these adorable mason jars made. And we got them and then they rested. So we had to pivot. And that is how we ended up at aluminum. It turns out not all stainless steel is created equal. So we couldn't afford an even higher quality of stainless steel and the prices would have been crazy for the products. So that's when we were going to launch in October. It was with stainless steel mason jars. And then we had to redesign everything. And so we ended up on Valentine's Day just because, literally, it all finally came together. We have the bottles, the website, then we have–
Alison Plaine: The website, yeah.
Christina Sjahli: If you can put it in steps. What did you do first at the beginning?
Lindsey Plaine: We originally started with the bottle because that was the original idea. Now, we wanted to have this different packaging. So we started researching that. And then at the same time, we were trying to figure out how we were going to get something made to be put in it. I think I had this crazy idea that we were like make it ourselves and add sense in that. And thankfully, that I quickly realized that that was a horrible idea. And so then we started looking for manufacturers, and those were going along at the same time. And at some point, we realized that, "Oh. There's no point in creating this environmental packaging system and then dumping a bunch of chemicals in it." I became very educated on what kind of crazy chemicals are in most mainstream products. I can spare myself a relatively educated person but I had no idea about the detergents and the endocrine disruptors and all sorts of questionable things that are in a lot of mainstream products. So we were like, "Well, let's not use any of that," which again, helped us narrow what manufacturer we were going to use. We had a pretty high bar.
Christina Sjahli: So what was the first product did you launch–is it just the shampoo and conditioner? Because I know you have a lot more now.
Alison Plaine: And body wash.
Christina Sjahli: Oh.
Alison Plaine: Didn't we do all three, Lindsey?
Lindsey Plaine Yeah, yeah. It was all three.
Alison Plaine: And the great thing about them, the reason we finally decided on this manufacturer also was because the main very first ingredient is aloe. And if you look at 99% of what's on the shelf at any grocery store, it's water. And so our product, we're thinking, well our carbon footprint is really important for environmental company, so we want a super concentrated product that will last a lot longer. So we are not paying to ship water back and forth. And that it was all vegan, which was really important. And that has become a really big part of our business; that wasn't ever planned initially. It was, I think, what Lindsey was saying, as we started researching ingredients, we realized, "Wow. This is the direction we want to head."
Christina Sjahli: We're there a lot of manufacturers that use aloe for their ingredients?
Lindsey Plaine: No.
Christina Sjahli: So I remember when I was little, again, back in Indonesia, my sister didn't have a lot of hair. So my mom would put all this aloe every other day, and then the smell is not amazing. How did you even reverse the smell to make it more enticing for people to use it?
Lindsey Plaine: Happily, we are not the chemists behind this masterpiece.
Christina Sjahli: Okay.
Lindsey Plaine: So you would not want anything that I made anywhere near your body. This was their formula that they manufacture for us. And they also do some other spas and salons. And so they use essential oils to mix in to make it smell delicious.
Christina Sjahli: So this ingredient is basically not specifically for Plaine Products then?
Lindsey Plaine: It is not. So they have a whole manufacturing plant based on using aloe as a main ingredient. And they make all of our products; the same company.
Alison Plaine: But the scents are the rosemary-mint-vanilla we went and tried all these different combinations and the citrus lavender, also.
Lindsey Plaine: And let's be honest, Ali picked them out. I lasted about 35 seconds in the scent room before I–
Christina Sjahli: Passed out?
Lindsey Plaine: Yeah. I was like, "They all smell the same, whatever." I was like, "When you get down to some finalists, let me know."
Christina Sjahli: I don't care. I just want to smell good. That's–
Lindsey Plaine: Yeah. That is probably the exact words that I entered while we were there. Yes, she made that magic happen and continues to do that with our products.
Alison Plaine: I have samples sitting on my desk today of new stuff that we're trying to launch that I'm like, "This scent is just not right yet. Keep working on it."
Christina Sjahli: I know that having a manufacturer and then creating this refillable bottles, those requires capital. How did you even finance the research part of this Plaine product?
Lindsey Plaine: It's interesting for a lot of people, I think they create a formula and ask somebody to make it or ask somebody to make something completely original which is a very expensive process. We were sort of like, "What already exists that we can afford?" We worked with existing bottles. We found this manufacturer that had a formula that we could white label. We were going about it and we ordered the minimum of everything that we could order. That's how we went about it. We completely bootstrapped it every way and then... We were both working other jobs while we were doing this.
Alison Plaine: Yeah. It was just a little side hustle that we were putting together.
Christina Sjahli: As a startup at the very beginning, with a lot of research and then you have to spend amount not only on the products, not only on the bottles, and you also have to spend time on marketing and sweat equity; what is the process of managing the cash flow during this research phase to ensure that you didn't run out money before the launch?
Lindsey Plaine: We were just very frugal. We only spent money when we absolutely had to; we called in a lot of favors. As Ali mentioned, we got a friend who initially designed the website. I'm happy to say he is now employed by us. But we finally paid him back. But we did, we called it a lot of favors. And we did as much of it ourselves as we could. And we only spent money where we had to and we did those minimum work.
Alison Plaine: We should probably give our husbands a little bit of credit, too. Lindsey's husband is an amazing videographer-photographer, and did a lot of our marketing material. And my husband is great with cardboard and boxes in the warehouse and construction. And so he helped me on the design side. And we really... For a long time, it was just in our web guy. And we were not paying ourselves. And we both put a little money in.
Lindsey Plaine: Ali just moved from Colorado to Ohio. I just moved from the Bahamas to North Carolina. So both of us were able to make some money on that housing exchange. So that gave us some cushion and a little bit to invest. So a lot of things came together in that way, as far as the timing of it, which is probably also why we started it.
Christina Sjahli: I know that being a B-Corp certified business, you have to constantly innovate because it cannot be just like a standstill. I know that you're continually innovating with your products, making sure that everything is aligned with the B-Corp ways. But also, I believe a lot of processes within a business needs to be innovate as well. What would you say the challenges you face in terms of innovation from both product and process perspective? And maybe, you can share some examples here, especially with everything that is going on in climate justice.
Lindsey Plaine: First, I will say it is a little tricky for us with a B-Corp thing in that push to innovation because we started with this circular approach. And that hasn't always given us a lot of room to innovate on it. However, Ali has done an amazing job innovating on our packaging, and we've learned a lot.
Alison Plaine: Initially, our aluminum bottles were coming from China, and now we're able to get them here made in America. Our goal is to be able to get them made of 100% recycled aluminum in the future. Right now, our quantities still aren't high enough to hit that. But that's one of the innovations, I think, from product design. And then on another level from packaging design, even though our bottles are packaging we do you have to ship them to all of our consumers. And so we have gone through a few different cardboard companies. And now we are with one that's 100% recycled cardboard. And that means it's not always as sturdy so we're trying to figure out the thickness; get the thickness right and not having a card that needs to go in the box. We could print it on the box. And just constantly making everything more streamlined, and simpler, and easier to use. There's something every day, it seems, that we could innovate and make better.
Lindsey Plaine: Yeah, we're constantly learning and as you said, from other B-Corps. And we're always keeping an eye on what new technology and new things are out there. We're hopeful for a pump, someday, that's not plastic, that's able to be pulled out and cleaned and reused in a different way. We'd love to see that. And then probably the innovation that I'm the most excited about from more of a environmental justice piece is we're working with a lot of retail stores now that are popping up around the country. And so we're able to send bulk products to the stores. And that's a much more cost efficient way to do it. So we're able to lower our prices a little bit and work in some different neighborhoods that we weren't able to with the bottles. And that's something that we've been really excited about in the last year.
Christina Sjahli: I look at your website; it's no longer the two of you or the three of you. It has grown in terms of team to like 16 people. You make changes on the supply chains. You're no longer using bottles produced in China. And now you order it from the US, right? You're gonna have a new warehouse soon; it's no longer Ali's garage. What are the step-by-step process that you use to scale while making sure you're not running out of capital?
Lindsey Plaine: Part of that is I've been able to, with the nonprofit management background, keep a pretty close handle on our finances. I do all the bookkeeping in QuickBooks and keeping an eye on it. And I think the other is, we have grown at a very sustainable pace. That's probably partially Ali's influence, too. I'm like, "Well, I shouldn't agree to that because I can't call my sister until I said yes to that."
Alison Plaine: Because I have to make sure that we can actually ship that out. So there have been definitely things we've said no to and that we'll revisit that next year and–
Lindsey Plaine: –Which is smart, which pains me usually at the time but is so smart and has kept us from going crazy doing this. We've been growing but not at a crazy pace; not at a don't-sleep-constant-24-hour-a-day pace, which I think has been good and has allowed us to not outstrip our capital. I mean, we just... We're paying ourselves now. We're paying our people. And whatever else we make goes right back into the business to buy more product.
Christina Sjahli: When you say sustainable pace, Lindsey, can you give me an example?
Lindsey Plaine: Like a today-show-segment, but they want 10,000 bottles at a fraction of the price. And mostly marketing opportunities that we've turned down that would have probably taken us to the next level, but would have required a huge amount of product. And taking a loss that we just, would have stressed us then from a capital perspective. So we have grown much more organically; we don't put a ton of my money into marketing and advertising. We work with a lot of influencers. And we were doing that before that even became a thing. As part of our research process, we got to know a lot of different people in the green beauty and zero waste space. And so we kept just networking out from them. But our investments in marketing and advertising have been pretty minimal compared to a business our size.
We work with a lot of different nonprofits trying to support what they do and have them talk about us. I think it's also a product of having a good partnership. We talk a lot about where we are, what we need to order, what's going to happen next. And I think that we're also protective of each other. So I say, "Wow, we're having a lot of orders. We should probably get you some help in the warehouse." And Ali says, "You probably shouldn't be answering customer service emails all day. We need to get you some help there." And so I think we've also made sure that happened. And I don't I think that would be hard. That would have been much, much harder for me to do had I not had her saying it. And I think that's probably true both ways.
Alison Plaine: Yeah, that's interesting. I've never really thought about it like that. But I do look at Lindsay sometimes. And I'm like, "What are you doing working all weekend long? That's not why we're doing this. We need to hire somebody for you. You need to be able to take a break to appreciate this amazing thing that we've created and spend time with your family."
Christina Sjahli: So up to now, you have not received any external capital. This has been bootstrapped all the way?
Lindsey Plaine: Unless you count the loan we got for our warehouse. But yeah, no; we haven't taken on any external investors.
Christina Sjahli: A lot of businesses, especially the female founders, they are not keen in getting debt financing. They prefer to have investors coming in. What is your thought process in this warehouse to get a loan for your warehouse?
Lindsey Plaine: Why a loan and why not investors?
Christina Sjahli: Yep.
Lindsey Plaine: We became profitable early on, as we had such low overhead because we had so much sweat equity. And we did talk to... We went through an accelerator program in Telluride, Colorado, actually. And we were talking to two amazing women who run that and they're like, "You're making money. Don't take out investments you don't need because they're gonna push you to grow faster than I think you want to grow." And we both agreed what Ali said is too; we want to be able to enjoy this, we want to be able to have time with our family. And if somebody was pushing us to make these huge marketing choices, or to make some things, add more products faster than we're comfortable with doing, that wasn't what we wanted. And so we made the choice not to take on investment. And we made the choice to do this debt financing so that we could continue to retain control.
Christina Sjahli: So what is the structure of this debt financing?
Lindsey Plaine: We actually started through the Small Business Association, as a small business loan. And then ended up we actually made more sense financially to just turn it into a regular commercial loan and not pay some of the small business fees because we are a profitable company. And I believe our personal assets are probably also on the line.
Alison Plaine: One great thing about this warehouse building though is it's near where I live here in Cincinnati. And it's an upcoming town and there's four buildings on this property. So our business is going to use one whole one and some of another but there are some other spaces to rent and to make money from. So we are looking at that as an investment, also, that was played into us feeling comfortable doing it. It's definitely an up-and-coming neighborhood. And we're helping bring back little bit of this community. And that's part of–
Lindsey Plaine: Yeah, when my sister earlier said that she said yes to me because I'm a hard worker and I tend to make things successful between her design background and her husband's amazing constructions experience, any real estate with them as a good deal. This is another one of those cases of he's overseeing all of the construction and the renovation of the buildings. He knows what he's doing. He knows to talk to all the subcontractors. He's saving us a ton of money. So again, it was a case of we're within our little core group, we had the skills to take this on. So we are again, trying not to go into further debt, self financing the renovations as we have cash flow from the business. So we had the option to take on further debt and just be able to pay for all the renovations at once. We chose not to do that at this point; we may still have to. But that little bit of cash infusion would just go a long way to making it a little bit faster and less stressful.
Christina Sjahli: What is your vision for Plaine Products? And if you can share this from both impact and financial perspective, that will be wonderful.
Lindsey Plaine: I hope we'll keep growing. We're talking to some two major chains through our partnership with Loop, about maybe doing pilot projects there. I'm excited to get the warehouse up and running. And Ali, someday I'd love to have another warehouse out west so that we can, again, keep dropping the carbon footprint, save some money on shipping, and the bottle washing out there. I'd love to see this reuse infrastructure springing up around the country. My vision is to just see more and more products and more and more companies thinking about things in a circular way. And I hope that we're right in there mixing it up with everybody else that's doing it.
Christina Sjahli: So what are the metrics that you are using to measure your progress?
Lindsey Plaine: Well, we count how many plastic bottles we've eliminated or replaced. So we're just about to hit 300,000 since we started. That's probably our main impact metric. And then I would say, from a company perspective, we definitely make sure that we're keeping an eye on the subscription renewals, the churn, the growth of new people, the gross on social. Who's talking about us? Are we a part of the conversations that are going on? And looking at all of those different metrics as well.
Christina Sjahli: Do you ever consider going global?
Lindsey Plaine: Well, the interesting thing about going global, again, when you start thinking about the carbon footprint, honestly, we need a separate operation, at least every continent. If not, you don't want to be shipping bottles back and forth across an ocean. That doesn't make sense. Once we get this up and running, Ali and I can move to Europe for a while.
Christina Sjahli: Lindsey, I know you are the finance expert and I really want to get your opinion. At what point you think a business needs a CFO on a part time basis?
Lindsey Plaine: So you asked earlier about projections and cash flow management. When we were at that accelerator program, they were trying to get me to set up some sort of thing, and tears were shed. It was awful. I was so upset that I couldn't figure it out myself. They recommended somebody and I met with him. He's a CFO. And he was like, "Oh, we can figure this out." And it was such a relief to me. But he just knew how to do it. It was a skill set that he had. And it was a skill set that I didn't have. And it didn't make sense for me to have. So, I think, it is a good thing to do to help you understand your business and to help you understand what you need to be keeping an eye on. What those... They're like, "What are your KPIs?" And I was like, "Well, if you tell me what a KPI means, I could probably tell you what they are; the Key Performance indicators. I just needed somebody to explain all of that to me, not having a business background, and to tell me what to keep an eye on. So I meet with him quarterly. And he just checks my work, and helps me keep an eye on all of those things. And we discussed the growth, and that has been incredibly valuable to me. But I really think every business is a little bit different. I like having my hands on the numbers. I like playing in QuickBooks so that quarterly works for me. But I definitely think if for some reason you don't like it, sooner the better that you have a handle on your numbers.
Christina Sjahli: What is the value of checking in every quarter?
Lindsey Plaine: Those metrics; how they're changing, what we need to be aware of, how we're performing compared to others in the industry, which is again, something I wouldn't have a clue about, not having a background in these things to be aware. He's like, "Okay, as you grow your average customer value is probably going to go down. Your subscription churn might go up as you get more mainstream. Keep an eye on those things. Make sure you're looking at if you have a sale. Do those people behave differently than other people?" Just lots of data driven questions that I probably would never get around to. It's important to know.
Christina Sjahli: I would love to hear from each one of you. What would be your advice for female founders out there who have plans to scale their business?
Alison Plaine: I would say one of the things that has kind of blown my mind is that one of the ways we've done it, which was Lindsey's genius idea, is to actually have partnerships and relationships with people. Because word of mouth really in the end is, I think, the best way to grow a business. You have to have a good product, and you have to have good customer service and just having people say, "Oh, you should try them out." And so I think our social media team has done a really great job with that. And I think that's one of the biggest ways. And then as this year, as one of our goals was to add more wholesale. We'll let you know next year how that goes. And if we'd recommend that or not, but I think it's gonna work out okay.
Lindsey Plaine: I second everything Ali just said. And then I think I would say, ask questions. Be curious. I think a lot of people are scared to let people know what they don't know. Because they're think they won't take them seriously. Or they won't seem like an expert in their field. But it is so important to have that fractional CFO and then say what our KPIs. Why was important? Why do I need to know that? How do I figure that out for myself? Being curious, and asking people how they're successful or why they're successful, or what they think about something, is important. And I think that we often think we should know everything or think we should be able to do everything. And that's a mistake.
Christina Sjahli: Yes, I think curiosity is important. I think people have this fear of being judged, especially for female founders. That's what I found. And then when it's related to numbers and finances, the fear is even higher. I truly believe that if you want to balance mission and profit, you need to understand your numbers from different perspective. Where can people find Plaine Products and connect with the both of you?
Lindsey Plaine: Well, our shared maiden name is actually Delaplaine. Part of where we came up with the name from so it's p-l-a-i-n-e, plaine with an "e" products-dot-com. And our social handle is plaineproducts on all on all the channels and all the places.
Christina Sjahli: Lyndsay and Ali, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it so much.
Lindsey Plaine: Thank you, Christina. It was great.
Alison Plaine: Thank you so much. It was fun.
Christina Sjahli: And that's bring us to the end of another show. Thank you so much for listening to another episode of Her CEO Journey, the business finance podcast for women entrepreneurs. If you want to create a proactive financial plan and process for your business, so you are ready to weather the financial storm over the next few months, let's chat and see what's possible for you. Book in a time to speak with me at christinasjahli.com/le.