Luke Tengstrom and Elijah Oxenham grew up in country Australia – Luke in NSW and Elijah in WA. They met each other while studying entrepreneurship at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and now both work together in Fjord, Design and Innovation from Accenture – Luke as a Business Development Manager and Elijah as a Project Manager.
While studying in RMIT they always spoke about starting a business together and 14 months ago they realised that dream with the launch of Karma Pillows.
We spoke to the enterprising duo about getting their own business off the ground while working full time.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Luke: I grew up in the warehouse of my parents’ business so I always knew I wanted to start my own business. I didn’t know what it was but that was my goal.
Elijah: I didn’t get the entrepreneurial urge until later. When I was younger I wanted to be a professional skateboarder.
You’re both working full time at Fjord. Why did you decide to start a business on the side?
Luke: We both really enjoy our roles in Fjord and get to work alongside really talented and creative people such as visual designers and creative technologists. I was frustrated because I didn’t have the design skills to be able to help them on their projects. So having a business outlet was somewhere I could learn creative skills and bring these back to my role at Fjord.
Elijah: The further into the workforce I got the more drive and ambition I had to explore creative outlets. When we’re young we get presented with two routes: either start your own business or enter the corporate world. But what we’ve been able to do is see both sides and be able to do both and continue to do both.
How did you come up with the idea for Karma Pillows?
Luke: The tools and methods we learned at Accenture really helped us come up with the business idea. People often think you come up with an idea first and then do the business plan – but we flipped that. We approached it consulting style. We knew we wanted to start a business so we looked at different business models globally that were really successful and made a big spreadsheet of those models and what they were, the pros and cons of each model and how we could achieve it. We did a trends analysis to see what the trends were globally around consumer products.
We saw a gap in the market for buying high quality pillows online. People didn’t understand which pillow was right for them and also the experience of buying a pillow was poor. We couldn’t understand why it was so difficult to go to a store to buy a pillow that was wrapped in plastic with jargon that would confuse Captain Snooze Himself. So we decided to leverage our experience in design and customer experience and apply it to a pillow to carve out a niche in the market.
So it started with a really analytical view of business models and trends.
As we built out that model we were able to leverage more of the skills we learned at Fjord to really test that idea, whether it’s worth investing in, whether it’s desirable and whether it was the right business opportunity for us.
What were the first few steps you took to get it going?
Elijah: The first thing we did was build out a business model canvass. It included things like key value proposition, what would the brand look like and who our customer would be. Then we looked at the product and got lots of samples from manufacturers around the world to find the right supplier. Some were great, some were horrible. Based on research we had certain criteria the pillow had to meet such as it had to be latex and a certain dimension. When we found the right supplier we had friends and family trial them. Then we started the validation process.
How did Accenture support you in your entrepreneurial pursuits?
Luke: Fjord’s sweet spot is bringing new services to life. The leadership team is very supportive of people building their skillsets on the side. We sent an email to the director team and told them what we were planning to do and some of the reasons why such as building new skills and finding a creative outlet. We got replies such as “love it”, “awesome”, “brilliant” and “go for it”. They were really supportive of the idea.
What are some of the most effective skills or strategies you’ve learned at Fjord to help launch and grow Karma Pillows?
Elijah: My role as a Project Manager in Fjord helped me manage the finances. I understand the importance of cash flow and really knowing the numbers – something that is often overlooked in start-ups. I’m passionate about the health of the business or project. It’s also skillset that has cross pollinated - the things I’m learning in Accenture have helped Karma but the things I’ve learned at Karma have helped in my role at Accenture.
Luke: The best skillset for me from Fjord is how to test and validate ideas. When you’re a start-up you don’t have a lot of money to spend building a product that nobody is going to like. The skills I’ve learned at Fjord around validation and prioritisation have been critical to the success of Karma.
What’s your favourite business tool?
Luke: We’ve got lists of tools and so many integrations. Everything we do runs off Shopify which is our website platform. We essentially have a digital business. We need to be able to run it from a mobile phone.
Elijah: Float is another app we use. It’s a web version of a cash flow spreadsheet but with so many better features than you could build yourself in excel. It automatically integrates with our accounting system, Xero, which integrates with Shopify. The way we find value in tools is that they integrate with the other tools we’re using. That’s the most critical thing for us to reduce overheads.
What was your biggest challenge in getting Karma Pillows off the ground?
Elijah: Personally, it was having the confidence to build a brand and an idea and put it out to friends and family. I was worried about what they were going to think. Friends and family can be sceptical, more so than colleagues. So that was a challenge for me.
Luke: There were lots of different challenges such as getting the money to put into it and manufacturing taking months. We believe starting a business while working full time is a smart move because you’ve got your day job to focus on. It’s everyone’s dream to quit their job and start a start-up but it’s not the path we wanted to take. We’ve got the best of both worlds.
Any work/life balance tips or productivity secrets?
Elijah: We’re both very task orientated. As we’ve progressed with Karma one thing that has been critical for us as a tool is Trello. We sit down, plan and put all the tasks into Trello. It’s been very effective. Also, making time to be healthy and fit is tough because of the time required but it’s something we allow each other time for to prioritise and reduce stress levels.
Luke: With Trello essentially what we have is a digital Kanban which is a tool they we use in delivery at Accenture – a dashboard “To Do” list. We take the productivity methodologies that we use at Accenture and apply it to our own business.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a business?
Elijah: Start as soon as you can. You’ll never be ready or be able to completely plan a business out. Get started and work it out as you go. We would never have been able to plan for some of the stuff we’ve gone through over the last 12 months. Also quitting a job and starting a business has been glamorised, but as Luke said I think starting a business while working full time is the way to go. I don’t believe if we had more time or worked on it full time we would be any further down the track. Having more time is not necessarily a good thing. Whereas having a second income can help mitigate the financial risk and also progresses your career.
Luke: For employers I think it’s a good thing for employees to start their own business on the side. If anything, it’s added to our day jobs at Fjord. Our goal wasn’t to find a way to leave Accenture – it was about testing and learning and doing something creative on the side. Some people join a band on the weekends or take up surfing and that’s their creative outlet but for us it’s having a business.
Last question – how’s the business going?
Luke: In June we were lucky enough to receive a $25,000 grant from RMIT’s Activator program which has propelled our growth by 183% and sales growing steadily. We’re absolutely stoked with the growth but luckily Accenture has taught us how to implement systems so our work load on the business hasn’t had to increase with the growth!
We currently sell directly through the website www.karmapillows.com.au and a couple of other online marketplaces. As we work full time and travel a lot with Accenture we wanted the business to be able to be run from a laptop anywhere so it will continue to stay online.
We’d like to include a discount for readers. Readers can use the promo code ACCENTURE for 15% off their order. https://karmapillows.com.au/discount/ACCENTURE