Meet Jake McKeon. He’s the founder and CEO of Coconut Bowls, an eco-friendly brand that makes bowls using natural materials. Based out of Byron Bay, Jake stumbled across a similar handicraft product in Bali being sold as a souvenir to tourists. He used this idea to build a strong brand that his customers want to align themselves with.
In less than 5 years, the company has grown to over $5M annual revenue. He’s also seen a strong marketing performance on Instagram, growing the follower base to over 700,000 people while converting repeat customers to new products. The business is currently scaling new heights, so we talk to Jake to find out how he’s doing it.
Who are you and what brand did you start?
I’m Jake McKeon, founder and CEO of Coconut Bowls, a sustainable brand creating eco-friendly products that are handcrafted from natural materials. I’m based in Byron Bay Australia. In less than 5 years, we’ve sold over 1 million products to hundreds of thousands of customers around the world, helping them live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Coconut Bowls?
In between surfs, I stumbled across a similar product at a market in Bali, Indonesia. Coconut shell handicrafts were being sold to tourists as souvenirs. They were beautiful. I instantly knew that if the same crafting techniques could be applied to the half shell of a coconut, then it would make a perfect and practical natural bowl. After a handful of somewhat failed startups, I was confident in my experience and learnings and knew how to build the right brand for this product.
The name was an obvious choice, and has allowed us to own the and guide the category since we launched. Even as new competitors have tried to enter the market, we’ve been able to build a much stronger brand behind the bowls, where customers want to align themselves with our brand and not just a product.
Describe the process of launching Coconut Bowls?
After meeting the local craftsman at the market, I described my concept and had 100 Coconut Bowls made, before packing them into my suitcase and surfboard bag and bringing them home to Australia. This was my only investment, approximately $500 for the first products.
I began offering them as a free gift with purchase from a health food brand I was involved in, and sent some to friends, family and micro influencers - who I asked to “snap and share their coco creations” – a call to action we still use today. I gradually increased orders from 100 units to 2000 over the next 6 months, flying back and forth to Bali and bringing the bowls home with me - until I was fined by Australian customs.
When I progressed to my first sea freight shipment of 5000 units, I discovered on arrival that I had been shipped raw coconut shells and not the Coconut Bowls from previous orders. I had pre-sold about 500 of these, so I had to actually craft and polish these myself - I wasn’t proud with the quality and at this stage, I knew I needed to improve the supply chain.
Fortunately, I was able to connect with a group of artisans who were working predominantly with bamboo in Vietnam who knew coconut farmers from an area called “the kingdom of coconuts.” We have scaled with this same group and farmers until today.
Looking at the product we have now compared to where we started is a testament to our constant focus on improving quality, and our relationships with the farmers and artisans, where we get first access to the highest quality coconut shells.
Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
We have fostered an amazing positive community on social media, who come together over the shared values of health and sustainability. We ask every new customer and those within the community to snap and share their Coconut Bowls creations, which provides us with thousands of pieces of user generated content each week, while allowing us to reach our customers networks organically through subtle product placement in their photos.
Beyond the bowls, we’ve also grown to a product line of over 30 products, each handmade from natural materials while providing a better option to plastic and other manufactured items. Our customers care for sustainability and we’re working hard to provide practical solutions for them that don’t harm the planet.
With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?
In less than 5 years, we’ve grown to over $5M annual revenue. We’ve certainly had ups and downs along the way, where we’ve experimented in areas that haven’t provided a return for the business.
Instagram has consistently been our best performer for marketing. As our business has matured, we’ve increased our focus on this community – where we have over 700,000 followers – while ignoring other platforms almost entirely. Understanding our core metrics has been pivotal for sustainable growth, balancing revenue and profit to ensure we can continue to grow without the need for outside capital.
A big focus currently is converting repeat customers with new products, as reaching these people requires far less marketing investment than reaching new customers.
With regards to managing change through crises, such as Covid19, can you talk us through your experience as a business owner and what you’ve learnt.
Initially, like most businesses, we tried to minimize discretionary spending in case things took a turn for the worse. However, we also looked at the opportunity. More people would be at home, cooking and creating, so with greater focus on community engagement through our brand channels, we’ve experienced some of our best months to date. Having more of our customers share their experience with Coconut Bowls organically increases our brand awareness and allows us to reach people free of charge.
How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?
2020 has been a great year, despite the adversity. We now understand our business better than ever. 2021 will bring many new products aligned with our sustainability mission. We will also look to expand our content to deliver more education for our community, while delivering them more of the recipe content they desire.
What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?
My failures created my success. Invest in your experiences and take calculated risks.
I don’t mean spending thousands of dollars on business ideas. In fact, I advise 100% against doing that. Coconut Bowls cost me about $500 to start up, where previous businesses cost me tens of thousands of dollars and years of time.
You learn so much more through your mistakes than your successes, and there’s only so much you can learn from books, podcasts and courses. Entrepreneurship isn’t about a business or brand, it’s a career - if I wasn’t prepared to fail the first, second and third time and keep going, then I wouldn’t have found success with Coconut Bowls. And if Coconut Bowls was my first business, I have little confidence that I would have had the knowledge, skills and experience to make it a success.
What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?
- For first time entrepreneurs, invest your time and resources, rather than your money. This is follow on advice from the last question. There is a key rule in experienced start-up circles, the first is MVP - always create a minimal viable product, before investing into your dream product. This will allow you to test to see if the market wants what you want to sell them.
- When you start an eCommerce brand, try and do as much as you can yourself, rather than hiring outside help.
- Don’t waste traffic. I’ve learned this the hard way. But what this essentially means, is for everyone who visits your site, you want to be able to reach them again. The following strategy should be implemented from day 1.
- Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel tracking, so you can retarget the visitors through paid ads
- Pop up email/sms capture incentive, for people who are not ready to buy to give you their details
- Email flows for abandon cart, and welcome series for new sign ups and customers
- SMS abandon cart flow (100% of sms gets opened, compared to 20% of email)
What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run Coconut Bowls?
|CMS||Klaviyo, Shopify, Xero|
|Shipping||Various via 3PL’s|
|Accounting||Xero, Arthur Advisory|
|Payments||Paypal, Stripe, Shopify, Afterpay|
|Social Media Tools||Sked Social|
|Design||Canva, Adobe Suite|
|Marketing||Culture Digital Agency|
|Inventory||3PL custom software|
See what ecommerce tools other founders are using.
Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?
My family. They’re always supported my endeavors, and never doubted me once.
Any other advice you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?
It’s not a race. investing in yourself takes time and you will learn far more from experiences than you will from a book or course. It took me 6 years and 4 businesses to see the first million dollars in sales, yet only 6 months to see the next. The overnight successes often have a 10 year backstory.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?
As of Q4 2020, we’re looking for an Operations Manager.
Where can we go to learn more about your current offers/promotions/programs?
Stay tuned for our quarterly “Ultimate Bundle” $200+ worth of products for $99. As always, check out our website for all our latest offers.