Interview Series, Stella Insurance, Stella Women
After a long day of packing orders for her e-comm business Olivia&Co Anaita Sarkar looked over to her young daughters who had come to work with her during the school holidays and they we’re sitting amongst a pile of plastic, playing with bubble wrap. It struck her and her husband Vik like a bolt of lightning. Surely, there had to be a better way to package their products without using plastic. That is the catalyst that took them on their journey.
They began scouring the internet to find a sustainable option that were Australian made and also eco-friendly. The problem was the product didn’t actually exist. So, after twelve months of research, prototypes, trial and error, Anaita and her husband created Australia’s first certified home-compostable, zero-waste shipping mailer Hero Packaging, a 100% biodegradable and eco-friendly solution to the growing eCommerce packaging problem.
As well as overseeing two successful companies, Anaita is also a mum of three and a guest lecturer at Macquarie University, and in case that wasn’t enough Anaita can now add author to her impressive list of accolades as her book ‘Sell anything online’ has launched and is going gangbusters.
We caught up with Anaita to discuss how online retailers can make a difference through their packaging choices, how she juggles motherhood and business and how we as consumers can incorporate more sustainable choices when purchasing online.
Tell us more about your family and where you started your career?
My parents were immigrants from India and the three of us arrived in Australia when I was 3. For my parents, all they wanted was to never have to go back to India because they knew that living in Australia meant a better life. I would say that for the first 15 years of my life, my parents worked endlessly. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we had to watch every dollar we spent, and I learnt about saving, expenses and investments at a very young age. My mum started her own Doctor’s surgery out of our garage and shortly after that, she was making enough money to support my dad. He was able to leave his job and become her receptionist. They still work together to this day.
That’s really where my love of business started. I loved that whenever a patient walked out of her office, they were always so happy and became loyal patients for many, many years. Not only that, but I could also see the happiness that my parents felt because they got to work together every day. It’s something I always wanted for myself.
But as any “good Indian kid” does after school, I got an accounting cadetship at a Big 4 firm. I worked there for 6 years while studying at university. After a terrible experience with my boss, I quit and moved into digital media. While I loved the role and the people, something still wasn’t clicking and after 10 months, I quit that too. I moved into a Marketing role and made it to four months until I resigned.
I felt like I wasn’t succeeding at all because I couldn’t find a job that could make me happy. I couldn’t even identify what the problem was.
When I fell pregnant, I decided that I would try my hand at selling products online. I researched a trending product, found one supplier I liked, ordered 100 pieces, chose a platform that my competitors weren’t on (Etsy and eBay) and created a product listing. When I started to make sales, the satisfaction I felt was something I hadn’t felt before in my career. I realised, within a few months, that this was going to be my path and that I was never going to work for someone else again.
Have you always been entrepreneurial? And what advice would you have for other women wanting to launch their own online business?
I think I have been, but being an entrepreneur wasn’t a “thing” when I was starting my career. In school, I organised fundraisers. At University, I started a drop shipping business. When I was working full time, I started a photography business. I always considered them to be hobbies and fun activities. I never realised or understood that these could be real, money-making careers.
My advice for any woman who wants to start a business is this: Before spending a cent, make sure that there is demand for your product or service. It doesn’t matter how good the product is, how well it’s made, how effective it is, it is worthless without customer demand. Test demand and gain a following (no matter how small) before spending money on a bulk order or marketing.
If you were talking to someone who knew nothing about sustainability, what would be the top three things you would want them to know?
Sustainability is not one big goal. It is the implementation of small changes in your life to make the world operate in a healthier way
The biggest rule of sustainability is less is more. Useless, spend less, waste less
Making one change at a time helps more than people realise. Switching from single-use plastic to reusable utensils and straws, or simply reusing wrapping paper or even refusing to buy from retailers that have plastic packaging makes a huge difference.
What would be your advice to our readers who want to start to shop more responsibly?
Always check how orders are packaged on the brand’s FAQs page and ensure that they are choosing sustainable options.
While it’s tempting, try to avoid fast-fashion retailers. Their impact on the environment is terrible and the clothes won’t even make it through one wash cycle
Shop marketplaces and thrift stores and opt for pre-loved goods when possible
What products does Hero Packaging create and how do these products differ from the usual ‘recycled plastic’ bags.
We create home compostable mailer bags that are used to ship goods from a brand to a customer. They have been tested by third parties to ensure that when cut up and placed into a compost bin at home, they break down with no toxic waste. They create great fertiliser. Recycled plastic bags are mailers that are made from recycled materials. The problem with them is that they work in the same way as regular plastic and end up in landfills, adding to the already devastating plastic problem.
What are the biggest challenges of being a mum and businesswoman? And what advice do you have for other mums looking to launch their own business?
Time management and multiple priorities are the two biggest challenges I face. Packing school lunches is equally as important as writing an email back to a customer which is equally as important as answering staff questions which are equally important to spending quality time with the kids after school. My advice is to time block tasks in 30-minute intervals. Map out the 5 most important tasks that only you can do and get them done first. If possible, outsource the other tasks to a VA (or in my case, my husband). Handle kids lunches and bags the night before and answer emails in one block in the morning and one block in the evening so you can focus on proactive tasks during the day.
Because there are so many tasks to juggle at any given point in time, a piece of advice I would give is to completely remove any people and tasks in your life that don’t bring pleasure, peace or profits.
You have also written a book called Sell Anything Online which provides readers with actionable digital marketing tips, why was writing this book so important to you?
I wrote the book because starting a business is daunting. Growing a business is even scarier, but there are certain tips and tricks with digital marketing that can help to get you more sales. The book is a no bullsh*t approach to digital marketing and provides actionable strategies for small business owners to implement in their business immediately.
I love seeing women build and grow businesses and my book was written as a resource to help them do that.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
You don’t need to be the best at what you do, you just need to be the best to work with. Reputation is everything.