We Got by with a Little Help from Our Friends


One Startup. No Secrets. Start at the beginning.

You already know we bled, sweat, laughed, and cried in our attempt to meet holiday demand. You've heard from us in a few different ways (apologies, recounting stories, delays, etc.), but we thought it might be nice to let someone else do the talking for a change:

We’ve been lucky to have the support of our friends who were eager to pitch in and help during our emergency. We asked two of them to share their perspectives of the holiday madness. First up, Kelly, who is a good friend of mine and without question the best box packer I’ve ever seen. After an hour of working alongside her, Ted whispered in my ear, “She’s too fast. I can’t keep up.” I turned to Kelly and asked, “Can you come again tomorrow?”

*********

“Well, this is a good problem to have, right?!” I said ever so tentatively as I took off my coat and stepped over massive boxes of bottled honey ready to be packed for shipping. Aside from “Hi, I’m Kelly. Nice to meet you!” those were pretty much the first words out of my mouth to Jamie, Ted’s wife, when I entered Casey’s apartment on Wednesday--just one week before the Christmas holiday. Jamie let me know that Casey and Ted were on their way back from dropping a big batch of boxes off at the post office which gave me a few minutes to take in the scene.

Stacks of boxes of Bees Knees Spicy Honey and shipping supplies

Though Casey and I have been friends for a couple years, I had never been to his apartment. And I certainly never imagined it looking like this. One quick visual sweep said it all: the press had paid off. Bees Knees Spicy Honey was in high demand and this apartment was shipping central. Stacks of unmade boxes were piled in every room. Already printed labels were wound in tight rolls, with a printer and laptop nearby to generate the next batches. Boxes already packed and ready for the post office were stacked a dozen high along a very long wall, while a makeshift workstation (ingeniously crafted out of boxes!) was set up to house the tape and packing paper. This area also provided just enough space necessary to make, pack, and label boxes. Systems were clearly in place and I couldn’t wait for Casey and Ted to return so I could roll up my sleeves and get to work.  

Quick backstory: I’ve already covered that I’ve known Casey for a couple years now. Introduced by a mutual friend, we hit it off over a dinner consisting of mac & cheese and a few beers. Before he quit his day job, Casey and I both worked in Lincoln Center where we would meet up for lunch on occasion and our friendship grew from there. When Casey shared with me that he and Morgen were starting a business in 30 days with spicy honey as the product to be sold, I was totally blown away. Truthfully, I was less blown away about the spicy honey and more blown away by the fact that I was friends with someone who had the creativity, inspiration, focus, determination, and skills to set a goal like that and go after it. So from the outset, I was constantly dropping the hint that I’d be willing to lend my hands in times of need. Not because I had any particular interest in learning about the honey business, but because when you meet people who are willing to lay it on the line to pursue something that they are passionate about with as much drive and spirit and integrity as I knew Casey to have, you want to be around those people.

When I finally got the call taking me up on my offer, it took me half a second to say when and where? I was in. Over the course of two days, I was thrilled to contribute about 9 hours of help to a stellar Brooklyn crew to get this honey boxed and shipped for holiday delivery. I know many others passed through Bees Knees headquarters during the final push days, but I had the great pleasure of working with the same group of people both days I was there. In addition to Casey and his boyfriend, Paul, who I already knew, I met Ted, MixedMade’s newest partner, and his wife, Jamie. I also met Jonathan--a customer who simply emailed Casey and Morgen to share his love of their product. Like me, he was inspired by their story and offered up help if ever needed! It was an incredible group. We settled into a packing rhythm, sharing laughs and swapping stories about jobs and travel and how we all were connected to MixedMade.  

Obviously, setting up a shipping center in a railroad-style Brooklyn apartment isn’t the easiest thing in terms of flow and space. We made the most of it, however, and in the end, I think our productivity picked up. I have no idea how many boxes we prepped, packed, labeled, and dragged off to the post office, but I feel pretty confident saying that if you received your shipment in those final days leading up to Christmas, it likely caused me to exclaim, “Guys! This one’s going to Montana! Is this your first order from Montana?!” or “Here’s one for Denver! I’m dying to go to Denver! Ted, have you been to Denver?” Whatever it took to keep the conversation going over the repetitive task of “check label/grab box/add bottles/stuff paper/tape shut/label/stack/repeat.”

The best moment for me was on the Sunday, the second day I was there. The goal was to finish but I don’t think anyone knew how long that would take. At one point, Jonathan and Casey were out dropping off a shipment to the post office and picking up lunch, leaving Paul, Jamie, Ted, and me back in the apartment. We were on a roll watching the number of bottles of honey get smaller and smaller and the number of boxes ready to ship growing in stacks against the wall. Ted was starting to count how many we had left to pack, realizing just how close we were to finishing. By the time Casey and Jonathan returned with lunch in hand, we had something like a final dozen boxes to go! Because the room with the makeshift workstation had grown a bit messy over the course of a few days, I wanted to do a final check to make sure no roll of labels had landed behind the Christmas tree, but when that checked out, Ted and I turned to each other, thrilled. WE WERE DONE! The look on Casey’s face when Ted told him was pretty incredible. Total disbelief that we’d hit the finish line. I think I may have even seen a tear in his eye. Probably from sheer exhaustion or maybe utter happiness--probably both! It truly did feel like we had just finished a miraculous feat and I was pretty psyched to be there to share in this moment.  

After sandwiches, we celebrated with pickleback shots. Hooray! MixedMade survived their first holiday rush! I hope it’s the first of many. And guys, don’t ever forget how awesome I was with that packing tape.  

*********

And now, Jonathan. As Kelly mentioned, Jonathan was just a casual customer. But he made the mistake of sending an enthusiastic email in mid-December and before he knew it he was swept into the middle of Hurricane Christmas.

*********

My name is Jonathan and I helped MixedMade fulfill orders for two days out of Casey’s apartment. I discovered MixedMade through Shopify, where they were one of the first referrals. That in turn led me to MixedMade’s blog which is, to this day, the best entrepreneurship blog I’ve ever read. I’d never read a business blog that was so no-holds-barred, for lack of a better phrase. In fact, it inspired me to officially launch Collar Cold Brew, a project I had been working on for some time.

And of course, in my excitement, I shared the blog with a number of people. Before I knew it, four different friends ordered a combined total of fifteen bottles on my recommendation of the blog. Not to mention the two bottles I had bought.

But then Christmas rolled around and the blog posts stopped. I noticed a couple delays in the fulfillment of my own purchase and realized with their appearance on the Today Show and the Christmas season in full swing that they must have been slammed. So, antsy to hear what was going on, I reached out asking to help. Casey responded to my email almost immediately and before I knew it I was headed to his apartment.

First impressions:

Fulfillment of orders had completely taken over Casey’s apartment. Boxes, packaging materials, and bottled spicy honey were everywhere. The team had set up two rooms for packaging and staging boxes to go out. The whole operation, crammed into Casey’s railroad style apartment and shipping out over 400 boxes a day, was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen.

Huge stack of boxes of Bees Knees Spicy Honey

But besides taking over Casey’s living space, it had also taken over the teams’ lives. It only took a couple hours with the team to realize they had been at this non-stop for the past couple weeks. December had clearly taken its toll. Casey admitted he’d spent four of the past twenty four hours sleeping. Every other hour was dedicated to fulfilling orders.

Despite the lack of space, sleep, and labor, the process went very smoothly for the most part, until the second day I arrived to help out. After packing for an hour or so, Casey informed me that although it was Sunday, USPS was accepting drop-offs at a nearby location. So we loaded 400 packages ready to ship out into a U-Haul van and headed to the local post office. Halfway into unloading the boxes an employee told us there had been a mistake and they would not, in fact, be accepting boxes. We were devastated. Casey asked a second time if there was anyway we could drop off the packages. Again, a resolute “no.”

“What if you just ask him one more time?” I asked.

“I know what the answer is going to be…” Casey said.

“Yeah, but just one more time, why not?”

Casey approached the front desk one more time. We were told they would be calling a supervisor to see if they could make an exception. After a tense fifteen minutes awaiting our fate, we were loading the rest of the boxes into the post office. It was an incredible victory after a long day of packing.

Lessons learned:

  1. Content Marketing Is King: I discovered MixedMade through Shopify, but connected with them through their blog. Not only do blogs boost your SEO they also make you human, relatable, and give you a platform to tell your story. In my case, I connected with that story and shared it with as many people as I could because it was so great! Which in turn converted to roughly $210 in sales.
  2. No Man Is An Island: I’ve read many articles warning young entrepreneurs against going it solo, but I’ve never seen a more intense example than this. Two of MixedMade’s three founders were working around the clock just fulfilling orders, while the other was handling a rush of customer service needs remotely. That leaves no time for social media engagement, bookkeeping, material sourcing or any of the other fifty million things that need to be done. It takes at least two people to start and run a business but I would venture to guess MixedMade hit the nail on the head with three.
  3. This Is Not A Day Job: A lot of times in school and work I find myself saying things like, “Yeah, that was a good days work, now I can probably take a break.” That kind of thinking can’t exist in entrepreneurship. Your customers dictate your hours. If you want to be competitive, you won’t stop until the last sales order gets processed.
  4. It’s A Long Way To The Top: This seems to be a recurring theme in this blog and now I know why. Scaling your business with your own capital is hard. I would be ecstatic to learn that a business I had started was shipping out 400 boxes a day during Christmas. But the reality is that’s just the beginning of the sales necessary to take this business to the next level. In the coming months, MixedMade will likely need an actual workspace and salaries for partners as well as some part-time employees. Let’s say they find a space for $1,500 a month and all three founders take on $2,500 a month salaries ($30,000 a year). That’s an extra $9,000 a month in costs without blinking an eye (or the marginal profit of 1,800 bottles). Not to say it can’t be done, but MixedMade has their work cut out for them in 2015.
  5. Don’t Take No For An Answer: If there’s one thing the USPS incident taught Casey and I, it was persistence. We could have easily left after the second no. At the end of the day, if you want to make it in the business world, you have to be prepared to annoy a couple people.

*********

These are just two of the dozen people who rolled up their sleeves and made the holidays happen. We’re eternally grateful to Kelly and Jonathan, as well as Jamie, Paul, Nicole, Caroline, Rachel, Joe, Ingrid, Rosie, Ariella, Jay, and the entire staff of the Wyckoff Station Post Office who somehow didn’t kill me when we dragged in 20 trash bags full of boxes at 4:58 every night.

Next week I’ll layout how I landed the press that got us in this mess. I’m no expert, but I’ve discovered a few key tips that are as close to foolproof as you can get.

-Case

____________________________________________________________________________

Haven't tried our Bees Knees Spicy Honey Yet? Go ahead, order a bottle or two. We're so confident you'll love it that we'll give your money back if you're unhappy for any reason.


Leave a comment