We spoke to Kali Gordon, founder of Project Full. An architect by trade, she’s hoping to spread the message of mindfulness with her organic meditation cushions.
What inspired you to start Project Full?
Our flagship product is a meditation cushion set, and I created it because it was something I needed myself. I’d been drawn to mindfulness and meditation for as long as I can remember: probably because I’d been searching for tools for overcoming tragedy and loss. But I developed a consistent seated practice about six years ago, when I was making a big transition, moving away from my family in Canada to live and work in San Francisco.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit (prior to Project Full I started a couple of design businesses), but this was the first time I really focused on what I’m absolutely passionate about.
What went into building the prototype?
Luckily, I have a degree in industrial design (a fancy term for product design), so I was able to design the prototype cushion myself!
I knew that, first and foremost, I wanted to create something that’s ergonomic and useful, but also beautiful and modern. So I designed an efficient, triangular shape, which mirrors the shape of your body when you sit cross-legged on the floor, and provides support everywhere you need it.
I also knew that the product had to be sustainable and organic. I searched for organic fabrics and fills, vegan leather and a local manufacturer. A lot of trial and error went into sourcing the materials (and the process is still evolving).
But there was a problem; I didn’t actually know how to sew. So I convinced my husband to take a sewing class with me, bought a sewing machine, and began making all the prototypes!
Tell us about launching a business via Kickstarter.
No one tells you how much work Kickstarters are!
I think a solid concept and an intriguing campaign page are the most important factors in a successful Kickstarter, followed by how well you promote your campaign. About three months before we launched our campaign, we set up a landing page and Insta/Facebook pages, with the aim of getting interested folks to sign up to our newsletter. So when we finally launched, we already had an audience of people to tell. We sent out emails, posted daily on social media, and asked our friends and families to share, share, share.
Transitioning from a Kickstarter campaign to a proper business was a huge step. I think to make it work, from the very start you have to have the goal of building a brand around your product. Our early partnerships and press were probably the biggest help in establishing our business: we were lucky enough to have been picked up by the cream of the crop in the wellness space, like goop, Marie Kondo and Yoga Journal. It all directs traffic to our site: mentions on blogs, dedicated magazine articles, sponsoring wellness events big and small.
How do you grow Project Full?
In the beginning we were just promoting our posts ourselves, on Instagram and Facebook. Now we have paid social and search ads, which we’re seeing a good return on, so we hope to gradually bump up our spending.
Because our products are so visual, we’re also starting to see how effective Pinterest is for exposure, traffic and conversions. So we’d like to have paid ads on this channel too.
There’s been some backlash against the growing popularity of mindfulness: the argument goes that mindfulness is “the new capitalist spirituality,” that it puts the onus on individuals to deal with stress and depression, rather than on the society that causes those feelings. What are your thoughts on mindfulness and business?
Mindfulness and meditation are inherently beneficial: productivity, good sleep and improved immunity are all byproducts of the practice. But they shouldn’t be the primary goal. The ultimate aim should be to foster self-awareness and compassion.
But I do believe that no matter how you come to discover mindfulness, it’s an amazing tool to have in your tool box.
What are the biggest challenges Project Full has faced?
Bootstrapping our business has been and continues to be our biggest challenge. All the revenue the business generates goes right back into keeping it going, and creating larger and larger production runs so we can bring our costs down. As the founder and CEO, I don’t take a paycheck from the business… yet. But it does get easier, and we’ve turned a profit in our third year!
There’s also the fact that I have to learn and execute all aspects of running a business myself, even the things I feel I’m not good at, or I dislike. After our first year, I was burnt out, exhausted, and wondered if any of it was worth it.
But meditation really helps! My practice has never been so needed, it’s a direct line to my centre. Mindful business seems to be an oxymoron, but I’m finding that the relaxation my practice brings brings more success in turn. When you’re not holding on for dear life, more unexpected things are allowed to unfold. I think every entrepreneur should practice mindfulness and meditation. It’s a necessity.
Tell us about the tech you use.
We use Shopify and love it! It’s been so easy to design and launch the site, and to keep it growing with us as we grow.
We also use:
Quickbooks for our bookkeeping and accounting
Privy for our pop ups
Trello for task management and checklists
Dropbox: we have a business account where we keep all our files, photos, etc
What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out in ecommerce?
Just start! Take action!
You can’t know all the ins and outs of business right away, or plan for all the ups and downs that may or may not happen: a business is a leap of faith. Knowledge will come from making mistakes and learning as you go.
What do you think the future will look like: for Ecommerce and for Project Full?
I think ecommerce has only one way to go, and that is up. We’re already seeing that now, during the coronavirus crisis.
My goal for Project Full is to continue operating it as a mindful company. I want to keep bringing meditation and mindfulness where it’s needed most. We recently donated products to a non-profit creating safe spaces for highschool students, and I’d love to do more of this type of thing. Challenging myself in this way has brought me so much personal growth.
This is another interview in our series speaking to ethical online entrepreneurs: we hope they’ll be helpful and inspirational for anyone trying to find their way in business. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!