Chris Chalk

Co-Founder of Jungle Straws

Chris Chalk is the Co-founder and CEO of two sustainable product brands; Jungle Straws and Jungle Culture. Prior to launching his two businesses, Chris lived in the UK and worked as an electrical engineer.

An avid traveller, Chris now lives a nomadic life and spends much of his time in Vietnam. When he’s not working, Chris enjoys running, travelling, and exploring new places by motorcycle.

Where did the idea for Jungle Straws come from?

My business partner and I got the idea for Jungle Straws whilst travelling. We were horrified and saddened by the amount of plastic pollution all around us, and its effect on the natural environment. We started discussing ways that we could help make a difference and this lead us to creating reusable, eco-friendly products. We wanted to build a zero-waste business, so we turned to the natural world for inspiration. From there, we conceived our first product – hand-carved bamboo straws. After a successful launch, we continued to develop new sustainable products.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

In some ways, I don’t have a typical day! It changes every day, based on what the current objectives are. Several hours per day are always spent responding to customer orders, general enquiries, and keeping atop of our social media accounts and marketing. We manage our online presence ourselves so I need to dedicate a few hours each day to creating and posting content across the platforms, and replying to comments. There’s a lot of liaising with our engraving team as well – as all our products are available for customisation.

Some days, I’ll work on the design and development of new products. Other days, I’ll manage photoshoots so that we have top quality images of our products. Occasionally I’ll edit videos that we’ve filmed, to get them ready to share. Not forgetting general admin, like processing payments and updating our shop listings – it isn’t always glamorous but this keeps Jungle Straws ticking over!

We are a really small team and we’re committed to offering a fast service so it’s keeping our customers happy that keeps me motivated. Seeing all the positive feedback from our satisfied customers is a massive incentive for me.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have a very creative mind and I love to design and bring things to life visually. Being a perfectionist can have its drawbacks, but with product design and visual elements of our business, it pays to have attention to detail. I love to think of small ideas and turn them into much larger projects, whether that be a new product, or a brand new page on our website. It all matters to me, and I love how design ties everything together from the way our brand is portrayed in it’s packaging, to how it’s perceived on social media and beyond.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Looking specifically in the eco-sphere, I love all the volunteer-led initiatives that are popping up all around the world. Beach clean-ups like Trash Hero are awesome – I really take my hat my hat off to the people who launch these and all the volunteers. Look in your local community, there will be something for you, too. Of course, what would really excite me is if there was no litter and if people took their own rubbish home…

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Before we launched Jungle Straws, believe it or not, I worked as an electrical engineer. So turning my hand to e-commerce and creating sustainable products was a bit of a learning curve as you can imagine. I had to learn a lot, in a small space of time. But even now, 2 years later, I’m still learning – and I have a bit of a thirst and a passion for it. I dedicate a fraction of my week to reading about, studying and implementing new trends. That might be in terms of product design, learning about new shipping and supply chain options, or developing my SEO/digital marketing skills.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Get out into the world and observe. It was travelling that really opened my eyes to the climate emergency and plastic pollution. Sure, I always read the news and was upset about the state of the environment, and worried about the future. But if I hadn’t travelled and looked at what’s behind the tourist attractions, I’m not sure that I’d have ever founded Jungle Straws. I only wish I’d done this a few years earlier.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Without going into too much detail, I would have to say politics! I like to consider myself to be a bit of an activist and at times, I can definitely be quite outspoken! I hate injustices and the way that certain political structures make it difficult for certain groups and demographics to be given a voice or an opportunity to prosper.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Keep learning! I have a lust for information and want to learn exactly how every element of my own business works. Most of the time, this is actually quite impractical but there’s always room for improvement and knowledge gives you the power to make changes.

Listen to your customers and clients. Find out what they like and don’t like – this is the best way to turn them into returning customers, and improve your business.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We keep things clean and ethical. Sadly, there are lots of ‘eco-friendly’ products for sale online that aren’t quite what they seem… Dig a little deeper and you’ll see half of them are mass-produced in Chinese factories before having a ‘green’ logo stuck on them.
But we are committed to working sustainably and responsibly, and our customers trust us. Even as we’ve grown, we still hand make most of our products on location of the natural materials. We know that sustainably-minded shoppers want an authentic product so we’re very transparent about how we create our products, and we’ll keep making things the long way, and putting product quality ahead of profits.
There’s no mass-production and cheap labour, we pride ourselves on telling the unique stories behind the unique products that we sell – that’s our strategy.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The very first products that we launched was packed (by Amazon) in a plastic poly bag because we had completely overlooked the need to label the product with a barcode! Thankfully we managed to recall the batch of products before relabelling the product ourselves and eliminating the need for plastic. You simply have to learn to live with failures in business; it’s the only way you can learn, implement change, and go on to be successful.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I spend hours every day behind my laptop and it plays havoc with my back.
I’d love it if there was an app that helps me correct my posture – I always start off nice and ergonomic then gradually droop down into the inevitable slouch. Or perhaps some sort of portable device that straps me into a good position. I work in different cafes and at various hot-desks, so something I could carry around when I’m working would be great! If that already exists, please tell me…

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently spent £100 on 6 tailored shirts in Hoi An, Vietnam (the tailoring capital of the world!) The quality is absolutely incredible and it pays prudent to buy shirts that are tailored as bot only do they look better, but they also last for a long time too!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Rescue Time. It tells me exactly how much time I’ve spent (ahem, wasted) on sites that I shouldn’t have, and even lets me know what time of the day I’m most productive. It’s a small monthly expense that’s helped me tighten up on where I get distracted.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

For all budding eco-entrepreneurs (and, to be honest, everyone else on the planet!) – The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. It’s not jolly, but it’s incentivising.

What is your favorite quote?

“I don’t mean to brag, but I put together a puzzle in 1 day and the box said 2-4 years”

Key Learnings:

  • Creativity can only flourish if you give yourself time to rest. A balanced lifestyle is key to any entrepreneur
  • Put yourself in the mind of your customers when developing your service or products. Think about what they like and what else you can do to make their lives easier
  • Get out of the house to brainstorm and plot. Leave your mobile phone at home, take a notepad, and find a spot where your thoughts can flow
  • Stay true to your brand and always maintain your authenticity. Don’t cut corners to make a profit – your customers will see right through that
  • Network with your competitors and learn from them. In fact, don’t consider them your competitors – see them as your community