Ask questions. I think it’s important to never assume you know everything or that they way you are doing things can’t be improved upon.
Lindsey McCoy has a master’s degree from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs and spent 10 years running environmental education nonprofits in The Bahamas – islands that are overwhelmingly full of single-use plastic. After her return to the United States, she and her sister co-founded Plaine Products in February, 2017 in order to help minimize single-use plastic and reduce waste in bathrooms across the country. Plaine Products offers premium personal care products in uniquely sustainable packaging: aluminum bottles that can be returned (for free), refilled and reused. Plaine Products has already diverted over 100,000 plastic bottles from landfills to date.
Where did the idea for Plaine Products come from?
I co-founded Plaine Products with my sister and our company name was born out of our last name, Delaplaine. But the name has double meaning for us. Although our real point of differentiation is our waste-free containers, we believe that the products inside are just as important. Our body care products are made with all-natural ingredients, plain and simple. We wanted the quality of our products and our company mission, as well as our family heritage, to all be part of the naming of our business.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Accepting that there is not a typical day helps me make it productive. I work from home, and some of our remote staff is on the west coast, while I’m on the east coast so there are no specific hours to my day. It’s important to me to look through my schedule the day before and make adjustments to make sure that I have some time in between calls and meetings to keep up with my email and to get outside or exercise at some point. If I get too behind on email I get anxious and I tend to make mistakes when I rush or mutli-task (which I love to do, but it never goes as well as I want it to) so it’s important for me to have some chunks of time to work and some breaks in between.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I talk it out. I’m a natural collaborator and working with my sister to found this business has been a huge part of our success. There’s a quote that says that no one can whistle a symphony. It takes an entire orchestra to play it. A great brainstorming session and information sharing can really take an initial idea and form it into something even better.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Of course, I’m loving the trend of environmentally-friendly products going mainstream. In the early days of our business, our typical consumer was proactively looking for products with a minimal environmental impact, such as natural deodorant, package free or reusable products, with a particular interest in vegan products. It was an “all in” consumer. As a company, we have a mindset where we encourage our customers and our social media followers to do what they can—even the smallest change can have minimal impact when it is widely adopted. We’re not into shaming someone for using a plastic straw or forgetting their reusable bags. Just do what you can! It isn’t so intimidating to try to adopt a more environmentally conscious lifestyle when you try one little change at a time. We see more and more of a mainstream audience dipping their toe into the water now. It’s good for our business, but ultimately, it’s good for the planet too.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Walking the dog. If I take a few minutes during the day I often find better solutions to problems, a more diplomatic response to a tough question or a new way to solve an obstacle we’re facing. Taking a little time before saves me more time after trying to clean up whatever mess I made by responding too quickly.
What advice would you give your younger self?
You can make a difference in the world. I was a political science major in college, thinking for sure I would go into politics and change the world. But almost every wide-eyed, idealistic 20-something gets a little jaded when they enter the real world. I worked for a non-profit for a decade, focusing on environmental education in my community in the Bahamas, thinking that my real opportunity to impart change was just in my little corner of the world. But it was in my little corner of the world that I saw the impact of a disposable lifestyle with beaches full of garbage. When I took stock of my family’s own trash production, I realized that I could either be part of the problem or part of the solution, as the adage goes. It was just time for me to take a stand. My true goal of this business from the beginning was to make a difference. I did have some initial concerns that this was just a pipe dream of mine. Over 5 million shampoo bottles hit the landfills each year. So far, we’ve diverted 100,000 of that number in the past two years, but our numbers are quickly growing. We’re collaborating with other business with a similar focus. Our joined effort will multiply. And I know we are making a difference in the world. But it started with one person and one idea. If I can do it, anyone can.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Partnership is key. So much of the business mind set focuses on competition. We work with many other sustainable businesses in our field because we’re also in the business of raising awareness and starting a conversation. We want to help educate our customers about other solutions that exist and help them find what works best for them.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Ask questions. I think it’s important to never assume you know everything or that they way you are doing things can’t be improved upon. As we were getting started we were constantly asking questions, we had a lot to learn. But we’ve kept that going and we continue to learn from our customers, suppliers and peers in the business world.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Nothing is set in stone. One strategy that has played across every aspect of my business is the importance of being flexible. Nothing has to be permanent and flexibility has helped me keep my business moving forward, despite challenges along the way. We’ve made changes to our bottles, our packaging, our process, our website and our logo in our three years in business. If I wanted it all to be perfect, I probably still would not have launched my business yet. Instead, I’ve always focused on the need to move forward, adjusting as necessary with new learning.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The early prototype for bottles were stainless steel and they rusted. Our concept would never work if the product doesn’t hold up. Luckily, we were able to reuse or recycle our preliminary stock of bottles and went back to square one in sourcing aluminum bottles that would stand up to a lifetime of use in a wet environment. While it was a setback, it reinforced a lesson that I have been shown time and time again as an entrepreneur, and that’s to remain flexible. Nothing is final. It’s all a journey as the business grows. We have a willingness to try it out, adjust, and move on in so many ways. We learn from failures as much as we do from our successes.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Our concept has legs! We have so many customers asking us to provide cleaning products in refillable aluminum bottles. Dish soap is a big request that we receive. For now, our focus is on personal care products in the bathroom, but there are so many products that are sold in plastic bottles that could so easily be sold in refillable aluminum ones like ours.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I got a massage. Self-care is so important and is key to the marathon that is the life of an entrepreneur. We’re working on our business and in our business day in and day out. Unless we take care of ourselves burn out, and making bad decisions as a result, is an ever present danger.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Slack! True to our focus on environmentally-friendly practices, our workforce, except for our warehouse employees, work remotely. We’ve been able to hire talent from all over the continent thanks to our flexible work schedule and remote employees. We use Slack as a way to share information and catalog it for future use, which helps connect our corporate leadership with our marketing, PR and product teams. Our team works well together, frequently collaborating with positive outcomes, even though ma
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen is a great start up guide. He recommends launching a version of your idea quickly so you can learn and improve. Our bottles and our website have already been through several iterations. If we’d waited until they were perfect we never would have launched.
What is your favorite quote?
“I live by two words – gratitude and tenacity. Tenacity gets me where I want to go and gratitude doesn’t allow me to be angry along the way.” – Henry Winkler
I’m grateful for the opportunity to build this business that is personally fulfilling and has the potential to really make a difference in the world. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s been hard work. Tenacity is what has gotten us this far. Although there have been stumbling blocks along the way, I continue to move forward with a happy heart.
*Flexibility can be a key to success. Keep moving forward, knowing that nothing has to be set in stone and adjustments can be made along the way.
*One person can make a difference in the world. But it takes dedication and hardwork. The process can be much more fruitful with positive partnerships and collaboration.
*Self-care is an important part of the puzzle. Be in touch with what recharges your batteries and integrate it into your schedule. You’re no good to yourself, your family or your business if your burned out.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.