Enjoy each phase in life to the fullest – no matter whether in that specific moment it seems like the most enjoyable or not.
Melina, born in Germany, has lived in China, South Africa, the UK and the USA. Currently, she lives between New York City, Berlin, Nairobi, Cape Town and other beautiful cities in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Melina is Co-Founder of Carby Box, the first carbon offsets to be sold on Amazon. Before launching Carby Box, Melina was Managing Director at a global marketing agency in New York and Berlin. Prior, she helped digital start-ups in Beijing and London scale operations. Melina holds an MBA in Management Consultancy and received the Advertising Women of New York NextGen Award 2016.
Where did the idea for Carby Box come from?
My husband (and Co-Founder of Carby Box) and I attended the Climate Reality Training with Al Gore last year. It was incredible, we learned a lot and also realized that there’s very little that individuals can do to fight climate change: call our senators, install LEDs, drive less or not at all … but none of those feel like massive, tangible action to solve the problem of climate change itself. A measurable direct action that corporations were doing already is purchasing carbon offsets to offset their unavoidable carbon emissions. Those were available to corporates but for individuals, the buying process was tedious and required a lot of research and calculating. We decided to upend the model and created the first carbon offsets to be sold on Amazon: Carby Box offsets the average American carbon footprint 1, 6 or 12 months at a time, in 1-click.
We believe massive climate action will only be achieved by making it convenient, effortless and available to all. With Carby Box, everyone in America (and soon Europe) is empowered to take measurable action against climate change in one click.
Carby Box is now the world’s first way to fight climate change via voice command: “Alexa, order carbon neutral”.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My husband and I currently live between New York, Berlin, Nairobi, and some other European cities. A typical day doesn’t really exist, which means it’s even more important to stick to principles to keep productivity high. Waking up early, working for a few focused hours in the morning before breakfast, a daily work-out, and getting out each day are all key. We’ve found some great co-working spaces in most cities, which have been an amazing boost for productivity.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In a start-up that is this new, it’s really important to stay focused on the core mission. There are a lot of exciting possibilities that can come up that are tangential to what our core focus is. Most of the time we have to say ‘no’ to those other ideas so that we can focus on bringing our core work to life.
In terms of bringing ideas to life, I find it is really helpful to think during a long walk. Turning ideas over, fleshing them out, providing counter-arguments and different perspectives really is a lot easier with a change of scenery and a purposeful time set-aside. Walking for me is a great way to bring new ideas to life, think about the different angles and going deep into the head of consumers while looking at the different people around me.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m very excited to see the new opportunities that are being created by payment technologies globally:
In China, the clearest example is WeChat: only a few years ago, China was a predominantly cash economy. Now, with an active user base of close to a billion users, WeChat has disrupted the Chinese market in many more ways than messaging – besides the commonly known chat and Instagram-like functions, users can pay utility bills, schedule hospital appointments, order a taxi, send money to their friends, donate to charity and nearly everything else involving money – all through one app. Walking through Beijing nowadays, you’ll find fruit carts and beggars who will prefer to accept mobile payments via QR codes than via cash. Last year, within 10 months, China reached a record $12.8 trillion in mobile transactions.
In Africa, a great example are the many ‘pay-as-you-go’ energy solutions for off-grid customers like M-KOPA (www.m-kopa.com) that allow locals to access affordable electricity through solar power systems with small daily mobile payments. Hundreds of thousands of households that previously did not have any electricity have already been connected.
Both of these changes fundamentally alter the way society functions and it’s really exciting to see these trends.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Now in 2018, we often focus on efficiency from life and business hacks when thinking about ‘productivity’. For me, something that is really important for my productivity levels is staying connected to people that are important to me like my business partners, people I admire and my friends and family, no matter where I am in the world. Staying in touch with the people that matter to me helps keep the “why” in perspective and also means that I have close relationships that support me in business and in life. That’s a major driver of productivity for me.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Enjoy each phase in life to the fullest – no matter whether in that specific moment it seems like the most enjoyable or not. In the past, I at times worried too much about certain outcomes, or I wanted to skip ahead to the next chapter that was slowly coming up at the horizon. My advice to my younger self would be: enjoy each everything that comes down the road – also known as “stop and smell the roses!”
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Moving to a new country you’ve never been to does not need to be scary. When I was 16, I left Germany to live with a host-family in South Africa for six months. Some people already then thought I was crazy – my level of English was mediocre and neither I nor anyone of my family had ever been to South Africa. It turned out to be the best experience that broadened my horizon, made me mature a lot and overall changed my perspective on life. Since then, I’ve moved countries several times, often without previously visiting to check it out – it’s always been rewarding on many different levels. I believe the world would be a more mindful, understanding, respectful place if everyone just took a year to go live in a new country.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Focusing on finding the right answer to the business question at hand, rather than being in love with the solution we have now. For example, at Carby Box, we are trying to answer the question “How can we empower each and every individual to take direct and measurable action to fight climate change?” There are going to be a number of answers to this question, and we frequently evaluate how can we best answer this question with our products, services, communications and partnerships.
I have learned that frequent assessments are crucial to make sure that the day-to-day business activities are supporting the ultimate purpose of the company.
When new opportunities arise, it’s tempting to say ‘yes’ to all that have an upside – publicity, revenue, or whatever else. I try to be disciplined and rational about the choice and only say ‘yes’ to those that fit in with the ultimate purpose and decline those that might be an interesting opportunity but not a fit with the ultimate purpose.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We made a strategic decision at the beginning of Carby Box: to launch on Amazon.com – the largest marketplace in the United States, rather than building our own sales platform. This strategy so far has been very successful – it allows us to differentiate from other companies by providing a seamless experience through the platform that everyone is already using.
One of the results of this strategy is already showing: because we’re the top product for ‘carbon neutral’ on Amazon, people can now even fight climate change with Carby Box by simply saying “Alexa, order carbon neutral”. It’s a wonderful innovative feature that we wouldn’t have been able to achieve otherwise.
One way to summarize this strategy might be: “Team up with the big players.”
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When transitioning from employee to entrepreneur, the steepest part of the learning curve for me has been resetting my expectations about what is failure and what is not failure.
It’s cliché to use the Thomas Edison example about learning 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb – but it really is true. On the day-to-day of the business, entrepreneurs know you really have to try out a lot of things and see what works. Finding the stability as an entrepreneur to accept that many things do not work has been a big learning experience for me. The truth is, something that didn’t work only becomes a failure if no learning takes place and the same is done over and over again. For example, we learned that Facebook ads don’t have good ROI for us at this stage of our business. Sure, the money we spent didn’t give us the returns we had wanted to see but now we know we should be focusing our marketing on other areas – a learning, not a failure.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I love to pack light but I also like to dress well. A great idea for a business is a truly global stylish wardrobe on demand. It would allow me to pack light and at the same time, if I’m asked to hold a talk at a conference or join a gala dinner that I hadn’t planned for in Nairobi or Beijing or wherever I am at that moment, I could simply call up the service and request the delivery of an outfit in my style and my size. I’m sure particularly a lot of female (and male!) entrepreneurs would be just as delighted about that service!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’ve just spent $100 on two Kenya visas – a worthwhile investment to visit the projects in Kenya that Carby Box supports. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurs in renewable energy and emerging technology in Kenya.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Filing sales tax in the United States is extremely complicated. TaxJar makes it very easy. TaxJar automatically calculates sales tax for each state and county based on our actual sales and makes the monthly filing process much simpler. Anyone who has to deal with sales tax in the US knows what a headache this is otherwise!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“New York” by Edward Rutherfurd.
I love switching off from work with a good novel and diving into societies from different centuries. This book was a wonderful way to do so. Rutherfurd takes the reader on a journey of the city’s history from New Amsterdam to the 21st century with both fictional and real characters from all kinds of backgrounds and life stories.
What I particularly liked are the different perspectives of the businesspeople and their business decisions, successes and failures; the role of the women in society; stories of early female entrepreneurs and their challenges; and the different immigrant groups coming to the city.
It’s an interesting read and at the same time the reader learns how society functioned and real history events like stock exchange crashes and true historic figures. When else can you listen to dinner discussion with Benjamin Franklin?
What is your favorite quote?
“Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” – Michelle Obama
• China and Africa and other emerging countries have amazing technology solutions
• Near or far: keep the people that matter close to you
• Explore the world – see how people do things in different countries – it may have a big positive impact on your business
• “Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
Melina Ex on LinkedIn:
Carby Box on Facebook: @IamACarby
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Carby Box on Twitter: @IamACarby
Melina Ex on Twitter: @melinaex