Stephanie Zito – Chief Storyteller and Co-Founder at Color Cloud Hammocks

[quote style=”boxed”]What we learned is that being successful and learning as you go aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s better to get your best shot out there and make changes rather than putting things off until it’s absolutely perfect.  The thing you can learn from our mistake is that our hammocks are still underpriced, so get one before we fix this problem.[/quote]

Stephanie Zito is one third of the trio behind Color Cloud Hammocks, a company on a mission to make the world a better place by getting people to spend time with their feet up.

Stephanie, who currently live in Cambodia, started the hammock company in 2010 together with co-founders Tianna Buckwalter and Laura Grazier.

Color Cloud Hammocks are light-weight travel hammocks which weight about 34oz, fold up smaller than a football, and can be hung in under two minutes by a handy hook system that’s already attached. The double hammocks come in a choice of 30+ colored combinations, each with a personality to uniquely match the person who naps in it.

“Bringing  fun and color into the everyday lives of people is the reason we make Color Cloud Hammocks,” Stephanie shared.  “Most people don’t get the chance to chill out in a hammock on an exotic beach every weekend, so we found a way to bring the joy of a colorful ten minute vacation to them anywhere, any day.”

Not only do they sell amazing hammocks in more color combinations than Baskin Robbins has flavors, Color Cloud Hammocks are made by women in a small family-owned Cambodian tailoring shop with a business model designed to give back.

“Having lived and worked many years in developing countries where labor costs are undercut to keep the consumer prices low, our highest priority when we made our first hammock was to pay the people crafting our product fair wages for quality work,” the Color Cloud team explained. “We aren’t a charity, but we believe that investing in small business owners is a way to bolster the economy and in turn sustainable development.”

The three met while working on a hospital ship in Africa where they watched many sunsets at sea from a hammock for entertainment. Several years after returning to life on land, Color Cloud was birthed with the intention of recapturing the moments joy they knew could be found in a hammock and spreading that on to others.

When not making hammocks, each of these ladies are living out their personal quests to make the world more colorful in other tangible ways.

Stephanie is busy seeing the world and working to make it better from her current base in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. By day, Stephanie works as a storyteller for a children’s charity, and by night she serves as Color Cloud’s chief international buyer, production coordinator and exporter. She’s traveled to more than 100 countries, always packs a hammock, gives away 10$ everyday to someone trying to make a difference in the world, and blogs about all of this at

Laura currently splits her time between Washington DC and Afghanistan. She firmly believes in the power of small and medium business to boost local economies and spends her waking hours helping enterprises in developing nations find investors. She’s the brains behind the business plan, and loves the color Orange.

Tianna is an Alaskan born graphic designer and creative recently transplanted to Tennessee where hammock weather is better year round.  Based in Chattanooga, she runs ColoringBlue a design business that helps startup non-profits and entrepreneurs build their identities. When she isn’t tying bow-line knots, filling Color Cloud orders, and handling customer service, she secretly likes to paint.

How do three business partners spread across the globe bring an idea to life?  The answer is in the Clouds.

What are you working on right now?

Color Cloud is celebrating its first birthday in October. Since we’re still pretty new, we’re hard at work to share our colors, continually improve our product and let the world know that our amazing travel hammocks exist.

What does your typical day look like?

The secret superpower of our Color Cloud Hammock team is that geography has enabled us to master the 24 hour work day. While having a team split on opposite sides of the globe makes it hard to get together for happy hour, its benefit is that we can work non-stop on making our ideas come to life and still have a chance to dream. Our typical days begin and end with a skype call, letting the other hemisphere know what they need to be working on while the other rests. Whoever is awake mans twitter and facebook, so we can be social around the clock.  Days on the Cambodia side include visits to the seamstresses to place product orders which always require eating a mango or other tropical in-season fruit.  State-side days include order fulfillment, hammock assembly and hang-testing each Color Cloud before it goes in the mail.

3 trends that excite you?

  • Small businesses playing a critical role in the development of countries like Cambodia and around the globe.
  • Consumers who care where products come from, what they are made from, and what is the impact of their production and consumption.
  • A world of stressed out people recognizing and valuing the importance of making time for fun.

How do you bring ideas to life?

First we imagine them. Then we think about them and make lists of them and doodle sketches of them so we don’t forget them. And then we try them out. Sometimes our ideas fail, but not trying would be a bigger failure.

What inspires you?

The women who make our hammocks are pretty amazing, and the idea that our business supports local Cambodian business is also pretty inspiring.  Another less altruistic inspiration is a bottle of wine that the three of us bought together in 2005. It comes from the HOPE vineyard and we’ve written on the label “Do Not Drink Until You Make Your First Million.”  We are hoping to drink a toast with it before it turns to vinegar.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

Underpricing our product.  We launched Color Cloud Hammocks before we clearly understood all of our end-to-end costs. However, we also know that if we had invested heaps of times researching financial projections and polishing our business plan before we started, we’d probably still wouldn’t have a company today.

What we learned is that being successful and learning as you go aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s better to get your best shot out there and make changes rather than putting things off until it’s absolutely perfect.  The thing you can learn from our mistake is that our hammocks are still underpriced, so get one before we fix this problem.

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

The iShade. Hammocks makes a great virtual office if your location independent, but sometimes when it’s sunny it’s hard to conquer screen glare. If you invent the portable shade for laptop glare before us, we’ll love you. And we’ll be more productive too since we work in our hammocks a lot.

What do you read every day, and why?

Labels. It’s important to know where things come from and what’s in them. Consumer responsibility is important too. Of course we read twitter feeds and amazing words from our favorite bloggers.

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

Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day.  Because everyone needs a favorite children’s book (even if you don’t have kids). If you haven’t read this one, you’re probably taking yourself too seriously. And if you’re taking yourself too seriously, you probably aren’t discovering your best ideas that live deep down in the childlike part of your soul.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

We love all our gadgets!  Google Docs is our most important app because we use it to manage our inventory and order system. We also use Google Earth for our Cloud Tracker to show where people are hanging hammocks all over the world. So far we have hammocks on 6 continents.  Anyone want to take one to Antarctica?

When it comes to hardware, the S hook fasteners on our hammocks win, hands down. Without these little, yet powerful hooks, our idea literally would never have gotten off the ground.

Three people we should follow on Twitter, and why?

Together we make a pretty awesome hammock team. Separately we all three of us do pretty interesting tweet-worthy stuff. We think we’re worth a follow:

@Wanderingzito – world traveling storyteller who gives away 10$ every day to a different charity  //
@Coloringblue –  Alaskan born graphic designer guru transplanted to Tennessee //
@LauraGrazier – small business promoter, photographer, lover of everything ORANGE,  //

Some people besides us who we think are interesting:

@tenaciousleigh – co-founder of Push-Pull, an awesome social enterprise in Cambodia
@tegu_toys – they know how to play and make awesome things with blocks. They built a color cloud hammock with blocks one day on their live build.
@jessiarrington – she believes in color and good design just like we do.

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

Our fellow Chattanoogan entrepreneurs from @LifeKraze – the social networks where people “Live like it counts”
(CEO Ben Wagner @benwagner23)

When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it.

We mostly laugh out loud at ourselves. Stephanie especially laughs at herself a lot since maintaining a healthy sense of humor is key to functioning in an international environment. Recently she fell off her motor-bike into a flooded street during the monsoon. Sometimes you have to laugh really hard out loud so you don’t cry.

How do you start your own import/export business?

Most people will give you a complicated answer to this question because there are a lot of complicated rules about customs and duty and harmonized shipping codes (especially if you import in the USA). The truth is that you find something somewhere that someone somewhere else will pay you to get to them, and then you ship it. The rules will soon become very clear, and soon you’ll know all about freight forwarding, sales tax and even the name of the lady at your local post office.

You’ve been around the world, what’s the best place you’ve ever hung a hammock?

No place on earth beats swinging in a hammock than on the bow of a big ship in the middle of the deep blue sea. In fact, we love this hammock hanging place so much we named our yellow and blue Color Cloud “On the Bow” to remember these moments.


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[box type=”note” border=”full” icon=”none”]We found out about Color Cloud Hammocks by winning one in a Scavenger Hunt at Chris Guillebeau’s awesome World Domination Summit.  Thank you Chris. [/box]