We were introduced to Abeego through an amazing women's network called SHEeo which supports female majority led and owned businesses. Toni, the inventor and founder of Abeego was one of five women awarded a low interest loan by SHEeo to help catapult her business into it's next chapter. Abeego is an all natural, reusable food wrap that drastically cuts down on household food waste by preserving food longer than you can imagine. Think of it like putting the peel back on a lemon or fresh herbs back into the ground. It is one of those "how did she think of that?" products. In a word, it's genius. We spoke to Toni about how she changed directions in her career, plunged into entrepreneurship, and all the successes and challenges that go with it.
FP: In your previous life you were a holistic nutritionist, how did this influence Abeego?
TD: Before Abeego, I studied Holistic Nutrition and did yoga teacher training so was pretty immersed in a healthy balanced lifestyle. It affected how I ate, lived and how I thought. I was working in a health food store as a nutritional consultant. when I had the idea for Abeego. It was around the time when BPA was a becoming a major issue and plastic products were being pulled off the shelves. I had a lot of people coming in and asking how do I store my food without plastic. This got me into the process of thinking of food storage in another way. Around this time, I also started thinking about how nature packed food. For example: a lemon’s peel is not air tight, it isn’t transparent. I wanted to mimic the way nature wrapped food and make it modern and convenient.
FP: I’m a huge supporter of Abeego since meeting you and learning about your product. I am especially amazed at how long cut herbs can last inside an Abeego wrap. It must cut down on food waste?
TD: The average household throws away about 40% of the fresh produce they purchase equaling about $1,600 a year in wasted money.
FP: How did you transition into Abeego full time?
TD: In the beginning there was a lot of exploration. I used my work place as a testing ground. I never kept it a secret, I talked about it with everyone. I used to keep a little scrap of it in my pocket and I would show it to people and talk to them about food wrap. My place of work became my research facility. I stayed at the health food store and slowly began cutting down my hours. When I first had the idea for Abeego, I immediately wanted to quit my job and one of my co workers told me to think of myself as a rock climber - sometimes you need to swing back and get your footing before you move forward - and that was powerful for me. That work place really developed Abeego into what it became and they were the first store to stock it as well.
FP: How did you prepare to pivot from 9-5 to entrepreneur? Had you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
TD: I had always wanted to make my career my own. My original plan had to been to start a corporate holistic nutrition consulting firm where I would be dealing with businesses. The natural tendencies for being an entrepreneur were there but the discipline as well as the ability to run and grow a business had to be learned.
FP: Tell us more about the discipline you have developed?
TD: My skills are constantly developing. As an entrepreneur you have to wear so many hats, especially when you are starting out and creating a market. I invented the concept so not only did I have to sell it, I had to learn about it and understand the product myself! Some of the best advice I got early was around picturing the business I wanted to see in the future and behaving as if I was running that business. I’m quite structured and organized even though I’m a big picture thinker.
FP: What are some of the challenges you’ve had to face?
TD: The first challenge was trusting Abeego. When I invented it, there was no evidence that my idea was going to work. However there were examples of beeswax being used in relevant applications such as to seal the top of canning jars, in cold cellars as a breathable environment etc. A lot of what has been done before synthetic food wrap existed informed Abeego. From the beginning it was hard to sell because I didn’t know everything about it myself…we still don’t exactly know today how it works, we are constantly learning! I eventually had to let that go and realize that the product worked, I had proved it and that was evidence enough to sell it.
The second major challenge was financing. I started Abeego with twelve hundred dollars and a credit card during the recession of 2008. No one was giving away money and they certainly weren't giving any to a young woman who was challenging the conventions of synthetic food wrap. We had to boot strap everything and work within our means. Looking back on it, working with such a tight budget was beneficial to me and to the company. It gave me the time to really understand what I was doing and why Abeego existed. It built a very strong foundation for Abeego.
FP: It must have made you super resourceful to have so little financial help.
TD: Exactly. It is one of the reasons why we have a zero waste policy. We didn't have any money to waste so every bit of material we were purchasing had to be useful and generate revenue.
FP: I read about your zero waste policy. Can you elaborate on the other smaller products that have been developed as a result of this?
TD: Two main things we create are Abeego swatches that we give to everybody to touch and feel - it is our top marketing tool! The other things we create are abeebits - which become twist ties, fire starters, plant risers - people get creative with the left overs and how to use them. We often add them on to orders but we are in the process of developing our social strategy and will figure out a way to sell the Abeebits and donate the proceeds to a not for profit organization that we would like to support.
FP: Tell me about your goal setting strategy?
TD: My goal setting has shifted this year because SHEeo has provided me with a coach. December is my year end so the last bit of December is a time for reflection and then I spend most of January setting goals and making a plan to achieve them. I’m working on digging deeper into what my overall strategy is and as a result not all of my goals have been set.
FP: Do you see Abeego scaling into something more?
TD: We are working to use Abeego as our big marketing tool. Also building up our e-commerce platform. Finally, because we have financing now, we’re also looking at bringing two other products to market on top of Abeego.
FP: What are some of your daily rituals?
TD: Most days, I sit down and make a to do list and prioritize. I have rituals that I’m working on developing such as creating a ‘Ta Da’ list at the end of the week to show myself how much I have accomplished. As an entrepreneur, it’s easier to look at what’s next rather than reflecting on my success. So I’m working at doing that more.
FP: I get that - entrepreneurs don’t have a boss to acknowledge that they did a great job and it’s hard to give yourself that validation.
TD: Exactly. I did start celebrating my accomplishments a couple of years ago. When I get a big win, I do sit and show myself gratitude for the achievement. I had my daughter 4 years ago and before her, I had way more time for myself and my rituals; but baby plus business does not equal time for myself to reflect so I’m really working to get back there.
FP: Was it hard to plan a family right in the middle of launching this business?
TD: There was a level of naivety in starting a family while also launching a business but it’s one of those things that you don’t know what you’re getting into until you do it! I have a very supportive husband who takes the lead in raising our daughter and caring for her. I spent a few months at home and then he would bring her to work when she needed to nurse etc.
FP: What organizations are you a member of to keep you motivated?
TD: I am a member of SHEeo and it has been amazing. I realized this year how much more resilient I have become and I think that is as a result of being a member of SHEeo. Having the support of all those women who believe in me and my product helps me to face the world with confidence. Before that, I was part of an entrepreneur group - there were eight of us who met monthly. They really dealt with the emotional side of being an entrepreneur. It was nice to share the deepest stress of being an entrepreneur.
FP: What inspires you?
TD: I’m inspired when a new idea is introduced and people are open to it! As an inventor, I’m always excited when people shift their mindsets. I'm also inspired by the natural world. I think as human beings we have lost track of the fact that WE are nature. I find it encouraging when solutions to our every day problems are solved by nature itself.
For more information see @abeego