Malte Niebelschuetz is the CEO and founder of Shore Buddies that makes the first-ever stuffed animal made of 100% recycled plastic bottles. Shore Buddies was founded in 2014 with the mission to save marine life and keep plastics out of the oceans.
What was the inspiration for starting your business?
The inspiration was to make a difference. I came from a corporate background. While working there, I always wanted to do something, to start my own thing.
Moving from Germany to California, I had the impression that California was at the forefront of the green revolution. I thought everyone was eco-friendly, everyone recycles, everyone hugs a tree in the morning, you know California.
But what shocked me was the wide use of single-use plastic. I feel like I had a different upbringing, where plastic is known to be not so good for the environment. In California, on the other hand, everyone was trying to protect the ocean, but still using all those plastics. That’s when my big inspirational moment came.
I learned about this huge outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, which I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with, made their T-shirts and jackets all from recycled soda pop bottles and they have been doing it since the 90s. This was news to me and mind blowing.
Then the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, and I was looking for other products that you can make from recycled plastic bottles. While I was doing the research, literally the first thing I saw was a stuffed animal, a stuffed seagull actually like the one you see back here.
I thought okay, if you can make a T-shirt and a jacket, you certainly can make a stuffed animal. It’s kind of like the same material and it really went from there.
Since the accelerator program, have you seen a lot of growth or have you seen the type of growth that you’re expecting after finishing up the program?
I haven’t really seen the expected growth. The last two years have been really challenging, especially with a product like ours. A stuffed animal is an impulsive purchase where we rely heavily on retail.
And, there was a lot of pivoting back and forth in 2020. People were still trying to consume and they were beyond happy to buy online, even a product like a stuffed animal, but it was also really dependent on who is the buyer of our product.
But since more and more retail places are opening up again, starting in 2021, we just had explosive growth. We’ve grown the company in revenue. We actually doubled our revenue over the last 24 months. We are on a 250% forecast for 2022.
From your time in the accelerator program, was there an important lesson you learned or anything that you remember from going through the program?
Yeah, absolutely! What we really focused on was building more of our retail partner network, because one of the things that really stuck with me was the monthly recurring revenue. How can you show and calculate what sales figures will be?
It’s not just like okay, this is one sale – it’s gone and everyone is happy. No, you really want to make sure that your revenue stream is consistently coming in and making sure that those orders from those places keep ordering from you. They’re not just doing that one-time hit, but you keep getting that revenue coming in, on a consistent basis.
What interested you in an accelerator type program or how did you find out about the program altogether?
I’m honestly not quite sure how I found out about the program anymore. For me, I don’t really have an entrepreneurial background.
I’m really curious and always staying curious about learning new things.
The company was growing and my role as a CEO and founder changed. Preparing for that growth and being aware of my changing role made me look into those kinds of accelerators and boot camps. They kind of prepare you for a leadership position where you can handle the growth of the company.
What advice would you give to the next up-and-coming entrepreneur small business owner out there?
I have too much advice, but I think one thing is to really build your resilience muscle. You have to go through so much and know why you’re doing all of this. It’s not always going to be easy. Entrepreneurship is something I would recommend for everyone. I still believe we are kind of like a very special breed and you really have to be convinced why you are doing all this hard work. A lot of times you are doing hard work without any reward for a long, long time. But it’s beautiful because it’s you, you can create something new, you can create your own idea, you can really build on your vision and idea.
But yeah, be prepared for the setbacks and don’t take them as a loss or don’t take them as a failure but take that as another lesson.
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