Exceptional Entrepreneurs: James Calver & Alex Magaraggia
Featuring on our 2016 Deloitte Fast 50 index, James and Alex are two young business owners who know that while having a great product is key, it's all about being unique and disruptive. With consumers placing an increased focus on the environment, these two entrepreneurs are combining this market shift with their backgrounds in event management. Meet the owners of Ecoware.
Tell us a little about your business and what your hopes are for it?
Our business develops and manufactures specialised food and beverage packaging made entirely from plants, to be composted after use. We help organisations transition away from traditional oil-based food packaging to more sustainable food packaging and offer industry partners and services to help with the whole process.
As younger business owners in our mid-20s, we were well aware of the direction we were heading in as a country regarding pollution and food waste issues, so we made it our mission to strive for a waste-free world.
Our hopes are to grow to a multi-national company that continues to disrupt and improve the waste industry, with a view to achieve circular economies. We want the food we enjoy to be disposed of along with its packaging, returning to the soils they came from with zero-waste systems and reduced reliance on landfills and oil.
Why Ecoware – did you always have an interest in the environment?
Yes. James worked in event management, which involved dealing with councils on waste minimisation strategies. He saw first hand the scale of waste that events created and sent to landfill. He knew there needed to be a better way, and so an interest in environmentally-friendly packaging was sparked. A year of research lead to the launch of Ecoware, and the interest turned into a passion.
What kind of customers do you attract? Are they environmentally savvy?
Absolutely. The majority of our customers are choosing our products due to the environmentally friendly nature of them. These customers have a strong social conscience and lead by example.
The best thing is that in choosing Ecoware products for environmental purposes, you don’t have to compromise on quality or performance. For this reason, we have customers who choose Ecoware for the quality of our products and the service we provide.
Being aware of the environment is very popular right now and rightly so. What impact has this had on your business growth?
When we first entered the market, education was fundamental. People now know who we are and what our products are, and are increasingly curious about waste and the effects of it. We think this is great. For one, we are seeing some of New Zealand’s largest companies realise that being more sustainable and being more profitable, do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Then there are the consumers who are empowered by choice - where to drink their coffee and where to spend their money. This has definitely lead to business growth overall and an increase in popularity of environmentally conscious consumers.
When did you found Ecoware and what were your thoughts when starting out?
Ecoware came to life six years ago when we both realised we wanted a business that had social impact and made a measurable difference, and the fast approaching pollution crisis was something we couldn’t ignore. It was obvious that change was never going to happen over night, but we knew that hard work and commitment to education would eventually see positive change.
What unexpected lessons have you learnt along the way?
Things always go wrong. You expect to start at A and get to B, but sometimes you end up at C or D. This isn’t necessarily bad, but we had to learn to be flexible as a lot of the time the intention you’ve got at the beginning isn’t necessarily the intention you’ve got at the end. The best thing is to stay focused on your overall goal.
In your words, what creates a fast-growing business?
These days, having a good product or service is not enough - you need to be unique and disruptive. A business that enhances social or environmental wellbeing will gain momentum, which needs to be supported by a strong brand that is authentic, communicates well and is purpose-led. Given the power of social media these days, the consumer voice is more powerful (or detrimental) to a brand than any marketing campaign.
Lastly, ensure you are learning constantly from others and seek advice from everyone around you. Never say no to a coffee. In that half an hour of your time you never know what you may learn.
15 June, 2017 by Emily McLean,
Emily McLean works in the Deloitte marketing team and closely with Deloitte Private. She loves telling the stories of those individuals and businesses leaving their mark in New Zealand's SME space while delivering news and insights to help business owners grow their companies.