Smart green products can result in huge benefits for the environment, but unless they also provide users with substantial convenience and quality, compared to non-green products, their uptake is likely to be limited. Which is why when we found out about SmartCup, its ability to outperform rival products caught out attention — the dishwasher safe cups, embedded with smart payment capabilities, created a new type of convenience for the consumer. The cups were rewarded a Good Design Awards this year.
The company responsible for this is the Melbourne-based Frank Green, which was founded by entrepreneur Benjamin Young. The design hub aims to change the way people think about reusable products, motivate others to live more sustainably, and uphold stylish, beautiful design. Prior to starting his own company, Benjamin has worked for ThinkOne, Alinta Energy, and Mayne Group. “I see ‘blocks’ as an opportunity to be better… There is no such thing as can’t, which I learnt from my mum at a very early age,” he tells us in the interview below, along with his tips to being a successful entrepreneur.
1. Where did the idea for SmartCup™ come from?
I wanted to get out of the corporate world and off the hamster wheel. But in doing so, I wanted to make sure it was for something meaningful and that it made a real difference. I’ve always been an ‘outdoorsy’ person and I am passionate about the impact that we are having on our planet. Coming from a waste management background, I saw the detrimental impact of single-use products, particularly coffee cups and water bottles, and thought ‘how can I resolve this problem?’. With payment technology emerging and consumers seeking easier ways to go about their day-to-day business, I saw a gap in the market. It’s a win-win for people and the environment.
2. How did you know something like SmartCup would work? We know Australia has a very strong specialty coffee culture…
I have always believed that Australians are leaders in design, innovation and coffee drinking. We launched the SmartCup™ in December 2014 without mentioning the embedded SmartChip. From our market research, we knew that consumers were looking for something new that ticked all of the boxes — in particular, a product that was stain and odor resistant. The specialty coffee industry have been the most responsive to our product because of the high quality material that has been used in the design, ensuring you taste your coffee and not your cup.
The fact that the initial feedback on our product was so amazing reassured us that the technology would only add further value. As you know the specialty coffee industry is very competitive here in Australia, so to be able to give cafes an innovative way to build a strong, lasting relationship with their customers through loyalty programs and communication via push notifications whilst being seen as environmentally conscious gives a great competitive advantage. I love what is being created; a global community of good design-conscious, innovative-thinking, coffee-loving individuals who care about the environment.
3. Can you describe a typical working day?
I am a very organised person so I get to the office early and plan for the day ahead. My days consist of meeting with customers and suppliers, managing my amazing team of very clever employees ensuring supply is keeping up with demand at our manufacturer (which, luckily for me, is down the road) and dealing with everything else that comes with owning and running a small business. And did I mention building and maintaining the CafePay™ system and application? It’s non-stop.
4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Frank Green?
I am a really social person and like to catch up with friends and family. I also love to cook and keep active. It’s my form of meditation. I truly believe a healthy body and mind helps you to achieve great things.
5. What’s the most important characteristic for being an entrepreneur?
6. What drove you crazy when building your business?
This business has been built over 4 years. I’m a true perfectionist so the process has been a long and difficult journey. The result, though, has made the sleepless nights worth it.
7. What motivates you to keep going? What do you do when you hit a block?
My motivation lies in the Frank Green mission; to change the way people think about reusable products, to encourage others to live more sustainably and to reduce unnecessary waste. I don’t believe we ever really hit a block. It generally comes down to finding another way to get whatever it is you are doing done. I see ‘blocks’ as an opportunity to be better — it is just how my brain works. There is no such thing as can’t which I learnt from my mum at a very early age.
8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I think everything has gone to plan. It was never going to be easy and set backs were inevitable. I knew what to expect from previous experience in managing difficult businesses and projects in my corporate career. All of my previous roles have given me great preparation.
9. Do you have any habits or routines, which help you in your working life?
My structured approach to business planning and setting goals in advance has always helped. Being able to objectively measure your success is really important in business.
10. What book are you reading, or writing now?
I am reading the 10th Birthday Edition of Dumbo Feather. I find the conversations they have with the extraordinary people they feature really inspiring. It’s great to appreciate others’ stories and journeys to success.
11. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?
We will see Frank Green and CafePay™ on a global scale. There is also a raft of other product developments that are in the pipeline. All products in the pipeline are truly innovative, solve a market problem and deliver on the Frank Green mission. There are so many exciting things happening at the moment. Watch this space…
12. If you weren’t working on SmartCup, what would you be doing?
Working in corporate because I am too old to be an ironman triathlete.
13. Tell Springwise a secret…
I can’t tell you yet. As I said, watch this space…
14. How did you get your initial round of funding to get your company off the ground?
From savings and my working in senior corporate roles.
15. How do you feel about your journey ahead and do you have any wise words for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I feel really excited. We are only at the tip of the iceberg. My first piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is that you need to be absolutely crystal clear on your point of difference. You need to know that what you’re offering solves a consumer problem. My second, and most important piece of advice, is that you need to believe in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Otherwise, the first time something goes wrong you’ll feel like giving up – and it’s likely that you will.
And one more thing, cash flow management is the key to survival.
You can read more about SmartCup here.