Every once in a while I, founder and CEO of Northern Playground, send out letters giving you an honest peak behind the scenes of the company. We believe that openness is an essential part of being a responsible contributor to society. This is the eighth letter. Read my previous letters here.
1. A challenging couch
It’s been a long time since I wanted a different job, but there have been times this fall where it would have been nice to be a regular employee. Why? After soccer practice in September, I could hardly walk. X-rays showed a prolapsed disc. OK, that’s fine – I can work from the couch! After three weeks of working horizontally, tendinitis made its appearance both my arms. All digital work was all of a sudden out of the question. What now? Get coffee with people we can create something great with? Ah, Covid… no coffee.
Yep, this fall I would’ve been pretty comfortable being on sick leave to be able to focus on getting better. But if there’s one thing you learn as an entrepreneur, it’s that you can always hit some turbulence. You have to learn that a bumpy ride can be nice too – you have to see opportunities even in the hardest of times. Without this tendinitis I would’ve for example never taken the time to make this video. It has made thousands of new people aware of Ziplongs® in just the last couple of weeks.
2. New business model
Luckily, the health of NP is intact, and this fall we made radical changes to our entire business model. Amongst other things, we have implemented innovative technology to invite you customers to design and make decisions with us. And maybe even more important – we launched our lifetime service. As Harvest writes: “With grandma’s knit sweater as a business model”. (Good article!)
When we first started NP, the plan was to launch Ziplongs® etc. with a traditional model. In other words, through traditional distribution channels to stores all over the world. The innovation was Zipwear™, the rest was more or less “normal”. We have hit a lot of turbulence since then, and us now re-launching the whole company is no obvious next step. Even though I am very proud of our Zip-innovations, I am sure that we have a brighter future with our new plan. Our business model shows that we mean it. Sustainability isn’t just a trendy word we throw around. It’s built into our DNA. In the future, customers will see straight through those who take shortcuts, and they will be loyal to those who are actual doing something. If we are wrong, and people in the future still only care about prices, well, at least we tried.
I have done a lot as an entrepreneur, but one thing I still haven’t experienced is running a company with a positive bottom line. It has definitely been in the plans, but not every year. And now we’re ready to make our way over to the plus side. We don’t know if it will happen for sure, but no matter what we will at least be very close. And that’s good! Especially during a turbulent year like 2020, where we have had to use the gas and the breaks at the same time. We have concluded our partnerships with many retailers, and have bet all our cards on direct sales online and in our own store. The growth will be good and in our own channels it will be at around 100% over last year. The total revenue will for the first time be over 1 million Euro.
Being both principled and commercial comes with its challenges. This fall, our Made in Oslo products have been selling very well. We are in fact sold out for most of our Tøyen products. These products are made with leftover materials, and this fall it has been hard to get new ones from our regular sources. What do we do then? Buy regular (new) textiles so we can sell more and give more work to Amina and the others in Tøyen? Accept leftover materials we don’t like (polyester, etc.)? Should we hold off for a while?
After lots of work, the solution was to use leftovers from our own productions. Lots of it could have been used to make new products later, but we thought that it was important to keep up the activity in Oslo. That means that we will be receiving all our Tøyen products in green in just a few days.
5. The bonfire
Our new business model is built up around an ambitious vision: reducing my and your consumption of clothing. As a clothing producer, this is an obvious paradox. When this vision was first brought up in the team, we were a bit nervous that it would present us with some adversity. But it never came. Our board and investors are also behind us 100%. Innovation Norway has given us resources for this, and the tech company Iterate has been working with us all year to complete the projects. So even if 2020 has been turbulent in every way, it has also been my best year in Northern Playground. And I know why. It’s about two things: Having a clear vision you believe in and having people around you that are all pushing in the same direction.
After New Year’s there will be three available spots around our bonfire. We can’t wait to hire new colleagues.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Remember that the playground outside your living room is open all Christmas long. And also remember that you tie extra tight bonds to the people around you if you're freezing and have to build a bonfire together.