Name: Liz Long
Occupation: Entrepreneur, Speaker, Consultant
Alma Mater: University of Delaware, Temple University
Current Hood: Boston, MA
Currently Reading: Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman
Talk to us about Bag the Habit and how you got to where you are now. What inspired you to start your own company?
I was still in college and I saw someone double bag a tube of toothpaste. This was before reusable bags were ‘a thing’, and the waste really bothered me! I wanted to create something that people would be inspired to use instead of plastic.
Starting out, what was your first step? Are you completely self-taught in the world of product design and business?
I found a bag that was made by Whole Foods and decided I wanted to use the same manufacturer because they had used a recycled material. I researched online, went into a WFM store, called the company headquarters but no one would tell me who made it. Then I realized the name of the supplier was on bag’s inside tag :) I contacted them and was able to create our first bag using the same fabric.
And yes, I am self-taught and while I’m a huge proponent of diving in and learning as you go, I also would have benefited from a little more guidance along the way! I am better at asking for help when I don’t know something these days.
Are you a proponent for the DIY method or do you wish you had more formal education when starting out?
If I had to choose, I would go with DIY. Real life experience trumps classroom learning, in my opinion.
What has been the biggest challenge of starting your own business?
Hiring people and then having to meet payroll. It was one thing to be struggling on my own, but to be on the rollercoaster of having a young company with other people’s paychecks at stake… that was stressful.
And the most rewarding aspect of doing it yourself?
Looking at how much I’ve accomplished over the years. It doesn’t always feel like that in the day to day, but when I look back at where I started compared to where I am now, I do feel like I’ve made progress.
Eco-friendly and ethically-made are very popular terms in today’s production world. How have you used leveraged that to grow your customer base?
We have only used eco-textiles from day one. It’s always been one of our main selling points in our marketing materials, product descriptions etc, and it’s one of the reasons people choose over bags over others that are available.
People often underestimate how hard it is to put together a supply chain. How did you create a successful network for Bag the Habit?
Wow, they sure do! I had no idea how challenging it could be to have a simple bag made. There is a lot that goes into it, from the yarn supplier to the fabric mill to the dye house to the cutting floor...and that’s just a fraction of the supply chain! I have done A LOT of research over the years, and have had to start from scratch more times than I like to think about. For every successful supplier relationship or winning material, we went through many more bad apples.
Along with running your own company, you also mentor entrepreneurs on Maker’s Row and have taught on Skillshare. What do you believe is the benefit in online education?
I love the accessibility and instantaneous nature of online programs. You don’t have to wait for the semester to start or next week’s lecture… all of the content is right there, ready for be learned. I also think the kinds of things people are teaching online these days are incredibly practical. If I had taken my own Skillshare class or hired someone like myself as a consultant when I was first starting, I would have avoided almost all of the mistakes I made.
How can someone make the most out of programs like Maker’s Row or Skillshare?
Just sign up!
What’s the #1 piece of advice you give someone who wants to start their own business?
Whenever possible, opt for small. Produce small quantities of new product, test new marketing strategies with a smaller budget… keep the stakes low in the beginning until you are sure something works, because cash is king and wasting it can be deadly.