Today is Benji + Moon’s 6th Birthday and I’m sitting in bed, covered in dogs, wide eyed and grateful.
You see, I never wanted to be an entrepreneur.
I took comfort in stability.
Being salaried, employed.
In following the narrative I’d created and built up about myself over my many years.
In staying in my shape.
Until one day, back in 2014 I did what everyone who knew me would say was least likely of (then) me.
I resigned from my job.
And I didn’t have another one.
I remember my body literally shaking with what could only be years of repression finally being heard and released.
Heart felt great. Future bank balance not so much.
Quick spray and pray email to every. Single. Contact. Desperately trying to camouflage my need for new.
Within minutes a response from a friend, a vision board attached and my heart answering ‘I’m in’.
That Sunday, 6 years ago today, over tea, rusks and many dogs Benji + Moon was born.
Who’s a dog mom here?
And a cat mom?
Dog and cat mom?
Good so I’m in excellent company.
And for those that don’t I can fix that. I’ll explain later.
Pictured here, the founding team, with seven dogs and a cat between us, our shared love for all things four legged (one three legged Maggie over there) and a mutual peeve of having to hide hideous pet bowls and beds away when friends came over, brought what was already a friendship together to launch Benji + Moon.
I can still remember our first meeting with our accountant, she was laughing at us, I thought it was because we knew bogger-all about accounting but she was laughing at us because we were donating 5% to CLAW when we weren’t even making a profit.
You see, profit just wasn’t our thing. It just wasn’t in our headspace. Heart was.
Our intent was clear, to support local artisans and change shelter animals lives.
Self-funded, we officially launched in 2015 at Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair, I remember doing a podcast interview with Melanie, the founder of Lionesses of Africa where I cried, from sheer exhaustion and the total overwhelmed of seeing fellow dog moms and dads faces when they turned that corner and saw our products.
Not natural sales people, standing awkwardly on our stand there is no better connection point with a stranger than sharing the love of an animal. Ask anyone to see a photo of their much-loved tail and you’ll not only see more than one, you’re now bonded with them, united by this crazy unexplainable love, and if I’m honest, you know their dog and/or cats name before you know theirs.
Our 1st online store launched in November 2015.
I’ll never forget having teased the launch on social media for two weeks, finally waking up at midnight to make the site go live and then lying in bed, hitting refresh every 10 minutes thinking there was something wrong with our site as I expected a flood of sales.
Idealist and naivest over here had to wait 5 days for our first sale.
We learnt a few hard lessons along the way and will continue too but I’m a firm believer in nothing happens to you, it happens for you.
- Finding Artisans, you would think in this talented country would be easy, but it’s not, I ran after many a basket weaver
- Testing Products, you have too take the time, I remember at launch, at Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair, our wooden bowls that I had painted by hand, each with over 4 layers of paint and sealant, over 200 of them, cracked from the heat
- Working for someone else's agenda whilst trying to build you own is damn hard, you need to remember which one is you moneymaker and which one is your merrymaker and hopefully, someday, your merrymaker will be your moneymaker
- Where you’re weak find strong, you don’t know and won’t be able to do it all and learning comes from everywhere
- Do the numbers, the only subject I ever failed was accounting and Hanneke is a writer, we had no business being in business and we went on the cheap hiring a bookkeeper when we could have fast tracked so many hard lessons with a financial business advisor
- Scalability, that wasn’t front and centre when we started, our business model, handcrafted doesn’t allow for volume and being the middle-women between the artisan and the customer, doesn’t allow for great margins
- Please don’t ask for free product when you can afford to pay for it
- There are a wealth of free to super cheap online tools that mean you can do anything, and I mean anything e.g. Shopify which our online store is built on, Shopify Academy, Canva, Udemy to name a few
- Testing product ideas with customers isn’t a guarantee that your customers will actually buy the product
- Always consider the cost of getting the end product to the customer, courier costs locally and especially to international customers are exorbitant, speaking of, South African entrepreneurs desperately need a cheaper solution to getting our products to international customers
- Local business needs to support local business more
- Have a shareholders agreement no matter how close you and your maatjie are
- There will be copycats but along with your differentiating factors, integrity, tenacity and persistence will also be
- Don’t ever lose sight of the reason you’re doing what you’re doing, if you do, you might as well be working for someone else’s agenda again
Best parts of my job.
We’re here now.
These are our stockists or should I say supporters of South African artisans and CLAW. That’s 15 local stockists and 15 international stockists.
Now you can see why I say local business needs to support local business more.
These are only some of our artisans.
From Edson, our Ceramicist since before our launch in 2015:
“I am Edson, a thrower making pots on the wheel, I am a father of 3 boys with my wife, I learned pottery in Mzilikazi art centre in 1992 for 2 years and I was employed in Willsgrove Ware pottery and I moved to South Africa to get better life.
I worked for many potteries in S.A and ended up working for Anne’s pottery studio now, and that is where I meet Benji and Moon. I started by throwing samples for them and they ended up very happy with my work and we started getting very busy by helping each other. In my spare time I make your ceramics as I work for Anne. I love Benji and Moon because I learn a lot from them, its like if you collect half and half when you mix you make a whole number.
Benji and Moon inspire me, a lot of my pottery skill is moving forward, especially in business thanks to Benji and Moon. I’m happy with my pottery skills and I am busy helping people to learn throwing now and very happy to teach people so that my skill will remain and not die.”
This is our cause that we’ve donated time, products and over R61 784 too and will continue to with every single sale.
And every single day I get a photo or video from you, our Client of your much-loved tail in or with B+M.
My heart explodes.
So what does the future look like.
New innovative products obviously.
More photo shoots with local photographers who we also support.
Hopefully also working with more sustainable and recycled materials which we are excitedly currently working on a local solution for.
We’d love to extend into local retail more with Woolworths affirming this audacious dream in 2019.
And we want to be more present in the local cultural space where we dream of working with LISOF’s students on a project brief where shelter dogs from CLAW strut the SA Fashion Week Runway and Prints and Art Exhibitions of local artists work with all proceeds going to CLAW.
This will most importantly, extend our support of local artisans and CLAW.
I keep saying we but it’s me, has been since beginning 2019.
I fluctuate between the two as I guess I feel comforted, more substantial, like I hold better cred as a 'we' and I know I'm not doing this alone, with this community, our artisans, the face of every adopted CLAWbie and well, we all know, as pet parents we're never alone (even in the loo).
This entrepreneurial journey, alongside changing artisans and shelter animals’ lives has changed my own, the heartfelt value of making a difference bigger than just selling products and balancing my idealism whilst being all things to and for Benji + Moon has really grown me, shown me things I never knew about myself and, in part, helped my restless need to serve a greater purpose.
All because that one day I decided to change my shape.
For those open to adopting a/nother dog and/or cat or helping us change lives.
74 dogs and 9 cats from CLAW have gone from shelter animals to much-loved tails through B+M Date-a-Dog Adoption events at The Linden Market, our Black Friday and Love in the Time of COVID calls and sharing on our own personal social media channels and no doubt you know that the number of surrenders (not unloved, not unwanted but can’t afford to care for) at shelters is at an all time unmanageable crazy high.
If you can adopt, or donate or sponsor a sterilization see you here https://benjiandmoon.co.za/products/date-a-dog
Or, if you know an online pet food store owner who is willing to embark on an initiative where their customers can sponsor a dog with dog food in communities who can’t afford to feed their pet (so as to keep the much-loved tail from being surrendered to a shelter and in a loving home), please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Birthday to this beautiful purposeful brand and thank you for being on this life changing journey with us, we could not have done it without each and every one of you and those tails that you love to the moon and back.
In loving memory, this year, along with many other COVID losses we have had to say goodbye to two of our own much-loved tails, Vanilla and Dojo. May you forever live on here and inspire us.