Noodling on deep thoughts

Noodling on deep thoughts

A few weeks ago, I was visiting friends in Portland, seeing a concert, test driving a Rivian, spending quality time with old friends, and enjoying some cold weather (okay, enjoying might be too strong a word, maybe experiencing is more appropriate). Around the dinner table on my last night, my friends and their kids and I slurped ramen and talked about my company. Their oldest, fourteen years old and unaware that I owned a business, assumed the best:

“You must be rich. How much money are you making?”

Ah, to be young…

His assumption that because I was a business owner I was rich was so wholesome and innocent (and wrong), I hated to burst his idyllic little bubble. Because, what if he wanted to start a business himself one day? What if he wanted to follow the American dream, the one where if you work hard to create your own destiny you can build your fortune? But, in a matter of seconds, ramen still hanging from my chopsticks, I decided the truth was more important and, looking him square in the eye, spit out “Zero dollars!”

He was confused. I explained that starting a business, especially one like this, that is mission-driven and not profit-driven, and using a brand new kind of material, was a costly venture, particularly in early stages like this. His disappointment was swift as he realized he wasn’t, in fact, seated across from a millionaire. He didn’t ask me any more questions. 

I’m not writing this to invoke pity – I went into this venture eyes wide open. I’m writing this because this exchange got me thinking – about the decisions I’ve made from the beginning, about the advice I received. About “success” in business. About the real mission behind the concept of these beach toys. And about a conversation I had almost four years ago, one of my first meetings with my business advisor. 

My business advisor warned me against pursuing this business idea. “This is not really a consumable product,” he said, “people will buy a beach toy once and that’s it.” He was trying to tell me that this wouldn’t make money, because there is a finite amount of “need” for a beach toy. But I was so attached to the origin story, to the spark that lit the match of this business – I convinced him, and myself, the market was there.

Back in Portland, after the ramen was finished and I was alone that night, I reflected on the choice I made – what if I hadn’t pursued this idea after all? Where would I be? Where would this material be? Would someone else have done what I am trying to do? And would have they done it better?

My business advisor’s advice that I not pursue the business because customers are likely to only buy one beach toy isn’t wrong. But it is predicated on our consumer culture and the idea that, to be successful in business, we (business owners) must sell as much as possible for as long as possible. That is success. That is how we make money. That is the conventional wisdom, the roadmap to becoming the kind of business owner 14-year-olds get excited about.

Convention tells me I could make millions by starting a business drop shipping products, selling something like clever coffee mugs from a third party designed by someone I hired online, using mugs made in China that cost less than 50 cents. I would never touch any of it, but if I nail my marketing, the profit margin could be huge. All at the expense of the planet, and the people making the products I will never put my hands on.

So I ask myself: What is my responsibility as a business owner? What is my responsibility with regard to the kinds of products I’m selling and making available? Do I have one?

(You’ve been with me for a while now, so I know you’ll know how I will answer this question.)


I think it’s time to challenge the notion of all of it – success, consumable products, business owner responsibility, consumer responsibility. 

And this conversation over ramen, recalling a conversation with my business advisor from years ago, it makes me think that perhaps this business is the manifestation of a deep wondering I have, one that I am only now really uncovering: Can it be different? Can I change the way it’s done, the way we define success in a business? 

My goal with Rogue Wave is to educate consumers that alternatives to fossil-based plastics exist, and to inform other business owners that consumers are ready to support them. I have a larger goal of trying to alter the current materials economy, moving the needle of change in a significant way, reducing the price point of this primarily plant-based material we use so that it can become cost-competitive in the next five to ten years. It’s a lofty goal, and one I’m not sure I can achieve.

I will dive into this more next week, but I want to beat the drum on this: none of this change happens without you. You, the consumer who is buying a beach toy, a relatively superfluous item, because you want to see something better.

We’re doing this thing together, blazing a new trail, hoping that it catches fire and creates sweeping change. The idea behind this business was never about becoming a millionaire – much to the chagrin of our 14-year-old friend – but something much bigger: becoming conscious consumers, responsible business owners, using our dollars as a voice to demand viable, sustainable change to a materials economy in desperate need of a makeover. No convention here – just invention.

Thanks for going rogue with me on this journey as we blaze new trails and create new norms. To me, you are my success: a growing number of people concerned about plastic pollution and curious about alternatives. I appreciate you diving deep into the thoughts that arise as I travel this path with you (and slurp ramen). Together, we can make it better.