S01E04 The Purpose Podcast: Vince Dickson, Co-Founder of HUNU

It's the penultimate episode of season 1 for The Purpose Podcast. We hope you've been enjoying the podcast and there's been some useful learnings if you're inspired to launch your own purpose led business. 

Episode 4 Guest

This week's guest is Vince Dickson, Co-Founder of HUNU. Alongside his girlfriend Megan, the founded HUNU in 2020 and made a big splash on Kickstarter with their reusable and collapsible coffee cup.

We all know the problems of the single-use takeaway coffee cup but in this episode, we dig a bit deeper than that. We hear more about Vince & Megan’s passion to launch HUNU, how they balance the demands of working in the fashion industry alongside a start-up and the secrets to running their hugely successful Kickstarter campaigns

Through their two Kickstarter campaigns, Vince and Megan have loyal customers in over 70 countries. They're a great example of founders who prioritise transparency through their regular Instagram updates - be sure to give them a follow below.

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Show Notes

Read The Transcript

Alex Stewart: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of The Purpose Podcast. I'm Alex, the founder of OneNine5. We're a London-based startup that designs eco-conscious and unisex travel goods. We launched The Purpose Podcast so you can get to know the people, stories and challenges behind some of the most exciting brands and the purpose at the heart of their business. If you've got aspirations or plans to launch your own business and make a positive impact, then you're in the right place for insights and advice. 

Today's guest is Vince Dickson, Co-Founder of HUNU. Founded in early 2020, alongside his girlfriend, Megan, they've created an awesome product that comes everywhere I go - the collapsible coffee cup. By now, we all know the problems of the single-use takeaway coffee cup, I want to dig a bit deeper than that. I want to hear more about Vince and Megan's passion to launch HUNU, how they balance the demands of working in the fashion industry alongside a startup, the secrets to running their hugely successful Kickstarter campaigns, and how they prioritize environmental sustainability. So with that in mind, Vince, welcome to The Purpose Podcast.

Vince Dickson: Good to be here. Yeah. Thanks for doing this.

Alex Stewart: Oh, good. Yeah. How are things?

Vince Dickson: Yeah, very good. Very good. Just kind of getting ready for the London winter, to be honest. Every day it gets a little bit darker.

Alex Stewart: Yeah. I feel like whenever I sort of see what you're up to, it looks like you're bouncing between many a different country or city.

Vince Dickson: Yeah. So actually, our business as well is based between the US and the UK.

Alex Stewart: Nice.

Vince Dickson: COVID has kind of thrown a spanner in really how easy it is to do it, but technically, we're based between New York and London. We founded HUNU while living in New York and that's still the main focus for us in the long term is the US market.

Alex Stewart: Nice. All right, well, looking forward to hearing more about that. Well, I'm going to jump straight in there, really. So I mentioned the coffee cup and I want to start right at the top really, to understand what sparked that mission to redesign the coffee cup.

Vince Dickson: Yeah. So I've had a few startups in the past, it's always been something I'm pretty passionate about. So I suppose always in the back of my mind, it's churning away things that I think can make potentially good products. Mostly, I have the idea, and the next day, I realize it's either been done or probably wasn't a very good idea. In 2018, 2019, I suppose, we were living in New York, myself, as you’ve mentioned, and Megan, my girlfriend. And New York is a pretty crazy place in terms of convenience culture, it's just a busy place. And we really started to just take note of all the plastic we're using, just single use. I suppose there's a lot more in the media over the last few years in terms of single-use plastic. I grew up in Cape Town in South Africa, so I’ve always been in the outdoors. I've traveled a lot. I love the outdoors. Megan as well grew up in Guernsey, it's a small island off the coast of the UK, for those who don't know. So both of us kind of grew up in nature, I suppose. So we have kind of the experience of going to places and seeing plastic in remote places and having been lucky enough to travel to some really beautiful places on earth and realize that this stuff is real. The stories you see in the media aren't just stories, it is everywhere. And then living in New York and realizing just how much we were using and then kind of linking the two, I suppose over time and going, ‘Actually we are having a really direct impact on this’. And it was about that time we thought, ‘Okay, we're going to start trying to be more responsible ourselves with just the amount of daily stuff we use’. And everyone's done the grocery shopping bag and all that sort of stuff. And one of the things that living in New York and kind of being out and about all day, there's just coffee cups. It was crazy to me that you'd use this thing. And sometimes I drink relatively small coffees. It would be 30 seconds, and you throw it in the trash.

And then around that time just doing a bit of deep diving, I think one of the things we always thought, that a lot of people still think is that paper coffee cups are recyclable. At least they’re paper, they're not plastic. But we found out through this journey of ours that actually they're not, they're lined with plastic, which makes sense; paper isn't waterproof. So they're lined with plastic and that plastic ends up in landfills the same as any other plastic. And it's actually a pretty huge issue. So the figure we've heard is that less than 1% of paper cups or your disposable cups actually end up being recycled. Ninety-nine percent of them just get trashed and, due to their plastic lining, don't get recycled and end up just in landfills and that's the sort of pictures you see. So, long-winded way of saying we started looking at coffee cups and tried to find something we’d take with us; realized pretty quickly that we, despite best intentions, just didn't use them, the kind of reusable cups that we had, because often you'd grab a coffee on the go while you're out and about anyway. So it's something you had to make a plan or have a bag that you carried this thing with. And just practically we never did that.

So the idea came about as like, ‘Surely there's something that we could just put in our pocket and carry around’. And coming from the outdoor world and knowing that camping and hiking are very much about minimalism and weight and getting things down as small as was possible, I thought, ‘Why isn't there something in the coffee market and the reusable cup market?’ Really couldn't find anything, and then that was where the product idea came, I thought, ‘If we definitely need this, this is a product that I think other people would like as well’. And so the idea went from, ‘Well, we just need this product’ to ‘Actually there's a real business potential here’. And I think it hit a lot of the right aspects. It was an exciting product, it was something that was pretty new, and it allowed us to combine the love for the outdoors and something more environmentally-based, and have it actually, as you said, this is all about to have a kind of purpose behind it, where you just weren't sort of flogging the cheapest, nastiest thing, you were actually doing something that had some sort of meaning and could create some sort of change.

Alex Stewart: Yeah, I think you're right. I think if I think about my own experience and others that we speak to, a lot of these startups right now, we start from a kind of a passion and experience.

Vince Dickson: Yeah.

Alex Stewart: But what's your actual background or working experience? I'm guessing not product designers?

Vince Dickson: No. I mean, I've spent most of my life trying to avoid getting a job. I think that’s the best way to sum it up. So I finished university in South Africa, in Cape Town. I actually studied finance of all things. Saw a lot of friends go into the kind of accountancy and finance worlds. One very quick look at it and I realized it was not something I could do. Started a startup with a friend actually based in the UK. We were very young and naive but grew a kind of decent little business out of that. It was a travel agency. We started off actually running kind of adventure tours for gap year students in Africa. So we’d get UK-based students, we’d take them out to Africa and we’d run these tours. Had an amazing few years, kind of pivoted that into a bit of a travel agency. And eventually, it got to the point where we realized that we were spending more time on spreadsheets and sitting in an office in London than we were in Africa on the road, which is kind of why we started it in the first place. So we got out of that. It did okay, it kind of provided some money, but it wasn't anything special. We kind of sold off what we had of that.

And about that time, looking for my next project, I completely randomly got stopped by a photographer in the streets and he said, ‘Well, have you ever tried modeling?’ So I thought, ‘That's a bit weird,’ but I had friends who had done it and the money was good, and the immediate kind of after speaking to some people were like, ‘Oh, you get to travel a lot.’ And at that time, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do. So I signed up to a modeling agency and actually had a pretty good start at it. And that was over 10 years ago, and that became a full-time career that took me all over the world. I've lived in places I never thought I would have, in Turkey and Greece and to all over Europe and South America, and ended up in New York. And never thought I'd live there but ended up there for some work and just stayed. That was about 2013. All the while thinking I'm going to do another startup at some stage. And had dabbled with some stuff over the years, have had kind of started a media business with some friends in the UK that they still run. But nothing really hit. Modeling is a very good income and allows you a lot of freedom and flexibility. So I really was quite adamant that the next thing I did would be something I really could get passionate about; it wasn't just about starting a business. Because I had this thing that provided me income, why give that up for something that just provides income, but I don't actually necessarily enjoy doing? And that's why HUNU as the whole, as I said, a lot of factors came together, and it just made so much sense to us.

Alex Stewart: Nice. I'm always intrigued. I'm guessing you're a very busy man between the different sorts of work commitments as well as being in different locations. So how do you actually balance the different requirements?

Vince Dickson: So obviously, we did about a year of product development - which we can talk more about - before we actually launched, and we went live in February 2020 with our first crowdfunding campaign. I think the campaign ended the fifth of March and it was sort of that week that all the news came out and it was like, ‘Oh, COVID is a real thing, and this could be here to stay’. It was sort of no one was too sure, but it suddenly wasn't just some foreign thing that was happening. So really, in terms of being busy and balancing work commitments, there was nothing happening for the rest of the year, so in some way, it was kind of a benefit because we were full-time in lockdown and just working on the business from sort of day one after launch. And really, HUNU has been full-time since then. Things have slowly come back and there's been a bit more travel but that's the focus for sure.

Alex Stewart: Nice. Although, if I’m correct, did I see last week that you were on the front cover of Men's Health in South Africa. Is that right?

Vince Dickson: Yeah, that was actually during the lockdown there. That was when everyone was counting on the sort of stories at home kind of vibe because no one could shoot anything, so they asked us to do a story just about being stuck at home. And obviously managed to get HUNU in there as well.

Alex Stewart: Nice. Very smart. You're looking good, mate. Listen, you touched on this, and this is, I think, something else that really interests me is I think so often, we will see a product online that we like, or we’ll pick up a product off a shelf in the shop, and we never really consider the story behind this product and how it got to be in there.

Vince Dickson: Yeah.

Alex Stewart: And you sort of mentioned it and I read, I think, on your website or on Kickstarter maybe too, that essentially, it took you over a year to go from this idea from your experience through to a product that was sellable on Kickstarter. I'm keen to understand, I guess, in two parts, one, what that process looks like, how you go from an idea to something that you're holding in your hand. But then ultimately, as well, in taking such a long time - over a year - was there a particular reason for doing that? Were you sort of prioritizing environmental sustainability to get it perfect from the outset? I'm keen to hear more about that.

Vince Dickson: No, it's a good question. I mean, I think we could have got the product out a lot quicker. I mean, ultimately our product is a drinking cup, it's not complex electronics, it's a fairly simple product. But what blew me away, and I'm sure you've had the same experiences, is how complex or how long designing and manufacturing can take even for simple things. You have this idea of, ‘Oh, this stuff is just made, and it's easy enough, a machine does it’, but actually, all of that stuff, and especially through this journey I've also learned to appreciate well-made products because when those tiny details with design and just when things work well and they fit together well, you realize how much time and effort that takes.

The reason it took us a year I think is really day one, we just had the idea and then we were like, ‘Well, is this a business? Is this a business? Should we do it?’ And it was just sitting at our kitchen table. I mean, we literally bought everything we could find that was vaguely similar and cut it up and stuck it together and tested things and thought, ‘How could this work?’ And then when we decided we had something, I mean that took a few months so it's very kind of part-time playing with it. And then when we decided we had something, then it was like, ‘Well, we need someone who knows what they're doing and knows product design’, and that's when we went to Morrama who's our mutual link, incredible design agency in London and kind of present them with our idea and then the process with them took several more months just to get the kind of concept and be comfortable with what we were doing. And then from there obviously the prototyping and working with the factory and there are all these steps that you don't consider when you think, ‘Well, a product is just easy to get made, you just get someone to make it’. But it's a much more time-consuming chain than you appreciate at the beginning.

Your question with regards to sustainability, for sure it's been at the forefront of things since the beginning. I have kind of a slightly different take on it. I think a lot of products now over the last few years have been riding quite heavily on the sort of ‘buy this product, save the world’ tag so we've been very careful since the beginning to try and not claim that. We are still a product. We still manufacture. There's still an impact. I mean, ultimately the best thing to do would be to not produce anything new. I think the way we see the sustainability side is the brand and the culture and what we build behind it. We absolutely think our product in the long term-- If you buy a HUNU cup and you use it instead of single-use cups, it'll pay for itself pretty quickly, so absolutely we stand behind that. But I think there's a dangerous line there in my opinion of overly claiming how much good you're doing by selling someone this product. But what I really do believe is that a product like ours, and it was for us as well, this is literally our story, is it's kind of a gateway drug. It's this thing you buy and through that you realize that oh, it's actually pretty easy to take your own cup, and then you're like, ‘Oh, I do all these other things in my daily life, maybe there are easy solutions for that’. And then it kind of builds up and builds up to the point where you're just much more aware of the impact you have. And that's kind of our long-term goal is to build a much bigger brand around that kind of awareness rather than just the product being a sort of band-aid on it.

Alex Stewart: Right, yeah. I like what you say there. So I think we try to do something similar. So we use the term eco-conscious, which, to everyone, that might mean different things but we use that in the sense that we're not trying to say that we're perfect, we're not saying that we're going to save the world. But hopefully, people can see that we're trying to be mindful, we're trying to be conscious, we're trying to make a positive impact. And I think from what you're saying, you're exactly the same.

Vince Dickson: Yeah, I think just as you said, being a lot more upfront about it, and not trying to overclaim it. I also think, I had for belief, I might be wrong, that there are a lot of brands that are going to get caught out in the near future, where it's just going to-- I mean, it happened during COVID, didn't it, where it wasn't so much on the sustainability side but suddenly all these stories came out about the work culture and certain things and obviously, the inclusivity and there was that kind of whole thing. But a lot of companies, the veil was lifted back and actually, their marketing spend was very different to what they were preaching and what we-- We’re obviously very small still and we’re growing but I think what we're very diligent on is trying to be very authentic with who we are, what we're about and what we're claiming. So not overly claiming what we can and can't do. And also, just trying to be as true as possible, like, ‘Look, we are trying to have some positive impacts’. And I think the bigger we grow as a company, that will give us more resources to do that. I really do believe that business can be a real force for good. I think business is also the major force for bad. But over time, if we keep on that road and grow and grow and grow, we can have a lot more positive impact and hopefully give back more than we take out, and that would be our goal. And hopefully, that builds a really good business as well that people stand by you because they believe in what you're doing, and you aren't just bullshitting them to sell a product.

Alex Stewart: Yeah, I like it. You're right on. I think when you're in this world, there's always this risk that you kind of fear: ‘Can we be a business that makes a profit and have a purpose?’ And I think there are now really good businesses, really good startups that are proving that can be possible. And in particular, I think one thing that I've noticed with yourself recently, is that you're fronting the business a lot more. I've seen on LinkedIn, and a bit more on Instagram, as well, so you're showing more of your face and talking directly to followers and things. I'm sort of keen to hear, what prompted that?

Vince Dickson: Yeah, no, it's an interesting one. I mean, literally my job for the last 10 years was being in front of cameras, you’d think it wouldn't be such a big thing. I think, weirdly, the hardest thing is actually just being genuinely open about what you're doing. And there's always the fear, especially as a small business, that you don't want people to realize all your inadequacies or how small you necessarily are. You want everyone to think you're a massive team in a massive office, and everything's great, but really, I think there's strength in people supporting you from the beginning. I mean, we launched on crowdfunding, so people quite literally supported that from day one. So what we're trying to do more of, and it's been a goal since the beginning, it's really just a time and kind of a resource thing, is putting ourselves as founders at the forefront, as you mentioned, and just trying to be honest about our story. Particularly as we talked about before this call, we're currently in a major supply chain thing - the whole world is - and it's affecting what we're able to deliver. And some people are going to have delays on getting their product, and rather than trying to sugarcoat that, if we're able to kind of build up trust over time and build a real community around our brand, then when we do come with that news, they hopefully believe us that we're doing everything we can and that there's a bit of a two-way thing there. So I think yeah, it's something we're working on. I think it's an ongoing thing. And a lot of it is just being confident enough to kind of be ourselves. And it goes back to what we said before which was as long as we're confident that we're not bullshitting and we're not trying to pretend to be something we're not, then there shouldn't be an issue. We can just speak about what we're doing, and people will hopefully be to be supportive.

Alex Stewart: Yeah, we're the same. I think we tend to find that honesty is the best policy, right? Whether it's the fact that last Christmas we were panicking that our product was basically stuck in Felixstowe port. Rather than just going quiet to customers, we kind of just absolutely fronted like, ‘Here's an email. This is the situation. We're doing everything we can’, and that resonated far better, I think, than just saying nothing or like you say, bullshitting.

Vince Dickson: Yeah. The truth is, it's easier to bullshit. It's just easier to say, ‘It's all good. We'll get it done soon’, but it always catches up with you at some stage. And I think, yeah, it's thinking long term about it and what sort of brand you're building and what sort of community your core group from the beginning is really going to shape that, in my opinion. And I think if you can build that culture early on, it can pay off really well in the long term,

Alex Stewart: Agreed. I'm actually glad you mentioned the word community as well because if I was you, I would feel really, really daunted about going into the coffee industry because this is its own culture, it's got its own rituals, It terrifies me, the thought of it. So how have you merged your way into that world and been so [welcomly 20:42] received by particularly Kickstarter, but just in general? How did you get these kind of almost fanatics or coffee fanatics on your side?

Vince Dickson: Yeah, no, it is. It's a whole world for sure. I mean, the truth is, we've tried to play very much with what we know, so we're not trying to be a sort of coffee brand. And in fact, even though our original inspiration for the cup, and the design was coffee cups, it was replacing disposable cups, really, the truth is that, and it might have been a function of COVID that accelerated this a bit because coffee shops were closed, and people were using the cups for other things. But we find a lot of people using them for camping and hiking and dog walking. And we have a really growing community of young mothers with kids who are kind of pushing prams and don't have many hands and need things that fit in. So there are all these use cases for our cup that's beyond coffee. So I think to answer your question, we aren't trying to be a coffee brand. So we're kind of doing we can and, as you say, there's a huge culture and we respect it, and we're kind of learning what we can. And a lot of our customers, our retail customers, are coffee shops at this stage but we're definitely not trying to kind of play in the coffee market in a way that we're claiming to be experts in it. I think that long term, I can see it being a very functional cup way beyond just coffee.

Alex Stewart: I went to The London Coffee Festival a couple of years ago with my girlfriend, and it was an eye-opener. The passion in this room was incredible, for coffee.

Vince Dickson: Well, I think London must be one of the centres in the world. I mean, Australia’s is crazy. I remember going to Australia for the first time and the coffee in the airport was better than any coffee I'd have anywhere in the world. And then obviously we're based in New York, in Brooklyn and that's as big as the hipster coffee culture gets as well. So it's definitely taken over the world.

Alex Stewart: Yeah, I agree. It’s an essential. So obviously you mentioned that you don't just want to be known as a coffee cup or within one industry. And I know that you have a second product on the way, which is the larger version of your original cup, right?

Vince Dickson: Yeah.

Alex Stewart: Cool. So what next? Where do you see yourself taking things with HUHU?

Vince Dickson: Yeah, so we launched kind of v1, which was an eight-ounce, 230, 260ml kind of cup. It's a relatively small cup by many people's standards because we went after the coffee market originally. The thinking with that was it's a very compact size, can fold down really small and it can take any sort of what we call a barista standard coffee and sort of an espresso drink, or latte or a flat white or anything like that. We pretty quickly realized that in America, particularly, people like their coffees a lot bigger, so there was demand for a larger size. And we realized also that people were using the cups for work much more than coffee, and then that larger sizes were kind of in demand. So that gave us a sort of ability to redesign the product a bit and to bring on customer feedback. So we spent quite a bit of time speaking to people and asking them and looking at the kind of reviews and suggestions and used a lot of that to redesign the product and to bring out a larger range of sizes. So from just an eight-ounce cup, we now have four sizes that go up to 20-ounce, which is quite large, and we see that as kind of an iced coffee, smoothie cup, really. It's a pint-size so it could be a beer, it’s whatever you want.

We have just released that product. We still have yet to fulfill all our crowdfunding orders from that. And then again, talking about the supply chain, the supply chain issues have knocked us back. So really, with regards to your question about where we see things going, our focus really is on building out this range of cups now. I think ultimately, we can see-- The two areas we focus on-- Sorry, I need to sidetrack a bit. The two areas we focus on as a brand in terms of the way we design things are number one, the kind of convenience and functionality. So really the use case for us was we needed something that didn't exist, and we wanted to remove as much friction as possible in terms of using reusables. So designing something that's compact, convenient, well-designed, you can carry around with you.

And then secondly, bringing in the more fashionable element. So really focusing on the visual style and the color ranges and kind of how it looks and how we present it as a brand. And I think in our thinking, one of the major things, aside from the convenience factor, that holds people back from reusables is that in many places, they just aren't a very fashionable thing yet. And I think actually Europe and London, in particular, are quite far ahead of this because I think they have kind of hit that tipping point in many ways; the US is still a little bit behind. So I think long term building out is really kind of using those two pillars as guidelines is that we want to build a brand around products that are not only incredibly functional and well-designed and useful, but also that kind of fits into that more fashionable, stylish element where you're kind of quite proud to use it and there’s a lifestyle element to it. So I think that in the short term, that is probably more collapsible type products, kind of silicone-based, same as what we’re playing in, but long term it potentially opens us up to a whole wider range of products that are not necessarily just kind of drinking or eating. So we'll see where it goes. It's still quite early days and we have a lot of room with the cup still, so we'll see what happens I think.

Alex Stewart: Really cool. I love the second fundamental there because I think you're right, there's still work to do where people almost think you're some hippie in a field if you are to promote reusables or you give a shit.

Vince Dickson: Yeah.

Alex Stewart: And I think there's definitely a… I don't know if it's a taboo but there's definitely a misconception that still needs to be challenged there.

Vince Dickson: Yeah. And I mean, you can see it happening in certain places and other places it's still very far behind. But I think some brands are slowly doing it. I mean, what S’well water bottles did changed things a lot, and a lot of people use them as their sort of base in the space where they took a pretty functional product and turned it into a kind of lifestyle sort of accessory, I suppose, or something it was cool to be seen with. And that flip is huge if you can turn something from being something that you want to use because it's sustainable or it's useful, to something that you want to use because everyone else is using it and you’d look cool using it.  We're pretty simple creatures at the base, humans, and the number one thing that drives a lot of us is just what we look like and how we represent ourselves. And I think in the reusable, more sustainable space, I suppose, a lot of it is based still on that kind of, as you’ve mentioned, the sort of crunchy, hippie image whereas flipping that into something more fashionable, I think there's huge power in that potentially.

Alex Stewart: Yeah. We see similar things as well on our side in the world of textile. At the moment I'm sort of looking around with admiration at people like lululemon and Adidas who are sort of partnering in a kind of a consortium around bioleathers, which is leathers derived from essentially mushrooms or fungus. But yeah, I think, like you say, it's not far away from the tipping point but not quite there yet.

Vince Dickson: Yeah, I mean, I think that there's a desire for it, but it still has to hit mainstream culture in that same way where it's sort of you don't want the forward thinkers or the people who are aware of it, you want the sort of people who don't really care what the footprint is, but they want it because everyone else has it. And when you've hit that, then the positive aspects are just a given. I think people like Pangaea obviously have kind of nailed it in a certain way where they're sort of using both a highly fashionable brand and then really impressive tech and sort of playing both those fields until they get to a point where it can be all fully sustainable and kind of, I suppose, zero impact. But that's really the dream because they’ve become a mainstream kind of fashion brand.

Alex Stewart: And I guess you always know, right, when fast fashion houses you start to copy…

Vince Dickson: Yeah, then you [Inaudible 29:27]

Alex Stewart: …like the [booze 29:28] and then you know you've cracked it.

Vince Dickson: Yeah. I mean, I think fast fashion is an interesting thing you bring up. I also am aware of how small the impact of our sort of products really are in the greater scheme of things. And I think that's why I go back to that sort of gateway drug analogy of, for me, buying a HUNU cup isn't about necessarily only using less paper cups, but it's about now not buying fast fashion. And if you can take one person who has a reusable cup, who then just kind of has an awareness of some of the stuff and stops shopping in a certain way, that now has a huge impact. And if you can do that at scale, and then drive those companies to make a change, then that's suddenly just kind of exponential change. So it's not necessarily the immediate impact of the actual products you're using, it's potentially the sort of buying choices and decisions you make.

Alex Stewart: Yeah, I really like it. We say exactly the same in the sense that in the grand scheme of things it's a small step but it's a positive step. And we always champion that, we say if you're trying to do the right thing, albeit if it's small changes, then I think it's definitely going in the right direction.

Vince Dickson: Yeah, for sure. Taking that first step is 100%. It's a huge step compared to just living as you kind of normally were with blinkers on, I think. I think that the issues are real, no one's debating that now. It's now what do we do about it?

Alex Stewart: Agreed. I want to ask you a question here that isn't quite as in-depth or complex as things like fast fashion, but I do suspect it's probably one of the most common questions that you're asked.

Vince Dickson: Right.

Alex Stewart: The name HUNU. Where did it come from? What's the inspiration

Vince Dickson: No, it's an excellent question. So we had a different name on day one. We started looking at all the trademarking and all the rest of it. One of the issues as you're well aware is, these days, you can't just have a name, you've got to make sure you can get all the trademarks and the social media handles, and the website address and all that. We had a name we really liked, couldn't get some of the trademarks once we started digging a bit deeper, and we were about to get our product into manufacturing or to get our prototypes made and set up the machine so we had to make a pretty quick decision on what was going to be in there. So spent a week just literally full-time going through names. And eventually, Megan actually came up with the idea of, again, going back to kind of we built this brand around awareness. I think that's one of the key words we've always said is just like, ‘Who knew how much waste you actually produce? Who knew a coffee cup could be so easy?’ And that idea of ‘who knew’, we played with, and it got kind of turned on to HUNU and that's where it came from. So the sort of base of the word is ‘who knew’.

Alex Stewart: Very smart.

Vince Dickson: And when we heard it and figured it out and saw that was available and everything, it was actually much better than what we originally had and I’m so glad we had it.

Alex Stewart: Can you share what you originally had? I'm curious to know.

Vince Dickson: Oh, yeah, no problem. So we were originally going much more around building a brand around, and the idea of this kind of positive impact, so the name was One Good.

Alex Stewart: Oh, nice.

Vince Dickson: I always had this idea of one good thing. If you can just do one good thing every day, it can add up to a huge impact. If you're one good thing is just using a reasonable cup, and so that played into One Good. In hindsight, it's quite clunky as a brand name and I’m very glad that we were forced to change. Often at the time, you don't see the benefits in some of those issues because you're kind of frantically trying to make the changes but yeah, it all worked out well in the end.

Alex Stewart: Yeah, we went through the exact same frantic process, not with the name, but with the actual logo. So the whale now that people will see on our travel goods, it started out as a tortoise, or a turtle, depending on how you see this. But yeah, we were probably similar in that. I think the day before the trademark was registered, an appeal was lodged by a rather large Italian luggage brand.

Vince Dickson: Oh, you’re serious? For the tortoise?

Alex Stewart: Yeah. So we would have argued that ours was a turtle; they were a tortoise.

Vince Dickson: Right.

Alex Stewart: But what tends to happen, and you've probably seen the same, is that when you're a small business, and it comes down to trademarks, this world, it’s basically who's got more time? Who's got more money?

Vince Dickson: Yeah, and you're just not worth fighting as well.

Alex Stewart: No.

Vince Dickson: For what it's worth, I really love your logo. I think it’s really great.

Alex Stewart: Oh, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

Vince Dickson: It's something quite sort of friendly about the whale that I like. It’s just one of those.

Alex Stewart: Oh, thanks, man.

Vince Dickson: Yeah.

Alex Stewart: But what I ended up doing actually, this is like, you know when you kind of feel like you've lost the battle here, which we inevitably did, I ended up getting the old turtle tattooed on me.

Vince Dickson: Did you?

Alex Stewart: I thought, ‘The Italian luggage brand can't come after me if it's on my body’. So that was like my two fingers up to the brand that kicked our ass.

Vince Dickson: Yeah, you just got to show them [Inaudible 34:29].

Alex Stewart: Yeah, exactly. I’ve got one more question I want to talk to you about HUNU, and then I want to jump in to ask you for a bit of advice for anybody that might be listening who is aspiring to launch their own business. So the big question here: what is the purpose going forward for HUNU? How would you describe that? How would you consolidate that? That sort of opinion.

Vince Dickson: My big passion is brand building. And I think for me that culture and brand are the biggest potential drivers for a lot of what happens in the world today. I think we want to be a business that we can look back on and really know that we built it the right way and that we’re putting back a lot more than then we're taking out. I think sort of the dream brand that pretty much everyone references, but I’ve always looked up to with admiration is someone like Patagonia where they could just hand on heart seem to stand by their principles and put them before the business side. But that obviously drives an incredible business. So I think right now it's the products and obviously focusing on delivering the best products we can. But second to that, we're spending a lot of time and thought on how the actual brand itself and the kind of initial community we're building kind of rallies around that and what that allows us to build long term.

I would love to get to a stage where HUNU kind of goes beyond the products to becoming almost a media-type agency, where some of these issues and some of the stuff we're learning and just brings on other brands and brings on other people and creates a really kind of positive space with some of this stuff. I think sustainability is a sort of hot-button word right now, but it goes obviously, as we know, much bigger beyond that. There are social issues and there's just kind of the way the world functions in general. There's a lot of conversations that are worth having. And I think there's a lot of knowledge worth sharing that we're trying to figure out ourselves. And so again, long term is just build some incredible products, in the short term, try and kind of do some good in whatever we can. We've just joined 1% for the Planet, that's our sort of first commitment to putting back some of what we're making into some really good projects. And then yeah, long term, turning that into a really powerful kind of brand that has a positive impact, particularly in the environmental space, but obviously, all these other kind of ripple things. Yeah.

Alex Stewart: Right. I said I was going to ask any more questions about HUNU but since you mentioned 1% for the Planet, I can't skip by it. So I think probably one of those things that a lot of people have seen on websites now, but maybe don't know what it means, what it is. So it'd be great to get your take in terms of what the organization is and does and then obviously how you then contribute to it.

Vince Dickson: Yeah, so it's pretty basic at the core, it's really you just commit to donating 1% of all your revenue for the year to a kind of pre-vetted project. So whether you make a profit or not, you're committing to a 1% tax on everything you make and putting those into whatever you want. The organization is primarily environmentally based, so 1% itself really acts as a middleman where they vet nonprofits. And obviously, anyone can apply to join. So you can join 1% as an individual, you can join as a business. That obviously allows you to use the kind of marketing material and be part of that community of 1% for the Planet businesses. But what we really liked about it was that it gives us the freedom to get involved in some really grassroots projects and stuff we really like, as long as they're vetted by 1%.

So the project we are getting involved in is in Cape Town in South Africa. They take kids from the townships there, get them into the ocean. They do ocean training and skills, and they do lifeguard training; there's an employment aspect. There's an environmental aspect in terms of the ocean stuff. They have a couple of shipping containers they've kind of turned into classrooms, they're building up.

Alex Stewart: That’s really cool.

Vince Dickson: It's still very, very small. But I think what's nice about the 1% organization is we're able to go to that project and even though they weren't a vetted member, we said we really liked them and then 1% looked at them, made sure they kind of ticked all the boxes and all the money was going to the right thing, approved them, and now we can donate to them as part of that kind of organization. So it's a very flexible way to get involved with some kind of pre-vetted projects and know that the money is being used in the right way.

Alex Stewart: Yeah, and I actually hadn't realized that you had almost the flexibility or the freedom to be able to determine or preference where you want a donation to go, that’s really cool.

Vince Dickson: Yeah. And it's flexible in terms of how much or how little you get involved, as long as you donate. All 1% as the organization really does is make sure that they, at the end of the year, audit you and go, ‘Okay, you need to prove that you've donated 1% of your revenue’, and they make sure it's going to projects that are using the money correctly. So it stops it kind of going into potentially sort of projects that maybe the money is getting misspent or is not in the right field and then it makes sure we are donating what we say we are. But outside of that, we can donate to 50 projects, we can donate to one, we can focus on one and get more involved. So it allows you a lot of freedom to kind of get involved. And I think particularly what we liked was the number of really small grassroots projects that are kind of already signed up to them. So over time as well, that grows out.

Alex Stewart: Cool. It's funny you mentioned it, I often see like, where you see smaller businesses saying, ‘Oh, we're donating 10% of profits this year to X charity’, when actually, they're probably not profitable.

Vince Dickson: Yeah, it is. 1% is as I say, it's whether you make a profit or not, you've committed to that. I think their sort of original line was it’s basically an environmental tax on your business.

Alex Stewart: Got it.

Vince Dickson: So you sort of self-tax yourself and say it's putting towards it. So really good organization. If anyone hasn't looked at it before, just visit their website and you can see pretty quickly the businesses that are signed up and the kind of nonprofits that are involved. Yeah, really good organization.

Alex Stewart: Cool. Yeah, we'll be sure to include a link in the show notes to that as well. Last two questions for you, I want to get into kind of the advice and your wisdom as a worldly guy. So you've run two incredibly successful Kickstarter campaigns, there’s no doubt in that. I think I saw the facts that you're in that 0.25% of top campaigns that have ever been run on Kickstarter?

Vince Dickson: Yeah.

Alex Stewart: I think a lot of people probably look at Kickstarter and think that is the way they want to go to bring a product to life. So looking back now on two campaigns, what are the top tips if somebody is listening to this and they think that's the right option for them?

Vince Dickson: Yeah. This is probably my number one question is Kickstarter advice. I'm going to caveat that by saying this is only our experience in Kickstarter, and there's a huge range of products and things that can happen on there. We looked at a number of ways of launching day one. Kickstarter was one of several options. And I think some people gave us the advice that actually if you launch a Kickstarter, you become kind of a Kickstarter product. And there are some gimmicky stuff on there. And there are people who maybe don't deliver the right quality. But we saw it as a way of building out a really quick community with relatively low resources. We came in this just obviously as a couple with a kind of fairly low budget. To go on a big media spend and try and launch our product is relatively hard. Whereas something like Kickstarter, if you do do it right, I mean, we ended up in 30 days, we had 7000 people buy our product, we had media stories, it went out to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in emails and all that, and just ads and Kickstarter newsletters and things like that. So to get that sort of exposure as a new business and a new product is incredible in the first 30 days.

Saying that, I would say if anyone is considering something like crowdfunding, definitely have a look at it, it's definitely worth it. However, there are certain products that work well for it and certain products that don't. We were lucky enough that our product is a perfect Kickstarter product - it's in the right price range, it's relatively easy to understand, it's innovative and something new that people hadn't seen before. So it ticked a lot of boxes that made it a good kind of fit for Kickstarter. Really, it all boils down to having a very solid launch. And I think this was the number one piece of advice we've got before is if you can get a lot of traction at the beginning, then Kickstarter itself as a platform picks you up and media picks you up and all this stuff happens and kind of snowball it. And we managed to get some very good social interaction leading up to the launch and we're lucky enough to have some friends with some quite big influence in that field. So we had very good traction on day one and that set us up for the rest of the project.

For people who don't necessarily have the social reach or anything, email newsletters, building up a community beforehand, something like podcasts, like what you're doing here, I think anyone can start this sort of stuff. And just being aware that when you start a Kickstarter campaign, start it a year before you launch. Give yourself a lot of time because if you just pack it together the day before and you stick it up there, you're very unlikely to get anyone to notice it. So really, building their community beforehand is huge. And then that community is what’s going to pull you through. When you have shipping delays, when you have issues, if you've been communicating with them, if you've been honest with them, if you deliver a good product ultimately, that community is going to be the foundation of the product or brand you build afterward and they're going to be the ones that kind of back you up. To this day, sometimes someone will comment something, they'll leave a bad review or something, and I will see someone who was a Kickstarter backer defend us on whether it's Amazon or something, and that is amazing.

Alex Stewart: Oh, amazing.

Vince Dickson: Those are people who I mean, it's incredible to get that sort of loyalty. And I think there's a very few platforms that people share your journey from day one and form a real bond, they want you to succeed, and they're invested in you and the business. And that's been an incredible outcome from crowdfunding that we kind of could never have expected.

Alex Stewart: You've got HUNU disciples basically now.

Vince Dickson: Yeah, and we're very aware of it as well. I think as I've mentioned before, you were talking about being the front of the brand and talking more, it's part of that. We just want to make sure those people know how much we appreciate them and that we want to kind of communicate with them. We want this to be a community and not just a sort of faceless brand. And I think those people are the real foundation of that because they've been there since day one.

Alex Stewart: And beyond obviously the first two Kickstarters, would you continue to go back to Kickstarter to launch more products? Or is there a sort of a point where you move away from that, and you'd launch it, say on your own website? I often wonder how you get that timeline right.

Vince Dickson: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. I think there are a lot of brands that do it very well. Peak Design is the famous one, the camera brand that famously launched every new thing on Kickstarter and has done incredibly well with it. There are some very big businesses that run purely as Kickstarter businesses. Once a year or twice a year, they bring on new products, stick it on Kickstarter, they build up enough of an audience. I think potentially, yes, we might, but we also might grow beyond that in the sense of like, some of our products might not be suited for Kickstarter, it really depends what we build from here. I also think we've built a decent community around what we have now, so launching our own website and kind of launching into the community we already have, we almost have that platform, which is quite lucky or quite fortunate now, whereas, in the beginning, we didn't have that as much. Whether it's a good ongoing play? Maybe. I think it can work for a business. I think there's a danger then of maybe becoming a Kickstarter-specific brand and it kind of hampering other growth potentially. And I do think it can also force you to sort of be a bit clickbaity over time as you try and release more and more things that suit that kind of Kickstarter market. So yes and no, is the answer to your question. I think it just depends on the product and what we have going forward.

Alex Stewart: Cool. I like it. One last question for you, and this isn't trying to turn this podcast into a couples therapy session. But I ask this again, from my own experience, where I think if myself and my girlfriend tried to run a business together, I think we'd probably kill each other.

Vince Dickson: Yeah.

Alex Stewart: So I'm really keen to get your perspective and your take in terms of how yourself and Megan successfully work. How do you make HUNU happen as a couple? How do you split personal from the business? How is that?

Vince Dickson: It's hard, is the real question. I mean, and Megs and I were actually relatively early on in our relationship when we first thought of it, so HUNU has been quite dominant from the beginning. I also can be very laser-focused. And if I get in a zone, then I can go weeks without looking up, and just talking purely about HUNU.

Alex Stewart: Okay.

Vince Dickson: I think I’m learning that making sure you do find space outside of that is definitely healthy. It's not sustainable. But there are periods where it's just all hands on deck, and it is all that it's about. So I don't know, we're still figuring it out, is the answer to that. I think it comes down to probably how solid the relationship is outside of the business would be my answer. I think if there are any kind of weak points in your relationship and you start a business together, they will get highlighted. But on the flip side, going through something like starting a business together with all the ups and the downs can be incredibly rewarding doing it with someone that you're in a relationship with. So I don't know if I'd recommend it to everyone, but I think in the right situation with the right person, there's nothing better. And we're still figuring out exactly how we navigate that space. I think Megs grounds me a lot, and maybe I would burn out if it wasn't for having her in it. So we'll see where it goes.

Alex Stewart: Marriage and kids will be a doddle after this.

Vince Dickson: Yeah, possibly.

Alex Stewart: All right, awesome. Vince, really appreciate that. So I don't want to take any more of your time. I know you're a busy man.

Vince Dickson: No, it’s excellent. It was great.

Alex Stewart: But we really, really enjoyed speaking to you, getting to know you properly, and a bit more about HUNU. So one final plug from your side. So if anybody is listening that wants to or that should buy one of your coffee cups I should say or they want to follow you or get in touch. How would they do that?

Vince Dickson: Really the most interactive and best place for us is on Instagram. From there you can access our website. We're pretty much @wearehunu, so W-E-A-R-E-H-U-N-U on most social media channels. And then that's our website as well, And we have a mailing list there that we're getting better at kind of updating people with, and Instagram is where all our news and everything comes out. If you want to get ahold of me personally, specifically, I know a lot of people reach out about Kickstarter and things like that. I love hearing from people and kind of sharing some of our experience, so feel free to get ahold of me, I'm Vince Dickson on Instagram and I think most socials, whatever is useful these days. So feel free to reach out.

Alex Stewart: Awesome. Yeah, and we'll be sure to include that in any sort of podcast show notes as well.

Vince Dickson: Yeah, no, thank you. And that's great. It's a great podcast. I love what you're doing with this.

Alex Stewart: Thanks a lot. Well, yeah, we'll get a beer in soon.

Vince Dickson: Yeah.

Alex Stewart: If you're still with me, thanks for taking the time to listen to The Purpose Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting. If you did, and you listened to this on Apple Podcasts, we would massively appreciate if you could take a minute to leave us a positive review. And if there's a friend or family member that might enjoy or benefit from listening to this, please share a link with them on either Apple Podcasts or Spotify. If you're curious to learn more about our eco-conscious travel goods, give us a follow on Instagram which s @onenine5, or head to where you can also get 10% off your first purchase when you sign up to our newsletter. And for each weekly podcast, you'll also find a blog post, some highlights and learnings from the episode, along with a full written transcript. Thanks again. We'll speak soon.

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