A Look Back at 2022: Reflections and Lessons Learned

A Look Back at 2022: Reflections and Lessons Learned

Posted By on Dec 28th 2022

11 Reflections and Lessons Learned

This last week of the year is one of my favorites. I appreciate the extra moments with my family, the relative calm in the warehouse, and the time to reflect on the year we've had. It is humbling and inspiring to consider what the team has accomplished, where we fell short, and what lessons we'll bring with us into the new year. We hope you enjoy these and find some of our lessons relevant to your own life or business in 2023!

1. Let’s not rob Peter to pay Paul. Instead, let’s recognize, weigh, and communicate environmental tradeoffs when making decisions.

When Amazon decided to prioritize curbside recyclability of its packaging, it rolled out a paper mailer to replace its poly bubble mailer, showcasing it as a tremendous victory with winning packaging innovation awards to boot. Unfortunately, that mailer is made with a virgin paper whose origins are unknown to the public. Moves like this may lead to today’s plastic waste crisis being replaced with a deforestation crisis. [Learn more about this issue: All Paper Isn't Equal].

One well-intentioned brand moved their thin-film recyclable poly bags to degradable poly bags thinking this move will help address ocean plastic pollution concerns and allow their bags to disappear in the landfill. Unfortunately, the bag they moved to is made with virgin petro-plastic (whereas the original bag they used was 100% recycled). Their new bag is not marine biodegradable, and - when it biodegrades in a landfill environment - it actively creates methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas and one of the leading environmental issues associated with landfills. [Learn more about this issue: The Case Against Degradable Plastic]

Another brand deeply committed to sustainability prioritized replacing its poly mailers with something made from paper in 2022. They wanted more from the consumer experience that 100% recycled paper mailers would deliver and therefore decided to move to a gorgeous shipping box featuring heavy coverage exterior print. Their new shipping box is 25% recycled (75% of its content comes from SFI-certified forests), meaning its production puts direct pressure on deforestation. Because of its exterior coating and high ink coverage - the corrugated box packaging reduces the quality of the recycled paper it becomes repulped with. Perhaps most importantly, its carbon footprint is 20 times higher than the poly mailer it replaced.

There are many aspects of running a business (or running your life) in which a single-minded, laser focus on one specific outcome is critical to success.

Environmentalism is not one of these areas. Yes, we all - individuals and the brands they represent - need to set clear goals and sustainability visions so we’re not paralyzed to take action!

But we also must recognize that we all operate in a reality in which every business decision we make has a net negative impact on the planet. So, of course, our company’s ecological goals should drive our decision-making. Still, it is also our responsibility to weigh the various factors and impact of our choices and actively acknowledge our tradeoffs. Ideally, we also set continuous improvement goals so we are constantly looking for ways to improve our solutions.

Were the decisions outlined above the “right” decisions? I’ll be honest that the three examples I outlined represent decisions I would not have made and findings I don’t believe led to positive steps forward for the planet. But that isn’t the point - and I respect why the leaders in these businesses made these choices.

The point is that we (as business leaders) need to acknowledge the fact that our unique, individual, narrow ecological goals typically represent only one or two facets of a broad, complicated environmental movement. It is our responsibility to acknowledge that as we make and market our decisions.

For example, if a brand decides to swap plastic with paper packaging to design for curbside recyclability, that is great. However, we’d encourage that brand to evaluate what is ecologically important when it comes to sourcing paper, and then find ways to make their curbside recyclable packaging as eco-conscious as possible (by utilizing post-consumer waste, incorporating agricultural waste, and if virgin content is absolutely critical, ensuring the fiber is not derived from primary forests). Then, find ways to use as little paper material as possible to minimize the carbon emissions increase of moving from plastic to paper. And during that entire time, educate your consumers, in a nuanced way, about your decisions, why you are making them, how they move your brand forward, and where you’re still looking to make improvements.

2. What we say no to is as more important than what we pursue.

We are very vocal about innovations we are working on, such as our Wheat Straw Kraft Bag and our ReEnclose Mailer, which are a step forward in our efforts to make packaging more circular and regenerative.

But I’ve found that the internal conversation that leads us to say no to potential innovations goes a lot further in clarifying what our Sustainable Packaging Framework stands for and strengthening our collective commitment to that framework.

While some no’s are simple, many are quite complex.

Many ideas seem attractive at first blush and prompt us to conduct extensive internal research to help us make the most informed decision possible regarding how to best move forward.

Here are three (of many) examples of this in action in 2022.

Mushroom packaging: For the record, we are huge fans of the concept of packaging made out of mycelium and - more generally - of the powerful role mycelium plays across our forests and our planet (and, therefore, the benefits that can come from leveraging mycelium as a source input across many industries). Because of this, we revisited whether EcoEnclose should bring in a mycelium-based line of molded pulp packaging in 2022.

In reviewing mushroom packaging against our framework, it became clear that this wasn’t the right technology for us to invest in this year despite some of its strengths. Specifically:

  1. It is made from virgin content -growing mushrooms for the sole purpose of making packaging materials
  2. It is not recyclable - mushroom packaging must be composted, a step that isn’t likely to happen in most instances
  3. It is very energy intensive to transport and store because it ships fully constructed

Compostable standup pouches: This year, EcoEnclose launched our flexible film and standup pouch line, consisting of three potential film materials:

  • Curbside recyclable paper pouch (made with certified sustainably sourced virgin paper)
  • Recycled-ready PE pouch (potentially with some PCR)
  • 40-50% PCR pouch with a metalized barrier layer (non-recyclable)

None of these are perfect film structures regarding sustainability, but all represent steps toward circularity.

Over the past few months, several companies have asked if we could give them compostable pouches. It was a tempting proposition, mainly because we’ve consistently recognized that compostable packaging has an essential role in food. Ultimately, however, we have decided these options (as they currently exist today) do not meet our framework.

The main reason is that layered standup pouches certified as home or industrially compostable have managed to do so through the loophole that qualifying as compostable means that 90% of the mass of packaging has biodegraded in lab conditions over a certain period. Many of these pouches carry a spray of non-compostable silicone oxide or aluminum. This “spray” provides critical barrier properties. While the material isn’t compostable in and of itself, it is sprayed at a low enough volume that the film “passes” the 90% threshold required for compostability. Additionally, inks, adhesives, and accessories (zippers and degassing valves) often biodegrade slowly- or don’t biodegrade at all outside of the specific conditions of a compostability testing facility.

Given this and the challenges described above faced by industrial composting facilities, we did not feel comfortable putting this type of material into the world.

PVA dissolvable bags: Clear plastic bags made with PVA have emerged in Europe. This material is considered “water-soluble.” In reality, these bags generally have to be placed in very hot - often boiling - water, after which they dissolve, and you can pour them down the drain. This is undoubtedly compelling on the surface. Whether EcoEnclose should utilize this technology led us down a very intense path of canvasing the entire world of bioplastics and plastics with a non-conventional end-of-life requirement.

This gave birth to our in-depth bioplastics research hub, a resource we hope is valuable for any brand or packaging manufacturer interested in this space.

For EcoEnclose, we determined that PVA dissolvable bags don’t make sense, given our framework:

  1. They are made with virgin material.
  2. They do not dissolve in an ocean environment despite the messaging suggesting they might.
  3. And most importantly, water treatment facilities in the US are not well equipped to handle the type of chemical contamination that would come from a noticeable amount of this material being dissolved and sent down the drain.

3. Making packaging better is a very long game, and we must celebrate every small win.

We were excited to be selected to the Inc. Best in Business list this year.

The selection committee and the article recognized EcoEnclose’s unique role in bringing nascent (but very environmentally compelling) technologies to market due to our willingness to take financial risks on these offerings and our EcoAlly community’s willingness to utilize these untested options early on.

This is how we brought Living Ink’s algae ink technology to market.

But, it’s easy to consider Algae Ink an overnight win now, especially once the Inc. Best in Business list was published. So it is helpful - especially as we are working so hard right now on new innovations - to remember that the arc of the algae ink we use today has taken over five years to develop! Every year, our work with algae ink brought a handful of exciting wins alongside a bunch of setbacks.

This year we’ve worked on dozens of innovations that promise to make the entire industry more eco-friendly.

Some were fairly quick wins. Some are ones we may look back at as failures.

But most moved forward a little bit without necessarily achieving the level of end success we envision longer-term. For example:

  • Wheat Straw and Next Gen Fibers: We are thrilled to have launched a beta line of Kraft & Seals made with 20% wheat straw agricultural waste. This was a small win amidst our long-term vision of diversifying the fiber basket beyond tree fiber by creating lines of paper packaging out of next-generation fibers (made with agricultural waste). Pulping technology and operations that can successfully and cost-effectively produce next-gen pulp are still early. These are costly operations to establish, making each seemingly tiny step forward one that requires a lot of research and a lot of resources.
  • ReEnclose Mailer: This year, we launched our ReEnclose reusable mailer line. We’ve received positive feedback on the line and the concept, and I think there is a collective recognition that reusable options will have an important role to play in eCommerce long term. That said, the solutions (including our own) and the distribution models are complex. The packaging itself is also expensive, a cost that amortizes over reuse cycles and - over time - becomes as inexpensive as (if not cheaper than) the single-use packaging being replaced. While some brands took on these mailers this year, most decided this wasn’t the right time in their business to change their packaging and operations majorly.
  • PCR and Recycle-Ready Standup Pouches: Again, we had some significant wins in offering a more eco-friendly standup pouch to help make this ubiquitous packaging solution more circular. We are thrilled to have launched an innovative paper-based, curbside recyclable mid-barrier pouch option. We’ve also launched our 40-50% PCR line (with metalized PET, making it non-recyclable) and our thin-film recycle-ready line, made with polyethylene. Brands we’re working with on these options are very excited about the possibility of improving this packaging solution but are (understandably) weary of taking on the operational complexity and cost increase of making this transition. In our work with brands on these solutions, we are starting to recognize that moving all of a brand’s product lines to more sustainable pouches is the right move environmentally. Taking this transition on one small SKU or pilot effort at a time likely makes more sense.

It’s easy to get discouraged when new material or packaging solutions aren’t perfect immediately or don’t gain market traction quickly. Still, we’re trying to do better at celebrating each win - however small - recognizing that in five to ten years, these wins will be part of a story of “overnight success,” like Algae Ink.

4. We can’t let measurement and metrics get in the way of our vision and our inspiration

We at EcoEnclose embrace the phrase, “if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” We assess our performance using metrics in various ways - from our sales to our order fulfillment success to our response times to customers. In addition, we leverage LCA analysis to help us decide what packaging improvements and innovations to pursue.

But there were times this year (every year, but this year in particular) when I stepped back and had to take a moment to separate the metric from our vision of what EcoEnclose is trying to achieve long-term.

When doing so, I often realized that even when the metric was good, it wasn’t necessarily guiding our actions perfectly. Sometimes this is because of the limitations of the metric itself. Other times it is because the tools we have to measure our work are severely limited.

Here are two examples of what I mean.

Customer and order success metrics: EcoEnclose aims to give our customers (our EcoAllies) an exceptional experience with us and make it easy to choose sustainable packaging. This boils down to several metrics across our teams, including response time to customers and the number of orders shipped per day (per person). Measuring our performance across these metrics is extremely helpful, and we were proud to see dramatic improvements in many areas this year.

However, when we step back and remember that our ultimate vision and goal is that customers see EcoEnclose as true partners in their sustainability and packaging journey, we recognize that the speed and volume of how we serve our brands is only one element in achieving this goal. We also want to ensure orders are error-free. We want to ensure that our responses and how we engage and communicate with our brands are as helpful and proactive as possible. And we want every person in our building to feel connected to and excited by the brands they serve. At this bigger-picture level, it is easy to see that while metrics are helpful, they certainly fall short.

LCA software, paper, and GWP-100: We have a detailed sustainable packaging framework that guides our decisions on what packaging solutions to develop and sell and which innovations and improvements to pursue. All of this is in service to our ultimate vision that all eCommerce packaging is truly circular long term which means that, ideally, all packaging is made from packaging.

The central components of our framework are rooted in maximizing recycled content (the post-consumer waste in particular) and designing for recyclability. We also have decision criteria for minimizing carbon emissions and protecting our natural resources.

Many times this year, we were faced with the dilemma of “what to do with virgin paper”- because of the troublesome assumptions of common LCA software that calculate virgin linerboard paper as having a lower carbon footprint than recycled paper. This bizarre output is because these software systems assume that cutting down a tree to make paper is a carbon-neutral step. Then they credit virgin paper as energy negative to manufacture (because the wood chip waste generated from stripping the trees is used as energy sources in the paper pulping process). A cursory review of these assumptions illustrates how problematic they are and how much influence the logging and pulping industries have had in shaping them.

This led us to exclusively use the Environmental Paper Network’s LCA software to analyze our paper packaging decisions. This tool has worked beautifully for us.

Unfortunately, we ran into a few internal issues while working with brands because the EPN’s calculator uses GWP-20 (Global Warming Potential over a 20-year horizon) versus GWP-100 (potential over a 100-year horizon). Unfortunately, GHG Protocol, the standard setter for corporations measuring every facet of their emissions, requires that GWP-100 be used.

There are many great reasons to choose GWP-20 over GWP-100, the most compelling of which is that GWP-20 recognizes the dramatic impact methane has on our environment, despite the short-term impacts.

After going down this rabbit hole for a long time with several of our brand partners, I was struck by how ironic (and a bit depressing) it is that our focus on executing metrics calculation in such a prescribed way was hindering us from taking the right steps in support of planetary health and our vision for circularity.

Realizations like this throughout 2022 have led EcoEnclose to adopt a more vision-first approach to planning and evaluating our performance next year. Rather than solely relying on metrics and measurement, we envision starting departmental conversations with, “what kind of success have we had in achieving our long-term vision.” Then, we review our metrics - allowing the two approaches to support and balance each other more thoughtfully.

5. I want to love walking into the warehouse as much as the next person does! This reality can only happen by investing in the culture and vibrancy of our diverse team.

EcoEnclose is increasingly uniquely positioned to manufacture, print, and ship much of what we sell. This means that we have team members under a single roof whose roles range from corrugated box production to strategic account management.

Our team comes from diverse backgrounds and communities, and many likely would not - outside of our building - have had the opportunity to get to know each other and connect.

We have seen this reality as a gift and one that has shaped how we approach all aspects of our team culture. From how we structure our work-from-home policies to balance flexibility with team building and promote some level of equity across departments to the structures we put in place to encourage team communication and camaraderie. This year’s result has become a workplace community where team members find authentic connection and friendship.

The last two years were when we were so focused on putting out supply chain fires, hiring and growing our team, and adjusting our workplace to COVID-related trends that we had minimal energy left to focus on team building. So from that perspective, 2022 has been a gift as some of these immediate issues were behind us and left us with the capacity to test different strategies, all to build a cohesive and connected team, including:

  • Daily morning meetings: Every day, a team member shares a quote, a win, a challenge, and a peer shout-out. Every day we get to see a different team member lead and share a bit of their vulnerable and personal side. Over time, these little glimpses have created an environment where everyone understands each other and what makes each person tick - just a little more than we otherwise would.
  • Job swaps: Last year, a few team members asked if they could swap jobs for half a day with someone else in the building. The results were fantastic (and this has now become a twice-year initiative). An account manager learned how to run our box production machine. A fulfillment associate learned how to respond to a complicated customer inquiry. I learned how to quality control the printing of our poly mailers. These swaps have led to suggestions and new ideas for how work can be done more effectively. They have created more understanding and empathy. And they have led to deeper, more personal relationships between team members.
  • Monthly state-of-the-business meetings: In February of 2022, it became clear to us that the eCommerce industry was softening. Many customers told us they were struggling - dealing with excess inventory, lower than forecasted sales, and experiencing cash constraints. It was obvious that we were in the midst of economic uncertainty that could impact our business in a variety of challenging ways. This led us to structure monthly “state-of-the-business” meetings for the entire team. We reviewed financial and operational numbers, shared wins, discussed economic and other macro concerns, and solicited employee feedback.

While these strategies were “successful,” ultimately, we have found that our team’s interconnected and supportive nature has a lot less to do with these structured actions and more to do with the energy that our team members bring into the building every day.

They always find ways to solve customer concerns (and do so with enthusiasm, creativity, and grace) and go the extra mile to make sure our EcoAllies are taken care of.

They ask about and find ways to support each other - through the great times (weddings, new babies, graduations, marathons, and more) and the challenging times (family crises, break ups, car problems, health problems).

6. I am embracing the focus and freedom of owning and running an independent business, even in a sea of VC-funded packaging businesses.

Once a month or so, someone forwards me an article about a packaging company that has recently raised venture capital to launch or grow their business, usually asking whether EcoEnclose plans to do the same. Weekly, I receive emails from investors asking if we are interested in receiving funding.

It is a tempting proposition sometimes, but we have decided against going this route. I’ve enjoyed the benefits of remaining an independently-owned business and believe this status has helped us stay focused on our vision of sustainability and circularity.

We know venture-backed businesses can have a positive impact. This is true of many of the incredible brands we serve.

But to date, we believe that taking on outside funding (which would orient us towards growth and an exit above other key priorities) has enabled us to prioritize things like:

Putting Sustainability First: Over the years, we’ve made quite a few decisions that have likely hindered our short-term growth and sales because of our commitment to sustainability. First, we’ve refused to sell compostable PLA poly mailers. Second, we refuse to stock virgin paper mailers, given how effective our 100% recycled paper mailers have been. Third, we do not manufacture white corrugated boxes in-house, as white linerboard is almost always made with virgin content. This puts us in the vast minority within the packaging industry, as these three examples are increasingly popular packaging options for eCommerce brands.

Prioritizing Packaging Innovation and Risk Taking (Even If It Means Failing): We commit a lot of time and resources to bets we hope will move our industry closer to circularity. We took a flyer on Algae Ink before it was commercialized and understood. We invested in the ReEnclose Mailer this year, even though we recognized that reusable packaging does not make economic sense for most eCommerce businesses. We are building partnerships to help make agricultural waste a more common and accessible input into the paper stream. We fully recognize that only some of these will result in significant short-term (or medium-term) sales.

Building a People and Partnership-Focused Culture: The people are the most rewarding and enjoyable part of owning and running EcoEnclose. The incredible people on our team, the people we interact with at the companies we serve, and the people we collaborate with across our supply chain. Without the looming need for an exit, we make human-centered decisions about how we treat, pay, reward, communicate with, and support all of these people across our network. If someone hasn’t had a great experience with us, we can make it right, knowing our customers are working just as hard as we are towards a more environmentally conscious future. If a team member has car troubles, we can cover their rideshare to and from work for a few days without having to justify these decisions financially. While a funded company can still retain a commitment to people and human-centered choices, we believe that the pressure to achieve scale and growth would make this problematic over time.

Running a Real Business (one that has to pay for itself and can sustain long-term): A funny thing about venture funding is that these businesses often focus on sales growth without paying attention to profitability. For these businesses, losing money on orders can sometimes be okay if it means growing the topline revenue. I don’t love this way of operating:

  1. It feels like a disservice to the sustainable business movement, as it needs to accurately depict how ethically, responsibly produced goods should be priced and sold.
  2. It isn’t rewarding to run a business without being disciplined and strategic about how successfully it supports and grows itself.
  3. It would make me nervous about putting my heart and soul into building and growing a company only to sell it and know that pricing and operations would have to be restructured after it was acquired.

There may be a time when we have a big bet we want to make in support of our desired impact - a newly invented ecological material we want to commercialize and make broadly available or expand into an industry that can truly benefit from more sustainable packaging options. At this point, outside funding may make sense for us. But for now, our ability to be human and planet-focused has been a considerable benefit of remaining independent.

7. Our customers and community, rather than news and commentary, are the right source of truth to understand the state of their businesses, the economy, and our industry.

National headlines have been ablaze for months with commentary about inflation, interest rates, layoffs, and the potential pending recession. Economists have been working overtime since May to provide an academic assessment of what is happening here and make predictions.

But this year, we found that listening and paying attention to our customers is a constructive way to gather insights.

In talking to the brands we serve throughout Q1 of this year, we saw a few trends (before they were being written about) which were unique to the eCommerce retail space.

  • The COVID sales spike plummeted in Q4 of 2021: Many eCommerce brands launched or expanded rapidly due to the online shopping spike brought on by COVID. That spike was over by the holiday shopping season of 2021. This sudden downward shift created a major financial burden for businesses that had invested in the infrastructure (software, staffing, 3PL relationships, agencies, etc.) to support their 2020-2021 sized business.
  • Cash became tight; inventory remained high: Not only did these businesses experience a sudden flattening (and often a major decline) in revenue after the COVID-spike wore off, they had also purchased and planned far in advance, for a very high sales forecast after being burned by supply chain and sales surprises in 2020. So they over-ordered and started 2022 without cash and with a lot of extra inventory.
  • A lot of people in this space are burned out: I’ve talked to many business owners who - in light of the craziness of the last few years and the economic reality they were facing at the beginning of 2022 - realized that they were simply exhausted and not interested in keeping their business operational going forward.

We listened to these brands early on, well before the news was full of headlines about tech layoffs and recessions. Therefore, we understood that our space would see its layoffs and companies deciding to shut down. We noticed that many brands would need to manage cash and find ways to cut costs but would want to do so without turning their back on their ecological values. And we recognized the need to plan how that would change our business and how we could best support customers.

In retrospect, I realize how important it is - going forward - to do an even better and more proactive job getting this type of insight from our customers and our broader EcoAlly community early and often.

News headlines are sensational, and yes - they do paint a picture of the macro trends going on in the world. But they often report on things our customers have been seeing, experiencing, and dealing with for quite a while and don’t give us the personal insight we need from the brands we work with.

8. The packaging industry must recognize and proactively respond to the challenges of the composting industry, which is reeling from contamination and low-quality output.

In October, I ordered a few tons of compost, all of which came from the Colorado front range’s industrial composting facility. In this place, all of our compost waste (at home and EcoEnclose) is delivered.

I was astonished to see how much contamination was in the compost I received. Our family picked out bottle caps, PLU produce stickers, partially degraded bioplastic, sterile gloves, coffee cup lids, and so much more.

I quickly learned that this level of contamination was a significant challenge for our regional composter.

This made it much more difficult for them to sell their product - sales which the operation depends on to stay afloat. Additionally, the high volume of compost the facility was selling brought litter and contamination into the Colorado soil and land.

By August, the problem had become so pervasive that the facility had begun rejecting loads of incoming compost.

After trying to mitigate the issue for the last few months of the year, the facility found they weren’t making the progress they needed to.

The composting facility recently decided to stop accepting anything outside of food and yard waste. So packaging, bioplastic, and fabrics will be banned from our compost from now on.

This problem is not unique to composting in our home state.

In 2019, composters across the entire state of Oregon banned several materials, including all bioplastic, because they faced such high levels of contamination and found that this compostable packaging was reducing the quality and sell-ability of their output.

Additionally, a number of studies have found that items labeled as compostable (even home compostable) remain intact long-term. For example, a recent study published in Frontiers of Sustainability found that 60% of home-compostable plastic did not fully disintegrate in home compost bins. The ‘Big Compost Experiment’ project took place between 2019 and 2021 and engaged 10,000 UK residents. The study found that 55% of the samples labeled as ‘home compostable’ were still ‘clearly visible’ after the composting period (between 3 and 21 months), while another 11% still showed small pieces. Only 34% had seemingly composted completely.

Over the past decade, many brands and packaging companies have turned to compostable packaging as a potential silver bullet solution to the packaging waste problem. The logic is that if only a small percentage of plastic gets recycled, then designing for compostability is preferred and would enable this plastic to “disappear.”

That logic has propelled many compostable products to enter the market, including utensils, bags, beverage cups, poly mailers, and more.

As our broader community now becomes more knowledgeable about the fact that industrial composters are facing significant operational challenges as a result of all of this packaging and bioplastic they’re overloaded with, it is our collective responsibility to:

  1. Rethink previous notions about composting and its optimal role in packaging end-of-life.
  2. Help re-educate consumers to recognize that composting is the optimal end-of-life outcome for organic matter but should not become a dumping ground for packaging.

9. Transitioning to an ERP is a right of passage…but it is one we never want to experience again.

In March of 2022, we officially moved our business to Netsuite. Today, we are seeing the upside to this software - the insight it gives us into our company and the increased ease it gives us in supporting and communicating with our customers.

But man, if someone had told me how fraught the transition would be, I’m not sure I would have taken this one on.

Looking back on the pain and suffering of this transition, here are a few lessons I wish someone else had shared with me a long time ago.

  • You can only plan for so much and for so long. Go live quickly and solve issues as they arise: Anyone who has migrated to a major new software knows how long you can spend planning and setting up the system, so it’s just right. We planned for our implementation for four months! Then, once we went live, we truly understood how the software could and would serve our business and realized we had been planning many wrong things the entire time. As with so much in life and business, we would have benefited by instead going live as quickly as possible, recognizing that everything would be a mess for the first month or so, and setting up and problem-solve the system while it was live.
  • Have backup systems for the first few weeks: Whether you plan for months or go live quickly, recognize that everything will go wrong for the first few weeks. Orders won’t sync properly. Data will come through in the wrong fields. The reconciliation process will be inaccurate. Had we gone live quickly and managed two systems side by side (our old way of operating and the new Netsuite way of doing business), we would have avoided one messy and inaccurate month.
  • Be well rested, have a sense of humor, and cut yourself and your team some slack: Know that the transition is going to painful. Be ready for it and surround yourself with colleagues and loved ones you can laugh about it all with - who can help remind you of the more important, bigger-picture things happening around you.
  • Take the long view: Your goal should be that the new software system significantly benefits your business in nine to twelve months. That is a long time, and recognize how frequently you’ll likely feel that you wish you had never done it. As with most difficult things, once you get to that point, you’ll look back and wonder how you ran your business beforehand.

10. The decision of how much energy to invest into social media is becoming increasingly fraught for us as we see the far-reaching negative impact these platforms have on culture.

As my kids get older, I’m grappling for the first time with the question of what role - if any - technology and social media would ideally play in their lives.

There are a lot of points of view out there. Some see social media as the root of all loneliness and depression today. On the other hand, some proclaim these platforms can be a saving grace of adolescence by serving as a safe space for many (particularly those who are otherwise marginalized) to make friends and communicate.

As with all things, reality is more measured and nuanced than either of these extremes. While social media hasn’t been around long enough to have its impacts ideally studied, most analysis suggests it is similar to nicotine or (in the words of Andrew Bosworth, current CTO of Meta) “like sugar.” Either analogy indicates that social media is acceptable in moderation, incredibly addictive, and unhealthy in excess.

Andrew Bosworth extended his analogy (comparing social media to sugar) to what he believes is its logical conclusion: “If I want to eat sugar and die an early death that is a valid position.”

While I did these readings and research for personal reasons, it inevitably made me think through what this means for our business.

Social media platforms can be incredible venues to build a like-minded community, solicit customer feedback, respond to questions, and share resources and information. There is no doubt that this direct and real-time access is a tremendous advantage for businesses and their customers today.

Last year, EcoEnclose decided to stop investing in paid ads with Meta, as we didn’t want to help fund a company knowingly fueling this type of culture. So this year, I struggle to invest time and resources from EcoEnclose team members into these platforms specifically designed to breed FOMO, create a culture of unfavorable comparisons, and give those dopamine hits that make them so addictive to users of all ages.

We’re certainly still active on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, and we still appreciate the dialogue and community we’re building on these platforms.

But we’re struggling with deciding if and how to invest our team’s energy and marketing dollars towards building our profiles on these platforms further in 2023.

11. I’m going into 2023, eyes wide open, recognizing and appreciating that the new year will bring its own set of “unprecedented” challenges.

From COVID resurgences to the dangerous persistence of election deniers, to once-in-a-generation blizzards, to inflation, to tragic forest fires - the word “unprecedented” continues to get excessive airtime. Any avid reader of the news would think that the world is full of events that are worse and more dramatic than ever before.

And this sentiment makes sense. COVID was “unprecedented” in our lifetimes and changed our routines in a way we’ve never experienced. Ever since our lives were upended in March 2020, we’ve all longed (myself included) to put these unprecedented times behind us and “return to normal.” During this week in 2021 and 2020, I remember thinking, “Phew, this insane / awful / stressful year is finally coming to a close. Next year *has* to be normal again and I can’t wait.” And, of course, each year brought new - often “unprecedented” - challenges - from new COVID strains to political upheavals to economic recessions, not to mention the personal challenges many of us have worked through.

So this year, I’m taking another approach. I’m celebrating all we achieved in 2022, acknowledging what was difficult about the year, and trying to bring gratitude for everything.

Then I’m turning to my 2023 with the recognition that there is no “normal” to return to (especially in life as a business owner). Every day and every year will bring challenges that will feel unprecedented. Instead of holding my breath in hope that 2023 will feel like 2019 did (a year I inaccurately but nostalgically remember as being “normal”), I should just get excited about what’s to come and be grateful that we get to experience it all.