Let’s go back to the beginning. I heard that you came up with Baloo weighted blankets while you were living in Bali. Can you walk us through that time in your life? How did you come up with wanting to develop such a product?
Elizabeth Grojean: The story of Baloo and our weighted blankets started all the way back in 2017. I was a sabbatical in Bali to take some time away from my life in New York. I felt like I needed to reset my priorities and refocus. And I was looking for a place that would inspire creativity, and the spiritual aspect of the Balinese culture appealed to me.
I would spend three months in Bali before I really started thinking about entrepreneurship or projects of any kind. During my stay, I became close to this community of entrepreneurs who you might categorize somewhere between digital nomads and expats. They weren’t travelling as much. Instead, they were living and running internet-based global businesses from Bali.
And they were so open-hearted and warm and supportive. It felt like a very safe environment to just be. To admit that you don’t know anything. To absorb and learn new information in a really safe space. It was there that I realized that I wanted to start an ecommerce business myself.
So, lot of steps were involved. I took an online course that helped lay out a road map for me. From there, I started thinking of products that I could invest and share with people. That’s when I came across weighted blankets. I tried one for myself for the first time and it was a very profound experience. I was surprised how relaxed I felt. The idea of sharing a product with people that helps them relax was deeply inspiring to me. For me, Baloo weighted blankets is synonymous to the experience I had in Bali, reconnecting with myself and with nature.
In summary, Baloo is an extension of that whole spiritual reawakening that I had, recreated through a product that people can incorporate in their lives in their own way.
Because when we go to sleep, it’s a renewal and a rebirth at the same time.
Elizabeth Grojean: There’s also something primal about weighted blankets. It’s similar to being held or hugged as a child. It provides a degree of safety that we’re just not used to feeling as adults. You can experience that using Baloo weighted blankets. It often surprises people because it’s an unfamiliar but wonderful feeling.
You mentioned being part of the community of entrepreneurs in Bali. Aside from the technical lessons around starting a business, what else did you learn that fundamentally shaped the way you do your business with Baloo?
Elizabeth Grojean: So much has happened for me, personally. I think who we are as individuals gets reflected in our business. That’s where it comes from – nowhere else. One of the things I experienced in Bali was a deepening of trust and relationship with my own intuition. Which is very different from being shaped by external pressures or external models, or “the way things are done”.
In Bali, I felt protected from that because I was so far from New York. I experienced a blank canvass sort of freedom, where I could make choices independently of external influences and pressures. It was a really beautiful environment to be in. It allowed Baloo to become more of a self expression of who I was.
Another thing was becoming more aware of our interconnectedness. As well as the ways that I can provide a positive experience for the people who are in the world that I’m sharing this time and space with. That gets expressed in the choices that we make. It comes down to how we do things and how we treat people, whether or not they’re our customers.
Do we make conscious and ethical choices about our supplier partners? Do we consider our impact on the environment? How do we communicate in any of the messaging and our marketing? Are we expressing our brand and our ideas in a way that’s going to increase positive energy of the planet?
Whether or not someone’s doing business or not, we’re putting out energy all the time.
I definitely wouldn’t have gained that awareness if I hadn’t lived in Bali, where the spiritual and energetic world felt so much closer to the physical world.
And I understand that positive energy extends to the charities and partnerships that you work with.
Elizabeth Grojean: Yes. We work with a non-profit called Sea Trees not just to neutralize our carbon footprint, but to pay it forward. Everytime we produce carbon, we pay it off, and we invest in planting trees for the future. Then, there’s non-profit partners that we work with, recognizing that if we’re not lifting up all members of our community, we will also feel the impact of that.
On your website, you mention partnering up with Ladies of Hope Ministry. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Elizabeth Gorjen: Our annual year-long charity partner is the Pajama Program. They help children and caregivers in vulnerable situations establish reassuring bedtime routines. Their primary method is to provide children pajamas and books to read during bedtime. So, if children are living in a shelter or foster care, the Pajama Program makes sure that they have something that’s grounding and reassuring for them in their daily routine. The group has also expanded into sleep education and supporting caregivers.
Apart from them, Baloo also gets the chance to work with other partners throughout the year. Personally, I think it’s important to constantly create a variety of connections. It’s fun to be able to use Baloo as a way to do good. So, we did partner with the Ladies of Hope Ministries for this month, which is International Women’s Month. And then last month for Black History Month, we partnered with the Compton Girls Club, which is an organization that does a lot of great work for girls and women in that community.
Maybe now is a good time to ask you your definition of sustainability, and how you try to bring that concept in the decisions you make for Baloo.
Elizabeth Grojean: It comes with being a conscious consumer. We are hoping to connect with people who are very thoughtful about what they purchase in the first place. There are cheaper priced weighted blankets out there, and we recognize that we may not be the choice for everyone. But we are the choice for those who are thoughtful and conscientious about the way our consumer decisions impact all of us and the environment. Also, those who prefer quality over quantity.
Currently, we are the only quilted weighted blanket on the market that doesn’t use polyester. Polyester is a non-biodegradable petrol product that is versatile and useful for a lot of things. But we prefer to use cotton for our weighted blankets at Baloo. We’re committed to using all-natural materials.
Because, naturally, you want to reduce your carbon footprint.
Elizabeth Grojean: Honestly, there’s always going to be an impact when you create a product. Cotton is not perfect. It has a high impact on the environment.
Sustainability is never a done job. We’re always improving. Right now, we’ve eliminated plastic from all of our packaging. But you can find ways to be sustainable in other aspects of your business.
For example, with partnerships, we used to work with this other organization. But we felt that the work that they were doing wasn’t clear enough for us to really grasp the magnitude of the effect.
In comparison, we know that the people behind Sea Trees and Sustainable Surf are fully committed to the environment first. It’s not a rubber stamp or a marketing tactic. They’re committed to the work and the impact that’s being done with our money. The costs of carbon offset for us at Baloo has increased by a large degree. We’re currently making larger donations that we used to make. But we know that the impact of those donations are going to be much more far reaching.
You mentioned earlier about translating the ideas that you’ve learned in your stay in Bali and your principles of sustainability into marketing and your brand message. What does it look like for a startup in the living and bed space?
Elizabeth Grojean: It’s a very saturated market right now for weighted blankets. It’s a trending product so there’s a lot of people who enter the market looking to make quick money. You’ll find them on Amazon. There are dozens and dozens of listed pages for weighted blankets.
I’m really proud of the job we’ve done at Baloo and proud of our weighted blankets. We’re differentiated from competitors in a meaningful way. Consumers are sophisticated. They can detect what a brand stands for pretty easily.
We accomplish that well just through the experience that people can get on our website, or social media, finding a level of depth there. We deliberately avoid the messaging that might give someone the feeling that you need to have this. It’s something that we stand for.
Your body is divinely created and has everything within it that it needs. Baloo weighted blankets are just tools that can help you support what’s already within you, with your own inner guidance. It’s helpful but you don’t need it.
If you want to, we have it for you. It’s definitely more of an empowering message for people than to say “You need to buy this thing“. Or “Hurry, this thing’s on sale! Don’t Lose it!” Which is very fear-based messaging.
For you as a CEO, what would you say has been the biggest challenge so far in your journey as the founder and CEO of Baloo.
Elizabeth Grojean: The biggest challenge is constantly expanding my understanding or perception of what’s possible. I started Baloo with humble aspirations. I wanted to have a small business as a side hustle. If it worked, I’d be thrilled – but I almost didn’t expect it to. Because I thought if I could, then it’s too easy. And if it’s easy for me, then it’s going to be obvious to everyone. So, for me, I was really making this leap into entrepreneurship for the very first time and trusting myself to take the risk.
I didn’t come in with a deep background in business, or ambitious goals. Everything that happened has happened organically and incrementally and very, very quickly. So, I was always adjusting the perception of what is possible for us. Because the more that we’ve grown, I realized that more is possible. I was challenged to broaden my imagination.
Did you learn anything about yourself that you were surprised to say to yourself, “oh, yeah, I can do this!“?
Elizabeth Grojean: It goes back to the very beginning, when I was making the decision whether or not to jump into building Baloo and making weighted blankets. A lot of fears can hold people back from starting a business. Personally, I went through a lot of self-examination.
One of my biggest fears is related to my relationship with money. I thought that doing anything for profit was beneath me. I had internalized this idea that I had to be first and foremost motivated by altruism and goodwill. And I realized that this view was really holding me back.
I mean, I’m part of the world, too. I’m here to live out my potential and purpose. It was important to adjust my relationship with money, to see it as a creative energy that, once allowed to flow through the right people, can do a lot of good. So, once I gave myself permission to open myself up to financial abundance, I discovered that I could share the fulfilling and satisfying work that we do at Baloo from the heart.
I know that sounds very simple, but I think that our relationship with money, and the way it affects people in different ways, it’s not something that we talk about very often.
You’re right. We take that relationship with money for granted. In a way, we overlook how that relationship affects how we behave and how we make choices. Moving to the present, is there something about Baloo right now that you’re putting all of your energy into improving?
Elizabeth Grojean: Yes! Our biggest challenge right now is inventory management and cash flow. It’s very difficult to predict demand. There was a huge spike in demand in 2020. Everyone was going through anxiety and problems of sleep. We went through issues with running out of stock. Now, there were major interruptions with international shipping. That caused delays across the whole ecosystem. So, as a company, Baloo is in the process of evolving.
This time last year, it was myself and one other full-time employee. Now it’s me and four other full-time people. Our team has grown a lot even though we’re still a small team. We’re in the process of improving our systems and data management so we can manage so many moving pieces much better. At the end of the day, you have to take care of your product.
Speaking of last year, I want to ask about your experience. On the website, you describe the unique, unparalleled comfort of using a weighted blanket and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, they must have had a surprisingly good year last year” seeing as how lonely and anxious people got during the pandemic.
Elizabeth Grojean: It was amazing for us in terms of sales. March was very slow, like everything kind of just stopped because people were in shock. Then after that, people were looking for ways that they can self-soothe and help them get better sleep. And since we’re all spending time at home, what’s better than a weighted blanket when you’re home all day.
What’s your biggest strength as a CEO? What’s Baloo’s biggest strength?
Elizabeth Grojean: Personally, for me, it’s my being unattached to the past, my willingness to be flexible, and my ability to find creative solutions. A big part of my problem solving process is relationships. And spending time with other entrepreneurs and people who want to help, which makes work really fun. And it generates solutions to problems you thought were impossible to solve, and being able to bring people along for that journey is very rewarding.
For Baloo, I think we’re the only weighted blanket brand in the market that has a story behind us that is so deeply authentic, and that truly stands for something. Our goal is to continue to offer products to people that can support them in their lives and in their personal space, creating beauty and sanctuary at home.
We intend to expand our product line far beyond weighted blankets. We might have had a slower build, specifically, in the blanket space. But I think we have a great connection with our customers and with the community that we’re building.That’s what will allow us to be here for longer than just the weighted blanket trend.
I’m glad you brought up relationships. You went from a very lean team to now four people. When did you realize you were ready for more people, and what makes you guys work so well right now?
Elizabeth Grojean: It’s funny because in the early days, business was growing very quickly. Advisors were telling me to get help and bring on employees. And I said no! Because I never wanted to have an employee. I was always so unsatisfied in my jobs as an employee that I didn’t want to do that to someone. I only wanted to work with people who were also living freely. Maybe independent contractors. So, that we’re all peers all the time and nobody was anybody’s boss. Looking back on that is funny because everyone was like, “Elizabeth! You cannot build a company with one person!”
But once I hired my first employee, who is our marketing coordinator, I realized the power of help. The power of a team. The team that we have now, although small, is very sharp. One thing we all have in common is there is no ego. We’re all here because we love what we’re doing. We like working with a team of other people who are ego-free, hard-working and committed. There’s no one on the team that I feel like I should check up on. Everyone’s so driven. The standard of ethics and integrity and the pride in our work is really inspiring.
So, I don’t know how you feel about regret. But if you could do it all over again, is there anything that you would change? Is there anything you would do differently?
Elizabeth Grojean: One the one hand, the mistakes and the challenges have been the most enriching and the most rewarding learning experiences. So, I don’t want to give those back. But at the same time, I wish understood the power of building a team earlier, and how much that can contribute to both the success of the business and to the experience of running a company.
If you could ask any entrepreneur anything right now, who would you ask and what would the question be?
Elizabeth Grojean: Ashley Merrill, the founder of Lunya. I would ask her about how she maintains a healthy relationship between her feminine and masculine sides. As we step into running a company, it requires a lot of masculine energy, a lot of decision making and doing. Whereas the feminine side is usually more about manifesting and creating.
Ashley Merrill does such an excellent job of building and growing a business with confidence. She doesn’t seem to be using anyone else’s playbook. She seems like a true leader. So, I would want to know how she marries those two sides to support that.
For me, balancing that has been a challenge. Like, right now, I feel like I’m leaning too much on my masculine side. Whereas I was in Bali, my creative and feminine side just burst out. So, now I’m looking for that balance once again.
Do you have plans of going back to Bali?
Elizabeth Grojean: I would love to go back to Bali. I’m waiting for the whole world to reopen so that travel can be a thing again,
Is that something you can do with your business right now? Would you be able to become like the entrepreneurial nomads you met all those years ago?
Elizabeth Grojean: I don’t think it would be the right place for me to spend extended periods of time because of the time difference. I do have the ability to work remotely for bits of time. So, I could go for two to four weeks for example and continue to work. I tried to live and work from there for six months after I launched the company. It had started to get traction and become more grown up. But it wasn’t really enjoyable for me because I was on such a different wavelength from the island. I was in serious business mode and everyone around me was drinking coconuts and surfing. And it made me mad (laughs).
What can we expect from Baloo this year?
Elizabeth Grojean: Yes! This week we’re launching children’s weighted blankets. I’m very excited about them because kids are so receptive and they’re so sensitive. We use vegetable dyes to make them colorful and fun. We made them really fun to talk about and share with people. They’re going to come out in indigo, peach and aqua colors.
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