In­ter­view: Alan Deans

Money Magazine Australia - - CONTENTS -

One of the most cel­e­brated start-up gu­rus of re­cent times wasn’t nur­tured in a tech hub and had no fi­nan­cial sup­port from high-fly­ing in­vestors. In fact, Cedar An­der­son says he grew up in the be­lief that money was the root of all evil. His pri­mary drive is to do good in the world. That seem­ingly para­dox­i­cal sit­u­a­tion grounded him while he took the in­ven­tion that has rev­o­lu­tionised the pro­duc­tion of honey from his work­bench to global suc­cess.

It still does.

An­der­son’s Flow Hive be­came a hit two years ago when a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign to raise $US70,000 ($91,000) hit its tar­get ex­actly 477 sec­onds af­ter launch­ing on­line. Or­ders for the bee­hives were so strong that the fund­ing web­site crashed. When the cam­paign ended, 38,500 or­ders worth $US12.2 mil­lion had been notched up. Peo­ple in dis­tant cor­ners of the world loved the idea, and they wanted to be­come hob­by­ists. Months later, An­der­son snagged Aus­tralia’s most pres­ti­gious accolade for in­no­va­tion, the Good De­sign Award of the Year.

To­day 38 peo­ple work for An­der­son’s com­pany. Most are based in By­ron Bay and two are cen­tred overseas where most of the or­ders orig­i­nate. The com­pany out­sources man­u­fac­ture of its quaint Swiss chalet style of hive from two fac­to­ries in Bris­bane and one in Port­land, Ore­gon. The sourc­ing of suit­able wood for the frames is crit­i­cal to their lo­ca­tion. Then there are seven ware­houses around the world run by a third-party lo­gis­tics com­pany, Ship­wire. When an or­der is made on­line, a hive is shipped any­where in the world on the same day. Flow Hive has come a long, long way in a short time.

There were plenty of chal­lenges. “I didn’t grow up with peo­ple around me run­ning busi­nesses,” says An­der­son. “In some ways, it was un­charted ter­ri­tory with huge learn­ing curves. Not only that but there were men­tor­ing hur­dles to get over around sto­ries like money is the root of all evil. A lot of us grow up with that. I ac­tively put work into shift­ing that headspace into [the be­lief that] money can be a tool, a force for good.” He now be­lieves money can be used to ac­cel­er­ate pos­i­tive out­comes for the world. He can do good, where he couldn’t eas­ily have done so be­fore. “That was im­por­tant for me to di­gest. Oth­er­wise I think I would have pushed away any op­por­tu­ni­ties that would bring suc­cess.”

Part of that epiphany in­volved sign­ing up for on­line mar­ket­ing cour­ses. They opened his mind. One was a work­shop on shift­ing men­tal block­ages, which he says would oth­er­wise have led him in an­other di­rec­tion en­tirely. “It sounds funny but it’s re­ally true,” he ex­plains. “Pat­terns in our brain, in the back­ground, drive our de­ci­sions and if the brain is say­ing, ‘Money is bad’, prob­a­bly you won’t get any­where.”

Old ways are still hard to change, how­ever. “Money was never an is­sue for me,” says An­der­son. “I run my car off old oil from the fish and chip shop. I have done that for many, many years and habits die hard. Peo­ple ask, ‘Why don’t you up­grade?’ I say, ‘Well, it works.’ I like re­cy­cling, and I don’t see any need. I won’t get any­where quicker in a shiny sports car.” One lux­ury that suc­cess has brought, how­ever, is a new home for his fam­ily. Gone is the home in a ba­sic, un­lined shed. Up the hill a lit­tle, a new one has been built that is just as wel­com­ing but also dry and warm. “We have moved up in the world on that level.” Suc­cess as an in­ven­tor seems to be An­der­son’s des­tiny. Along with the other kids on the com­mune, he had free range to ex­plore. Ex­per­i­ments con­ducted at school when aged five stuck in his mem­ory. “We did things like sci­ence ex­per­i­ments with fire­works to mea­sure the speed of sound. We did that by putting a fire­cracker un­der a tin in a pad­dock at a mea­sured dis­tance. We timed the dif­fer­ence be­tween when we saw the tin go up in the air and when we heard the bang.”

The com­mune had a gar­den and or­chard, and his grand­fa­ther and un­cle kept bees. An­der­son re­mem­bers them as be­ing ag­gres­sive, some­thing he dis­liked when he be­came in­volved in his early 20s. “The whole honey-har­vest­ing process was an­noy­ing for the bees and me. There was quite a dis­tur­bance [har­vest­ing the honey] and of­ten many bees were squashed. I thought there had to be a bet­ter way to drain honey out of the hive with min­i­mal dis­tur­bance to the colony and with­out spend­ing the week in the shed mak­ing a mess try­ing to cen­trifuge the honey frames.”

The Flow Hive took 10 years to per­fect. Pro­to­types were de­vel­oped and tested. That was com­pli­cated, be­cause it meant see­ing how the bees would re­act to them. A feed­back loop was very nec­es­sary but of­ten frus­trat­ing. It could take three or four months for them to get used to a hive, if they took to it at all. Then the honey they made sim­ply would not flow. Mean­while, An­der­son con­tin­ued work as a paraglider in­struc­tor, us­ing those skills to fly over Su­ma­tran rain­forests to film il­le­gal de­for­esta­tion as part of a Green­peace cam­paign.

“I tried for so long to get the honey out with all sorts of crazy con­trap­tions and wasn’t re­ally get­ting any­where. The eureka mo­ment was one morn­ing when I woke up and re­alised that I could build some­thing that would have hexag­o­nal cells, which the bees could fill and then be moved into a new shape when it

was time to drain the honey. That would get around the is­sues of vis­cos­ity and sur­face ten­sion hold­ing the honey in. I started mak­ing a re­ally com­pli­cated ver­sion that broke the hon­ey­comb apart in a hor­i­zon­tal di­rec­tion. It was my fa­ther who came up with the ge­nius idea of do­ing it ver­ti­cally. It was much more ef­fi­cient, less com­pli­cated, and that’s what fi­nally made the cut. My dad had a mas­sive part to play. He is the co-in­ven­tor of the prod­uct.”

An­der­son is very close to his fa­ther, Stu­art. “Our minds are wired in sim­i­lar ways. He only has to make half a hand move­ment and I know what he’s talk­ing about. Our fam­ily never lets us play Pic­tionary to­gether at Christ­mas be­cause, af­ter a cou­ple of pen­cil strokes, we’ve got it.”

Crowd­fund­ing be­came a fo­cus early on be­cause it cut out the need for ex­ter­nal in­vestors. While he ac­knowl­edges they would bring skills into the start-up, they would also de­mand too much eq­uity. An­der­son wasn’t pre­pared to give it away. So af­ter get­ting the right de­sign, the fam­ily teamed up to struc­ture a fund­ing cam­paign. A year be­fore the launch, his sis­ter Mirabai came on board to use her film-pro­duc­tion skills for a pub­lic­ity cam­paign. Videos were im­por­tant to show how the hive worked and how honey was ex­tracted – by sim­ply turn­ing a han­dle on the out­side to split the plas­tic combs on the in­side. The video in­cluded tes­ti­mo­ni­als from bee­keep­ers, out­lined an of­fer and made a clear call to ac­tion. A so­cial me­dia cam­paign was also kicked off.

An­der­son set a goal of 1000 likes on Face­book and 1000 email re­sponses be­fore a launch could start. They started by us­ing generic bee-ori­en­tated con­tent, then used their video clip. “We got a mil­lion views in 38 hours, and it was game on. A thou­sand emails were com­ing in ev­ery day. By the time we launched the crowd­fund­ing, we had 70,000 peo­ple on our email list.” Since then, no fur­ther funds have been needed to fi­nance the busi­ness.

Credit also goes to An­der­son’s grand­fa­ther, an aca­demic, for putting in place a plan for patent­ing the in­ven­tion. That pro­tec­tion hasn’t stopped at­tempts to knock off the de­sign, how­ever. The first cons hap­pened when oth­ers used crowd­fund­ing to pitch sim­i­lar bee­hives but noth­ing was ac­tu­ally de­liv­ered. Then, back­yard knock-offs started to ap­pear. Lately, se­ri­ous ri­vals have been mar­ket­ing heav­ily to win a share of the re­wards. They are be­ing dealt with by Flow in the courts.

The Flow brand is now well es­tab­lished, and there is more to come. A hive is be­ing de­signed for com­mer­cial bee­keep­ers, who are much more nu­mer­ous than hob­by­ists. The frame of the Flow Hive was de­signed for this mar­ket but the first prod­uct was pitched at hob­by­ists be­cause of doubts that pro­fes­sional bee­keep­ers could eas­ily be con­vinced to change their ways. “We have some de­vel­op­ments that will al­low bee­keep­ers to har­vest in ways that are good for bees and will be eas­ier for them on an au­to­mated scale. We are get­ting some trac­tion now. Many are heav­ily in­vested, and for them to switch to a new sys­tem is not some­thing they are go­ing to take lightly. But we are start­ing.”

“Our video clip show­ing how the hive worked got a mil­lion views in 38 hours, and it was game on.”

Team work ... Cedar cred­its his dad Stu­art as co-in­ven­tor of the Flow Hive.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.