Q&A with James Munro Boon, Founder of Elephant Branded
One of the key lessons I have learnt is to make sure that you do not deviate from the core values and principles of why you started doing what you are doing in the first place.
James Munro Boon Founder of Elephant Branded aims to prove, through his business that a “business can and should be a force for good in the world.” He buys and sells bags made from recycled materials and a donation is made for a child in Cambodia from each bag sold.
11 Questions for Founder of Elephant Branded, James Munro Boon
James has taken time out of his schedule to talk to AGENT about his business, his goals and his advice to other young entrepreneurs.
1. Briefly tell us how you first got into business, and describe your business goals.
Well I suppose I never really intended to be an entrepreneur I kind of fell into it..
At university, I studied Architecture which is not typically the route to getting into business. However in my second year we were given the chance to spend 6 months designing a school and then four months in South Africa actually build it! Blood sweat and tears went into making the school, however after all the effort that went into the build, I was shocked to see students coming into the school without pens or pencils and had to do their writing on pieces of old paper.
At the end of my undergraduate studies I was offered a job with a British company in their China office. Having never been to Asia never mind China I had no idea of what to expect, but loved it.
While in Asia, I travelled a lot and again would go to schools where the kids just didn’t have anything. It was on one such trip that I met Pry and Mey my business partners in Cambodia. They had just started making a simple bag out of recycled cement bags. I thought if we changed the design a little then we could sell some bags to my friends and help raise some money to buy school equipment for the schools I had been to. This is really where Elephant Branded started from and now we sell all over the world and also make EB products with communities in Colombia and South Africa as well as Cambodia. Over the coming years we are hoping to keep expanding sustainably while sticking to our core values.
2. What age were you when you realised you wanted to run your own business?
I’m not sure really. I suppose it was when I was around 22 and met Pry and Mey in Cambodia. Before that, I thought business was just for men in dark suits, but after meeting them, I realised that business is about family and loyalty, something which brings people together and transcends, race religion and politics. I do truly believe that business can and should be used as a force for good in the world.
3. Who are your business icons and inspirations?
Pry my business partner in Cambodia. Like many people my age, I travelled around South East Asia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. It was in Cambodia that I met Pry and Mey who had just starting making bags out of old cement bags. I didn’t know it at the time, but we would go on to become close friends and grow a business together. Whilst coming from very different backgrounds, it is our shared passion to build, make and grow that ties us together.
Pry had a very different upbringing from my own however we are united by the same values and ideas and meeting him and his wife Mey and seeing their children being born and growing up has truly been the highlight for myself.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?
Growing sustainably is always a big challenge, trying to match supply with demand. As all our products are hand made in small villages, it is not like other brands who can just tell their factory to add a few thousand extra units this month. We have to pre plan a lot and factor holidays and harvest time into our lead in times for deliveries. This can cause issues, like this Christmas we sold out of a lot of our products as we had not anticipated the demand. While this can make things a little bit more tricky, I do think this is one of the great things about making products the way we do, as each one has a story and makes a difference.
5. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
hahah, I’m not sure I do, maybe best to ask my fiancee about this, however she somehow manages to put up with me. To be honest EB is not the only thing I do, as I have other projects which pay the bills in Hong Kong as well, but for myself EB is my real passion and what I love. I do believe if you enjoy doing something you will always find the time for it, whether it is a hobby, passion or your own business.
Also one useful trick I have found is using time zones to your advantage. While Elephant Branded’s warehouse and main sales are in Europe, I am actually based in Hong Kong in Asia, this is firstly close to Cambodia but also handy as it allows me to work on projects in the mornings Hong Kong time, before everyone wakes up in Europe.
6. What is the first thing you do every day?
Each day normally starts with a quick coffee and a scan of slack and my emails so I can see if there is anything urgent I need to deal with straight away. Then I normally make a quick list on the back of an envelope of what I need to get done for that day.
7. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
I just changed phones the other week to a Xio Mi, its a Chinese brand and super cheap, but is proving to be good so far. At the moment it just has the generic screensaver of the Summer Palace in Beijing, however I probably should swap it to one of my girlfriend as we just got engaged in Cape Town last week.
8. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
Slack – my life runs through it.
9. What is the last thing you googled?
Opening hours for the Hong Kong airport express train. Unfortunately my morning flight to Cambodia today is very early so I had to wake up at 3am and take the night bus to the airport instead, however very much looking forward to being back in Cambodia in a couple of hours time to see Pry, Mey and the family.
10. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
I wish I could think of something better to say, however it has to be my phone. I run everything through it and drop it frequently, it means I can have everything in the palm of my hand, no matter if I am chatting to Pry and Mey in Cambodia, our warehouse in Bristol or Alex my business partner in the UK, everything runs through it.
11. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
Just give it a go. I was lucky and started EB while I was at university so had the time and freedom to try it out. However one of the key lessons I have learnt is to make sure that you do not deviate from the core values and principles of why you started doing what you are doing in the first place. In the “startup world” lots of people see business as a way to make money quick, however in fact building a business is a journey and not really about money at all. While money is a tool, I find that more valuable are the lessons you learn and the people you meet along the way. For me that has been one of the true highlights! So you just give it a go.