Do you ever think of your employees as a family? I don’t personally like that term. It’s not a family. You don’t fire your family, usually but I do think of business and our employees as a community. I didn’t use to feel that way or didn’t even connect with that until later, and I suspect that many of us Founders, entrepreneurs, and leaders don’t necessarily think that way either. Community to me is defined as a place where people feel like they belong. They feel like they are supported and cared for. They have people and teammates now in their lives that they can reach out to.
We can do that as leaders of our cultures. We can create a community, and I know it will affect the bottom line because when people feel cared for and connected, they work smarter and are less likely to leave. I won’t say it’s easy but our guest has done that. She’s done it with a unique group of people, young transplants to Colorado who are working in a manufacturing and warehouse environment. The work is hard but she’s created this community, and if she can do it, we can do it.
Saloni Doshi is the CEO and Chief Sustainability Officer at EcoEnclose. The world’s most innovative provider of sustainable shipping solutions for eCommerce brands. They are making a difference for our planet by creating custom packaging solutions that are eco-friendly, recyclable, reusable, and regenerative. They are on a path to doing great things and have an amazing mission. She’s also got a team that is thriving. Saloni Doshi, welcome to the show.
Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Tell us a little bit more about what you are doing at EcoEnclose and your team. What are they doing, and what are some of the folks that you’ve got on your team?
I will say that was an incredibly generous intro. By and large, our culture is wonderful. I’m proud of it but I’m super excited for this conversation because we can go through the ins and outs of what’s working well, where I still see challenges in our culture and team. I’m very excited to chat in this episode. You asked about EcoEnclose and the types of roles that we have. We have around 50 to 55 folks on our team now. We are all based in Colorado. You alluded very well to it. We are manufacturing, warehousing and distribution. We do print work as well.
I would say our team is split about 50/50 with what we call our back-of-house workers, which are our manufacturing and our production team. That team ranges from printing and packaging to producing and manufacturing the boxes that we sell to fulfillment through traditional warehousing and fulfillment functions. We have a handful of folks that are focused on safety, machine maintenance, and a couple of management tiers there.
That’s our manufacturing facility or manufacturing area. In the same facility, we have our front-of-house workers, which are our customer experience team. They are the ones who are fielding standard and complex customer service types of questions. We have a sales team. Our customer growth team is the ones that work hand in hand with our enterprise and household name brand clients that we work with.
We’ve got an art department, and then we’ve got our marketing and website team. They all are in the same building, which is a really special thing. That’s not common anymore where warehouse workers work and serve alongside in friendship with office workers. That’s one of the more exciting parts of our business.
Most of those environments almost deal with two different cultures. Do you feel like it’s one culture with the office in the warehouse?
Looking back now, one of the things I’m excited about EcoEnclose is that functionally, there are a lot of benefits. I’ve got an art department that is working on a job with a customer and they are like, “When is this going to ship? Is this going to look good?” They walk through the doors and are talking to our print department and ask, “When is this going to ship? Can I look at it when it’s being set up?”
There are a lot of functional benefits when we have a rush job and things like that. There are a lot of friendships, and other times, it would be collegial connections that are made where you’ve got somebody who works on our floor who might have experiences that they deal with that are unknown to a recent college graduate who is taking on a sales role. What I’m finding is these people become friends and start to understand each other’s lives and support each other. Empathy and community that straddles classes, lifestyles, and things like that have been, I hope a lot of people at the company might say, a profound part of their work.
I mentioned in the intro about a regenerative model, and this is a heady concept, as you said before. It’s the idea that you’ve got an ecosystem with different environments, and species in an ecosystem are going to survive in different ways and find ways to thrive. Also, they become almost codependent upon each other’s existence. The same thing can happen in a business environment when you create the conditions for people to thrive.
In your case, you’ve created this neat condition for people to thrive who are in these two environments. I’m sure it wasn’t something that happened overnight, just like any ecosystem. It takes time, effort, and concentration. Can you share with us some of the things that you’ve done over the years to create the conditions for these folks to thrive the way they are?
I will share a couple to roll them off. They are a little bit disconnected. The first thing a lot of people point to is that we have a daily 9:45 meeting where anybody who’s in the building stop work and they comes outside unless it’s raining or snowing. We would go outside, and every day, a different person and everybody on the team had to do this at some point. Over the course of three months, a different person leads the meeting. They share what their job is all about and what success looks like in their job.
They share either a quote or a story, sometimes like song lyrics or whatever they want to share that inspires or teaches the group something. They share a win and a challenge that they are dealing with personally or professionally. They then call somebody out on the team. We put that into place a few years ago and have not missed it. After six weeks of COVID, we stopped doing it. We brought it back, and everybody is like, “It’s back. Thank goodness.”That empathy and community that straddles classes, lifestyles, and things like that, has been a profound part of their work. Click To Tweet
At the end of that meeting, we kick off and talk about a lot of the things that are going on in the business that people need to be aware of, and then we close out. It’s a ten-minute meeting. I have many people who have pointed to that as something they look forward to. Even if they are having a bad morning, it sets them up in a good place. It’s also a time when people have to grow.
I’m shocked at how many people are petrified to stand up in front of people that they know very well at this point to speak but many of them have said, “That’s something I grew from.” It’s a personal growth thing, and people build a little bit of empathy if they see somebody else speaking. That’s one structure that I love hearing in myself every day. Another thing we do at our company is that we set up monthly strategic sprints. We’ve got our strategic plan for the year. There are five priorities we are focused on. In every priority, we say, “For the next four weeks, here’s what we want to accomplish.”
Once a month, we share out for the entire team, we say, “Here’s where we are for the year. Here’s how we did on last month’s sprint. Here’s what we are planning for the next month.” We share our financials and everything with everybody. I hope that everyone feels like they are part of the success of the business. We are not hiding anything from them. This is an interesting time for all businesses as we deal with economic uncertainty. We have been very open with our community about that. I feel like there’s a lot of appreciation for that in the sense that they are connected to the company and that we are treating them very respectfully by sharing all of this with them.
We have Thursday EcoAlly training sessions, where sometimes it’s only the front of the house if it’s a product and technical but a lot of times it’s the whole company where we talk about a core value or do training on sustainability. It’s helping everybody get ingrained in our mission. Kyle and I run the business together, and we are married. A lot of people have said to us that our willingness to be pretty personal with each other and open about our own lives and our kids has allowed people to feel they can also be very open and transparent with us about their personal lives and things like that.
We are not casual in an unprofessional way but we are open and transparent. We meet with everybody one-on-one for 15 to 20 minutes to hear their reflections on the business and what we could be doing better. We do that twice a year, and that opens up a lot. The final thing, particularly for our warehouse team, is we try to be respectful and flexible. Our work in most departments can be done at any hour of the day.
To fulfill an order, if you do it at 9:00 in the morning or 5:00 PM, that’s okay. If somebody needs to go pick up their children for an emergency or they are dealing with something and don’t want to take their PTO, it’s like, “Do what you need to do now and make up your hours tomorrow.” There is a pretty adult culture of flexibility, and people appreciate being able to do what they need to do outside of work.
It’s amazing to me how few organizations do that, though. We do the same thing at Turning The Corner. That’s what my staff will say. They feel like they are treated like an adult. When do they say that I’m glad but how should it be any other way? I have a little bit more of an advantage, and I’m a services-based business. As a manufacturing-based business, how do you do that and balance shifts? I’m sure it isn’t only one person producing things. You’ve probably got a team and a workflow that has to happen. What if someone in the middle of the process needs to step away? How do you manage that?
It’s interesting that you are asking that question. We’ve had a sad amount of life tragedies happen in our team. A couple of people have had loved ones who’ve passed away, and some sicknesses and things happened. We are working through that now. I will say half of the jobs in our warehouse are done as an individual. Fulfilling an order is an example of one. It can happen whenever. As long as we get the order out that day or within 48 hours, it’s okay.
Our fulfillment department has easy flexibility, I would say. Somebody can call out one day and say, “I’m going to make up the hours tomorrow,” and that’s fine. We have in our production team where we do rely on. We want the machines to be running 24 hours a day or you have to work alongside somebody who shares a shift. We come from the angle of yes, as much as possible. If somebody is like, “I need to do this.” It’s like, “Yes. How can I make this work?”
The two things are cross-training. If I know that there are a couple of other people on the floor who know how to keep a machine running, if so-and-so needs to run out that day, then that’s fine. We have enough cross-training that happens. Our managers or I will step in and fulfill or print if I need to. My general manager and my floor manager will do the same. Having a top-down level of support is helpful.
It’s because we give a lot of flexibility, we ask people to give us as much advanced notice as possible. If they tell us three days in advance that something is come up that they have to deal with in three days, then we can plan for that absence even better. Having a lot of people who can step in and support when it’s needed maybe is not be the best and highest level of training but that can keep things going is helpful.
Many manufacturing environments have turned their manufacturing into pods where one person does one thing, and it gets handed off. I’ve always felt that work would be so boring for those folks. They are not robots, they are humans. When you can have a little bit more variety in the job, it’s better for everybody.
In this case, it establishes and creates a place where you can have that flexibility because they are not so dependent upon each other to get the work out the door. I like this idea a lot. We talk a lot about flexibility and how businesses can bring it into their environments. I always say, “I know there’s a way to do this, and you gave me some good ideas there.” You and your husband purchased this business a few years ago. You inherited this team.
I will say we purchased it many years ago, and it was four people big. We’ve built this particular team that we have. There’s one person on our team who is from the original four.
What was leading for you seven years ago versus now?
If only I knew then what I know now. I will say when we first acquired the business, I maintained the job that I had outside of EcoEnclose so that we didn’t have to rely on this business to support our family. I was doing about 10 to 15 hours a week supporting and far more of the sustainability part of the role. I found myself having an affinity for managing the operations and the warehouse. I was stepping into that naturally, and the team grew to a size that we needed that level of oversight. The company grew big enough to support our family. I was able to move in and take the role of sustainability was one hat and managing the operations was the other hat.Having a lot of people who can step in and support when needed, maybe not with the best, highest level of training, but can keep things going, is really helpful. Click To Tweet
It’s still a journey. I’m not going to pretend that I figured this out but I would say that I was a lot “nicer” for the first three years, maybe in that role. It’s because of my “niceness,” or looking back, it was just an inability to deal with conflict. I was creating a more toxic, less fun, good, and healthy work environment for other people. You realize that if I’m treating one person with generosity who is treating people around them poorly, I’m doing a disservice to everybody, and I want them all to have a great rewarding experience at EcoEnclose.
Each time you head on a deal with a person who’s bringing culture down or not doing their job well, you realize in the aftermath, “I should have done that six months ago.” Every time you do it, it does not get easier but you are able to understand, “The long-term benefits of this are so worth it, not just for our bottom line but for all the other people that I care so deeply about in our building that it makes you act faster.
I act faster in difficult situations than I used to. If you want to create a culture where community and flexibility are there, it can be challenging to say, “The numbers matter. Our output matters.” I don’t have any outside funding. A lot of our competitors are very well-funded by VC firms, so it doesn’t matter if every order that gets sent out the door is profitable or not. They can lose money on a lot of orders, and that’s okay. We can’t. We have to fund our growth and fund everybody’s lives through the cash that we generate.
It’s easy to be so nice, kind, and think about the community to a point, and then you feel a little uncomfortable saying but I also need you to put out 40 orders now. Otherwise, I’m losing money and can’t afford to pay our workforce. My ability to manage the tension between those two things has gotten better as well.
It can be misconstrued that a happy culture means that it’s never hard, and that’s not the case at all. You can still have a great culture, and the work is hard. There’s pressure. My business is like yours. It’s 100% customer funded. I don’t even have a line of credit at a bank because I’m like, “If I can’t make this thing work and get real money, then maybe it isn’t a real business.”
I look at a lot of these companies that are VC funded, and they are spending money and throwing those things carelessly. Oftentimes, they end up with things not working very well in the long run, so I appreciate your model but it is hard when you have to make those tough decisions. Did you turn to anybody? How did you learn how to have these difficult conversations? Is there a book, training or something you would recommend to our readers?
I probably did read a lot about things. You read blog posts and see what comes up with. I will say that the biggest habit that I’ve taken on is to role-play and practice because books are helpful. You probably can share better books than I could but I realized you have to figure out how to do it in your own style. You also have to make sure that you are being clear and delivering the message. I read somewhere, “If you want to provide feedback, you have to do it with a balance of truth and grace.” You have to be clear and direct and tell them the truth but do so with grace and kindness.
If you can’t balance the two of them, it’s not going to get across. Hearing that, I said, “When I have to have a difficult conversation, I’m better at writing than I am at speaking, in general, so I typically will write it down. Usually, it’s an improvement plan or some course of disciplinary action or a first warning, if necessary. I then practice with somebody, oftentimes it’s Kyle and I will say, “I’m going to deliver this message to you and tell me is there something that I’m glossing over in my quest not to have an uncomfortable conversation such that it’s not clear and/or am I being too direct and aggressive.” We role-play it until I feel comfortable with it, and then it’s easier. Not easy but easier.
It never is easy to have a difficult conversation. It’s just not fun no matter what but the more you practice it, the better you get at it, for sure. That’s one of the things we always recommend because we do a management training program. In that, one of the modules is dignified conversations. I came from IBM, where there were not a lot of nice things that were said when you were in trouble, and you would watch people get lambasted.
I would be like, “That guy looks so bad.” I felt bad for both parties and thought, “That’s not a dignified conversation.” That’s how we think of it as dignified but you are role-playing is a great piece of advice for our readers because when you practice it, it often goes a lot better than how you expected it to go. Only once have I had a conversation where I practiced it over and over. I then got into the situation, and it did not go well with my history of doing all this. I thought, “What could I have done differently then?” Sometimes you have a bad situation.
You never know what the response is going to be, so it’s hard to practice every which potential it unfolds.
Tell us a little bit more about some of the unique benefits that you feel like you have as an organization. You’ve got this great view of flexibility. Are there some cool things you’ve discovered over the years that your staff loved that you’ve continued to fund or offer them as a unique benefit?
Again, being self-funded, we’ve had to scaffold the benefits as we could. We started with nothing when we inherited the business. As quickly as possible, we started to offer health insurance. We want to offer health insurance, and then we started to increase the premiums. Now, for most people, we can cover their entire premium. Kyle comes from a background in finance and investing. It was important for him to have a culture where we were teaching people about investing.
We got our 401(k) up and running, covering things like life insurance and short-term disability. It’s covering the benefits that help people feel a basic sense of security in their life. The 401(k) has been fun because we have been able to expose a lot of people who the concept of investing for the long-term might not be second nature to them. We have these sessions quarterly where we talk about the 401(k) and how much has grown.
The market has tanked and been able to help them understand, “Don’t panic. This is a time to continue building your nest egg. Not to panic and extract yourself from your 401(k),” and be able to share some of the financial wisdom that we have been able to learn. We have been privileged to learn in our own education with our team. Many of the basic benefits that some of the larger enterprises offer, we have been able to offer to our relatively smaller team.
We have a fairly young team, and they quite appreciate the fact that we are very good at socializing. Our general manager started as a print associate, and now he’s the general manager of our floor. He’s an exceptional performer. He used to sing on a cruise ship, and we’ve got a bunch of folks who play instruments. We have a couple of folks with gorgeous voices, and they all found each other and decided to create the EcoEnclose band. It straddles the front and the back of the house. 2 to 3 times a year, they will play.You have to be clear and direct and tell them the truth, but you have to do so with grace and kindness. If you can't balance the two of them, it's not going to get across. Click To Tweet
We have a big party in our parking lot. They perform 8 to 10 great songs from the ’80s, ’90s, and the classic rock type of songs. I will get a food truck and alcohol. Everybody invites their significant others, and we have a great time. It’s a pretty inexpensive way to have a fun party where everybody gets to know each other and showcase their talents. We have our artists and let them design murals and artwork for our warehouse. There are ways that we help people showcase the people that they are outside of work here and bring back their fullest selves to work. Again, because it’s a pretty young workforce, everybody loves to hang out and have a good time.
We forget that when we get older and have her kids and our families. When I joined IBM, this whole between a time when they had done a ton of hiring and then no hiring. There was only a couple dozen of us that were new and fresh out of college at IBM in this huge environment. It was a small city in those days. I felt so lonely and alone. I didn’t feel that community, as I’ve mentioned before. Everybody went home at night, and they had their families. I went home to my cat. I did not feel connected at all. I didn’t let that stay that way. I created this newcomer’s network. I found the two dozen people that were brand new. We partied together and are still friends.
That’s a great insight because I would say Kyle and I are not. We have three kids at home. We are exhausted from running the business. We structure some of these parties. We make sure that they can happen but you do a couple of those things. Frankly, we don’t have the capacity in our lives to be organizers of this. The people that everybody turns to are the social coordinator. They will organize pedal biking things, hikes, and stuff like that.
As leaders, you can lay this idea that you want your workplace to be a culture where people can find each other and make connections should they want to. The folks that have the talent to create a social environment will rise up and do it on their own. You don’t have to, as a leader, be the one to do it, and frankly, you probably shouldn’t because they don’t want to be hanging out with you every Saturday. They want to hang out with each other.
It’s better when it grows out of its own ecosystem. When it’s forced by the alpha species, you and Kyle, I don’t feel it will necessarily survive and last as long. What does the next couple of years look like? I heard that you might be trying to expand to where you are shipping your packaging to. Is that still a plan?
Yeah. There are so many things that could be on the radar. We exist now a little. We are recovering from COVID. We are in an industry that had a massive spike in COVID, and the industry is, in general, over-inventoried. Most eCommerce brands and suppliers of eCommerce brands have hit a plateau. When I look at this year, it’s a lot of strengthening the foundations of our business because, during COVID, we grew in messy ways. We, in some cases, hired too quickly. We did things without setting up processes for them.
I look at the next six months as a time where we are likely not going to grow. We are going to plateau because the industry overall is recovering or normalizing after COVID. That gives us an opportunity to see better at our SOPs. “Let’s make sure everybody is well-trained. Let’s make sure everyone is the right fit in their job and get the foundations right.”
I see that in the short-term, and as I looked longer-term, I would say the three things that I get most excited about are one, our products that need to continue to be more and more sustainable. We are proud of what we have, but now, every time one of our companies or anybody ships something, that packaging is still net negative for the planet. Our vision is that in 10 or 15 years, every time you are shipping something, that packaging is net positive for the planet, and there’s so much work we have to do to get there.
Product innovation is tremendously a big part of it. Another part of it is expanding into other verticals like primary packaging and other places where people need more eco-friendly solutions. I heard somebody say, “The best thing you could do for your culture is creating an exceptional training program that feels systematized, holistic and welcoming.” We don’t need to hire very much now but in 2023 and 2024, we will.
How do we create a world-class training program so that everybody, whether you are coming in to be a machine operator, a fulfillment person or our national account rep, has some of the same foundations? Also, they get indoctrinated into our culture in a way that feels welcoming that they come right onboard and can learn the complexities of the product set but also the nuances of our culture and our core values well.
Especially if you do end up opening another location, that infrastructure is going to be convenient to be focusing on it. Each plateau and peak that you go through as a business requires a whole new way of looking at your team and your staff and what they are going to need. That’s a good idea.
It’s such a good point because, from a carbon footprint perspective, we now ship everything out of Colorado for the most part. We know we need to expand on the East and West Coasts to minimize carbon footprint for everybody who we are shipping on the coast. It’s a beautiful point that if we can’t be there, sometimes the culture can’t rely on specific people. The culture has to be, in some ways, systematized, so we got to get there before we do that expansion.
This is great. I so appreciate this conversation. What’s the best way that people can get in touch with you?
Anybody can email me anytime at [email protected]. I love hearing from folks and getting questions. I also love getting advice. If anybody is reading this and thinks they have some ideas on how we can continue to do better, please share. If you are interested in sustainability and packaging, always reach out, and our website is EcoEnclose.com. If you want to learn more about what we are doing, check that out as well.
You guys have got some great videos too that show what you are doing. I’ve got a lot of intros I want to make for you because a lot of people could use this packaging for the stuff they are shipping. We will talk about that later, too.
Thank you, Kendra. This is great. You have so much wisdom in this space.
Thank you to everyone who tuned in for How I Turned the Corner. Thank you so much, Saloni Doshi, with EcoEnclose. We can’t wait to check back with you in a couple of months to see how everything is going.
That sounds great. Thanks for having me.
About Saloni Doshi
Saloni is the CEO and Chief Sustainability Officer at EcoEnclose, the world’s most innovative provider of sustainable shipping solutions for ecommerce brands. She is passionate about helping conscious companies thrive and pursuing advancements that help build towards a truly circular materials economy. Prior to EcoEnclose, Saloni was a Managing Director at New Venture Advisors, a consultancy that supports the development and growth of sustainable food and agriculture. Professionally, Saloni’s career has balanced social justice, environmental progress, and strategy – including the launch of Fresh Takes Kitchen, a social enterprise committed to improving healthy food access and serving as a Director at Teach For America. Saloni lives in Colorado with her three children, whose deep and growing passion for the planet and all of its biodiversity inspires her for what the future may bring.