Spreading comfort one hammock at a time!

Rachel Connors is the Co-Founder and CEO (Chief Enthusiasm Officer) of Yellow Leaf Hammocks, a social enterprise dedicated to defeating global poverty through sustainable artisan job creation. Yellow Leaf was born after Rachel’s husband met a group of women in a small village in Thailand making what he dubbed the world’s most comfortable hammocks. It then became their mission to share those hammocks with the world—and help those women and their families overcome poverty through artisan work. 

In this episode of the Building While Flying podcast, Rachel joins Katie Hankinson, SVP at The Sasha Group, to dive into what it means to be a social enterprise. Rachel says, “You can’t only be focused on doing good, because if you aren’t running a sustainable business, the opportunity goes away.” Rachel also talks about how microfinance organizations like Kiva.org are helping businesses like Yellow Leaf make a difference for women around the world.

"Try it for the first time. And one of the first things so many people say is oh, I feel like I'm back in the womb."

Rachel Connors

Transcription

Katie Hankinson: (00:00)

Welcome to building while flying a Sasha Group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever-changing skies.

 

Katie Hankinson: (00:12)

Welcome to Building While Flying. My guest today is Rachel Connors co-founder and CEO of yellow leaf hammocks. Rachel Connors is not just the CEO, but the chief enthusiasm officer of yellow leaf hammocks, a social enterprise dedicated to defeating global poverty through sustainable artisan job creation. She’s passionate about social justice and impeccable design. The twin pillars of yellow leaf artisan activity is the second largest employer in the developing world. Through her work with yellow leaf, Rachel is dedicated to conquering the supply chain challenges that have trapped artisans in poverty and kept their goods and breaking through to the mainstream marketplace. And by working with mothers in bop communities to create authentic inspired products and enriched consumers’ lives, her work is creating a transformative new model for 21st century art enterprise. Under her leadership. Yellow has been recognized as the best for the world B Corp and amplified it’s global message through partnerships with kiva.org made in a free world. And as in the official hammocks of south by Southwest she’s collaborated on products with Bloomingdale’s Tommy Bahama and CB two, and her work for yellow leaf has been featured by good morning, America, the wall street journal Vogue, and Oprah’s favorite things. Rachel is a fellow of GS B the global unreasonable Institute, the opportunity collaboration reality, and the coaching fellowship. My goodness, Rachel, welcome to the show.

 

Rachel Connors: (01:43)

Thank you so much. Oh my goodness. Thank you for that lovely introduction.

 

Katie Hankinson: (01:47)

well, I mean, as well as being a compelling product and described as the world’s most comfortable hammock, um, called out by Oprah, we do love to be on her favorite things list. You are also obviously a registered B Corp. You’ve got this mission of empowering cross women. What a story I’d love to get a little bit of a potted history. Do you wanna give us a quick recap of those early days? How you got the idea and the whole business began?

 

Rachel Connors: (02:14)

Yes. Oh my goodness. Well, it, it feels like, uh, no time at all and like a hundred years ago. Um, but my, you know, it all, it, I guess it started the official start would date back to this vacation that my husband took in Thailand. Um, he is, he is just like a bundle of energy and an absolute maximizer. He’s the type of person who would go on a vacation to the beach without flip flops, because he hadn’t found the perfect flip flop and he wouldn’t wouldn’t SU suffer a, a secondary flip flop. So the same thing happened. Uh, he’d been looking for a hammock forever, never bought one, cuz none of them met his standards. And then on this little island in Thailand, he took a motorbike ride, found this shop, found people, a hammock sitting outside that he just jumped in and immediately knew it was like the most comfortable hammock he’d ever experienced.

 

Rachel Connors: (03:10)

It was beautiful. He started asking questions and the, they were like, oh, it’s, it’s just kind of woven in this, in this village. These ladies make it. And he is like, where, tell me. So he flies north gets a cab driver to drive him 600 miles out to this village in the middle of the jungle. And uh, you know, spends a day there talking to the women, learning about, you know, their goals and you know, the fact that these hammocks were they baby step towards escaping this really, really, um, you know, endemic cycle of poverty and that their, their dream was that somebody would come and, and say like, you know, I’m gonna bring these to the world. Right. And he’s like, I will do that. so I will

 

Katie Hankinson: (03:53)

Make this happen.

 

Rachel Connors: (03:54)

That’s happens. He, he just like, I volunteers tribute uh, so he came home from that trip with a backpack full of the hammocks. Um, he had, uh, his, his business plan written on the air sickness bag from the plane and, uh, he was just all gungho like, alright, this is what I’m gonna do. We I’m gonna start this company. And I was the hardest first customer I was, I was like, are you sure?

 

Katie Hankinson: (04:25)

 

Rachel Connors: (04:26)

You want to leave finance for hammocks? Okay. Okay, well let’s, let’s test it out. So the amazing thing that this all led to was that the first, I don’t know, 500 hams we sold, we sold right out of the trunk of my Volkswagen, uh, talking directly to customers, getting to know like what, where people’s pain points were seeing like the incredible love that people have. They’re you’re either a hammock person or not, and right. Hammock people are passionate. Oh my goodness. Um, and so we really crafted the products, you know, around all the feedback we were getting, we built the company based on like the stories we were hearing from people about how they used or weren’t able to use their hammocks. And, uh, it all, it all grew from yeah, those first like 5,000 conversations, uh, under the summer sun.

 

Katie Hankinson: (05:13)

That’s awesome. I, I love the, the visit, the image of, of Joe on the plane, doodling, his business plan and turning up to greet you with the backpack full of hammocks. Um, and also re what a great way to begin road testing the product, literally out, out with the consumers. I mean, what a great way to get early immediate feedback on how the product was going.

 

Rachel Connors: (05:36)

Yes. Yeah. You

 

Katie Hankinson: (05:37)

Road tested the product you’re out in front of a bunch of people and you actually had a few other financial models to help you test out and scale the business early on. You mentioned Kickstarter. Can you talk a bit about how you, you know, use some of these instruments and, and, and strategies to help both learn about the market, but also scale the business in those early days?

 

Rachel Connors: (06:01)

Yes, definitely. You know, it’s so interesting because we were living in San Francisco, it was peak, uh, VC, unicorn, era mm-hmm . And we, you know, Joe, with his finance background had a lot of wisdom on like, not taking, not, not needing to take on investment like that and have that pressure of growth, especially because our mission is so important to us and we didn’t want anything to happen that would dilute our ability to say like, no, this is, you know, this is what the community is asking for. That’s what we’re gonna do. Um, so a couple of really cool things that we did. One has been our partnership with kiva.org. Um, and if people are familiar with Kiva, it’s the largest microfinance organization in the world,

 

Katie Hankinson: (06:48)

Incredible concept,

 

Rachel Connors: (06:51)

Amazing what they’ve done and, and the way that they’ve built out these partnerships. Um, you know, it’s so many microfinance partners all over the world, the traditional model for Kiva, like the thing most people are familiar with would be, you know, a woman wants to, she could make more money if she could buy a goat and then she could make cheese from the milk of the goat and sell that at the market. And she would be an entrepreneur, she’d have her own small business, she’d borrow the money for the goat and pay it back where Kiva was starting to get, um, realized there was an opportunity to expand even more. Was that not everybody wants the risks and challenges of entrepreneurship, right? Not every person in America wants to be an entrepreneur. Not every person globally wants to run their own small enterprise.

 

Katie Hankinson: (07:33)

Right?

 

Rachel Connors: (07:34)

So they started looking for companies like us who would be able to manage the process, uh, and take on the risk on behalf of all the people that they wanted to reach and impact. Um, so they wanted to reach people on the bottom. 1%, we’re working with women in the bottom 1% and they, instead of all, each of those women needed to individually start her own hammock company. They’re working with us, we do finance training with them. Um, we help them open their first bank accounts. We work together to decide how much money do they wanna make that year. And then we back it into the number of hammocks that they’ll leave. They get all that money up front so they can, you know, provide for their families. Um, keep there’s a lot that just kind of keeps you trapped in poverty. That would go away. If you had like a little bit of money, one example, right? Like a rice cooker, right. Instead of spending hours each day cooking and like making sure that it doesn’t nothing goes wrong and you’re over an open flame. It’s, it’s an electric rice, you plug it in, you know, you come back in half an hour,

 

Katie Hankinson: (08:36)

Right.

 

Rachel Connors: (08:36)

That’s the type of thing. That’s, that’s a huge purchase that almost everybody makes, as soon as they save up a little weaving money. So we’re able to front load it with the Kiva loans. That’s the type of thing that we do at that.

 

Katie Hankinson: (08:46)

That’s phenomenal. So I, I think it’s so interesting to think about this space of, um, the kind of microeconomic model that was developed probably like 15, 20 years ago, that Kiva is such a good example of, but it’s amazing to think that there’s now some infrastructure that you represent that creates layers within the model, that to your point takes on some of the risk enables you to reach a, a, a wider pool of individual workers, but in a way that helps up skill them and gives ’em a little helping hand within what is a safe construct of an org like Kiva.

 

Rachel Connors: (09:23)

Yes. And, you know, sounds phenomenal for the, for the business. It, it made such a difference because we were able to, you know, pre gather money and, and not have to worry about, you know, one of the biggest ways that a, a product business, you know, can go out of business or, or fail is running out of money between for, for per, you know, for purchase orders for, to supply product. So it helps us get out in front of that. And it’s, there’s not a lot of like special, special opportunities for a social enterprise. That’s not a non-profit. So this is like a really cool way that Kiva’s revolutionizing that area.

 

Katie Hankinson: (09:58)

How, and just for our, I guess, for those of our listenership who maybe, maybe aren’t as familiar with the idea of a social enterprise, how would you describe a social enterprise, um, in the context of what it is that you’ve built?

 

Rachel Connors: (10:11)

Well, what we are doing, there are many, uh, definitions and interpretations of the term. What we would consider ourselves to be is like, um, mission driven and market based

 

Katie Hankinson: (10:24)

Mm-hmm

 

Rachel Connors: (10:25)

. So our reason for being is to create good jobs for moms in rural Thailand, um, and to help them break their families out of the cycle of poverty for our customers. The main thing we want them to know is that this is the best hammock you’re ever gonna experience. This is a quality product. Um, and the reason that, that I think that that’s important is that the product stands separate from the mission. You’re not buying it because, you know, oh, look at this nice woman who made it. So for, for us, that, that, like the definition of a social enterprise is that it’s financially sustainable and run like a business. Right. But the money is not the only consideration, right? We’re not, we’re not racing to the bottom in terms of, of, you know, that our goal is always to compensate the weavers even more when we can,

 

Katie Hankinson: (11:22)

It’s such an important qu qualification to make, I think because ultimately you are a pro for profit entity. You know, you, there is a business being run. You have an incredible, like more than philanthropic purpose driven core. But I think there are so many examples where brands confuse, um, a kind of the, the humanitarian purpose of their brand and the, the quality or the product, or, you know, whatever the core actual job to be done for the business is, and it makes for confusing marketing and it makes for confusing message. Um, so I think it’s, it’s really important to emphasize you are a phenomenal product. You’ve identified your market, you know, what matters to your consumer. They want to buy a hammer because they want to sit in it or put it in their garden or whatever, but the knowledge that there is also this broader mission based social element to the business is, you know, a win-win. And I, you know, I remember back working on, um, JP Morgan chase years ago. I think it was a quote from Jamie diamond around, you know, where good meets, good business, like doing good is good for business. And that’s kind of the premise of that social enterprise sentiment.

 

Rachel Connors: (12:33)

And you can’t only be focused on doing good, because if you aren’t running a sustainable business, the, the opportunity goes away for your makers. Right, right. There’s right. Right. And I had, I had a background in nonprofit and I had just seen like how challenging it is to keep something going, if you don’t have, if you’re just saying like, please we’re worthy, as opposed to, this is fun. This is awesome. Like, get in on this. And then, and then also you’ll feel good. Right. It’s, it’s a, it’s, there’s a nice little to be the on

 

Katie Hankinson: (13:06)

Top. You have comfortable hammer. Yeah, exactly. As opposed to, you know, give, contribute your money to this great cause. So, you know, that, that follows through to the two real pillars of your business, which you’ve described as social justice and impeccable design. Can you talk about how those two pillars shape your brand and business as you continue to move, move forward? How does it shape your day to day decisions in your marketing?

 

Rachel Connors: (13:33)

Yeah. You know, one of the, one of the amazing things that I’ve always liked about what we’re doing is that this really is, you know, again, we were living in, in San Francisco, we were in the peak of, of like, you know, this is the, it’s the Warby Parker of this. It’s the, you know, everybody was, everybody is innovating of the,

 

Katie Hankinson: (13:52)

Ock making how

 

Rachel Connors: (13:54)

, and, and we’re over here innovating in this very, you know, detailed, meticulous way on just like, how can this hammock be the most comfortable? How can we adjust the Tenile strength of this yarn, um, to, to, so that it just feels a little bit more, you know, weightless when you’re floating in it. Um, and so that’s been kind of what we’ve taken forward when we wanted to introduce our first like, uh, furniture product, our first hanging solution, the hammock throne. We, I mean, I think we’ve initially had this idea probably eight years before the Kickstarter was launched. And we kept going back to the drawing board because we just weren’t happy with design. We wanted it, you know, it’s, it’s pretty simple, get something that’s, you know, holding two, two ends of a hammock about five feet apart in a room, you know, like have build a base, have some sticks.

 

Rachel Connors: (14:47)

And we were like, no, this needs to be, I wanted to look like I want it to be iconic. I want it to be sitting next to an Eames chair on a poster of iconic seating, you know, , and that, that was where we got with it. And, and, you know, it’s, it is always a push and pull, right? Because the goal is to create these hanging solutions so we can sell even more hammocks. We, the biggest thing we hear is I wish I had a place to hang it. So we’re trying to create these hanging solutions, make it so more people can buy these hammocks, make it so we can create more jobs in rural Thailand. But at the same time, we’re looking at the long term viability. And we were like, there’s no point in just making, you know, some something that’s good enough. And, and then some people might buy it and, you know, it’s like, we, we really need it to be something that’s that we stand behind. And so we have this kind of idea that everything we make is gonna have like beautiful design, like the right, um, materials for the use. So, you know, in this case, durable and yeah. And sturdy, um, and then it’s gonna have like an, you know, an innovation or an improvement on what’s already out there.

 

Katie Hankinson: (15:54)

I love that. Great. Uh, what great criteria and principles to think about? I, I, the idea, I think as well, having something so specific as a kind of ambition to be next to that EMS chair in terms of aesthetic, I mean, it’s a really good like shortcut to showing how serious you are taking the design element. And also I think important that a lot of this is coming from direct customer feedback. Like, you know, that the single pain point of the hammock buyer is where do I hang these two ends of this hammock. So that Dr. That driving innovation really simple thing that, that gives you the starting point.

 

Rachel Connors: (16:31)

And that was something

 

Katie Hankinson: (16:32)

Also, oh, go ahead.

 

Rachel Connors: (16:33)

Oh, I was just gonna say, and that was something that came out of those very initial, you know, 500 hammocks we’re selling out of the car. Yeah. That was the biggest thing we heard. Like, oh, I want a hammock so much. I have nowhere to hang it. Yeah. And you know, that just drove us for so long. And it’s still part of like the core of what we’re trying to do is make sure you can hang it and you do hang it up once you get it. That’s those are the two most important things to us.

 

Katie Hankinson: (16:53)

Yeah. That’s such a good point. It’s like the downloading of the app and never using it. Like someone’s got this beautiful woven thing and it sits in a drawer somewhere because they haven’t. And because they’ve got some aesthetic they’re trying to follow and it doesn’t fit with it. So,

 

Rachel Connors: (17:05)

And as a very aesthetically driven person, I understand ,

 

Katie Hankinson: (17:09)

Um, sidebar, my discovery of hammocks was made in Mexico when I was backpacking in college and went to tum before it turned into the tum. It is now. And it was literally just, just like one little bar and like the ruins, and then this place where you could just rent a Pappa and just, it was just like a cover. And you brought your own ham and you just hung your hammer in there. And that was, it costs like two bucks a night.

 

Rachel Connors: (17:35)

That sounds amazing. That’s

 

Katie Hankinson: (17:37)

How I discovered that you can sleep a very comfortable, full night through, in a home and be super happy. ,

 

Rachel Connors: (17:42)

It’s very common. Like in south American, central American, south American cultures, it’s really common to sleep in. And that’s one thing thing, Daniel, Latsky our, um, they who invested in us on shark tank, he’s the founder of kind, really aligned with us mission wise. Mm-hmm but also he’s he’s from Mexico. And he’s just like, why are Americans not in heaven?

 

Katie Hankinson: (18:02)

Right.

 

Rachel Connors: (18:04)

He’s he’s he’s so business wise, you know, he, the product, he was like, there is a huge opportunity here, um, which we were grateful to hear. Cuz a lot of times when you’re trying to sell someone on how big hammocks are they go hammocks,

 

Katie Hankinson: (18:17)

like, isn’t that, isn’t that the thing you have in the garden for like two months out the year and

 

Rachel Connors: (18:21)

That’s yeah. Like you lay in like those like, oh,

 

Katie Hankinson: (18:24)

There’s a method. You gotta do a diagonal life. You want have the,

 

Rachel Connors: (18:28)

That is yes, yes. For the south American style. Like we have you, you lay diagonally and that is maximum comfort.

 

Katie Hankinson: (18:35)

I love it. So,

 

Rachel Connors: (18:36)

And they don’t wobble or flip because they don’t have the sticks at either end. The sticks are why I think Americans don’t like hammocks. Most of ours come with those. And then the very wobbly and scary

 

Katie Hankinson: (18:45)

Uhhuh, you feel like you’re never gonna get out of one. You are like, yeah,

 

Rachel Connors: (18:49)

Like a rope mattress or

 

Katie Hankinson: (18:51)

not with the yellow, not, not with these, these hammocks, these are gonna be the ones that work for us. Um, so you talked a bit about your innovation process and the fact that a lot of these come from a kind of a moment of customer inspiration. What about the fireproof hammock? Where, where does that one come from?

 

Rachel Connors: (19:09)

Oh my gosh, this was amazing. Um, so we got, um, a live chat on our website several years back and it was somebody saying I’m, I’m interested in, uh, a large order of hammocks. And we were like, great, cool. Ended up being a five year process because the person who was reaching out was doing procurement for Virgin voyages, um, Richard Branson’s new cruise line. Yeah. And they had, I mean, it seems like a breathtakingly, simple idea. They had an idea that they wanted to put a hammock outdoors on every single cabin of the ship. They are. I think the ship is built so that every cabin has a deck as a patio. There’s no internal ones. So everybody ha and, and they were down, they’re like, yeah. And we were like, oh no problem. One of the great things about being an artist in business is that we can really tinker and innovate. It doesn’t need to be a production run of, you know, 20,000 units order to

 

Katie Hankinson: (20:09)

Get work typing for. Yeah. Got it. Yeah.

 

Rachel Connors: (20:11)

Yeah. So, so we just got in there and started innovating and then they said, um, okay, so we want it to be, you know, these are the dimensions we want, we’re thinking red. Um, oh, and it should be fireproof. And we just like laughed on the call. And then it turned out they were serious. They needed a fireproof hammock, uh, because of maritime regulations. Right. This is why nobody has cruise ships with hammocks yet. And so, uh, Joe embarked on like a three year textile exploration journey, cuz we, they, there was there our fireproof materials out there, but they don’t feel great on your skin. And we wanted it to feel great when you’re sitting in a bathing suit, you know, we don’t wanna feel clammy or weird. And so, um, eventually after many, many trips, uh, of, and many, many prototypes, uh, we ended up with a fireproof hammock. That’s on every single version ship in every room.

 

Katie Hankinson: (21:05)

I love that. It’s so funny cuz it sort of brings the hammock back to its one of its historical beginnings, cuz it also used to be the, the, the bed of choice for sailors crossing oceans. And now you’re back there again with like high end paying Virgin Virgin cruises customers. , there’s

 

Rachel Connors: (21:22)

Nothing more nautical than a hammock. Like you don’t quite, it really fits.

 

Katie Hankinson: (21:29)

I love it. So you were invited to be on shark tank. Was that kind of a big unlock for the, the scaling of the business? Talk a bit about that shark crazy shark tank experience.

 

Rachel Connors: (21:40)

Yes. Yes. Um, so fast forward of many years and a lot of work later, uh, you know, they, they say that that’s how long it takes to become an overnight success.

 

Katie Hankinson: (21:54)

 

Rachel Connors: (21:54)

A good line, but it was, it was amazing. We were contacted by the producers at shark tank, um, after they saw a Kickstarter campaign that we’d done, uh, for the hammock throne, which is like our, you know, our really great innovation and hammock furniture that you can have indoors. Um, and they, I mean, we still went through all of the rigmarole of the process. It is an intensive 45 page application just to get that’s step one out of, out of maybe 50 steps um, but we, I mean, I’ll admit I was a little hesitant about going on shark tank. And again, my husband was like, no, this is gonna be amazing. Uh, this no big break. I was really worried. I was, I was concerned about our ability to, you know, you lose all control, right? They, they wanna make great TV and we want people to think we have a great business and it doesn’t really matter to them if those two things hap both happen. So luckily, you know, we, we had an amazing time. We really, really prepared, um, the producers worked with us a ton to get us like camera ready. Uh, right. And, and in the end we had a real, like, I think the absolute best possible outcome, uh, that you could have appearing on shark tank. So it, it, it was definitely a game changer in our trajectory.

 

Katie Hankinson: (23:15)

That’s awesome. I love it. So let’s take a little jump across to marketing. Um, you know, you’ve, you’ve got, you have some big name partnerships you have, you’ve made some really great kind of collaborations over the years. What are some of your biggest levers for marketing? Is it, does it live very much in that kind of partnership, social proof space?

 

Rachel Connors: (23:38)

Yeah. You know, the interesting thing is that we have, we’ve really grown much more organically than I think a lot of our fellow mm-hmm direct to consumer brands. Part of that is probably because we were, I think we were starting before there was even Shopify or, you know, like right there, there, I don’t know if Instagram even existed when we first started . Um, so we didn’t have the idea that we just, you know, jump on like make a cool ad, sell a bunch of things, you know, like in your Instagram feed, this was, this was not how we began. We, we really were, um, focused on just one to one connection and getting, I think one of the biggest vehicles we have for promotion still is our customers talking about us and putting the hammocks app, installing them and people coming and trying them in their, you know, at their house. And then everybody on the block gets one.

 

Katie Hankinson: (24:30)

Right. It’s interesting. Cuz such a unique and kind of unusual. It it’s a sort of one off purchase in many ways, but it also, the, the great bonus of that is it’s a talking point. So what better thing than to leverage your audience as essentially a kind of megaphone for driving intrigue for the business?

 

Rachel Connors: (24:51)

Absolutely. Yeah. And that is the selfish reason that we were determined that people actually hang up their hammock is that it really helps us in the long run, you know, that they’re gonna be raving about it. And like, you know, we get all the time people sending in videos that are like, okay, try it for the first time. Try it for the first time, you know, they’re videoing their neighbor getting in. And one of the first things so many people say is, um, oh, I feel like I’m back in the womb.

 

Katie Hankinson: (25:15)

Oh really? I love that.

 

Rachel Connors: (25:17)

I, to me, that is the craziest thing. I have heard it hundreds, if not thousands of times on people when they get

 

Katie Hankinson: (25:23)

In, I get it. I totally get it. But it was not what’s in my head the first time I got in helmet. But yeah, I can see that like you earlier on, you said, um, it’s like floating, which I complete. There’s something really magical and there’s just the swaying gently in the breeze kind of lulls you off. So I can sort of see the, I can see the back to the womb concept

 

Rachel Connors: (25:44)

A little bit. I mean, there’s science that says that the rocking motion of a hammock actually helps you fall asleep more quickly and they think it’s because it imitates the rocking in the womb.

 

Katie Hankinson: (25:56)

Mm well, that’s fascinating. I that’s an entire tick doc series right there, girl like that and it sounds like, I mean, Shopify or Instagram, um, viable pins, all that sort of stuff. They may not have existed at the time, but it sounds like they’re things that you’ve leapt into. How, how do you go about adopting new developing tech or, or, or new platforms or new advertising opportunities and what’s the, what’s the power play for your guys right now?

 

Rachel Connors: (26:28)

Yeah. You know, it’s great because we’ve got this mix of old and new, like we’ve got this thousand year old craft that we’re, uh, marketing, and then we are, we’re just jumping into, you know, your Facebook feed, your Instagram, your Google ads, um, and, and bringing that kinda like primal feeling into, uh, a very 21st century shopping experience. um, I think, you know, for us, we’ve always tried to keep things really diversified. So early on, we had a couple experiences where, um, you know, we put too many eggs in one basket mm-hmm , uh, and, and would just experience like a huge turnaround if anything changed with that medium or that customer or anything. So now we kind of have a rule that we don’t want anything to be more than like 10 or 15% of the business

 

Katie Hankinson: (27:17)

Mm-hmm

 

Rachel Connors: (27:18)

Makes sense. So, so we’ve got we’re we, that means we’re kind of throwing a lot of different things at the wall though. We’ve got, um, amazing agency partners that we work with on social advertising, on Google advertising. We have an affiliate focused, uh, PR agency that does amazing work with us. We’ve got, um, email, you know, an email marketing that is just like, we’re really trying to bring people into like add something. I mean, I’m personally like the worst with email mm-hmm I probably have 20,000 unright emails in my inbox right now, but

 

Katie Hankinson: (27:51)

We, we had a whole

 

Rachel Connors: (27:51)

Conversation about

 

Katie Hankinson: (27:52)

That. We this the other day

 

Rachel Connors: (27:54)

I would win any, any contest. Um, but the, you know, we do like a relaxation challenge that people can opt into where we literally send like little bite size ways that you can relax in five minutes or less in your day as part, you know, so we’re trying always to, to add value and not just be that annoying thing, getting in the way of, you know, seeing your pictures, your pretty pictures when you scroll

 

Katie Hankinson: (28:17)

Mm-hmm and then how much does the, the social enterprise side of the storytelling come into play? Like, but how do you balance those things out with your product, product storytelling and your bigger brand storytelling?

 

Rachel Connors: (28:30)

It’s interesting. So we’re, we’re always kind of balancing is the perfect word. Um, we, we really wanna be product driven in, in our sales process. We do at a certain point in the funnel, always make sure to point out, you know, share a little bit of the impact story, share why the hand craftsmanship actually adds to the comfort of the product, right? Mm-hmm like these weaves are so intricate, they can’t be replicated by a machine. So mm-hmm, , it’s still framed from the product benefit, the customer benefit perspective. Um, we find that there’s a lot of interest in the social impact around the holidays. Mm-hmm so that’s one of the ways, you know, you were mentioning, it’s kind of a one off product. Um, gifting is huge for us. And so people really, really get interested in that, um, you know, November, December during the holiday season, that makes

 

Katie Hankinson: (29:24)

Hundred sense. Yeah, of course.

 

Rachel Connors: (29:26)

And, and I think that, you know, what we, what we always kind of do well, the interesting thing is a lot of people buy the hammock without even realizing it’s handmade. So then we’ll get a note after like, oh my gosh, this is signed by someone it’s like, this is amazing. You know? So we want to do more to be able to connect people. Post-purchase each is signed by the person who wove it. So we’re hoping that we can kind of build a connection where you could, you know, message that Weaver or like read their life story. Um, and on our site, you know, we’re probably gonna add a QR code in the next batch of labels that we print that we can connect everyone.

 

Katie Hankinson: (30:00)

I love that. And part of it is that I think what it speaks to is if you think about the entire customer journey with your product, before they even know about it through to toying, with the idea of getting it, to getting it, to experiencing it, the experiencing of the product is when they are at the most emotionally connected to it. And that at the point when you are landing the most emotion, part of your brand story, I think gives it the greatest chance to land and also so authentic a way for them to then be able to share the story. It’s like, I bought this thing cuz it was awesome and it was on Instagram and I just thought, I want one of them. And now I discover it has this deep story. Um, I really like that, that

 

Rachel Connors: (30:45)

It’s kind of like, yeah, how we want it to be is like the icing on the cake, you know, mm-hmm, um, never, never like the main, the main thrust, but it’s, it is, it’s so cool. Like, especially in a time where, you know, a lot of our stuff is just coming in a, a box and we have no connection to, you know, even who’s selling it to us, right. Let alone who’s making it. Um, this is like a very deep, intimate connection with the maker.

 

Katie Hankinson: (31:10)

So true. And I think the other thing is you, no doubt have a whole other feeder into the brand, which is people who come directly through the social enterprise angle, right. Who come across you because someone has written up 10 amazing Kickstarter brands that are doing good in the world. And they’re like, I wanna buy a gift and it needs to be from, because it does something beyond just being a product. And so there’s that whole other way into the brand that I think yes is happening as well.

 

Rachel Connors: (31:39)

Yeah. It’s really interesting. Especially on Amazon, we’re finding like we’re, we’re figuring out a whole new way to present ourselves because they’re, you know, we don’t have as much control right over, over what people are seeing or, or the, you know, the way they they’re journeying through the experience. But what we can do is distinguish ourselves in that long, you know, scroll from products, uh, that are, you know, you can get, I’m sure you can get a hammock on Amazon for $20. Um, but you know, we’ve tried like front loading the hand woven or like trying to get a little bit more of the, uh, the craftsmanship story in there because it’s a completely different customer that yeah. That that’s like, if they’re interested in it, this is gonna distinguish it.

 

Katie Hankinson: (32:23)

I think you are, you are shining a light on a really important thing from anyone marketing to, to think about, which is just the way in which people experience a decision making process on these, through these different places in Amazon. You’re right. Like the, the whole site is so functional and rational. Yes. It’s people looking for a deal, but now it’s overlaid with, um, a slight mistrust of, you know, brands that aren’t who they say they are and, and you not wanting to buy the absolute bargain basement option cuz it’s actually for someone as a gift. Yeah. So you’re on the lookout for the thing that stands out a bit differently, even when you’re on the Amazon site. So mm-hmm, , it’s a, it’s the kind of almost like reverse psychology of like actually we’re gonna present some, something truly compelling and differentiating in this super optimized space and that will do wonderful brand.

 

Rachel Connors: (33:18)

So it’s, it’s definitely, we as we’ve, um, leaned into that a little more, we’ve seen a big difference and it’s, it’s really interesting to yeah. Each platform that you go on, you know, just like each marketing channel that you build out, just, you have to keep that learning like beginner’s mindset and be willing to do things a little differently.

 

Katie Hankinson: (33:35)

I love that. Well, it sounds like you mentioned the word tinkering earlier on that as an artisan brand, you’re able to tinker a little bit with the process and it, it sounds like that ethos tracks through all sorts of elements of the brand, how you think about product and how you think about finessing and optimizing marketing as well. Um, couple, couple questions. Just back to like the running of the, the sort of the two, the two partners at the, the top of the company. What you mentioned that you are the sort of chief enthusiasm officer, um, obviously your partner brought the, the original idea. What is the dynamic? How do you, how do you each balance, um, in terms of leadership of the company, what does that look like for you guys?

 

Rachel Connors: (34:17)

Oh my goodness. Well, yes. So I am, uh, the chief enthusiasm officer and Joe is the chief relaxation officer. Uh, we , we decided to start this business together. Uh, well I think we’ve been dating for less than a year and now we’re, we’re married. It’s, it’s been quite a long time um, and, and truly it’s it’s I think like, you know, at any given point, I would’ve said like we balance things out a little bit differently, but broadly he is very, very good with finance and operations and the, the visionary part, like he is the brand right. He has this passion for hammocks. Um, he has such a deep understanding of like, you know, what, what this is gonna emotionally bring into people’s life. Um, and I am much more concentrated in like, how does it, you know, how does it look? How does it feel like, like, uh, what, you know, I’m, I’m, I think I I’m pickier with everything that we’re doing because I’m not the easy, you know, I’m not just like, it’s a hammock. It’s wonderful. easy

 

Katie Hankinson: (35:28)

Possibility in your, in kind of like the actuality and the, the perfection, the perfect perfecting the experience, I

 

Rachel Connors: (35:36)

Guess. Yes. Yes. And I love that. I think it’s, it’s amazing. Like we, he, without his vision, I don’t know how, you know, this crazy idea would’ve gone, you know, gone this far and taken off this way. Um, but also I think one thing that we’ve, we’ve really learned, um, in this journey and I think it’s, uh, a note that I had not really heard before when you’re working with a co-founder or if you’re in a marriage, there tends to be this, um, impulse to polarity. Right. So you say like, well, he’s the visionary one and I’m the one with my feet on the ground, but actually in reality, it’s sort of like, we’re both a little visionary and crazy, right. I’m just a little further on the spectrum, you know, O over towards like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Wait, uh, before we jump, should we at least like grab some materials to build that parachute while we fly ? Um, so that’s, I think that’s an important thing to know is like, when you’re, we’re in a co-founder relationship, when you’re in a partnership, there’s a tendency to be like, oh, well, if you’re on that side, I’m on that side. I’m way over here and where you were opposed and what it actually is, is like, we’re just saying different, slightly different, uh, extremities of the same thing. A lot of the time mm-hmm,

 

Katie Hankinson: (36:52)

, it’s a sort of yes. And ending part of it versus the, the kind of pendulum swing.

 

Rachel Connors: (36:58)

Absolutely. Yes. Yeah. And, and like, it took a long time for me to learn when he’s off on a visionary tour, I’m just like, cool. I’m taking notes and then we’ll come back and figure out how we do all this.

 

Katie Hankinson: (37:11)

Good learnings over the, I love it. So when we think about today and what the next year, or two or three, what, what is next for you guys? What is the big focus right now? And what are you most excited about as you, as you think about the future for, for the company?

 

Rachel Connors: (37:28)

Uh, I mean, well, primary in everything we do is always, um, figuring out how to have enough inventory. So year after year, we keep growing. Um, and we keep, uh, our biggest challenge. Every summer is always that we run out of hammocks, no matter how many we make. And we think we’re so prepared and we’re like, this is gonna be the biggest year ever. Uh, we run out again. So inventory, uh, the, the, the less romantic part of inventory planning and making sure that we bring as many people in to the program, um, with reasonable expectations for, you know, how they’re, uh, weaving income will grow year upon year. Mm. But the, on the product side, what we’re really excited about, um, is the, the new portable hammock stand that we’re launching called the Vista. Uh, and this is a, it it’s a super light, super portable hammock stand.

 

Rachel Connors: (38:28)

You can take with you, it, it comes in a duffel bag. You can assemble it on the beach, uh, you know, on the side sidelines of the soccer game. And it takes less, it takes 30 seconds to put together. Uh, it weighs like 12 pounds, which is the, I believe it’s the lightest free standing hammock stand in the world, as based on all the research I’ve done, which is awesome. It’s amazing. And you, you just, it’s a free standing hammock chair that you can kick back in for a full body experience. So like, I, I just can’t stop thinking about all of those people, like, you know, running around with kids, never getting a chance to actually relax on the weekends. This is, this is your

 

Katie Hankinson: (39:04)

Chair. This is the thing, you know, what popped into my head when you were talking about that is, you know, those, um, the, the blowup balloon, I don’t even know what it’s called. They kind of like, you have to run around with it in the week. Oh,

 

Rachel Connors: (39:16)

Yes. Yeah. They were like a big craze a few years back. I think they’re literally called

 

Katie Hankinson: (39:20)

Like, and it’s like such a workout to fill that thing up with air and it has to be like windy. And you’re like, you have, you like lie down at the end, cause you’re so exhausted by trying to fill it up.

 

Rachel Connors: (39:28)

And then you’re laying on this piece of vinyl and you’re just sweating on it. I can’t imagine that that was the part that always looked horrible to me. Just the sweat.

 

Katie Hankinson: (39:38)

And instead you put it up 30 seconds, live back with your whatever spiked seltzer and your job

 

Rachel Connors: (39:44)

Is good. There are cup holders on the Vista. Yes. We are very aware that you’ll to drink in

 

Katie Hankinson: (39:49)

Your right now. That’s so exciting. Well, I feel like, um, the, the shark tank op the opportunity that shark tank brought to you was just, you know, one piece on your journey. It sounds like you’ve been phenomenal. Both of you at spotting opportunities, manifesting progress for the company, but also doing really great work, um, supporting communities in Thailand at the same time. So huge congratulations. And I’m very excited to see the Vista

 

Rachel Connors: (40:22)

Yeah.

 

Katie Hankinson: (40:23)

Screen near us soon.

 

Rachel Connors: (40:25)

Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. It’ll be first on the screen and then in your world and it, uh, it’s, it’s gonna be, I just, we’re always just trying to find more ways to get people in hammocks. That is our goal. We want you to feel that vacation feeling as often as possible.

 

Katie Hankinson: (40:42)

That sounds like a dream to me, make it happen. I’m I’m in counting.

 

Rachel Connors: (40:46)

All right. All right. Thank you so much. Thanks

 

Katie Hankinson: (40:49)

For joining the show. Rachel, such a pleasure chatting with you.

 

Rachel Connors: (40:52)

It has been lovely to chat with you.

 

Katie Hankinson: (41:04)

Thanks for joining us for building while flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here. Next time for another flight.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Fighting poverty with comfort

Rachel Connors is the Co-Founder and CEO (Chief Enthusiasm Officer) of Yellow Leaf Hammocks, a social enterprise dedicated to defeating global poverty through sustainable artisan job creation. Yellow Leaf was born after Rachel’s husband met a group of women in a small village in Thailand making what he dubbed the world’s most comfortable hammocks. It then became their mission to share those hammocks with the world—and help those women and their families overcome poverty through artisan work. 

In their conversation, Rachel and Katie discuss:

  • Yellow Leaf’s origin story 
  • Scaling an early-stage business
  • Defining a “social enterprise”
  • Balancing messaging in content 
  • Product innovation at scale 
  • Diversifying marketing channels
  • Balancing strengths among leadership
Connect with Rachel and Yellow Leaf Hammocks:

Yellow Leaf Hammocks website: https://www.yellowleafhammocks.com/ 

Yellow Leaf on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yellowleafhammocks/ 

Rachel on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachelconnors/

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