We had the good fortune of connecting with Eugenia Alliegro and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Eugenia, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
When we started our business, my partner and I had been digital nomads for a while, and our lifestyle consisted of doing freelance work online while we visited and lived in different countries all over the world. We had quit our startup jobs to be able to do this, and we were looking for ways to sustain this lifestyle while working toward something bigger over time. This was pre-COVID, so it wasn’t super easy to find a good remote job, especially one that could adjust to a different time zone every few weeks. The more we traveled, the stronger our relationship to the planet became. From volcanoes, to islands, to jungles, lakes, and national parks – we were constantly being mind-blown by the gem that Earth is, and so a desire to protect it was nurtured in us. We decided that the time we have to spend working, should be spent working on something that also benefits the planet – that’s how the idea for Betterway came about. We started with a 100% bamboo toilet paper in an effort to protect our forests from deforestation, but the idea has always been to help others make small changes to their daily life (which really add up over time) in a better way.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
We started Betterway with the idea of using our “jobs” AKA the time we inevitable need to invest into work, in a way that was also beneficial for the planet. We chose the brand name very intentionally, because we wanted the freedom to play within the mission of teaching people how to live in a way that is better for us and for the planet. Sustainability can be really intimidating and confusing, so we wanted to start with a very easy swap that would still have a huge impact. This is how we landed on toilet paper.
When we were in Indonesia we learned about the deforestation issues in Sumatra. The island of Sumatra is the only place in the world where tigers, rhinos, orangutans, and elephants coexist. It is a tropical paradise rich in biodiversity, but throughout the years the palm oil and paper industries have destroyed the ecosystem. Eroding the land and reducing the population of these species by up to 50%.
It turns out that 15% of global deforestation is caused by the toilet paper industry. We are literally flushing the lungs of the planet, and the ecosystems they support, down the toilet. So we got to researching and learned about bamboo toilet paper – a plant-based paper that is just as good as regular TP but is made of bamboo. Bamboo is actually a giant grass, so when you cut it to harvest it, it grows right back up in a short time! We took about a year to do the research, develop the brand, and find the right partners in the supply chain. In January 2020 our product was finally out in the world.
Of course we had no idea when we launched in January, that by March of 2020 the pandemic would turn toilet paper into the most coveted item in America. Within a few weeks in March we sold out of all the stock we had, which we had planned to sell within the next 3-4 months. All of 2020 was a rollercoaster that involved finding money to finance the inventory, jumping through all the logistical hurdles that COVID brought with it (closed factories, high demand, shipping chaos), and trying to stay in stock while predicting how the next months would pan out. It was definitely an interesting first year. By 2021 we held the #1 spot on Amazon for Bamboo Toilet Paper, sales kept increasing, but every cent of profit was being eaten up by insane global shipping rates (container prices rose by up to 6X the regular rates). It was crazy because our sales were growing every day, but so were our costs of goods sold, so we were seeing great figures at the top, but really tough ones on the bottom line.
Our company is bootstrapped. We built Betterway to have freedom and do business in a different way. We wanted to operate in a way that was more aligned with nature’s principles of organic growth and resilience in biodiversity, and we felt that if we raised money with investors those values would be compromised. So we started with a credit card and something like $5000. We thought we’d grow organically and slowly, and then a literal real-life virus (COVID) set our growth on fire and we didn’t have the money to keep up with the demand. So there was a lot of missed opportunity in terms of sales that first year and then a lot of rough moments last year. But we made it through, and we’re now operating profitably, still own 100% of our company, and in a great place to grow beyond Toilet Paper and into the bigger mission we started with.
One of the huge things we did was to hire an Amazon coach in the beginning. We knew that we were going to launch on Amazon first, and so we found these guys that were running a very successful Amazon business through an episode of the Tim Ferris podcast and reached out to them online. Luckily they wrote back, and we started getting coached for an hour a week. What we learned from someone who was a subject matter expert was invaluable and probably saved us years, headaches, and multiple thousands of dollars. I’m a big fan of coaching (especially with subject matter experts). Their hourly fees may sound hefty at first, but if what they have to teach you is truly valuable, it is worth every cent.
Patience is a big one too. Even with the early boost we had from COVID – which accelerated our growth tremendously, it still took over two years before we could be somewhat comfortable with living off of our business. We’re still not making nearly as much money as we did in our tech jobs, but at least we’re on solid ground and in a good place to grow from. It takes TIME and effort and those first few years are not very sexy. Make sure you’re truly excited by your concept before you set out to build it; because when things get hard, you’re going to need to rely on that passion to motivate you to keep going!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I love Miami from the water. Renting a small boat and cruising around the canals, the bay, and hanging out at the sand bars is definitely my top pick! I also love hanging out at Crandon Beach in Key Biscayne for a chill afternoon and sunset vibes. It’s not the most beautiful beach in terms of the water, but it has lots of palm trees which provide a natural soundscape and yummy shade for a breezy afternoon picnic. (Definitely take a cooler and bluetooth speakers). I always recommend staying on Miami Beach, it’s just the easiest place to move around and have lots to do without needing a car – and of course you’re close to the water! I haven’t been living in Miami since the pandemic, so I’m a little outdated on the food scene. Mandolin was always one of my favorites, Macchialina for Italian on the beach, and Uchi for a delicious sushi happy hour. Lately I’ve been impressed and excited about the plant-based options – Love Life Cafe in Wynwood does amazing plant-based versions of Latin food (my favorite is the El Chamo Bowl with jackfruit “carne mechada”) and Plant Miami is both stunning and delicious!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
To my parents, for choosing the difficult path of leaving your country behind so that your children might have better opportunities – being raised in the U.S. shaped so much about where I am today.
My partner Christian (who is my partner both in life and in Betterway) for bringing so much grounding, peace, and order to our daily lives; and for allowing me to be myself and his willingness to remain open-minded through the hard conversations.
A shoutout to our other Betterway partner, Michael, who joined us after the initial launch phase with a perspective and dedication that has been instrumental for Betterway as we grow up.
A shoutout to the book Atomic Habits which has really influenced how we think about our business’s values and mission.
To the philosopher Alan Watts, whose words shaped my life view and set me free in so many ways.
To the women in my life who invest heavily in their personal growth, do the hard work, and bring such depth and wisdom into every conversation.
To friends and family who have supported us in a myriad of different ways – from shopping our launches to shipping our boxes and everything in between!
And of course to our customers, who are really just great people actively looking for ways in which they can have a conscious, responsible relationship with the planet.
Marcella Laine Photography, Frankie Postiglione