April 24, 2016

BuyMeOnce.com’s Tara Button Finds and Promotes Products to Be Used for a Lifetime

Upon discovering Tara Button’s BuyMeOnce.com, I more than appreciated it—I admired it (like how Ashton Kutcher did). As promised in its name, Button wants strongly to “Change our throwaway culture to a ‘keep’ or ‘pass on’ culture.” In essence, buy once, use for a very long time: years, decades, centuries and beyond. Here, she shares the motivation behind her project, in addition to thoughts on doing the work to realize an idea.

When and how did you arrive at the idea of BuyMeOnce.com
I have cared about the planet ever since I could remember. When I was seven, my best friend and I hatched a plan to save the environment. We had “invented” a projector using Daddy’s big torch and letters cut out of cardboard stuck on a clear piece of plastic. It worked very well on my bedroom wall, but we had bigger plans. We thought if we managed to project “Save the world” on the moon, people would start recycling, using less energy and everything would miraculously be alright. Unfortunately, even Daddy’s biggest torch did not stretch that far.

BuyMeOnce is my latest pie-in-the-sky idea to save the world. But luckily at 34, I’ve learnt the power of ideas and actions that can shine a light on a subject bright enough so the whole world takes notice.

I was working on advertising for Le Creuset, who make beautiful heirloom cookware, which is guaranteed for life. It struck me that if more people bought products that were less throwaway and more “lifetime heirlooms”, it could solve many environmental problems and also save people money in the long run.

I thought that a site that gathered together all the things that were built to last, taught people how to take care of the products they owned and challenged manufacturers to make more durable items, could fill a big gap in the sustainable market. I tried desperately hard to ignore this idea. I had a full time job and was trying to write a book in my “free time.”

The last thing I needed was another project. However, whenever I read anything about the environment, I felt this horrible itch inside my head, poking me and telling me to get a move on and do it. So I did.

I registered the site BuyMeOnce.com in March 2013 and very slowly started climbing the learning curve (more like a learning wall) of building a website. I spent days researching, trying to find the “best in show” when it comes to durability in every category imaginable, from tweezers to teddy bears to t-shirts.

What were some of the first things you did in taking BuyMeOnce.com from an idea to a reality?
The first practical things I did was to come up with the name of the website and the logo. An early form of the logo was an engraving on a metal shopping tag, but it looked too harsh, so i changed it to the current version. I started trying to build a website and had several false starts on different platforms and with different templates. In the end, I chose Squarespace and was able to move forward. Most of the initial work was research, because I wanted to be sure that there were enough of these great products out there to make it worth bringing them together.

Your website is large, showcasing a lot of products and different types of information. How did you get the website made? Did you hire a designer or did you design it yourself? Do you use a content management system? If so, what is it?
I designed it all myself with many tortuous hours on the help chat function. I knew what I wanted, so slowly but surely I got it done. Once I had the design I wanted, I did get some help replicating pages and putting in content that I had written. At the end of last year, I got some more help from a couple of friends who helped me with some writing and putting pictures up. Now I have a few lovely interns who help me put content on the site.

Our content is managed using many Google Sheets and Dropbox. I’m sure, as we grow, this will have to be more formalised.

What still feels raw, and this doesn't mean bad nor good, from when you started BuyMeOnce.com until now?
We only launched 3 months ago and we weren’t monetised or even in the USA when the first press came out. We didn’t approach the press, but we went viral, so we are still playing catch-up when it comes to the business model and revenue streams, but we are getting there quickly with the help of mentors and advisors. I’m having to get used to being a manager and leader, which is a big leap from being a creative person when you are the “talent.” I'm used to other people managing my time and having final say. It’s both exhilarating and disconcerting being the person who calls the shots.

Speaking of getting a project started, how did you make yourself committed to start? Because “Just do it” is easier said than done.
I was very uncommitted at first. I made many small starts and got put off. It was a lot of work, and I didn’t really know here it would go. I have so many small projects, books to write, DIY and other passions that often got in the way. The difference with this project was the kick in the stomach I got every time I read anything about the environment. It nagged me, until I was forced to do something. It was too painful not to.

If you need to get yourself to start. Just tell yourself: I’ll just try this for 10 minutes. Then once you’ve started, the hardest part is over. Trick yourself into it. Or if you have self-motivation problems, use Stikk.com (a website that sends your money to charity if you don’t do what you said you would). It is the single most useful tool I’ve ever come across for self-motivation. I wrote a 60,000 word book using this technique.

What is your work schedule like in evolving BuyMeOnce.comAnd how to you manage your time?
My interns turn up at 9:30, so I have to be dressed and ready for the day. This is a great help, as working from home can often mean sleeping in until noon if you’re not careful. We work at my dining room table, often I will pop out for meeting or go upstairs to Skype people, but we mainly work together. I’m lucky enough to have found three exceptional people to found this company with. They leave at 5:30, and I’ll take a break, but will often return to bits of work later on the evening, and I’m guilty of sending emails from my phone well past midnight.

What is your workspace like? How does it contribute to doing the quality of work you want to do?
My workspace is my living room/dining room/kitchen in my flat. It’s a nice room but gets easily cluttered with so many people using the space (I live with two others and have three employees). My laundry is hung there, and mail and crockery can build up, so I have to keep on top of that to keep it as calm as possible. The upside is that I have a short commute and no overheads. The downside is that it always feels like I could be doing work, even after everyone’s left for the day.

Who and/or what are your creative influences?
I’m influenced and inspired by many people. I love hearing about brave and driven people and how they’ve made a difference. Richard Branson, for his tenacity, daring and “can do” attitude. Steve Jobs for cutting through to what’s important. J.K. Rowling for plowing on when there was no end in sight, let alone signs of a million pound book deal. Elizabeth Gilbert is a big influence. She talks a lot about creativity beyond fear, and I enjoy her wise friendly words.

The world doesn’t have to like what you do. You have to like what you do.

In running BuyMeOnce.com, what are some bona fide “best practices” in working well—in working as best as possible?
I am very open and honest with everyone I work with (below), I share my worries, doubts and gaps in my knowledge with my team. This works well, because then, these gaps tend either to be filled by my employees who know more than I do, or these issues are brought to light in a way that’s helpful, so I can go and do some research. This also means that my employees also feel very comfortable asking for help and being open when something is challenging them.

Is your team a distributed workforce? And how did you find these people?
I found people through Angel List Talent, Work in Startups and Job Lab.

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?
We are lucky at this point not to have had any major disagreements. We are all very mature and respectful people here, listening to each other’s opinions and arguments. If there was ever a major disagreement between my employees, I hope that I would be able to step in, in a way that meant that both sides felt respected and valued.

In doing work and trying to be productive each day, what software or Web-based tools do you use and highly recommend?
We love Google Docs, and most of our day-to-day systems run on simple spreadsheets. We use Dropbox for our image folders and one of my awesome team members built a “Kanban” scheduling system in Google Sheets, so we can always see what we are supposed to be working on.

Who and/or what keeps you going in keeping BuyMeOnce.com going?
The mission keep me going. And the response from people who hear about the mission. We have hundreds of emails from all over the world saying “Thank you. Keep it up.”

For people who want to start a project on the Web, what is your advice?
Ask for help everywhere. Go to the people who have done it before and ask for advice. Build on platforms that have good customer support and get building. If there’s one thing I've learnt. Build it, and they will come!

What does independence mean to you? 
Independence means that I can make decisions based entirely on my own values with no compromise for either commercial reasons or outside influences. In advertising, my job title was “Creative” but I don’t think you can be truly creative when you’re trying to spread another person’s message. Now I get to spread my own message.

What is your definition of growth?
I’ll be happy if the business allows the idea and message of BuyMeOnce to sustain through time. We need growth in revenue to pay for the people I need to help me research and build the site and put out content. Money is not the ultimate goal, but money is necessary to take us to the ultimate goal of inspiring genuine change.

How do you get the word out about BuyMeOnce.comHow do you attract customers?
The word has all been pretty organic. We are active on social media which helps, but the press came to us in a big way, so we were lucky in that. Once that calms down, we will start to have to approach people but that hasn’t happened yet.

How did you arrive at the name for your website?
I like anthropomorphising things (look how fun it was in “Toy Story”), and I think that special products speak to you so I gave them a voice. The voice says “buy me once”, which seems to sum up what I want people to do. I came across another site recently called “Don’t buy shit!” which is another (much angrier) way of saying the same thing. ツ

How does the city of London contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?
London’s amazing, because there’s so much talent here, there’s a real buzz of creativity going on here. You only have to go down to places like Google Campus to see that there is a huge amount of new and exciting projects going on. It’s inspiring but also just very handy. I’m in a position where I can ask a CEO or mentor out for a coffee, and I don’t have to travel half the way across the country to meet them. They are all here.

Do you attend the London chapter gatherings of CreativeMornings?
Nope, but I might now!

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All images courtesy of Tara Button.

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