In 2017, entrepreneur and graduate Elijah Oxenham, with fellow graduate Luke Tengstrom, started a cheeky sleep company with a difference. We got the lowdown on their enterprising journey.
Elijah and Luke, you successfully launched Karma Pillows in December 2017. How did it all begin and what was your elevator pitch?
We first met in an entrepreneurship class at RMIT and quickly became best mates once we realised we had a similar drive and ambition.
Fast forward three years and through our different career paths and working in different countries, we ended up working together at Fjord – a design and innovation consultancy in Melbourne.
Having both settled into the corporate consulting world, we were searching for the next challenge and a way to apply our skills we were developing in our careers. There was lots of discussion about starting a business, but it wasn’t until a lunch with a friend who’s the same age and running multiple businesses that we decided to finally get started.
Our first step was to build a spreadsheet with all the businesses and products we admired and would also be possible to start while working full-time. We also wanted to build a product that benefited people’s health and allowed us to build a fun brand. As a result, we created Karma Pillows – a brand that mirrors our passion for life but also solves the pain of buying a high-quality pillow.
We also wanted to give back to the community, and we discovered that for every 200 people who sleep with a roof over their heads, one person is sleeping on the streets. So, we decided that for every two Karma Pillows bought, we’d donate another to a person in need. We’re proud to say that our first shipment of pillows went to the Mirabel house just in time for Christmas. But we’re continuing to look at ways we can have more impact.
Our elevator pitch:
Health and vitality shouldn’t be complex, so we’re taking it back to basics by helping Australians sleep better with a premium pillow. Designed for even the fussiest of sleepers, the Karma Pillow is made from all-natural latex, ensuring the perfect amount of softness while retaining its shape and relieving pressure on your neck and back. Shipped direct to your door, we guarantee you a better night’s sleep with a 100 day money-back guarantee.
Starting your own business isn’t usually all smooth sailing. What are some of the obstacles you had to overcome in making it all happen?
The first big obstacle would be the time commitment, considering we have full-time careers in the consulting industry, which isn’t necessarily known for its cruisy hours!
It took a period of adjustment, but now we almost don’t know another way of life. We have a daytime job and a nighttime job. We’re both pretty aligned on the need to commit in this early stage, so we keep it fun.
Manufacturing is so much harder than we expected. Finding and developing relationships with the right suppliers has been a challenge. However, we have learnt a lot and built some great relationships. Slowly, the process of manufacturing has become a lot faster and efficient.
You both completed business degrees, which must be a bonus when you’re starting your own enterprise. What experiences did you have during your studies at RMIT that are helping you today?
A standout for us both about RMIT is the practicality of the courses and the exposure to industry experts and people already running businesses.
The guest lectures were where we really started to believe that we could personally start a business and one day come back and do a guest lecture (which we just got to tick off!).
We met while we were both studying RMIT entrepreneurship courses as part of our degrees, so we wouldn’t be where we are today without them.
Not only did RMIT expose us to a world of possibilities, it has also been brilliant in supporting us since we have left.
Both of us have done articles for RMIT and are extremely grateful to receive a position in the RMIT Activator: LaunchHUB program.
So where do you hope to take your business, and your work generally, in the near and far futures?
We both have a very clear vision of growing Karma into the brand that we know it’s capable of becoming. We have new products in the pipeline and the near-future vision is to get Karma to a place in which it runs as a consistent, profitable and reliable company.
We look up to companies like HISmile and DollarShaveClub and believe Karma can be seen in a similar light.
For now though, we’re super focused on our supply chain, creating content and beginning to automate key business processes like fulfilment and manufacturing so we can focus on growing sales and promoting the brand.
We realise there is no such thing as an overnight success story but happy to give it our all and keep growing, even if it means late nights and giving up our weekends. Lucky for us, we have great pillows for when we finally get to go to bed and rest.
Any advice for budding entrepreneurs thinking about enrolling at RMIT?
As entrepreneurial alumni preparing to head into the RMIT Activator, it feels like we’re getting more value from our time at RMIT now than when we graduated.
A degree at RMIT continues to pay off long after graduation because of all the organisations within RMIT that are committed to seeing its students succeed in the world beyond study.
We genuinely feel that our experience at RMIT set us up for success in both our careers and starting Karma. Having access to so much work-integrated learning allowed us to hit the ground running as soon as we graduated and allowed us to meet many mentors who have helped us along the way.
You can keep up-to-date with all things Karma on Instagram (@karma_pillows) and Facebook (/KarmaPillows) or on their webside at karmapillows.com.au.
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