New Jersey-based Karen Nathan has launched a company (Olivine Products) to make us all more aware of how we can contribute to improving the environment.
Q: Prior to starting your company what was your educational and business background?
A: I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biology cum laude from Bryn Mawr College and a Masters degree in Education from Rutgers University. Prior to founding Olivine LLC I worked in the world of corporate training for 11 years. I get a lot of professional satisfaction out of matching an organization’s strategy with its employees’ self-interest, energy and talent.
Q: Tell us about the business you have launched. When did you launch it? What is its mission?
Why did you launch it? What is the company’s business model, i.e. what does the company do?
A: Although I had the idea for the company years earlier, I officially launched the company in the first half of 2008. I was increasingly aware of the growing environmental crisis and was looking for a way to help the average consumer make a positive difference. After exhaustive testing and research I developed a program that offers a realistic and incremental approach to green living—it’s a combination of easy actions and good sound products. The workshops I run are called Green Gatherings™ and they have been very well received in homes, schools, and offices.
Q: Olivine is an interesting name. Why did you pick it for your company?
A: I wanted a business name that I could really build a story around. Many people don’t know this at first, but olivine is actually a real word. It is the name of one of the most common minerals on Earth. It happens to be a beautiful green color and the gem variety of olivine is peridot, which is my birthstone. Years ago my husband gave me an olivine pendant for my birthday and the name stuck with me. By the way, olivine rhymes with green.
Q: How is your business model different today vs. when you started and how do you expect the model to change going forward?
A: When I first started the business my focus was on reaching customers in their homes through the Green Gatherings™. These are home shopping parties with a focus on giving practical advice and showcasing products that help consumers take a realistic approach to caring about the environment without sacrificing convenience. As the business grew we expanded the web site to include informational resources, a web shop, and active blog. In order to reach more people, we are now partnering with other organizations that want to bring the message of every day green living to their members.
Q: Among all the products you handle which ones have the greatest appeal, particularly to your women clients?
A: The most popular products relate to eating on the go. We help people transition from plastic, disposable food carriers and containers to washable and reusable versions. In fact, we are working on manufacturing an earth friendly alternative to the plastic baggie. We hope it will be ready in early 2010.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges so far in developing your business? What has given you the greatest satisfaction?
A: It’s always hard to get people to change their habits and routines. Any discussion of green living invariably includes some recommendations to change the status quo. It’s been very satisfying to show people that they really can lessen their impact on the planet, even in these busy, budget conscious times.
Olivine has two areas of focus: teaching people about every day green living and also selling innovative green products. We are moving toward manufacturing our very own products, like the earth friendly baggie I mentioned earlier. This process is slow, which is frustrating at times, but I believe the effort will be worth it in the end.
Q: What motivated you to launch your own business? How have you funded your business to date? Did you always expect to be an entrepreneur?
A: The media and scientific community have sounded the siren on global warming, pollution, and other environmental concerns. However, as consumers and homeowners it is hard to know what to do about all this without feeling totally overwhelmed. I was motivated to launch Olivine because I felt it was time to establish a trusted and credible resource for consumers who did not want to be “greenwashed”. Greenwashing is somewhat analogous to brainwashing. It is an unseemly marketing technique that deceptively promotes products or services as environmentally friendly.
For the moment my business is mainly self-funded. I may look for angel investors next year. I always expected to be an entrepreneur. I am thrilled that I can apply my personal passion for the environment to my business.
Q: What advice do you have for other women considering starting a business?