Co-Founder of Pluxty
Compartmentalize. Focusing on one task or role at a time will help you work more productively and efficiently.
James McCauley, entrepreneur, part-time stay-at-home dad and educator, is the Co-Founder of Pluxty. Pluxty is a baby product company founded by James and his wife Aileen that offers smart solutions to common problems encountered by parents, with the aim of making life just a little bit easier and giving parents more time for the fun stuff. Their first product, The Wriggler, is the only portable changing pad designed specifically for babies and toddlers who wriggle during diaper changing. When he is not working on the business and promoting their now multi-award winning creation, James can be found outdoors – doing the school run on his skateboard, fly-fishing for salmon and trout, or running whilst listening to business podcasts.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Like many ideas, The Wriggler was borne out a problem I experienced myself as a parent. When my baby son learned to roll and crawl, diaper changing became a real battle – it would take two hands for me to keep him still and I would have none left to change him. As a part-time stay at home dad I was changing my fair share of diapers and it became a daily source of frustration for me and him which isn’t really surprising when one considers we change our little ones on average 6 times a day or 6500 times until potty training.
Being a practical, hands on dad I decided problems are only problems when there are no solutions, so I decided to come up with something that would work for me. So, I borrowed a sewing machine, taught myself to sew and over a few nights at my kitchen stitched together a simple solution that returned diaper changing to the calm, predictable, bonding experience it had once been. Then, talking to other moms and dads I realized I wasn’t the only one experiencing this problem, so I shared it with other friends and families and so, The Wriggler was born.
The Wriggler is the first portable changing pad designed specifically for babies and toddlers who wriggle during diaper changing. This is a problem experienced by up to 40% of parents (Statista.com, 2010). Once the bear’s arms hug the little one’s torso and the parent kneels on the attached kneepads, it anchors the pad and baby in place, freeing up hands for a quick and easy change. For younger babies and toddlers who don’t yet wriggle, it converts to a traditional changing pad so can be used from birth until potty training. It is patent-pending and is also now multi-award winning but was borne from a simple problem my wife and I experienced as parents.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My wife and I are very much partners in all aspects of our lives. We are both part-time stay-at-home parents, work part-time in our careers, and work on the business for every other waking hour! On the days that I’m home, I get three hours each day when the kids are in school and playschool to work on the business, so that usually involves responding to customer queries, fulfilling orders, reaching out to influencers, garnering PR, and monitoring our advertising campaigns. My wife does the same on her days at home. Then, in the evenings, once the kids are in bed, we put on the kettle, get a cup of tea, and sit at the kitchen table and do more of the same until 11:00 or so each night. We’ll also debrief about podcasts we’ve listened to that day in the car, and strategize about next steps. We try to finish each evening with one episode of a box set to get some work life balance! I also personally find it important to spend a few minutes each night reading as it helps me unwind before I go to sleep. Exercise is another priority for me and I try to fit in a run or gym session most days.
For me, the key to productivity is compartmentalization. I wear a lot of different hats each day – dad, teacher, husband, entrepreneur – so I find the best way to juggle all of these is to do each one singly. When I’m with the kids, I try to do be completely present; when I’m in work, I focus on that; and when I’m working on the business, I’m consumed by that. It doesn’t always work, and sometimes the business leaks into family life, but overall I find I’m most productive when I take one task at a time.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’ve been very much influenced by Michael Masterson’s book ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’. In it he talks about the fact that in launching a new business, we often don’t put enough energy into selling but rather waste valuable time and resources trying to have everything perfect at the risk of not getting it to the market. Instead, he recommends getting both a ‘good’ product and effective customer service so the product can be perfected when you’re selling and when you have feedback from customers. We’ve taken a similar approach with The Wriggler, and continue to listen to our customers, though it did take us a lot of time and effort to get even a ‘good’ product to launch.
Once I had my rough working prototype and had validated it with friends and family, I realized that I would need other expertise to get it to the market. There is always someone else who knows more about particular areas than I do, and I’m humble enough to realize my own limitations and have worked hard to surround myself with people who possess the skills that I lack. So, we worked with great designers who could perfect the artwork, an excellent photographer who was able to bring our vision to life, a skilled web design team with expertise in ecommerce who could build a professional store for us, and a hugely reliable and trustworthy sourcing agent who continues to be an invaluable support on the manufacturing side.
While I recognize my need for outside expertise in some areas, I also do not shy away from upskilling in areas that are within my grasp, and a significant part of The Wriggler journey has involved an education in the world of ecommerce and digital marketing, which I have taken on with a passion. This combination of working hard to enhance my own skill set, while recognizing my limitations, has helped bring the idea of The Wriggler to life in an exciting way.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The continuing growth of ecommerce is exciting for me. The ability for me to generate income when I’m asleep or on vacation is something that I really appreciate, as my time is no longer a bottleneck for my success. Up until this point, it has been my labor and my provision of a service that has been the source of my income – so my ability to earn was completely determined by the number of hours in the week that I worked, which is limited. While ecommerce is by no means easy, and requires a lot of time and effort, I am excited by its ability to provide an income that is more independent of my direct labor than I’ve experienced to date. I also feel it allows small brands like ours to compete in the market in a way that has not always been possible. I am not dependent on shelf space in a retail store to get my product in front of people and so by adopting a direct to consumer model I can communicate directly with my customer, listen to their feedback and adapt accordingly.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I try my best to make really good use of ‘dead time’. There’s dead time in every day – standing at a bus stop, driving in a car, sitting in a waiting room. Where possible, I fill this dead time with productive activities. I’ve listened to thousands of hours of podcasts and hundreds of audiobooks while driving to and from work, working out in the gym, or out jogging. It has helped me reclaim my sanity during otherwise mindless commutes – I now see it as precious time to consume and learn new and important information, and it would have taken months or years to consume the same amount of information in written form.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Learn to listen – if you can hear the problems or pain points people are expressing, therein lies the opportunity to provide the solution. Learn sales and public speaking, because they’re two skills that you’ll use throughout life. Aim to earn money to buy time, not things, because time, is true wealth.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Faith can move mountains. Passing on the gift of faith to your children is more important than the toys, gifts or material things we buy them. They will outgrow the toys but faith will grow with them throughout their lives.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I turn up. What I mean by that is I work on the business every day. There are times when I’m tired or don’t feel energized but I try to take small steps every day and I’m learning that some of those seemingly fruitless tasks pay off in surprising ways sometimes weeks or even months later. A little and often is a philosophy that resonates well with me.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I was influenced early on by Ryan Deiss’ view that marketing should be approached like a normal human relationship, and this strategy has really helped in the development of the brand. Rather than bombarding people with ads and trying to get them to marry us on the first date, i.e. to buy straight away, we try to spend time getting to know our potential customers, let them get to know us and respect that the length of each customer journey is different. We’ve spent time developing authentic videos that resonate with moms and dads who are experiencing the same problem we experienced as parents. We’ve also worked hard to develop email sequences and blog posts that speak to their questions and concerns and help them understand our reasoning and intentions behind the design and development of The Wriggler. We listen to and respond to every question and comment that we receive on our social media channels, both positive and negative, as we understand that with any relationship, trust is key. I feel that this strategy has been hugely important in helping us develop the brand to date and I’ll continue to use it to grow the business further.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I underestimated how long it would take to bring The Wriggler from idea to market. It took a long time to perfect the design and materials. Given that it’s a baby product and we wanted it to be suitable from birth/newborn to age 3, we conducted a lot of research and testing to get everything right. Once it got to a point where I felt we were nearly ready to go into production, we ran a prelaunch campaign to build and email list of potential customers. Unfortunately, ‘nearly’ wasn’t really nearly, and the production date got pushed back by months. As a result, that list of potential customers had outgrown the problem by the time we launched, and we needed a new list. Fortunately, we easily built a new list when the time came, and we were actually able to produce an improved video for the second campaign based on the feedback we’d received in the first one, which converted at a much better rate.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Shazam for actors. I don’t know how many times I’ve been watching something on TV or a movie and I’ve wondered ‘What else is he in?’ I’d like to be able to point my phone at the screen and get the actor’s bio up, much like I do when I’m listening to a song.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Six salmon flies for a fly fishing trip. I’m at my happiest when I’m fishing – I get to switch off from technology, connect back in with nature and live in the moment. It’s also an art form that requires patience and perseverance. I see many parallels between fishing and ecommerce, which may explain my attraction to both – similar to the fly to the fish, ecommerce is all about putting the time in and presenting the right customer with the right offer at the right time and in the right way for them to bite!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use Mailchimp for email marketing and even though I know there are others out there, I find it invaluable for automating our marketing efforts. This enables us to address the most common questions our customers and potential customers have regularly and frees up more time for the specific and less common queries.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
'Contagious' by Jonah Berger. In the world of social media in which we live, learning why some content goes viral and others doesn’t is extremely useful in my opinion. Video seems to be a particularly important element of messaging these days. I found the blueprint provided in this book, and the research and anecdotes used to back it up, invaluable in helping us design and structure our own marketing videos and messaging, and I think this information would be relevant to most entrepreneurs these days.
What is your favorite quote?
“Don’t compare your day 1 to someone else’s day 1,000”. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in all of the success stories we see online and hear about in podcasts and feel like we are failing as a result. However, we often don’t see all of the hard work and preparation that went before that success story and compare our current position to theirs, which is likely much further on in the journey. This quote helps me keep things in perspective.