Adventures In Small Business

            I never thought that I would be one day writing a blog about my small business.

            When I set up that one humble folding table at a street fair just over 4 years ago I certainly had dreams and aspirations; but also, the doubts and fears that all of us fight.  In all honestly, when I got the invite to attend the event I declined out of panic.  I then knew instantly that if I didn’t push myself, no one else would.  I emailed back incredibly apologetic begging to get the space after all… they let me in.  Now, here I am today with some measure of growing success.  I would like to tell you a little bit more about my journey.

            It certainly all started in childhood; I have been both a creator, and had the entrepreneurial spirit all of my life.  While I have been repurposing for decades, my large-scale upcycling really started to happen in 2014 and 2015.  My use of reclaimed materials slowly transformed my vision for the products that I was making and I literally woke up in the middle of the night late in 2015 with the name “Upcycle Hawaii” consuming my mind. I ran to my computer and went about filing the paperwork necessary to make Upcycle Hawaii a reality.  (I had been operating a very small-scale jewelry making business under a different name since 2010.)

            At this point I had already been participating in regular markets and street fairs and had even secured my first wholesale account – a shop I still work closely with to this day.  I was starting out 2016 with a new business name and a new business model – the path for what I wanted to create was getting clearer.  There was still one huge hurtle that I needed to overcome in order to give my business the attention that it needed.  That meant taking the risk of quitting my full-time job. I finally mustered up the courage to do this in April 2016, giving me the time, and financial motivation, to work on Upcycle Hawaii full-time.

            Throughout 2016, I was able to cultivate several more wholesale accounts and began to scale back my presence at markets to focus on new product development and growing wholesale revenue.  It was, admittedly, not an easy time and there was a lot of balance which needed to occur between spending time making my product and spending time selling it.  I put in a lot of 18-hour days and spent every last dollar on growing my business. There were also a few tears and anxiety attacks.

            2017 went very similarly to 2016 and I was also starting to see additional successes in sales from new products developed in 2016. More importantly, 2017 was a year of major change for me personally.  I had been struggling with some unhappiness and dealing with relationship issues. This, in turn, was reducing my productivity not allowing me to focus on what I wanted to.  It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, but I uprooted my life and ended up moving some 90 miles away.  With the help of my family (both my real family and my Hawaii Wildlife Fund family) I landed on my feet and was given something of a fresh start.

            It was now 2018 and I was starting out the year in a new space sans distraction and got right to work focusing on better design techniques and growing my online presence.  As I still operate on a tight budget, I do everything myself – design, production, marketing, sales, accounting, web design, etc, etc.  I learned the importance of scheduling my time and the difference between “working in” and “working on” your business.  Not to say that I don’t still have issues, and always will, but I at least have been able to find some sort of balance.

            Seeking this balance made me realize that in order to grow Upcycle Hawaii I was going to need some help and would be pleasantly surprised to find it for free.  A colleague of mine suggested that I enter a local business plan competition vying for a $25,000 prize.  A bit daunted by a few of the sections of the submission form, I reached out to my local Small Business Development Center as recommended by the organizers of the competition.  No, I did not win the competition, but I came out of the experience with a (free) business advisor, a clear business plan, new contacts in the business world in addition to a solid 2-minute and 12-minute business pitch – PowerPoint presentation and all.  It was an invaluable experience that opened my eyes to all the resources around me and I continue my relationship with my Small Business Development Center to this day.

            Amidst this business competition, I was also fast-at-work processing my largest order-to-date, putting my production calendar to the test.  This order was a direct result of a new customizable design process which has opened up a whole new revenue source for me, Co-Branding.  All of these things happening simultaneously was an overwhelming and character-building experience.  I now know more than ever what I am capable of and, for the first time, can see my business really growing into the future.

            I will be starting 2019 no longer operating as a sole-proprietorship but as an LLC looking to take on new challenges of hiring employees, finding a larger studio space and of course growing my sales.  I am proof that you never know where an idea can take you when you are willing to take the risk and put in the work.  From setting up a single table at a street fair to being a finalist in a small business competition and processing 4-figure orders today has been a real adventure.  I am both excited an anxious to see what the future has in store.


This blog was inspired by my recent trip to Honolulu and appearance on an episode of ThinkTechHawaii’s “Adventures In Small Business” in which I talk about my journey and some of my materials and processes. To watch the 28-minute video on YouTube you can copy and paste the following address (or type Mattie Mae Larson in the YouTube search bar):

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