An interview with Jack Seddon, bottler of honey and breaker of business models. What if we all went for total honesty in business?
When you buy something in a supermarket, how much do you know about it really? Say it’s a bottle of honey – where did the honey come from, where was it bottled, how did it get to that shelf?
When you buy a jar at an artisanal, wholesome, whole food market, you can ask the vendor those questions, and get good answers.
But if you asked the vendor how the price of the product was calculated, that would be venturing into territory where most of us never enter. The world of getting and spending is premised on an item having a price, and the buyer’s choice is simple: am I prepared to pay that price or not?
At some level, we accept that the seller of an item must make a profit – after all, that’s how capitalism works, not so? And we pay what the item costs because that’s how capitalism works.
What if the world worked differently?
What if our lovely Gen Z children started their journey into adulthood saying – well, no. I’m not happy with capitalism in that form?
One such person is my son Jack, who has decided not to go to university and instead to start his own business in the world of bees and honey. He’s been on a learning curve, and has established that keeping your own hives and being a beekeeper is a lot more complicated than it looks, especially if you want to make a living out of it. You have to have a lot (really, a lot) of hives to make honey in sellable quantities.
So the actual keeping of bees is something for the future.
Right now, he’s concentrating on buying honey from a supplier, bottling it and selling it. This blog post is not an ill-concealed advertisement for my son’s business (but I am his mom, so I will put links to his Facebook Marketplace page at the bottom of this post). Disclaimer over.
It’s the approach he is taking to his business that interests me. He’s been talking about it a lot – and so I said, sit down for a Q&A with me. Explain your business model. Here’s what he said:
Renee: So you’ve sold one batch of bottled honey – and those were labelled Jack’s Honey. But you’ve changed the name, and now the label says Jack’s Honest Honey. I’m interested to know what the thinking is behind that branding.
Jack: I didn’t do business in high school, but I do know that business is inherently kind of scummy. I mean, you’re trying to make more money than you should be by doing a particular thing. Let’s say there’s a lumberjack and you’re paying him R50 an hour, but you own the sawmill and you are getting paid R200 an hour. The lumberjack’s working harder than you, but you’re getting more money. That’s kind of how business goes. But I want to be open and honest and transparent about exactly how I run my business. So even if I’m taking an excess, my customers know about that. Everybody who’s involved with my business knows about that. They know the ins and outs and are still happy to support it. So that’s the idea. And it’s done through interviews just like this one. It’s done through conversations with my suppliers, about how my honey gets bottled, how it gets sold, where it gets sold, all that kind of stuff.
Renee: Okay. Well, let’s look at that journey. Who is your supplier?
Jack: Barben Bees. He’s based in Vredehoek in town [a suburb in Cape Town], and he does a bunch of different things for the beekeeping world. He does courses, he does pollination. He’s got thousands of hives. He brings people into this world just like he did with me, whether that be in hobbyist beekeeping or bottling or doing work on pollination. And then he links it all together. So the honey that is in these jars might have come from other beginner beekeepers that he’s brought in, but it all comes from his hives or people that he knows’ hives. It’s all Western Cape proper, actual real honey. And it goes through this guy. You can check out Barben Bees on Instagram.
Renee: And then what is the bottling process for you? How does that work?
Jack: It’s a long process. It’s real long. I have to go and get all the equipment, which is the honey, the labels, the bottles, all that kind of stuff. And then bring that all back home. First step is washing and sterilising. All of the bottles go through a big old wash in the dishwasher. And then they get sterilised using Miltons, along with everything else that I’m going to be using. And then I do the bottling – from a big plastic bucket, into each bottle, using a tap in the bucket. 500 grams of honey goes into a jar, and then that jar is sealed up, weighed, and labels are applied to it. It’s whole day to get 50 or so bottles done.
Renee: And I can report that everything in the house is sticky when you’re done!
Jack: Everywhere. Everything is sticky. There’s got to be ways to make it less wasteful. But I’ve only bottled about 60kg of honey at this point, so we’re still getting it right. It’s all good.
Renee: And the selling currently, how’s that working? What’s your model there?
Jack: There’s an ad up on Facebook Marketplace. My Facebook and my Instagram are linked. They’re both Meta products, which is really nice. So if someone’s on Instagram, they want to buy my product, they can just head over to Facebook. If someone finds me on Facebook, they can buy the product there. They can also head over to Instagram to see all of the content and the advertising. And then the other place that is going well for me at the moment is we’ve got a Pilates instructor who kindly said she would sell honey through her practice. So all of her customers are also my customers.
Renee: And how does the money break down on a bottle of honey? You sell a bottle for R100, right?
Jack: It costs around R75 for me to make a jar of honey, including the jars, the labels, the honey and my services, cleaning, petrol, all that kind stuff. There’s R25 that I take on each bottle, but of course, that goes back into the business. It goes back into more honey, more bottles, more labels. The tripod that this interview is being recorded on was bought with that money! And every time something big does get purchased, it will get reported on my Instagram so all my customers can see exactly what the money goes towards. You know what I mean?
Renee: Yep. It strikes me that it’s an interesting business model because you don’t ever really hear what the breakdown of the money is. And it struck me that that’s a very Gen Z way to do things. I think that’s fabulous.
Jack: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a good way forward. Listen, the thing is, if you think about a company like Amazon, right? That’s a huge, massive mega corporation, and there’s no way one singular person could understand exactly how everything goes on in that business. So many people use that service, but barely any of us actually think about the ramifications of it. It would be really nice in the future to know exactly what your money does, if that makes sense. When you order a package off Amazon, you’re not only ordering that item, but you’re also ordering a box and the plastic that comes with it, and all of the petrol and the carbon emissions and all of the things that have to happen to get the box from a warehouse to your door. But if they told you all that stuff, you’d be way less likely to support them because it just wouldn’t seem worth it in the future. It would be so nice to see how the structures of businesses go so that people can actually make proper informed decisions about what they need and what they want.
Renee: It’s easy to do when your business is really small, but there’s no reason why a company like Amazon or Meta couldn’t try and explain to people how it works, what the breakdown is. How does it work out in the end that Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, or whatever he is?
Jack: But that is exactly what I mean as to why business is scummy. So they’re not giving us that breakdown because there’s probably a whole bunch of practices that are going on there that are not ethical or moral, or not financially proper in any way. There’s probably a lot of stealing. There’s probably a lot of corruption. And that just happens when things get that large. But this way, by keeping things honest and keeping things open, I’m also keeping myself accountable. I’d rather do something that actually does good.
Renee: And then maybe the secret of that is to keep it small if you can.
Jack: And kind of live through the business rather than living off the business.
Renee: And the advertising and social media you do is real, filmed in our ordinary house. No make-up, no staging. The ads are honest too!
Jack: Yeah! The advertising is how we live. And this is moral support here, so it’s like, yeah. Yeah.
As I said to Jack, this way of looking at business is very Gen Z. I don’t generally think these generational labels are all that illuminating, but my interactions with Jack and his friends have told me that young people have some fundamental ways of looking at the world that are founded on the understanding that what they are seeing is broken. And they are angry about that, but not necessarily in ways that lead to overt protest.
Rather, they say: well, then, how do I do things differently. Their ways of doing things come at the world from simple and original and quirky angles. And the more I think about it, the more revolutionary Jack’s honest business model seems to me. It’s saying: take the world as we know it, break it down into its constituent parts and then build it back.
Perhaps we could all learn something from our young role models? For myself, I am going to be looking at ways in which I can be even more open and honest about what I do. Watch this space.
Buy Jack’s Honest Honey (for now, only in the southern suburbs of Cape Town)
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