Applying a sustainable approach to product development

Anders Ankarlid set up A Good Company with a clear intention: to offer a sustainable way of buying beautifully designed, environmentally friendly everyday products online. No matter how long it takes to perfect the product.
Anders Ankarlid_hero

Launched in Stockholm in 2019, A Good Company’s product range includes phone cases, notebooks and toothbrushes which are shipped to more than 50 countries. Completely transparent in its design process, the brand climate compensates shipments and is carbon negative. Employees work completely remotely from locations all over the world, and given their high sustainability standards products can take over a year to develop. So how does that work in practical terms?

Finding the right backers

In order for A Good Company (AGC) to grow the right way, Anders Ankarlid needed the right backers from day one. That meant investors he already had a relationship with, who he knew shared his view on the planet. ‘Most investors are short term, looking to get their ROI. That’s not for us,’ says Ankarlid. ‘We’re not into the business of blitz-scaling through the roof with marketing; profit is not the bottom line. When we launch a new product, it’s unlikely to be perfect. If we had short-term owners, they wouldn’t appreciate our…geekery. Time is not fully compliant with profit.’ 

Building from the outside in 

‘It’s so important if you’re running a DTC brand that shipping works,’ says Ankarlid. For AGC, before thinking about products, its packaging was the priority. Noting the recycling and material issues with many supposedly ‘eco-friendly’ packaging alternatives, it developed its own tapeless Stone Paper packaging, available in three sizes which other businesses can also buy. It took over three solid months of testing – with ‘plenty of failures’ along the way. 

Time-intensive research 

For Ankarlid, taking a long-term – and extremely rigorous – approach to product development is non-optional. ‘I don’t see any space for brands taking shortcuts anymore. They won’t be there in a few years.’ That means budgeting more cash for the development stage – something he admits is difficult and an inexact science. Citing one recent example involving melted-down Kalashnikovs that involved ‘a ridiculous amount’ spent on development, they decided to test for one more week despite receiving good prototypes. A temperature issue in the mould meant they would have wasted 100kg of metal. ‘It can never be fixed by simply adding three months to a Gantt schedule. A curveball will come.’

…But hedging their bets

Given the time and financial costs of a product failing, the company focuses on spreading the risk. ‘We develop a lot of products at the same time,’ says Ankarlid. If we’re developing 10 products, we can learn at the same time between these products: share suppliers, share knowledge about raw materials. If something fails it’s not the end of the world as maybe we have nine other [lives].’ 

Collaborating with factories 

Creating a mutually beneficial relationship with manufacturers is also something Ankarlid has been keen to build out. Their factories are often involved in product development, which has meant lower MOQs (minimum order quantities) and cost savings. ‘We work transparently with a factory – we break it down into pieces rather than just get the unit price. It’s not just about cutting costs, it’s about understanding their operations and seeing where we can help too.’ AGC recently analysed the expenditure of its Turkish factory and realised they could link the factory with a cheaper shipping company. 

Creating a lean machine

Naturally, a low burn-rate is key. ‘We don’t fly. We don’t have a fancy office. We’re always looking at what can we take away in terms of IT and be more efficient,’ says Ankarlid. That means even the smallest details are worth analysing: replacing Zoom with Google Meets, or calls with WhatsApp. The motivation, which everything seems directed towards, is ‘to be more risk-taking in product development’. 

Find out the latest from A Good Company at agood.com.

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