The story of how Kokkoya has grown over the last 2.5 years can be told through our spreadsheets and our journey through them as they get larger and more complicated. Nobody at Kokkoya had any prior spreadsheet experience, only the very, very basics. This left us constantly wondering that, 'there must be a better way'. And there definitely is, but we are a tiny business and therefore have budget constraints. So we have weaved, wiggled and googled our way through solutions to where we are now.
When we first started in December 2017 with 20 members and one type of share it was a very simple spreadsheet with names and addresses. Members needed to sign a printed contract in the beginning and send us back the signed copy.
Fast forward a few months and we discovered Google Forms. Incredibly easy to use and best of all, the data was sent automatically to a spreadsheet. Google Forms allowed us to start to offer options in share sizes and even extras. All we had to do was reorganise the spreadsheets to a format for the team to pack to. We even managed to create super complicated formulas and find an add-on that automatically created and sent invoices. I remember a lot of stress related to this but also feeling quite proud to have found a solution that mostly worked.
We still use Google Forms for our membership contract but maybe won’t for much longer as we look for ways to streamline creating a membership with us directly through our wonderful Shopify shop.
Ah yes, Shopify you are incredible. I listened to the founder of Shopify talk about how he started on a “How I Built This” podcast, he didn’t make money for a very, very long time (I love hearing this affirming news from other business owners). Shopify is designed to be super simple, so that anyone can start a business online and now we are one of over 1 million small businesses all over the world "powered" by Shopify. "Powered" is an excellent word as Shopify really did give us a lot of power. We did not need to hire someone to make the website, we could expand the number of items, easily add variations, weekly options and dramatically improve our members ordering experience. It did take quite a few youtube videos and some creative problem solving to make the Kokkoya online store what it is though. We are not a straightforward shop thanks to our memberships, monthly orders and weekly extras but we have managed to find ways to work around most of these. We are not completely happy with the website but we do know what it needs to improve further and currently that is out of our capacity.
Unlike Google Forms, Shopify did not link directly to a spreadsheet. We needed to download a csv. of the orders and then upload it to Google Sheets to reformat, reorganise and create our 'packing sheets'. These were a mess to do and it would take us a full day to go through all the orders for the month and then several hours to make each weekly packing sheet to cover the weekly extras. This was taking us so much time that we hired someone just to help us make spreadsheets.
We used to get away with only printing one packing sheet, one delivery run sheet and the collection point pick up sheets. But as our extras have increased we now need a seperate ‘name packing sheet’, 2x ‘fresh extra packing sheets’, 2x ‘delivery sheets’ every day- thats three days a week now. We also need a ‘monthly extra packing sheet’ and weekly ‘collection point name sheet’s. These still take us about 3-5hours a week to organise and edit for any weekly changes.
Orders were stressful from Shopify as we wanted to give members enough time to order and we always seemed to wait for one or two to make last minute orders. We made less mistakes and had the full totals only when we could download one final csv. from Shopify. The later we did this, the less time we had to sort through the data and totals for all the extra items we needed to ask suppliers to deliver in 4 days time. There were quite a few late nights on spreadsheets for this.
Shopify solved one other huge issue for us though- quick and nice final invoices with relative ease- it still took some work arounds as Shopify does not quite do invoices but we have made it work.
Earlier this year we saw an Instagram video of another farmer using an online software for crop planning- called Airtable. It looked like it could solve our issues and also help us collect some good data to help make better decisions. Airtable describes itself as a 'spreadsheet that works like a database' and makes organising easy.
So we switched but there were far less youtube tutorials on Airtable as there are on Google Sheets or Shopify. It took longer to learn and we are still learning. But it does make it easier to see data thanks to its linked data, view option and grouping option. But we still had a problem- the data we would get from Shopify was still not connected to the spreadsheet and we were still downloading a csv. then uploading to Airtable.
Finally, this month- March 2020 we have an app that automatically syncs Shopify orders to columns in multiple Airtable ‘spreadsheets’. It has taken many emails with Daniel, the App developer (who is in an opposite timezone) to get it all working. Daniel has been very helpful. But we still have some issues we are working through- mostly due to editing orders. This caused us several mistakes this month.
Editing orders during the month is completely to be expected from a monthly ordering system like ours- members pause a week, change the egg order, change delivery days etc. Editing is one of our biggest headaches. On Shopify we were paying for another App that would allow us to edit orders- if a member wanted to change from 5 eggs to 10 eggs a month it was only through this (paid) App that we could do it and send them a correct final invoice. Thankfully, Shopify has finally created their own inbuilt ‘edit’ function late last year which we were thrilled about. But this edit function does not remove the old item completely meaning more errors this month and some frustrated farmers.
This month we had a total of 715 ‘records’ or ‘line items’ from 93 customers. That includes ‘5 eggs in week 1’ or ‘gnocchi in week 4’. On google sheets this would have taken us a full day to try organise but on Airtable it can take maximum 30 minutes to find what we need and print it- we should get faster the longer we use it too.
Its still not perfect- there are the issues with editing orders and the printing view from Airtable is not ideal. Currently, we still download weekly csv. and then upload it to Google Sheets just for reformatting to make nice printed sheets for our team to pack to. But our helpful friend Daniel has told us that Airtable are working on something that will make what we want possible soon.
Someone asked me recently what skills an entrepreneur needs to be successful and my response was almost "a love of spreadsheets" but I changed it to "a love of learning". I barely touched spreadsheets since school and therefore found them difficult and was quick to express a dislike for them. But running a business involves many things that are not easy and it was definitely my love of learning something new, of being challenged that allowed me to get through all the youtube tutorials, google searches and screen headaches to be the full spreadsheet nerd I am now. It is also the same for Sophia who has been on a similar Accounting journey. We both watch a lot of Youtube tutorials.
But all of this organisation help does not come free. This is what we currently pay each month -
Shopify - $29usd (the basic plan)
Locksmith - $9usd (allows only members to make orders)
AirPower - $30usd (the App that connects Shopify to Airtable and gives us access to Daniel)
Airtable - $50usd (the easy database that saves us so many hours a month)
So in total we pay $118usd a month. With our current orders thats about 2,000mmk per member. This is quite a lot when our profit margins are minimal (vegetables are priced so cheaply) and we are still hoping for a better way. But more importantly, all of the above has allowed us to continue to grow and occasionally, given us extra time to spend on other parts of the business.
What we will be using in one years time is anyones guess but I do hope it will be efficient and error free.
EDIT: Just this week we have had a member offer help with our website and backend management. We are so grateful as my love of learning has been wearing thin regarding days/evenings spent on the computer and I would like to combine my love of learning with my love of farming more!