Interview with Sarah Sivyer, Just Been Laid
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual
We interview Just Been Laid Founder, Sarah Sivyer who wanted to start something that would be complimentary to her family’s existing beef business and really appeal to people who remember what eggs used to taste like.
Tell me about your childhood?
My father is a fourth generation beef and dairy farmer. His family settled here, at Eccleston, in the 1830s. Mum was Founding Director of Maitland Regional Art Gallery and patron of a crazy number of community groups. This meant that my brother and I spent a lot of time helping out at community events.
I was an absolute nerd who loved maths and chemistry. When I wasn’t studying I was trying to squeeze in as many sports as possible.
One of the best decisions I made was to study chemical engineering and commerce at The University of Sydney. This opened up doors that I never knew existed and it also meant I was able to live at The Women’s College. This is where I met ‘friends for life’, who continue to push me to grow, and it is also where I met Her Excellency, Ms Quentin Bryce. As Principal of the college, she inspired us all to dream big and to know that we could have it all, maybe just not all at once.
What did you want to be when you left school? Has this changed?
In year six I thought that Captain of the Australian Cricket Team or being the Prime Minister looked pretty good! In all seriousness, I was always going to head back to the farm.
Before returning to farming, I spent 12 years working in London, Switzerland, Chicago, Sydney and Bunbury in Western Australia. I worked in roles that took me from helping to develop Syngenta’s global food security strategy for Asia and Africa, to working with Australian farmers as the beef analyst at Rabobank, to learning the skills necessary to implement a culture of continuous improvement while at BHP.
Last year, I founded Just Been Laid (JBL)—an egg subscription business where customers sign up online for super fresh weekly eggs. These eggs, which are always less than 72 hours old from chickens grazing on pasture, are delivered to subscribers at partner café hubs across the Hunter. As a farmer, the subscription model enables a more predictable cash flow as payment is debited from customer accounts each week in advance of delivery. Subscribers have the flexibility to pause or suspend their subscription with customers also being able to choose to donate their eggs at any time to OzHarvest, to ensure those in most need, receive super nutritious food.
What would you say to your 18-year-old self knowing what you know now?
Be open to opportunities. Differentiate yourself and look to continually learn. I’ve taken as many opportunities as possible to learn. A highlight has been receiving a scholarship to study a Masters of Business Administration at Oxford University. The opportunity to surround myself with people from all over the world, studying anything from numismatics (the study of coins!) to international human rights, opened my eyes to the power of diversity of thought.
Who has inspired/supported you?
Recently, I’ve been very grateful for my exposure to other Nuffield scholars. It has been really helpful to spend time with people from industries across all walks of rural life who want to interrogate your business, your ideas and your opinions. People who are respectful but willing to challenge you so that you can better yourself, your business and your industry.
What have your experiences taught you?
I like to surround myself with the most diverse thinkers possible. When talking strategy I speak with everyone—from my mum, to the children of people that might buy my product, to CEOs.
A quote from Sheryl Sandverg, ‘Done is better than perfect’, was (and still is!) a very hard lesson for me to learn. As a small business owner I’m always trying to find a balance between having a premium quality product, logistics processes that create convenience for our customers, and an overall customer experience that makes customers want to recommend our product. Being able to outsource some components to experts,
such as the creative elements, which is not my strength, has helped me to focus on the critical issues and figure out what to let go.
I’ve realised that how you respond at a time of crisis can be the inflexion point in your business. My business’ growth strategy is driven by people advocating for my product rather than formal paid advertising. I hope that others believe in what we are trying to achieve and if people can see that their feedback is used to rectify a mistake or improve a process, then I hope this helps our customers to feel they can trust further in the integrity of our brand.
What’s something about you that people don’t know?
I’m a closet sponge cake maker. My grandmother taught me when I was very young and it was something we did together. Being an egg farmer is great for the habit!
What has been your biggest triumph?
Proving the Just Been Laid subscription concept has been so satisfying. We’ve been able to validate a business model where you really can ‘do good by doing good’. Finding that middle ground, with an absolute premium quality product for our customers, creates a more predictable and reliable cash flow, is great for the environment, and most importantly, it aims for best practice animal welfare.
What does being a rural woman mean to you?
Opportunity! I feel a real energy around living in a rural community at present and I feel like things are lining up to create momentum for regional communities to grow and provide an ecosystem where small businesses can thrive.
Where to next?
I am in the middle of a Nuffield Scholarship, which has been wonderful. Being able to spend time with farmers from across the globe who are looking for best practice in their industry and also looking at other industries to see what can be learned is brilliant. I would highly recommend a Nuffield Scholarship to those looking for some inspiration, or for their next challenge.
Business wise, I can’t wait to figure out what is next. Whatever it is, it will involve continuing to close the gap between farmers and consumers, and at the same time looking to business models that can help farmers secure cash flow in advance of products being delivered as a risk management tool—basically a permanent kickstarter model crossed with an evolution of community supported agriculture.