How to start your own business the ‘Hyper Island-way’

Got a winning idea for a business? Not sure how to get it off the ground? Meet Alexandra Herget. Whilst taking our Interactive Art Direction (now Design Lead) program in 2017, she started her own business, just as her classmates embarked on their internships. 

We make it sound easy, but it takes a lot of courage and skill to take such a big leap of faith. Co-founded with Alexandra’s good friend Franziska Altenrath, Tutaka is a sustainability brand helping the notoriously traditional hospitality sector redefine its impact on people and the environment. Together, they’re championing a kinder, more thoughtful approach to business through a two-fold model. There’s ‘Marketplace’ offering sustainable operational supplies, such as glassware upcycled from wine bottles and packaging-free solid cosmetics, all sourced from small producers. And also a growing communication agency creating bespoke sustainability concepts for hosts.

Both sides of the business are made stronger through a dedication to community building and education. “We’re hoping to create a paradigm shift in society. The main goal is to end nature nightmares for the sake of pure profit by offering tangible value to all involved. At the moment, we’re focusing more on educating hosts, and consumers, about why changing behaviour, ditching disposables and plastic for instance, is so important. Simply put, we encourage more focus, more ecoism and more love.”

Alexandra’s impressive ambitions for the business have us rooting for her. But where did it all start? Alexandra tells us the seed of Tutaka was sown whilst she was working as an art director at Hotelmarketing Group in Hamburg – a specialized agency focused on developing gastronomy and hospitality concepts for restaurant and hotel brands. Although she loved the creative work, there was a growing sense that something wasn’t right. “I saw so many absurdities in the way people perceive luxury compared to the realities I was seeing. Most of the hotels I developed were in beautiful surroundings that were getting destroyed by their presence. There was double the waste per guest compared to someone living in a city. For a festival – the waste was up to three times as much.”

Alexandra witnessed this negative impact and was determined to do something about it. There was only one problem – a traditional industry like hospitality wasn’t going to change overnight. Especially when there’s not a lot of money to be made as it is. So she did what any smart business woman would do – she focused her attention on opportunity instead of the problem. “Hospitality is a wonderful industry at its core. People spend the most memorable moments of their lives on holiday or at restaurants celebrating with family or at a festival with friends. These are the moments when people are the most open to new experiences. In other words – it’s the perfect chance to potentially inspire thousands to be more sustainable. And by doing this, offer them a truly enriching experience.”

To test the water, and also out of curiosity, Alexandra started with the most humble symbol of hospitality you can imagine – the hotel slipper. She made it her mission to develop the perfect slipper, that’s sustainable and luxurious. She soon realized however, despite it being one of the cheapest products available, there are a lot of challenges when trying to find materials that fit the specific requirements. It needed to have an anti-slip sole, be washable and of course, still be super cheap to produce.

And that’s when Hyper came into the picture. With the slipper puzzle still on her mind, Alexandra quit her job in Hamburg and headed to Stockholm in search of inspiration in “the most creatively fertile environment I could think of” AKA Hyper Island. What she discovered upon arriving wasn’t at all what she expected though. “On the first day we were drawing pictures of each other and I was talking about my feelings with total strangers! Then we had six weeks to develop a project with 60 other people, minus a graphic designer or a programmer. I really didn’t think we’d pull it off.” But pull it off they did… “We created the coolest frame identity! And looking back, I think it worked out because Hyper’s thing is that they realize there’s potential in everybody. Potential that can only be reached by breaking how things are normally done.”

 

Alexandra believes the Hyper method is so effective, she not only uses the tools she learned daily, but it’s through using our methods that Tutaka came to be. “The first thing I did when setting up was a five-day kick-off workshop with Franziska.” Because “No one has a ‘recipe’ for how to start a company”. Even today, with the business going from strength to strength, they check in with a Team Development meeting every week. “There’s a motto – ‘trust the process’ – that we used a lot. It’s a belief that everything is going to work out. And I really believe this. You get given tools that really work if you know how to use them. It’s still a motto I use today for pretty much anything.”

Hyper tools are helpful for the business development side of things, but Tutaka’s thoughtful and vibrant brand identity is something Alexandra’s also really proud of too. “It was essential that our driving force – sustainability – be embedded in our brand identity philosophy.” The logo itself, co-developed with Lukas Liefsoens (Interactive Art Direction 2018 alumni), visually represents the brand perfectly. “The elements can be recycled and upcycled. It’s renewable and reusable. Forms and shapes can be combined with each other to create new icons, illustrations and stories, just like many of our products.”

It’s clear the visual identity means a lot to Alexandra because it stands for something she believes in. Now, with this solid foundation laid, what’s next for Tutaka and for Alex? Where will the revolution be in five years’ time? “Maybe we’ll be working with airlines or even nursing homes! Before that though, we want to make the marketplace a go-to source for sustainable operational products and then agency side, we have big ambitions to communicate sustainability in a way that gets people really enthusiastic to participate on a deeper level. And on a personal level? “I’ve come to realize that profit isn’t everything. Of course, we need money for shelter and food to sustain our life. But I’ve no ambition to become a multi-millionaire. I know I won’t draw any more happiness from achieving that.”

We’re positive Alexandra and Tutaka are heading in the right direction. And couldn’t be happier that she’s finding the ‘Hyper way’ so useful to her journey. So, the multi-million dollar question remains – did Hyper live up to her expectations? “Of course I had expectations about the program, the school and my time in Sweden. But in the end, it’s so amazing that I’m still in this ‘Hyper thinking mode’ even now. And that this way of thinking has completely changed the way I structure my work life. If anyone is thinking of doing Hyper, I say ‘do it!’ Really open yourself up to these unusual ways of learning. Because once you do that, once you ‘trust the process’, you’ll really unlock your potential.”