Getting Energized In A Recession

Here in the insulated bubble of San Francisco it feels like the recession is finally touching ground. The recession proof real-estate market is beginning to show real signs of softening, In Union Square almost every retail store has gone from 50% off to 70% off, stores are closing, and the tech sector is really starting to lay people off. It’s down right scary. You get this sense that everyone went away on the holiday break thinking that they’d handle it on their return at the beginning of the year … but when they came home they realized that it was much worse than they’d anticipated (at least most of them had a vacation).

Though I’m not a short seller, hope does spring eternal and I’m pretty excited to have Obama at the helm. Let’s face it, he’s got his work cut out for him with the war, a broken health care system, a broken education system, an auto-industry on life support, and the economic crisis. Fortunately, there are some great ideas out there in need of attention. In the interest of keeping our spirits up, I’ve linked to a great post from Dan Roam and a supporting video by T. Boone Pickens:

Dan Roams Napkin

Dan Roam's Napkin

The Making Of The Adina Bus

Back in 2004 I joined a startup beverage company called Adina For Life, Inc. as their marketing guy. In my three year tenure, I worked on the launch of three product lines into national distribution. There are many stories about the birth of the business that I could share but this post is focused on one project I spearheaded for Adina, the creation of a promotional vehicle. I hope this will be helpful for anyone considering such an endeavor.


Some Background On Adina

Adina was started by a small group of passionate juicepreneurs that included Greg Steltenpohl, the founder of Odwalla. The company’s mission was to bring healthy and nutritious beverages to the market, and provide an alternative to the corn syrup based beverages that have fueled the diabetes epidemic in this country. In addition to offering a lower sugar alternative, we were working with ingredients that were not common in the market at that time and which have significant anti-oxidant properties. One such ingredient was hibiscus, which we sourced through a woman’s run cooperative farm in Senegal; many of the original flavors were based on traditional recipes that you would find in regions that were influenced by the African diaspora. The Adinian mission encapsulated the idea that is was possible to put something good into your body while also doing something good for the world. Thus, we focused on sustainable farming practices, organics, fair trade sourcing policies, etc. I tried to take a similar approach with the Adina bus by finding with a vintage bus (recycling) that was made in California (local), and converting it to run on vegetable oil (sustainability).

The Story Of The Bus

I was responsible for bringing Adina to our first trade show back in 2005, which was the largest natural products conference in the world, called Natural Products Expo West. As a start up, we had a very tight budget to work with but it was important that we make a splash with our product launch. Greg and his wife Dominique Leveuf came to me with some ideas for our booth and introduced me to the art cars of Burning Man. These cars were amazing and inspired me to get in touch with Peter Jens-Claussen, who I had recently met on his party bus, Teacher With The Bus. I talked with Peter about the possibility of working together to bring his bus to the expo because it had already been renovated, featured a lounge on the inside, and could be converted to run on vegetable oil in time for the show. Our idea was to drive the bus into the exhibition hall, surround it with jungle foliage, and create a roadside juice stand.


The more I talked with people about the idea, and got an understanding of the costs involved, the more things started falling into place. For example, I learned that to participate in trade shows you have to pay for your booth set up to be brought into the exhibition hall on forklifts or carts. Typically there are union contracts that govern the freight and dryage, you can’t just bring it in yourself, so bringing in your products can be one of the biggest expenses. This is especially true if your products are beverages because they are heavy and rates are based on hundred pound weight increments. I discovered, however, that there were special rates for the car shows that often take place at these exhibition halls. Car shows would be prohibitively expensive to put on if exhibitors had to pay by weight to bring their cars in. Therefore, if you can drive a vehicle into the hall there is a $150 “guide fee” which entails someone walking in front of your vehicle until you get to your spot. Compared to the thousands of dollars of freight fees, the bus idea started looking very attractive. In essence, we could put almost all our booth materials into the bus and simply drive it in for $150.

Still, the event was going to be very expensive because the bus was 35 feet long and required a 20′ by 24′ booth (with the bus positioned diagnostically across). Plus, the booth was an island, meaning that it did not share any sides with another booth, which made it even more expensive. At this point, Greg stepped in to help negotiate a partnership with a company called Jungle Products. They produce cooking oils made from palm trees that were also organic and sourced from Africa. Our theme was a perfect fit for them, and since the bus had to be positioned diagonally across the booth it would be possible to set up two sides to the experience. Plus, we could share the interior lounge space on the bus for private meetings. To top it all off,  Jungle Products we being run by Tedd Robb whose father was the CEO of Whole Foods, so we’d have a chance to chat with him in our lounge!

With the financial picture coming together, I was able to afford to have the bus repainted for the show. I worked with Dominique to come up with the design for the bus, which was based on the unique transport buses of West Africa.


Because we were going to split the bus with Jungle Products they were able to paint their side of the bus as well. I painted the base colors with La Monte Lamoreux, and created a company event to add the hand painted elements of the design. La Monte really lead the charge and did an amazing job in the face of some significant paint and weather challenges. In the end, this turned out to be a really fun bonding experience for everyone involved and got us really excited about the bus. You can see more pictures of the painting experience here.

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With the bus painted, converted to run on vegetable oil, and the rest of our trade show experience planned, we headed down to Los Angeles in the bus. Peter took care of the driving and delivered the bus to our booth. As far as I know, it was the first time anyone had arrived with anything quite like this because everyone at the exhibition hall had to come by and kick the tires. It was a really great start to getting the buzz going.


In the end, the booth was a total hit and we did get a chance to meet up with the CEO of Whole Foods. He was so blown away by the presentation and the bus, he asked if we could take it on a tour of Whole Foods once they took our product into distribution! You can’t really ask for much more than that … the only problem was that Peter needed his bus back, so I’d have to get another one!

The Adina Bus Part II

We had a couple more weeks to use Peter’s bus, but it was clear from Expo West that we needed a permanent bus of our own. The process of converting Peter’s bus to run on vegetable oil and painting it had prepared me well to improve the design with Adina’s own bus. So, I started searching for another Gillig. I wanted to work with a Gillig because it was a locally manufactured bus and because they have a unique vintage look that resonated with the Adina brand. Gillig buses do have some unique qualities that bear mentioning, for example they are manual, have twelve gears, and do not have a sequential clutch (which means you have to double clutch to downshift). I have to admit that I really loved driving this bus … but then I enjoy driving.

It didn’t take long to find a 1968 Gillig on Craigslist with about 100,000 miles on it, and I didn’t even have to leave the Bay Area. We purchased the bus for around $3,500 and immediately got to work (the cost of these old buses is surprisingly low!). We knew we wanted to have a lounge on the inside, but the design  would be a bit different than Peter’s bus because we wanted it to be easy to take on the road to retailers like Whole Foods. I created the design myself, which included room for 500 gallons of vegetable oil (for long range travel), juice storage under the seats, a bar with refrigerators, and a fold out bed in case we took the bus on an overnight journey. It was totally pimped out, and the design included a second phase of renovation to add solar panels, a larger stereo and more. The build out of the design was completed by a wonderful shop called Figure Plant. Here is an image of one of my design specification documents.


For the vegie-conversion, I was forunate enough to get connected with a great local conversion shop called VegRev run by William Hibbits and David Shelhart. We worked together to design a great system that would allow the bus to pull up to any fast food chain, suck out their used vegetable oil, filter it on board, and then run on it. I ended up establishing a relationship with a local restaurant to get free fuel on a regular basis. With the capacity to hold 500 gallons on board it was possible to drive up and down the west coast without refuleing! Here are more images of the conversion process.


With the bus renovated and converted to run on veggie, I had to go through the arduous task of getting the bus commercially registered and insured to operate. This proved to be time consuming and frustrating mostly because it required inspections by the Public Utility Commission and the California Highway Patrol. I also had to get a commercial driver’s license so I could drive the bus while it was full of people. With that done, it was just about time to go back to Expo West! Instead of bringing the bus inside the trade show this year, we decided to use the bus to do some guerrilla marketing. We conducted drive by juice drops around the convention center during the day, and we held cocktail parties in it in the evening. It was a really fun event and we made a big splash once again … this time for the launch of our coffee line. The trade show organizers were a little bent out of shape, however, because we didn’t have to pay anything to have the bus there!


Though I’ve left Adina to take on new challenges the bus program has continued. I understand that it’s completed some of the Whole Foods store visits that served as part of the inspiration to own a bus in the first place. It’s gone to music festivals like the Harmony Festival, and to corporate campuses like Google. As you can see here, the bus has been redecorated with new branding to reflect the coffee line and the new company motto “Drink No Evil”.


Green Hosting

In today’s Daily Statfrom Harvard they shared the results of an interesting study from The McKinsey Quarterly about the carbon footprint of datacenters. It turn out that “Emissions from data centers are expected to grow at more than 11% annually. Right now, the amount of carbon emitted by data centers worldwide — 80 megatons — is more than half Argentina’s carbon output (142 megatons) and that of the Netherlands (146 megatons).”

harvard image

Which is why I’m happy to say that my site is green due to the carbon offsets and renewable energy that DreamHost buys on my behalf. And just in case you want some proof, check this out. Ask your host if they’re doing the same y’all.