How to work just three days a week

LARISSA HAM
Last updated 14:09 10/12/2013

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Toby Webber's average day starts with a surf, a relaxed breakfast and a look at his online orders.

After that he might make his usual trip to the Byron Bay post office and, if time permits, enjoy some afternoon sunshine from the seat of his kayak.

You could argue that the Australian owner of iBark - a one-man business selling bamboo phone cases - has got it made.

When he's not at a trade show, or spruiking his phone covers at festivals such as Splendour in the Grass, Webber chooses the hours he wants - usually tallying up to about three days a week.

"I have done the whole nine-to-five, though never in an office. I've always been interested in doing things my own way," says the 34-year-old.

Webber started iBark four years ago with $2000 and some financial help from his now-fiancee, and his mum. His brother Luke was also involved in the early days, designing the website.

He says the idea for iBark came about when he saw a friend's phone cover made in the US, and figured he could create something similar - but of a better quality, with beautiful artwork and sustainable materials.

"In my first day of approaching shops I got seven shops - that was kind of like my ticket to freedom," says Webber, who promptly quit his day job.

"I've always been a risk-taker. I'm not too scared at having a go at something."

Webber's first phone covers, which are designed in Byron Bay and made in China, were made of 12 pieces of bamboo. The design has since been tweaked to include 70 individual pieces, and Webber works with four artists to create the designs.

He eventually hopes to offer a quality design "that doesn't have any impact on the planet".

While the iBark online store ticks over with orders from as far afield as Mexico and Russia, Webber says some of his major sales are made at the Byron Community Markets, and at music events including the Falls Festival and Byron Bay Bluesfest. Seventeen stores across Australia are stockists.

This December, with the help of a pop-up shop in Queensland he's trialling for the first time, Webber hopes to sell 800 to 1000 covers in the pre-Christmas rush.

But while business is going well, Webber says he's hardly making a fortune.

"I think anyone that takes on their own business is taking on a hell of a risk ... but it's managed risk," he says.

"I've never been poorer in my life. Anything I make I just invest back into the business."

Webber loves the creativity of the venture, but not so much the intricacies of marketing his website and selling online.

"I've never been a fan of the computer really," he says.

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One thing he's noticed is that customers increasingly want a rapid-fire response to emails, usually within the hour. And this is just a tad inconvenient if Webber happens to be, say, enjoying some fine Byron Bay waves.

But all up, the laid-back surfer says he's loving the freedom of running his own business, which he believes has the potential to grow much larger.

"I could probably sit back now and be quite comfortable doing what I'm doing, and not expand too much," he says.

But Webber says he's keen to keep growing, and if a booming business leads to him working five days a week, it will be no great stress.

"I have had a pretty good life up until now. I've been around the world twice, I've been on a surfing holiday that lasted six months," he says. "If this happens it's a great thing."

Three tips from Toby Webber

1. If you're going to invest in yourself and you've got a good product I would say go for it.

2. Be prepared to be poor.

3. At the end of the day, when you're starting a business, the risk isn't that huge. After two years if it doesn't work, go out and get a job.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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