Every small business owner has a story to tell

As the Environmental Business of the Year, I reflected on how we got here and the long road of ups and downs.

Every small business owner has a story to tell, and my story makes me who I am and why we are so passionate at True Green about making a positive impact on our planet. I hope you find it inspirational for your journey, too.

I’m Ray Pastoors, founder of True Green Hosting. I was deeply proud and appreciative of winning the award for Environmental Business 2024 at the National Small Business Champion Awards. Truthfully, I did not expect to win, but I reflected on how I got here after doing so.

Ray Pastoors (middle) founder of True Green Hosting with team members Nishi and Adriana

I grew up in Western Sydney, and back then, you’d not be proud to admit that, as there was a shade of misfortune about it. Thankfully, these days, it’s a growing second city in New South Wales, and it is about to have a new airport

At the age of 7, I remember having a fascination for business. I had no idea where it came from until I discovered later in life my Grandpa was a maker of Australian bikes called ‘Hooper’.

I had a bedroom shop selling toys to local neighbours, my older brothers were not too impressed with our house turning into a space for strangers. I also needed to learn about cash flow. Hence, I bought a very expensive cash register for a store with little foot traffic. Mum was not too happy with me paying for stock on the credit card either.

My Sydney life was good up until high school. I had a best friend throughout primary school and many girl friends to chat to and play running or games with. But when it came to grade 5, I moved to an all-boys catholic school, and things started to change. The most drastic change began in grade 7, though. Unlike most of my peers, the puberty train had not come to me, so my voice was high-pitched more than others. 

As I was told, the benefit of sounding “like a girl” is you can sing your favourite Kelly Clarkson and Delta Goodrem songs and reach some high notes. I was even in the school choir. But the reality of this was that I was different—an outcast to my fellow students. 

I was verbally and physically abused by people who I thought were my friends. The final straw for me was when a couple of students took my school bag and wrote demeaning words in permanent marker all over my bag. They then opened it widely and threw it off a balcony, landing on the ground in a wet puddle. I had to pick up my soaking bag wet with all these words and pretend nothing was wrong. Worse, I then went to after-school sports with these people, who then decided that they would throw bocce balls, pegging them at me. I still don’t know why teachers did not see what was happening or help me. I felt alone and scared. It wasn’t until I burst into tears on the bus heading back to school that a teacher finally approached me and asked me what was wrong.

At 12, I imported products from Asia, including those seen on TV, and established CABR, which stood for each of my out-of-school friends’ names: Cassandra, Angelo, Ben, and Ray.

We formed a strong bond and started to sell koala stickers for the Australian Koala Foundation, make websites and produce Kool Kidz Magazine, where we added an animal welfare mag from PETA. This is where my friend’s father taught me about copyright laws after we naively thought we could repurpose K-Zone magazine’s competitions.

When I turned 14, though, my world changed. I remember it so vividly. My Mother went to get breakfast for my brothers and me. She would walk to save using the car for a short trip. But she did not return.

We waited for hours and thought she had gone with her friend as we didn’t have a mobile to reach her. A few hours later, we heard a knock at the door. It was a police officer who told us that our Mother had been hit by a car and was rushed to hospital by helicopter. This was the last time I would see my Mum as she was. 

Mum was in the Intensive Care Unit for over five months, and the doctors told us that it was likely she would not survive the head trauma she had faced from her accident. We would pray every day and be outside, hoping for a miracle. As a result of the situation, my sister, in her early twenties, decided to take me under her care. She had already moved out of home and lived and worked in Melbourne. So it meant I was moving too.

It was a blessing in disguise, not that I wished for my Mother or anyone to be hurt, but my voice finally dropped at this time! I started at a new all-boys catholic school in Melbourne. But I was still reluctant to be me. So, I would hold back, keep my head down on my studies, and mention little words to people. However, this plan only worked for a while when students started to try and speak to me. I played down ball (which we Sydney siders called handball) and began to open up slowly about myself.

Ray Pastoors school photo with a glimpse in his bedroom filled with entrepreneur and business posters

I was still passionate about business and marketing during this time. I started to get involved in a few ventures. That included selling German health and beauty products, where I learned about multi-level marketing and making websites and social media pages as a hobby for small business owners. I had a knack for everything technology and a curious mind about how things worked. It led me to self-teach myself using the internet and YouTube tutorials and take on projects that sometimes made me want to pull my hair out of stress. But somehow, I managed to persist and learn more.

My sister taught me to be independent, so at the age of 15, I got my first job at Red Rooster. I was passionate about roast chicken because it was free-range and halal-certified. Before I knew it, I went from doing the cashier role to being a crew trainer to later being an Assistant Store Manager. It involved a lot of hard work, but I was determined to do an excellent job as my Mother always taught me to take pride in what we do.

After leaving high school, I started at Australian Catholic University for a Bachelor of Commerce. I attended lectures and classes but felt odd coming in for a few hours and trying to balance working life on top. I wanted more.

At 19, I registered my first business name, LYF Solutions. It stood for “Limit Your Failure” because I thought failure was bad back then. I also started studying for a Bachelor of Commerce at Deakin University, one of the first unis to offer online courses. I enjoyed balancing working life with university at the start, but when I took on too much work, it made my studies sour. 

I remember receiving a warning from the university that I would lose my spot if I failed again. That sent a fire up my butt and made me determined to do everything I could to do better. So I wrote a letter and pleaded with the university to let me study, and as a way of managing my time better, I committed to taking on fewer subjects.

My course would take several more years, though. What probably didn’t help was my passion for making a difference; I also volunteered a lot of my time to places like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, where I would make yummy cupcakes and attend rallies to get climate on the agenda at a government and social level.

Ray Pastoors making cupcakes for an event for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) to help fight global warming

After being with Red Rooster for some time, I also took on a social media guru role at fair trade brand ETIKO, which I admire for its work in ethical and sustainable clothing. The job was too far to travel to, so after six months, I decided to resell their sneakers as ‘Vegan Sneaker’ after finding a gap in the marketplace and looking for work elsewhere.

Ray Pastoors with ETIKO fair trade Vegan sneakers and Green Toys

I then went to the USA on my first CONTIKI trip, where I met lifelong friends like my best friend, Courtney from Adelaide. 

After that, I started at Target Australia. Target was where I started as a door greeter (and security). Again, I was determined to do good work, so I went from greeter to cashier to get a receptionist role at another store. This progression wasn’t sheer luck, as I always put my hand up for stuff that wasn’t in my job description, including being ‘Pillow Man’ to sell more pillows. I had no shame.

After being a receptionist and juggling studies, I got a role in a call centre at Origin Energy. During that time, I went from customer care to resolutions to handling social media complaints. I learned much about the energy market and was fascinated by renewable energy. Due to my marketing studies and business activities, I was also curious about the brand and marketing team. So, I would regularly talk with that team upstairs and be interested in what they do. That paid off (and was not planned), but I was an obvious pick when a role became available. It was my first corporate job. 

Working at Origin taught me much about brand and marketing and how the big end of town works regarding budgets and communications. I got many opportunities to learn and develop, for which I was grateful. I even got involved in the Origin Foundation, which inspired me to do a 100km Oxfam Trailwalker, which I did three years in a row. Never in my mind would I imagine I’d be able to do that, as I was never the athletic or sports kind. I was usually chosen last in that dreaded lineup.

Oxfam trailkwalker participants from Origin Foundation with Ray Pastoors

I also volunteered at Train for Thought as the marketer and website person to help raise awareness and funds for the Youth Mental Health Foundation headspace. I decided to also run for the local council, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Fascinated with hiking and nature, I took my first trip to raise funds for Motor Neurone Disease Victoria. A cause my good friend Esther was passionate about after losing her father to the disease. We had run several community markets to raise funds for the cause. The trip was eye-opening as I went to Beijing, experienced new cultures and hiked on the Great Wall of China.

Before I knew it, I decided to explore another opportunity to challenge myself further. And so Bupa came into the spotlight. At Bupa, I worked in the content and social marketing team. I also got involved in many projects, which I loved being challenged by.

Due to my interest and desire to put my hand up for stuff, I was lucky to go on an exchange program in Hong Kong, where I shared my digital skills and learned from them, too. This was all while I ran my business as a side hustle, often working late at night or on weekends to get by.

Bupa Quality healthcare Hong Kong team on exchange program with Ray Pastoors

In 2019, I visited Vietnam for an Oxfam trek and visited local social projects. It was incredible to be part of nature and meet my now lifelong business and personal friend, Emma Lovell, my travel guide. On top of that, we met some amazing women who were making an economic and social impact in their community with the help of Oxfam’s funds and resources to produce agricultural projects. 

Ray Pastoors at an Oxfam Vietnam trek with social justice project visit

I then had another shock event that changed things for me. 

This time, one of my colleagues, who had been at Bupa for some time and whom I had grown to admire, had a heart attack on their annual holiday and passed away. Hearing that was hard, making me rethink what I was doing in my life.

So I told my supportive former manager, Alex that I wanted to tick a bucket item off my list and become a cabin crew member for Virgin Australia. So, I made a creative video in which I pretended to be a flight attendant and fed snacks to soft toys to get me over the line. I was also deeply passionate about Sir Richard Branson, The Virgin Group, and entrepreneur Janine Alis; these were my idols. They stood for making a difference and being bold.

Ray Pastoors as Virgin Australia cabin crew on balcony with cat looking to the sky

During my journey, I also encountered the impact of the internet. Upon making websites for people and hosting my own, I was surprised to discover a carbon footprint associated with my digital presence.

I learned this came from the website files having a physical server space known as a data centre. These are warehouses or large buildings with dystopian-like stacked towers humming and running 24/7 daily. They use much power and energy and are responsible for more than 2% of global carbon emissions. The internet is responsible for over 3% of the emissions and is forecasted to overtake the emissions level of the aviation sector. Much of this stems from the national electricity grid using fossil fuels such as coal to get its power. The materials also drive up e-waste, leaking chemicals and wasting minerals in landfills.

Finding this alarming fact, I was determined to find a solution. And so, I spent the next two years researching how websites worked, data centres and energy use. I came across The Green Web Foundation and another partner, Carbon Neutral, who helped me understand this. The Green Web Hosting passion project began, and we started to plant trees to make up for the footprint of our client’s websites and our own.

However, more was needed because trees can take at least ten years to start carbon capture depending on their species, location, and growth levels. So I wanted to do more. And with that came the idea of offsetting carbon emissions based on page views. Using actual page views at the server level, we would work out an estimated C02 level for each page view for the website and offset that with accredited projects that help clean energy or the environment.

In addition, I also joined 1% for the Planet, which committed us to sending 1% of our revenue (not just profit) to environmental causes. This is where we were lucky to find Robert Edwards, who runs the Its Time Foundation. The foundation helps remote Pacific Island schools ditch fossil fuel generators for clean solar energy. With the swap, schools can also purchase essential supplies from the savings they get with solar power, learn about global warming, and participate in ocean clean-up activities to protect marine wildlife. 

The solar for schools program supports students like those at Nuku Village, Rabi Island, Fiji.

I met the lovely Kate from Run It By Kate, who was recommended to me by a local Facebook group for building a website. We realised we both wanted to set up an event to raise funds for headspace. And so Run 4 Fun began. Kate encouraged me to run again and got me to sign up for the Great Ocean Road at my first-ever Half Marathon. It was brutally cold and challenging, but I did it by raising funds for Dementia Australia in memory of my Grandma, who lived with dementia. And we are planning to do it again this year.

Along my entrepreneurial journey, I also appreciate the opportunities I’ve had. I admired Kate Toon for some time and stalked her in a good way on social media. She was all about being honest, transparent and fun in business. It resonated well with my values. I landed a spot on her podcast to teach Google Analytics (a website traffic review tool). Following that debut, she invited me to become an expert for her Recipe for SEO Success Course and Digital Marketing Collective Membership. I helped other business owners untangle the tool and make it easier to understand.

Kate Toon crew from Digital Marketing Collective at the 2023 Australian Small Business Awards

My Dad, who separated from my Mum before the accident, also taught me about the importance of being your true self. As a trans person, Dad taught me a lot about diversity and inclusion and to stand up for what you believe in. And whilst my father, now known as Ziggy, would love for me to be Prime Minister one day, I am happy to make a difference through my business ventures and spreading kindness.

My Mother thankfully survived the accident and beat the odds. With an acquired brain injury, she’s not quite the same as she was – but I am blessed to have her still in my life and to be a supporter on the sidelines.

As for how True Green Hosting fits into this well, Kate Toon’s Digital Marketing Collective Conference was where we launched the new brand in October 2023 after several months of work with our team to shape something meaningful and impactful. And it was perfect because her community values resonate so well with our cheeky Aussie, no jargon and earth-loving personality.

True Green® was formed to help us make a passion project even bigger. I wrote this personal story so you could understand who I am as a founder but also know that life and business are full of ups and downs.

True Green Hosting at a local business marketing event with banner Make Straya Green

I have not shared every lesson here; as boy there have been many, but I wanted to give you a glimpse of my life and why I am determined to make a difference.

I want to thank my team for sharing in this purpose-led mission who live and breathe our values. 

And I want to say that you can live your life to the fullest by giving your cup back to people and our planet.

If you’ve read this far, thank you, and I encourage you to share and write your own story. 

And if you’re not already part of our movement, explore our domain, email, and web hosting services. We aim to please.


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