In this episode we’re learning from Lauren Gropper, co-founder of Repurpose.
We’re talking through how you actually get to the point of having 15,000 stockists, what she paid for her one word URL, getting to 8 figures in revenue and what it feels like 11 years into building this thing.
Repurpose is creating green alternatives to disposable plastic since 2010. Designed by a mom, Repurpose's plant-based compostable and reusable tableware is good for people and our planet.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Sure everybody, I'm Lauren Gropper. I'm the founder and CEO of Repurpose and we make plant based compost of alternatives to plastic table where so we are trying to get rid of plastic with sustainable alternatives.
00:03:41 Changing the world basically trying to every little bit. I love that you have a wild U. R. L. By the way and I love to point out this U. R. L. Business when someone has a really good one. How did you get this? U. R. L. Did you start with this? And for everyone listening, it's repurposed dot com which is just phenomenal. Yes, this is a real story. So we were repurposed compostable dot com for a long time because repurposed was being squatted on and we just felt like, okay, reporters combustibles is great. But it's so long and hard to spell and you know, we still have that but we always want to repurpose and we felt like we are building a brand, we need something really, really strong. But how do you get a verb recycle dot com or some someone was squatting on it. We had to do this whole stealth kind of like go through a rep and act like we weren't interested even though we were. And the price every time we'd be like okay, he's name a price and then we would be like, okay, great, you have a deal that sounds good. And it was like, I think it started like 15,000 or something like that.
00:04:45 And we felt like for that what was reasonable. But then every time we said Yes, he'd be like I changed my mind. It's 30 just kept going up. I know. Until finally we didn't pay probably way too much. But what do you pay for it, 75? I don't know. I feel like to me that sounds kind of like obviously not cheap, that's the wrong word. But I just assumed that these kind of one word. You RLS were like hundreds of thousands of dollars. Well I think I think we did get it at a decent value to be honest. And many of our board members like you don't necessarily need that. Is that the best use of funds? Like could you do something like repurpose home or by a repurpose or whatever it was. We had a bunch of different ones but I was our team. My co founders. We were like no we want repurposed especially because we're you know we're building the brand and we have to have the name. So. And I also feel like when the day comes that you want to sell the brand that's like an asset in itself to have Just that 100%.
00:05:51 How does it work for you with like S. C. O. R. Their struggles, their having it just as repurposed dot com so far. No and a lot of our essay was actually built on the old U. R. L. But then that you're all redirects to repurpose dot com. But no it's sort of worked in our favor a little bit actually. Gosh, that's awesome. What a cool, cool little story to get us started. Love that for you and for the brand. Can we go back to where this begins? We're talking circa 2010 when the brand launches. So I imagine the story starts a few years before that or potentially quite a few years before that. So let's let's rewind take us back. Yeah. So essentially my, I'd always been in the sustainability space, I started out in sustainable architecture. I was working in the green building world in new york and had been working on mostly hotels and office buildings, making them more sustainable. So going from conventional building to sustainable building, which was kind of happening in the in the early aughts.
00:06:55 Um you know, that was when it really was starting to kind of take shape in new york. And I had specifically studied that. So I was in this great position where there weren't that many people really focused on it. So I got to work on a lot of great big projects because of that. I met some really interesting people, some of whom had been working in the film industry in L. A. And so I sort of thought what if you could do what you were doing with building and bring it to set design and set building and so make Hollywood sets more green, more sustainable. And that was like, oh well that sounds really cool. You know, maybe I'll do that for a little while or I can do that alongside kind of the work I'm doing at the building. And so I came to new york are sorry, came to L. A. To do set design that was more sustainable. And I don't know if you've ever been on a set, but the nature of a set is that it's very temporary. Everything's fast. It's kind of like hurry up and wait. There's not a lot of time for, you know, for example, eating your lunch on a set of dishes, washing them, et cetera. It's like grab it, go, it's a grab and go kind of thing, it's like the buffet vibe, right?
00:08:02 And there's just like, and people drinking plastic, that doesn't happen anymore. But back then it was like plastic bottles everywhere. People take two steps and then put it down and then grab another one and then plastic forks and everything was like, just to see a plastic behind the scenes and actually several of the shows, not only the sense that we were working, but I was doing shit like content about living in green life. And then behind the scenes we were doing. So it felt to me like, you know, like I'm living a double life and and to me it just felt like this is a problem that's only going to get worse and this is I didn't I didn't know anything about ocean plastic or anything like that. The problem of plastic in the ocean or how bad it was, it just felt to me like this is a waste issue, This is a problem of waste and why are we using petroleum? That we it's a finite resource that we dig out of the ground to make a product like a fork that we use for five minutes and then throw it away and then it lasts forever. Like that just makes no sense. And so it felt to me like this was an area that was ripe for disruption, much like what was happening in the building history.
00:09:08 It felt like we can take those same lessons and apply kind of a more sustainable design approach to these everyday kind of plastic table or products, why can't we just use a different kind of product to make them? And so in my research, I came across several different technology companies that were kind of using advanced materials using basically plant based chemistry to create plastic. It was like, it mimicked plastic. But the food's the feedstock was plant based versus versus a polymer, much like, you know, beyond meat, Impossible foods. But if those things existed, like why was there still so much plastic being made price primarily plastic is beard foam is very, very cheap. And when, you know, people really were more concerned obviously over the bottom line than they were at the time about sustainability, that's rapidly changing and has changed in many areas. But back then it was like, you know, if you can if you can get it for the same price, great, I'm all for it, but it never was the same price.
00:10:11 So it was really hard to create sort of like this mass adoption, but technology has improved hugely over the last decade. The prices come down a ton. And so now we're talking about a much more level playing field, much like in the renewable energy space, you're seeing a much more level playing field and you can you can purchase more cheap renewable energy. So long story short, the idea was let's use an alternative to petroleum based plastics because we still need something that's disposable. Also back then it was not like the thought process, there was not that kind of same adoption to a new system, like let's use reusable Z and create a whole reusable system that people weren't open to. That that was just like way too far. So I think coming up with this sort of, okay, you still know your disposable goods, but what can we do this more sustainable that's made from plants that uses less water that uses less energy to make it can also be at the end, it's like composed it meaning it can break down into nothing into soil and then be used to grow plants again.
00:11:18 So the concept of zero waste is what we're going for or there's another buzzword called circular economy, it's a much more circular process because you're using plants to create the product. And then when you dispose of the product basically breaks down into so that can be used to grow plants again. So that's that's also kind of, that's kind of like the thesis of sustainable design is thinking about how a product is made, thinking about how it's used and then thinking about how it's disposed of. And when you design the product you design with circularity in mind versus kind of take from the ground, make your product and then it turns into waste. You kind of want to eliminate the concept of waste. So it was this sort of kind of like intellectual pursuit that I'd studied and I felt like this was an amazing application for it because we could make products out of an alternative, you know, feedstock, I eat plants that had a much lighter footprint and could be disposed of in a way that left no ways behind. And so that was kind of the initial piece and then we always wanted to be a brand. So the technology obviously had existed for several years.
00:12:24 Again, it was in its infancy. So there were aspects of the technology that didn't work super well. The products sometimes were inconsistent. Um they didn't have the same durability as the conventional products there, it was more expensive. There are a lot of issues to kind of like get that mainstream adoption. But we did feel like this is going to be something big. This is going to be a category that people will eventually switch to and we want to be the Kleenex like the brand name of it. So that was because there were several companies at the time those much bigger now. They were small at the time that we're doing kind of more, you know, they were on campuses, college campuses, they were servicing some hotels and very progressive cafes. But again it was still quite fringe And so we felt like there are some minor players but there's no one has brand recognition and we can really take really own that and and this is the future. So we should know that. So that was that was the whole, that was the thought process.
00:13:27 And then I think the next step is really to figure out what is, what is the go to market strategy. Are you going where are you going to sell this technology in these products at the time? We had some amazing innovation and kind of, we had this coffee cup that was using this plant based installation. So you didn't need a sleeve or anything like that. And we thought this could be this, that was like our hero product at the time when we launched and we got a lot of press on it and that was how we kind of got ourselves into some of these big retailers because it was super innovative, you know, it replaced all the conventional products, you can need to sleep, it was insulated and had our brand name all over our old brand. We've since actually rebranded, we rebranded a couple years ago, but what was the first name? It was still repurposed, but it was like very bright with the combustibles, you know, Echo one point, it was like a green leaf on a white background, you know? But we sort of did that purposefully to because we wanted people to just immediately recognize, oh, that's Echo, you know, it's got a great leap so that that was kind of an easy way to to make people have that immediate recognition, and that's what got us onto store shelves.
00:14:39 So our go to market strategy was really, we're going to go into, you know, the goal is always the targets and the Walmarts, but let's start with whatever we can get our hands on and get on retail shelves to build the brand and be a replacement for what people are currently buying. Because when we started if you were having small gathering at home or a large party or whatever, you literally could not buy anything sustainable, you would have to buy plastic even if you live the rest of your life in a sustainable way. So, you know, at the time, Friends, and I we were buying organic produce, we were using sustainable cleaning products. You know, we lived a more sustainable life, but we have a party and it would be full of plastic products. So this was a way that we could get into people's homes and build a brand and be an alternative that didn't exist. And, you know, it didn't exist at the time for a number of reasons, not because nobody had necessarily thought about it, just because there was not a big enough market, like that is actually a bit of a takeaway there.
00:15:44 You can have the most innovative product. But if there's not enough kind of education and awareness about what that is, it's gonna spend a lot of time and money educating people about why they need the product and what it is. So it's a little bit easier to kind of join the bandwagon and get in on a trend when it's already kind of there. And is that what you have to do? You have to educate the market and get people yeah, why should I even have this product today? We don't really have to do that. The awareness is there now because you built it. Yeah. But I mean, the lucky piece was that, you know, the media and what had been going on with all the plastic in the ocean had built up this, like, you know, huge awareness around the problems of plastic and so we didn't have to do that heavy lifting, but kind of creating a new product that it's a new product category or you're innovating on that's something entirely new. It is the timing piece is really hard because you do want to be the first, there's a big advantage to being the first mover but also your, that you then you're stuck with a lot of that education and awareness building, which is obviously, which is costly.
00:16:52 And so it's hard. I mean oftentimes they say like the second entrant kind of has the biggest advantage because the first movement has a lot of the work and then the second one is still really early riding that wave. Yeah, we're so you know, we always talk about it like we've seen so many trends, especially in food and beverage over the years and early days was like coconut water and then cold brew and kombu to, you know, I'm just thinking beverage, it's an easy one, but like gluten free snacks, whatever it is, you see so many entrance come in but at the same time, which is hard because when you have a lot of competitors, that's another challenge. But the advantage there is, you're writing a trend where consumers want this stuff, right? So you know, there's, there's that, right that's built in totally. But anyway, yeah, in the early days there was definitely a lot of resistance from for us getting into mass retail because they they, and they were right that there just wasn't enough awareness and there wasn't enough of a market for people that would actually buy this debt.
00:17:56 So they thought it would just sit on the shelf or they thought the screen thing is just a fad, like we don't really, we're not it, no. And the major players in our category are huge multinational companies with huge budgets that basically can kind of by their way to stay the position that they have on the shop. So it's difficult, it's very difficult to penetrate. Um, and that was, that was a massive effort. I mean the first five years we spent just knocking on doors and being persistent and when they said no, we would constantly come back and just push, push, push, push, push, push, push, Oh my gosh, gosh, I've got so many questions for you. There's so many things I want to ask first question in the very beginning, in those early days, how much capital did you kind of need to actually get started? It obviously sounds like, you know, there was probably a lot that was required and be, did you kind of see yourself building a brand to what it is today? Did you see this future or what was the vision?
00:19:01 The vision was this future? We really felt like we want to be this ubiquitous brand that is in everybody's homes and and we still have a ways to go there for sure. But we felt like we could be the next generations, you know tied or you know, the next generation of products that people know and trust and where it serves that kind of sustainable lifestyle, which people want finally, but in terms of the capital raise in the early days, this is something that I think is a, is a huge take away and what I always tell people we were in a really lucky position and that I had built up enough of kind of a career prior that I was able to do consulting work while we were starting this company. So I didn't have to take any, any salary for the first several years and that's kind of crucial because all the funding should go into the company, not necessarily to pay yourself. We, we were always scraping by, I mean it was just so hard in those early days because we had this big vision, but again, no proof and people really had to believe in just the vision and kind of what we were building at the time.
00:20:13 Like I said, there wasn't really that awareness that there is today. So getting big investors was hard. So we got luckily we had friends and family that were supportive. We, we did angel investor, you know, we had, we did a round of angel investments, But it took, it wasn't like one or two, it was many, many, many writing small checks because they felt like, well, you know, the odds are, you're probably going to be so I'll put in a little bit like I'll give you 10,000 or maybe 25,000, but we weren't getting big checks in the early days that they wish they put in more now. Like we stuck it out, we really stuck it out, we pushed through, We persisted. Yeah. And, and also, you know, we had put in as, as founders, we, we invested ourselves. So, you know, those early days are so tough because it is so hard. I mean, I think it's better now. I do think it's better now than it was 10 years ago. There's many, many more funds that come in at the very early stage, like seed or even precede. Um, there's many more funds investing in women, female founded companies in sustainability, but back then there wasn't at all to the same degree.
00:21:23 I mean there were a few, but it was few and far between. So it was tough. Was definitely those early days. I mean, raising money is always hard, but that was really hard. Yeah. A lot of people say that on the show that fundraising was like one of the most difficult kind of roles to take on, especially in those early days and you know, adjusting yourself to the rejection that you get and the relentless pursuit that you have to have to get it. You know, I always just, my motto is always like, okay, one door closes another door opens one door closes another door opens because right, I mean in some cases, yeah, maybe they just don't believe in you. On on the other hand though a lot of times it's, well, your metrics don't match what they need to, you know, their fund metrics, etcetera or whatever. I mean there's some things and especially when you've got kind of like this, Yeah, a product that is not, it is a little bit outside the norm and is, you know, you're trying to prove this mission when maybe the markets not there yet.
00:22:27 I think there's a lot of skepticism. We have a lot of skepticism in the early days. Hey, it's doing here. I'm just popping in to bring you a quick message in every episode of the FSC show. You'll hear women who were just like you trying to figure it all out and hustled to grow their business and I would know a lot of you might be sitting there asking yourself, but how do I actually scale my revenue and get to that next level from where I am now. You also know that so many of the entrepreneurs I speak to have mentioned facebook and instagram ads as a crucial part of their marketing mix. From today onwards. I'm really excited to be able to offer our fsC small business owners and entrepreneurs and no strings attached, our long chat with leading performance, marketing agency amplifier, who you might also remember from our Dy course, Full disclosure amplifier is my husband's business and what's really important to know is that I've been able to witness first hand the transformation of so many businesses going from as low as $10,000 a month all the way to $300,000 a month.
00:23:46 And in some cases upwards to seven figures. So if you're listening in and you feel like you're ready to take your business to the next level, jump on a no strings attached call with amplifier where you can ask all the questions you have about performance marketing and whether it's the right time for you and your business to get started, go to female startup club dot com forward slash ads, That's female startup club dot com forward slash A. D. S and booking a call today. I so it's not often that I actually have someone on the show that's been in business for such a long time. You know, we're talking like 11 years, nearly 12 years here that you've had the business going and I really want to understand like what it takes to get from there, where things were really hard and really pushing to circuit now, which is like stocked in 15,000 stores, you know, all over the place, 10 X. Growth since 2015. Something crazy like how like it's hard for me to comprehend that kind of scale and the journey of what's from A to B to C to D.
00:24:55 Do you know what I mean? So I'm trying to understand what those pivotal moments have been in the growth and why you think it's been able to get to this point and and how I think it's really been well for one it's definitely like one ft in front of the other what we have done, which I don't I wouldn't say please follow this path because I think there are easier ways but I mean also okay, so back then as as many understand when you when you're raising money you you generally raise with a either you have a price round with a valuation or you're doing a convertible notaries safe where you often do have a cap or some discount or whatever. And so that determines how much equity you as a founder get to keep and how much you have to give away. And back then evaluations were a lot smaller especially for consumer companies, especially for female founded companies, especially for sustainability company.
00:25:57 So we started out with this very very tiny evaluation as such. Had to give away quite a bit of the company even just to get you know, nominal dollars. And so that kind of plagued us from day one because we never could do this gigantic race which we needed but couldn't do because we'd be giving away so much of the company because our evaluation was really low. So my takeaway there is if you can raise on a convertible note or a safe where you don't have to price it and can just give you a discount to the next round 100% do that because then you don't box yourself in. But at the time that was kind of the only way we could get the funding. So we did it and because of that we had to kind of continually raise in these small increments and we had the need for inventory. So those that are in consumer businesses that's a huge, huge thing. Your inventory costs are going to be a big piece of basically your investment and where where money is going in the early days for us at least. I mean it's always just a source of a constant source of like you know you have to buy the inventory, we produce our inventory in Asia and you know we sell the United States and so for us there's a very long lead time between when we have to pay our partners factories to produce the product and then it has to ship here and then we have to get it to the stores and then have some then we get paid.
00:27:20 So you're always as you grow your running out of money constantly. So it's like this double edged sword like the more you grow the more money you need and the bigger that kind of valley is in terms of covering your costs. So for those that are starting a new if you can create some sort of Terms with whoever is producing your inventory like where like you pay them when you get paid or you know, you have some kind of like net 30 or net 60 or something where you're not putting a cash advance to get the product that will save you in terms of how much you have to raise the future etcetera and just leave the cash in your business because the more the cash is going out for those big purchases, the more you don't have to spend on marketing to pay your people to grow the business. And is that what you were doing in some ways? Yeah, we would do like inventory funds were raised from investors to buy inventory because again back then we weren't profitable so we weren't bankable so we couldn't get a bank loan to do it. Now there are tons of different, there's like all these online resources where you can do like working capital funding, they take a huge interest rate, it's like a bigger credit card, but sometimes that's even cheaper than equity, but a way to kind of purchase your inventory.
00:28:33 So as we grew, we were in this conundrum of like, okay, well now we need, we're growing and we need more money and more money and more money and luckily we did have some incredible supporters from the early days that continue to support us, but we, I was just in a constant kind of like hamster wheel of fundraising because as we grew, we just needed more and more. And also that means your equity is constantly going down. So you're thinking like if I ever want to exit Yeah, it's going to have to be so big to be able to make it worthwhile, especially for such a long time. So what happened? How did you get around that? Well, we have, we've been doing things like issuing options and giving ourselves stock options, but you know, we've had to, that's been the issue we've had to raise really carefully and choose when we do even though we need more money. And so it's been this constant balancing act of, you know, I would love to go up raise, You know, 10 million, 20 million right now we could really use it and and that's something that we are considering.
00:29:37 But again, it comes that will, that will that investment. I think the question to always ask yourself is whatever investment taking in whatever equity you're giving away, will that result in the kind of growth that you're looking for to increase the value of the company by a multiple Right? It's like 200 million with that valuation kind of thing. You have to be, it's hard because when as a founder, when someone wants to give you millions of dollars, that's very, you know, that's gratifying you're like, oh yeah, that's amazing, it's a new shiny thing, but it's not always the best thing for your business. Like if I could do it again and take way less money and exit early and still have that same, take home like that's and there's, that's, that's the equation that you're always sort of doing, but at the same time you're just like, I just want to grow my business, I just want to build this brand, I'm working so hard on my day to day just to get this going. Like, at the same time, you have to be thinking through these other things. And so I think to me that's one of the biggest challenges that like, you have to work in the business to grow the business, but the same time, think about, well, how, how am I going to find this in the right way and the ownership, et cetera, et cetera.
00:30:48 And so the great thing, I think also about having partners or co founders is you can each take on some of those rules, almost several time capacity so that, you know, for me, I was always out fundraising, it would be really hard to manage day to day and fundraise at the same time to the amount of fundraising I had, like, it just is impossible. I know some people do it. Um, I, you know, I couldn't do that. And so I have co founders and partners that we're managing aspects of the business, like some of the day to day or managing all the sales, like I would be involved, but not to that day to day level and so freed up the time to fundraise and make sure that we always had, you know, the money that we needed to execute, whatever we need to execute. So it is, it is in terms of like getting from A to B to C to D. Every stage has its massive challenges. A lot of, a lot of it is just like, especially when you're pioneering product, it's just the time, like you need time to get to get people aware of your product and to get the growth happening and time is money and you need people and people to work, you know, super hard, but at the same time you don't necessarily have all the money to reward them with all that hard work.
00:32:04 And so you've got to give equity or something to get them excited about wanting to work for you that hard. Um I mean we're super lucky with who we have on our team, everybody is really passionate about what we're doing super hard workers and just really put in that extra mounts and to make us what we are today. So it's, it's like, there's just every stage, I think like you get to a certain point for example, you know, maybe from 0 to 1 million is a thing and then after one million, it's like, wow, I fully made it, but no, no, no, no, there's so many, so many challenges and from 1 to 5 million, it's kind of like another stage and after five and then after 10 and after 20 and after like at each stage there's just different massive challenges that I think it's all about the people you surround yourself with and who and bringing in it. Like we have tons of advisors that have kind of been there and done that.