Fighting Microplastics Is Her Thing. But Any Mission-Driven Company Can Learn From Her Breakout Success

The average American disposes of about 200 pounds of plastic per year.

Blueland CEO Sarah Paiji Yoo is on a mission to drive down that number. Yoo’s idea for her eco-friendly cleaning brand arrived during her last maternity leave. She was researching whether it was safer to use tap or bottled water for infant formula. To her horror, Yoo discovered that even bottled water contained microplastics, the tiny particles from plastic waste that are contaminating the Earth’s water supply. Yoo knew there had to be a way for consumers to easily cut down on plastic use.

The eventual solution was Blueland, a line of dissolvable cleaning tablets that could replace most common American household products. Blueland’s expanding line of zero-waste cleaning products include a multisurface cleaner, glass cleaner, dish soap, and hand soap. 

Yoo spoke with Tom Foster, Inc.‘s editor-at-large, in a recent stream event to offer a few tips for entrepreneurs who hope to turn their passions into a business. 

Be open-minded about how you meet your goals.

It’s likely you’ll go through different products or business models before you settle on the best fit.

Often entrepreneurs who want to tackle big problems are overwhelmed with all the moving parts. For Yoo, solving the problem of creating eco-friendly products was exciting because you could almost start anywhere. She knew she wanted to focus on a product that would help curb the use of single-use plastics

Blueland originally looked at different methods of carrying out its mission, which was to give consumers a greener alternative to household cleaning products. For example, should it become a material sciences company and create plastic alternatives and other biodegradable packaging? But Yoo and her team realized that many companies had already been developing plastic alternatives for years. 

She then thought of creating a cleaning product that would require consumers to bring glass bottles to such drugstores as CVS for refills. But they realized that would be too inconvenient for the consumer. 

“At the beginning, it wasn’t about any products at all. We were very open about where we should start,” says Yoo. 

Target segments where buyers are more open to new ideas.

There are some product categories where consumers are less likely to convert. Yoo and her team learned that lesson in Blueland’s early days. 

“Toothpaste was one area from my own lifestyle that really bothered me. Toothpaste tubes are just not recyclable. They’re an extremely durable, aluminum, plastic blend,” says Yoo. 

The company then thought of the idea of a toothpaste tablet or a toothpaste powder. They then asked family members and friends to test their toothpaste tablet for seven days and give feedback. Turns out, 80 percent of their friends and family said they would not switch to the toothpaste tablets. 

“We heard the hard message that sure, it could be just as effective, it could be a great experience once you start brushing, but I don’t really like the feeling of a dry tablet in my mouth,” says Yoo. 

Testers were also fearful of switching from trusted brands like Colgate or Crest to a new brand, especially since it involved taking care of their teeth. It was a breakthrough moment for Yoo and and her team.

“We realized there was a set of products that had higher switching costs, and there were a set of products that had lower switching costs,” says Yoo. If Blueland wanted to maximize the environmental impact of its product, it had to figure out a product category where people were willing to be a lot more open. The answer? Household cleaning products. 

Avoid falling into product stereotypes.

Green or eco-friendly products are often stereotyped as less effective and more expensive than their mainstream counterparts. Yoo says she knew that to combat that, Blueland had to create a product at a price that could compete with store brands.

It took about two years to develop a refill tablet that was less than $2. Currently, all of Blueland’s refill tablets cost between $1.50 to $2. This made Blueland products appeal to a wide variety of consumers, even those who didn’t consider green products to be a priority.

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