Single Use Ain’t Sexy
– Success Stories
According to WWF Australia, on average, Australians use 130kg of plastic per person each year. Less than 12% of that is recycled. More frightening still, up to 130,000 tonnes of plastic will find its way into our waterways and the ocean.
If reading that shocked you, fret not. Because the company you’re about to read up on is making recycling sexy.
Josh Howard founded Single Use Ain’t Sexy in 2020 with a simple vision – to get rid of single use plastic. And his Australian brand of sustainable hand soap is doing just that, one dissolvable tablet and reusable glass bottle at a time.
The thing that makes Josh’s story a worthwhile read is the circumstances in which his company was born – in the midst of April 2020, right before our friendly neighbourhood pandemic flipped the world on its head. Nevertheless, Josh’s idea was perfect as it not only suited the public health motto of ‘wash your hands’, but also the environmental crisis of single-use plastic bottles. Despite this being a great idea for the time, Josh quickly learned that creating something new in any market was going to be hard, and that it still required a good business strategy.
This only goes to show that even when an idea takes hold of your mind, there’s a lot of leg work that goes behind scaling it. Which is precisely why we decided to reach out to Josh himself – to pick his brains on his venture, the challenges, and the ultimate triumphs.
The birth of a sexy idea
It was during his time at a TV production house when Josh realised that he wanted to start his own business.
He was inspired to create something that would not only empower people but also have a positive impact on the environment. When we asked him what his early days looked like, he said, “You need to keep going. That’s the only way you’ll hit the milestones you want.”
“I don’t think you ever stop feeling like you’re starting up. The day that happens, it will be a big shift in my whole approach and perspective. I still feel like we’re very young, and although we’re achieving a lot and reaching really exciting milestones, it still feels like that initial hustle isn’t dead. And that’s what makes it exciting. I guess the fact that there’s always something new to do – a new collaboration to pursue, a new deal to land – whatever it is that you’re doing, it’s that feeling of continuity that pushes you to hustle your way through.”
It was pretty apparent to Josh that he had a good idea, the next step was proving the potential impact of that to others.
“I’ve always felt that way to be honest, but I think what happens to you as a founder is that you tend to misunderstand the importance of what you’re doing, because you think the world needs it. But then there are those interesting moments on your journey where you go ‘Oh my God, does the world actually need it? Will people purchase this product? Is it truly impactful? Do people agree that it needs to exist?’ For me, there was a big penny drop moment – the time when we did our first seed round.
“I don’t think you ever stop feeling like you’re starting up. The day that happens, it will be a big shift in my whole approach and perspective. I still feel like we’re very young, and although we’re achieving a lot and reaching really exciting milestones, it still feels like that initial hustle isn’t dead.Josh Howard, Founder & CEO, Single Use Ain’t Sexy
We raised $600,000 in 2 days via an equity crowdfunding campaign, and I found out afterwards that it was the fastest ever in the history of the Birchal platform in Australia. That was the moment where I thought, ‘Oh my God, over 300 people have invested more than $600,000 to join us on this plastic-free movement.’ I truly felt like we were onto something, and that it wasn’t just me having an outsized perception that what we’re doing is important. It’s the average Australian who thinks that we’re onto something. And that’s precisely what made me give the idea a red hot go.”
Ok, so the idea works. How do you now make it sexy?
We had to get into the business strategy side of things, and so we asked Josh what steps he took to grow the business, and what it took to make it sexy.
“I think passion is the place to start. Passion is what makes all of the marketing and communications feel authentic and exciting. If you’re truly obsessed with what you’re doing, it’s fun and engaging for everyone. And that’s exactly how we went about it. We realised that social platforms were an ideal way to build that rapport with our customers, because they were free to use.”Josh Howard, Founder & CEO, Single Use Ain’t Sexy
When asked what worked in particular, Josh said, “In my opinion, LinkedIn is a really interesting platform because I don’t think people use it in a way that benefits themselves and their businesses as well as they could or should. I tried to cut through the noise on LinkedIn by being as authentic and human as I could be. This was reflected in the kind of content I put out, and subsequently, in the kind of engagement that we received.”
Josh went on to explain how pivotal a role the media and networking at events played for his business. Not only did it build credibility for his business, it also helped establish authority in his domain. “I think leveraging the media and hustling to get press attention is absolutely crucial, because when you start your business, the one thing that you don’t have right away is trust and credibility, because no one knows who you are”.
As someone who tried everything – be it speaking at events or applying for award nominations (like yours truly) – Josh quickly learnt the ropes on what it takes to gain recognition and repute.
“There’s all these kinds of levers that you can pull, and they slowly but surely help you get there. The only way you can start to figure out what these levers are is by trying everything. It’s so important, especially from a marketing perspective. And of course, not everything sticks. But that’s how you learn what works best for you, and how to double down on it.”
Josh believes that one’s approach in business can’t be linear, and that you need to think outside the defined space and be observant of what your ideal consumer is gravitating towards. It’s in those small but mighty moments that you realise what path to go down. In Josh’s case, it was leveraging LinkedIn instead of Facebook and Instagram ads at the time. And it worked.
“I look at it this way – we have 11,000 followers on our business Instagram page, and on average, about 300-400 of them see my posts. On the flipside, I’ve got 7,000 followers on my personal Instagram page, and most of my posts get seen by 4000 – 5,000 people. So clearly, the organic reach on a platform like LinkedIn is much more significant than people give it credit for. And if you talk about using the tools that we have at our disposal, especially those that are free, LinkedIn is the platform that I keep coming back to. It’s what I attribute a major chunk of our success to.”
Making success sexy
For many, success means reaching a goal, accomplishing a task, or achieving what they set out to do in the first place. Not for Josh though.
For him, success is about that feeling of fulfilment that comes with making a positive impact in the world.
“If you ask me what my version of success is, I probably won’t have a straight answer. And that’s because everything is quite challenging at the moment. This isn’t because we’re not doing well, it’s challenging because we’re doing really well, and that’s hard to live up to day-in and day-out. In fact, we just witnessed our biggest month ever, and I’ve never felt more stressed, overworked, and underslept.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling, and I love a good challenge. It’s the feeling of fulfilment that probably defines my version of success at the moment. Doing something impactful, doing something I think is fun, and doing something that allows me to exercise creative autonomy is how I want to spend my time. And for me, at the moment, stopping 5 million plastic bottles from reaching landfills is ‘sexy’. It’s what makes me feel good, even though it’s hard.”
It’s all in the approach
Businesses today operate in highly competitive environments. As a result, it gets harder and harder to bag the skills you need to succeed as you go.
Reflecting on exactly that, Josh said, “You need to back yourself with all that you’ve got. And that’s probably the reason why I approached this with such passion and intensity, because you feel like you can’t screw it up. You just don’t want to screw it up”.
As much as your heart may desire, there’s no single founder who hasn’t had to face a curveball. With increased pressure and growth comes an increased amount of grit.
“You are going to do absolutely anything you can to make it successful. And that’s always an interesting place to try and solve a problem from, because you truly feel like there’s no other option than making something succeed. Hopefully for us, that means continuing to build the business and have the impact that we’re able to have. And we want to do this by making products that seamlessly integrate into peoples’ lives. These were products that I felt were missing from mine, and that I didn’t have access to – which is what pushed me to create them in the first place.”
Josh goes on to explain that problem solving isn’t about fixing an issue or winning in the process, it’s about finding a creative way in which you approach different kinds of issues.
“There’s so many questions that I’ve thought about and continue to sit over – How are you going to reach people? How are you going to cut through the competition? How are you going to make them notice and love you? How are you going to make your brand iconic? And how are you going to be your authentic self while doing something that is really impactful, global and scalable?. For me, it’s this complete battle of ideas underpinned by an endless cycle of how to be the most creative. And honestly speaking, I find myself lucky because I naturally love operating in this space. It helps me perform better.”
The secret sauce? Building relationships
It would be impossible to think of a successful business without the networks and relationships that made it what it is. The startup ecosystem particularly thrives on a sense of community, and it’s the relationships that people build along their journey that tend to make the difference.
Reflecting on the ones that helped him, Josh said, “At the beginning of the business, I don’t think I realised how crucial the ecosystem would be to our success. It’s only now that I see us building the business through partnerships. Partnerships and collaborations are and will continue to be the Trojan horse for us to get to where we want to be.
The thing that I love about those is that we can align ourselves with people in organisations who share the same philosophical values, and are themselves doing important work.
When you contextualise this to the ecosystem, we’re not exactly thinking about any one market or one sector. For us, it’s about building relationships with people across multiple different markets and in different categories of businesses. It’s about finding organisations with different missions that all fall under the umbrella of sustainability and solving the single-use plastic crisis.”
He explains that not all relationships take effect instantly. It’s more about forming different types of relationships, and then identifying where potential partnerships can form.
“When I lived in New York for 4 years, I met a lot of people doing really amazing work. Did I meet them with the intent of working together in the future? No. But do I think there’s potential to form partnerships today? Absolutely!
It’s important to meet people and put yourself out there. You might have an interaction or a meeting and feel as though nothing came out of it, but in 18 months time, that relationship could be the very thing that takes your business to the next level.
And while I think I’m aware of the things that I’m poor at, one of the things I’m good at is aligning myself with mentors, friends, advisors, and business partners who can help elevate the brand and amplify our impact”.
Bagging a Pause Awards
A long chat and plenty of laughs later, we got to our final question for Josh – How did winning a Pause Award impact his business, and what did it mean to him?
“I feel like winning the Pause Award has really put us on the map. When you’re creating a business, there are a few landmark events that make you feel like you’ve arrived.
One of them is getting published in a mainstream media publication, another is raising capital. The next is hiring a great team, and of course, winning the Pause Award.”Josh Howard, Founder & CEO, Single Use Ain’t Sexy
On the horizon
Josh’s story is truly inspirational for founders who have a brilliant idea but are yet to nail down the perfect strategy to bring it to life. Even with great timing and the right product offering for the market, it took Josh a considerable amount of elbow grease to build and scale his brand to where it is today.
What stuck with us the most? Josh’s ‘try everything’ attitude, and the relationships he formed along the way.
And needless to say, we can’t wait to see what’s next on his achievements list.
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