What’s the inspiration behind Stojo?
My co-founders and I wanted to design a product that would help people to reduce their disposable coffee cup use, but it needed to be easy and convenient. The Stojo Pocket Cup was our solution. We built upon existing collapsible designs which have been around for over 100 years – but our design had on-the-go coffee lovers in mind. The perfect compromise between functionality and form factor: a full-size reusable coffee cup that collapses into a pocket-sized, leak-proof disc.
What’s it like having a company that’s founded by “a dad on a mission?”
I walked away from a career in finance so that I could do something to leave the planet a better place for my kids (and everyone else’s kids, too). That’s what motivated me to take the leap. Since then, I’ve built a company culture that’s flexible and works around my schedule as a parent. I can be there for all my children’s important moments, including schooling them at home during this pandemic. In terms of motivation, running a startup is difficult at times. Having a mission and a bigger vision keeps me going.
How does working within a recyclable industry differ from your past work experiences?
In my previous career, I worked for a global financial institution. I tried to work on as many clean tech and sustainability projects as possible, but it wasn’t ever hands-on. With Stojo, as a consumer product company trying to make sustainable products with recycled materials, there’s a really tangible connection to cleaning up the planet. It’s much easier to see the impact on a daily basis, whether that means interacting with customers who are excited about how Stojo is helping them live more sustainably, or reviewing annual company waste diversion statistics and KPIs, or speaking at a sustainability event, or working on our next product line – it’s really fulfilling work.
How did you meet the co-founders? How do you work together?
Alex Abrams and I worked together at Credit Suisse. He was my manager. We both have a passion for innovation, big ideas and startups. Stojo was a realization of one of our many water cooler chats. Most people talk about ideas, but we are the kind of people who make things happen.
Ben Melinger is our other co-founder. He and Alex went to college together. They reconnected at a children’s Halloween party right when Alex and I were looking for an industrial designer to bring Stojo to life. The rest is history!
How do you handle risk and competition?
Risk mitigation is multi-faceted: you have supply chain diversification; you have commercial liability; you have macroeconomic and global trade dynamics; you have quality control issues. For me, the answer is to hire a competent team and let them do what they were brought on to do. When problems arise, you stop, breathe, consider, then react.
There are always a large number of balls being juggled when you’re at a startup. The key is to determine which ones are made of glass, and which ones are rubber. Focus on the glass balls.
In terms of competition, it’s important to know what other people are doing, but with any good startup, your currency is innovation, speed to market, and a passionate customer base. You can’t be everything to everyone – so, figure out what you’ve got to offer, then just execute well. If there’s a good market fit, you treat your customers with care, you commit to getting better every day, and you never give up, there isn’t much more you can do. Stojo is really just a conduit for me to bring to life the hundreds of sustainability innovations I have in my head. I am incredibly thankful for the talented team of dedicated humans I have helping me execute and realize those ideas.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Lack of capital and experience in the houseware, retail and DTC space. Starting a company with little or no capital is really tough. Not having relevant industry experience complicates things further. I think we’ve done pretty well overcoming those challenges. The company and team are well-positioned to take all we’ve learned and the structures we’ve put into place to execute on the grander Stojo mission to end disposable culture and bring about a future where smart circular design and regenerative business practices are the norm.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I’ve learned to address issues and have tough conversations head on. I am a consensus builder and a people pleaser. Sometimes I need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable to show up as a good leader and to be effective.
At the same time, I’ve also learned to appreciate my consensus building skills and move slowly enough to allow things to develop on their own timeline. So many founders think they can shift or bend reality to their will (and no doubt we all do that in a way), but sometimes you just need to show poise and patience to let things fall into place. There’s something to be said for creating opportunities, but then being in flow and letting things unfold.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
Well, we went into 2020 thinking we’d double our revenue. We staffed up. Then Covid hit. Stores shut down. Commuters stayed home. Travel came to a standstill. We had an entire lineup of new products and content concepts for 2021 that were more focused on staying at home, or outdoor activities like hiking, camping, boating. But the original products and content were oriented around commuting, travel. We’re ending up the year flat from 2019. It hasn’t been easy, but we rightsized the business and sped up our product development roadmap and content strategy to better fit the current opportunity. It’s paid off and 2021 is shaping up to be a great year.
What’s your team culture like?
We focus on authenticity, integrity, empathy, straight talk, compassion and balance. Those are our guiding principles. We’re not perfect. In fact, we’re making it all up as we go. But we do refer to ourselves as the Stojo Family. We work hard to make that ring true.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
It just felt like a natural way to go. We got our start on Kickstarter, and launched our second product on Indiegogo. I love the democratization that crowdfunding offers: giving access to investors who don’t otherwise have the ability to invest in these types of opportunities, while also providing a funding platform for companies trying to bring new ideas like ours to life.
What’s your advice for startups looking to launch during this difficult time?
Just do it. Startups launch and fail all the time. Look at most successful founders and they probably have some failures in their past. Because failures teach you big lessons about yourself. You can always stand back up and get a do-over. The one thing you don’t have in abundance is time.
The sooner you start, the sooner you do, and the sooner you can stop being someone who just talks about doing.
What is your superpower?
Taking disparate ideas, concepts, elements and combining them in unique ways.
Going deep with people I’ve just met in a really authentic way.
What’s your kryptonite?
Bad vibes and clutter. They zap my energy.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I’m not sure how unique it is any longer, but I practice intermittent fasting, eat a mostly plant-based diet, and try to do explosive bodyweight exercises at least a few times a week.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
When I’m in Brooklyn, I like to get onto my bike and cruise around the city. My family and I moved to Woodstock, New York this summer to get access to outdoor space and nature. I’ve really been enjoying fixing up the house, working on the property, and cutting firewood.