I’m developing a start-up and have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

Photo by Matthew Osborn on Unsplash

During the first lockdown of last year, I began working on a project (scared to call it a ‘start-up’). I had a lot of time on my hands, living by myself with very little contact for three months. Seems insane thinking about it now! I’d wake up in the morning, enjoy a coffee and read articles about start-ups; then I’d sit on my laptop all day and do further research and planning for my own. Often I’d still be there at 11pm working away.

It was put on the back burner when two months in, I was quoted £3500 for product design and prototype manufacture. In relative terms, not actually that much money, but it was a significant amount to me; definitely more than I had. Especially during a pandemic. I thought I’d spend some time relaxing with the idea, getting some feedback and legitimising something I genuinely didn’t know would work.

Every single day, we witness the Instagram culture of showcasing the highlights and avoiding imperfections, but I see little value in that. I was tempted to wait until I was more sure of its success before talking to people about it, to save face; but what’s the point?

There’s also the strange fear we all have of mentioning any business idea in case somebody steals it. A bit silly isn’t it? I think it’s pretty safe to say that nobody will likely believe in my idea; for the most part, I’d imagine people will think it’s terrible. Now, let’s suppose there are a small number of people who connect with the idea right away; which of those are likely to ACTUALLY go out there and build it.

Come on now….

Well, there you have it! There’s only one gigantic idiot who’s going to willingly throw himself into the firepit that is the Entrepreneurial Start-Up world and yep you guessed it! It’s this guy.

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and that’s equal parts exciting, overwhelming and completely okay/normal. The more I experience, the more I realise that we don’t have to be an enigma to build something special. Yes sure Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk; they’re all fascinating examples of humankind but there’s a vast space between being the founder of Apple and where I am right now. That space is full of opportunity and spaces to park, should they suit me. (For the record, I wholeheartedly believe that all of those aforementioned generational entrepreneurs were gigantic goofballs just like me at some point in their lives).

I guess I should probably give you the elevator pitch for my product. It’s called ‘Retrieva’; and its mission is to remove waste and the concept of ‘single-use’ from street food culture.

It’s based around a ‘deposit return scheme’ (DRS) used commonly around Europe in other sectors. You pay a higher price (incl. a deposit) for an item that may in itself be reusable or packaged in reusable materials. If you bring it back, you can redeem that deposit.

In this instance it involves containers for food and drink.

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Through returning containers, restaurants gain customer loyalty, bringing them back through the doors and the customers themselves are able to gain rewards for that loyalty. A one way ticket to bargain central for the customer and repeat customers for the business. Winner winner.

I own coffee shops and restaurants so I guess you could say I’m fairly experienced in the food and drink industry. There’s a huge packaging and waste issue in my sector, especially at the moment. You walk down the road or through city centres and you’ll commonly see bins overflowing. The levels of pollution have been unprecedented here in the UK. Now, this is a stark difference from the beginning of the pandemic when we saw photographs of “nature recovering”. I can still see that image of the dolphins flowing through the Venetian canals.

Well, during the past 6 months here in the UK, we’ve been in and out of lockdown like a fiddlers elbow. Certain businesses including mine have been allowed to stay open on a takeout basis. That meant a huge increase in single-use materials to ensure greater levels of hygiene. Not that there has been any evidence to show that reuse after sterilisation, is a less hygienic process than single use, but I digress.

Local councils have been really struggling to cope with this sudden increase in pollution and overflowing bins. Yes, the reliance on single-use will slow down once people are allowed back into the restaurants and bars. However, this has been a burning issue for a long time now. Our ability to recycle is dysfunctional and our laziness and lust for convenience is reaching disastrous levels.

Originally Retrieva was going to be an alternative UK model of what Terracycle and Tom Szaky have done with Loop in the US. Working with brands and retailers to deliver groceries to peoples doors using reusable packaging and a pick up service. To take the used containers, clean them and enter them back into the system. Terracycle have been the real trailblazers for creating a new system.

Others were trying to emulate them but it just didn’t feel right. There were so many pictures of these ugly stainless steel containers holding grains of rice, lentils and quinoa. I felt bland just looking at it. At the risk of being in the minority here, who actually shops for lentils? It seemed totally detached from the average person.

I wanted a model that would appeal to the wider market. We need to convince the average person away from just blindly collecting waste and disposing of it without a care for where that packaging is going. They need to find real value in dealing with waste properly.

I’m already exhausted with the cliché ‘go-to’ sustainability marketing methods. Pushing people to be something they don’t want to be, trying to funnel them into buying products they don’t want to buy. Traditionally, that’s called a terrible business model. We need products that people cannot live without.

Anyway, thanks for listening to my TED talk. I could go on for the next few days writing about this, but I think I’ll split up my articles as I progress on this journey. Come back and check to see how I’m getting on.

Sustainability Consultant and Owner of @sundastudio // Specialty Coffee Shop owner @wyldecoffee // Just trying to take my own advice...

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