How This Mom Is Using Her Business Savvy To Eliminate Single Use Plastic

Founder and CEO of Blueland, Sarah Paiji Yoo, has made it her mission to reduce single use plastic. Here are her best tips for parents who want to make a difference through entrepreneurship.

Because Sarah Paiji Yoo grew up in the suburbs of Southern California, she remembers her childhood being filled with beautiful weather and spending lots of time outdoors. It's what she says was the beginning of feeling close to the planet.

"I've always viewed the planet and nature as an overwhelming source of joy," she notes.

At 18, Paiji Yoo moved to Boston to attend Harvard and take pre-med courses. Although she thought she'd become a pediatrician, she began working in finance and investment banking and decided to pivot to business. Right before her sophomore year in Harvard Business School, the graduate business school of Harvard University, Paiji Yoo raised $2 million for her business idea—a mobile shopping app—from reputable venture capital firms.

She ended up leaving school a year early to launch her first startup. "It was a hard decision to make because it wasn't going to be possible obviously to take on that level of capital and also tell these investors that I was going to essentially run the business part-time while I was also a student," recalls Paiji Yoo.

Her venture brought her to New York City, and several years later, after becoming a new mom, Paiji Yoo came up with another major idea.

"I breastfed my son exclusively for 11 months—the hardest thing I've ever done," she says. "And when I switched him over to formula, I took that decision especially seriously. I was doing a ton of research, even around the water that I should use to mix with his formula."

That's when she learned that tap water, regardless of where you live, can contain hundreds of pieces of microplastics. "That was unfortunately the first time I really started to connect the dots between all this single use plastic that we're consuming as a society," says Paiji Yoo. "So much of it is ending up in oceans and waterways where it's breaking down to these tiny microplastics that are now showing back up in our drinking water and food supply—and the formula that I was making my baby son."

Although Paiji Yoo immediately opted to do her best to cut out single use plastic as an individual, she was also inspired to make a difference through her work as a serial entrepreneur. Her goal: to find a way to give other consumers more and better choices.

She came up with Blueland, which started out as a mission to eliminate single use plastic packaging but evolved into a company that currently produces cleaning products. When you shop with the company, you get a spray bottle that you can use time and again as well as powder tablets you can mix with water to make different kinds of cleaning solutions. When it's time for a refill, you just buy more powder tablets versus all new plastic bottles.

"My motivation really came back to creating a cleaner planet for my own children and for future generations," says Paiji Yoo.

Paiji Yoo launched the company in 2019 and rolled out 15 products in its first two years of business. And today, the company is a fast-growing direct-to-consumer brand that recently announced a $20 million growth investment.

Here, Paiji Yoo's best tips for parents hoping to make an impact by pouring their passion into a business idea.

Don't Be Afraid to Pivot

Dropping out of business school wasn't what Paiji Yoo initially intended, but it paid off.

"Obviously it was a tough one, because I had already spent about $60,000 on the first year of tuition, but then it's also tough when you think about what that second year is also going to cost you," she notes. Not only would she have spent another $60K, but she didn't feel certain that it would actually impact her career or her future earning power.

This relates to the concept of sunk cost and not getting overly tied to a path simply because you've put money into it already. "Don't lose sight of the really big picture," she advises. "I had gone to business school to figure out what it was that I wanted to do after business school, and I figured that out in one year instead of two. So I acheived my goal. And I was really excited to have this opportunity to then go be a founder and start a business and pursue my dreams."

Work on Pitching Your Idea

Paiji Yoo believes pitching is really great for any entrepreneur, not only because it can lead to raising funds, but because it'll force you to prioritize what's most important to get across in your messaging. That can be challenging for any founder who is passionate about their vision and purpose.

"You just think about this idea 24/7, and you probably have a long list of reasons why you think it's such an incredible idea," she acknowledges. "But you really have to distill it down."

It's best to keep your pitch concise and eliminate unnecessary details that distract from the crux of what you want to accomplish.

Involve Friends and Family

Paiji Yoo has never been comfortable allowing her inner circle to get involved financially in her startups. Still, it's possible to involve them in the process. She explains, "If you're not comfortable reaching out to friends and family for investment or for money, I think there's other ways that they can be helpful with their time and their feedback."

Get Started Now

The Blueland co-founder and CEO's biggest advice for all parents and anyone hoping to launch their own business? "Start today," she says. "You need don't wait until the idea is perfect. The timing certainly may never be perfect. And imagine where you can be in a year, if you just started today. Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will."

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