When Sarah Paiji Yoo became a mother, she did some research on what kind of water would be safe to mix with baby formula to make bottles for her new baby. The answer? Pretty much none of it. Tap water and bottled water is all filled with microplastics from the trash that ends up in landfills and the ocean.
So in trying to cut out single-use plastic in her own life, Sarah came up with the idea for Blueland — a company that makes household products in tablet form. Think hand soap, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, toilet cleaner, and now even personal care products like body wash. The tablets don’t require plastic to ship or store. Consumers simply drop the tablet in a reusable container and add the water themselves.
Blueland competes with brands that are bigger and have been around for decades. Although it was tough to go up against established consumer packaged goods companies, Sarah found plenty of advantages to starting an eco-friendly business from scratch. Here’s some of the takeaways from her conversation on Shopify Masters:
You don’t need to be the expert. You need to hire the expert.
Sarah was not a chemist, but she was a serial entrepreneur before starting Blueland. She felt confident in her skills to bring products to market. She just needed someone who could help her create Blueland’s own tablets.
“We just went on LinkedIn and we kept this master spreadsheet of like hundreds of chemists and their backgrounds,” Sarah explains. “And then we just started cold [messaging] them on LinkedIn.”
Eventually, she found the perfect person: Syed Naqvi. He had already worked at the cleaning supply company Method and he had experience making tablets. After cold messaging and emailing him for a month, Syed eventually got back to her and decided to join the team. His expertise was key to creating Blueland’s innovative formulas.
Find good manufacturing partners
One of Sarah’s biggest challenges was finding manufacturing partners who were willing to make these new formulas. Many cleaning supply manufacturers were skeptical. After all, they had only produced liquids and they didn’t own tablet machinery.
But Sarah finally found some that were willing to try and they trusted Syed enough to let him come into their facilities for make test batches.
“He's there for many days at a time and he's tweaking formulas as we're seeing things come off the line, which is rare. Most manufacturers won't let you in there,” Sarah says.
The hands-on approach that Sarah has adopted to tweaking formulas dramatically decreased her development to production timeline.
Educating customers to buy more green products
Sarah wanted to use a business model that would be conducive to customer education. After all, before Blueland, people weren’t familiar with adding their own water to cleaning products.
“We were doggedly set on being direct-to-consumer for the first few years because we were like, ‘this is a new behavior,’” she says.
Sarah says they needed a direct path to educate them about how to use the products and shop more responsibly.
“There's so much greenwashing in this day and age. None of these terms — eco-friendly, sustainable, green — like none of it's regulated,” she explains. “There's a lot that I want to do to really start educating consumers on [things] like, these are the certifications, these are the receipts that you should be looking for or asking for.”
Take advantage of funding and publicity opportunities
One of the biggest publicity opportunities for early stage companies is pitching on the TV show, Shark Tank. It was a longtime goal of Sarah’s.
“You have like five sharks that are essentially out to get you and make for good TV,” Sarah explains. “And so it was incredibly nerve-wracking.”
She says she and Syed did end up breaking into tears during taping, but in the end, the episode showed her successfully negotiating a deal that the sharks couldn’t refuse.
Put a face to the name
Sarah has gone viral on TikTok a few times now, making videos about living sustainably. She says the reason the platform has worked for her is because her content is authentic.
“I think the way that social media is moving... like people wanna connect with people,” Sarah explains. “Like people don't want to connect with brands.”
Take a listen to Sarah’s full interview on Shopify Masters to find out more about how to build a business with impact.