Welcome to Episode 23 of the Sustainable Ecommerce Podcast!
Today I’m joined by Prisca Ongonga-Daehn, founder and CEO at Baresop.
In a nutshell, Baresop make powder-based personal care products, like soap, & body wash. You basically purchase re-usable foaming dispensers and refill them from home compostable sachets, completely avoiding single use plastics.
As you’ll see, Baresop has only been around a few years, but is on a remarkable trajectory fuelled by Prisca’s seemingly insatiable desire to live to her fullest potential and make maximum impact while doing it.
Aside from the immediate impact of avoiding single use plastics, it’s actually mind boggling how many social projects Prisca’s team are involved in for such a young company. Truly inspiring!
Giles Smith: Perhaps you could start by giving us a bit of an intro into your background and how you came to start Baresop?
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: Amazing! My background is product development. That's what I love. That's what I breathe. How do we take a product or object and pull it apart, then bring it back together in a way that is more mindful to the modern lifestyle that we live in. Take a product that actually has existed in a form that is kind of expired in a way and taking a lens of our current real time experience make it more valuable.
With Baresop, we just moved back to Australia from living mostly in Southeast Asia, and I really was going through a, a moment. Going through a moment of why am I here? What's my purpose? Am I actually serving that purpose?
At that time, I had just founded another brand that was really using recycled plastic from Japan and making bags that are weaved by generational families in Vietnam. I was happy with how that was going, but I was like, “is this enough?” Is this my full potential? I doubted it is. So, I was just going through that journey and having a conversation with my daughter at the dinner table about the Pacific garbage patch and the plastic that's piling in there, and what's gonna happen to it. And who's gonna do anything about it and it's gonna cost trillions of dollars.
I was like, “hey, how about we own that, that narrative as a family? Like, why don't we do something as a family?” So we started in our kitchen looking for low plastic products.
I went onto Google and I just started to look at what's there. And I started to use these refills that, you buy it and then they send back to you, um, a whole refill thing, and then you go and send it back and they wash it and they send you another refill. I tried for a couple of times. I just found that didn’t work for me. I don't have the time and I'm likely to just go back and buy the old thing I was using because mostly because it's, it's not convenient. So I just started thinking, wow, this is really interesting. Why isn't there an easier solution. Again, more research, more research. And I discovered the fact that water is the major problem here. Plastic is used in packaging because of the water content.
That concept was one day when I was struggling with this problem, I realised that people use face masks, which made me think that maybe soaps could be powder based. I didn't know how it was gonna go at that time. So I started searching on LinkedIn and google, and spoke to about 50 chemists, and asked them if it was possible. Could we do this? Mostly they told me it wasn’t possible because of the oils needed in the soap, they wouldn’t dry out. But eventually, I found someone who said we could try. We wanted to make it plant-based too which added more complication.
We validated the idea with Monash University Validator Program. I talked to about 200 people and asked them, what solution would you prefer? Using all of that data points is what I used to then create the product. Most importantly the solution from a sustainability lens needed to be convenient. It needed to be at least as good was what they were using now, because they didn’t have any issues with that. They were interested though in having a product that was better for their skin, no chemicals, no Palm Oil, was vegan.
So we designed the product using this product research, even down to the need for it to be compostable packaging, because we didn’t want to be greenwashing.
Giles Smith: So much to unpack there already! I think the first thing I'd like to explore, because it's not, not something I've even heard of is this Monash program that you got into. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and how you used that?
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: It’s called the Validator Program. They probably have thousands of applications, mostly ideas that are at ideation stage. They take you through their process to actually prove or disapprove the idea because, you know, why should you spend so much money to launch an idea that that is not gonna work?
Giles Smith: Is there like a base of people that you can get in front of through the program that are kind of signed up?
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: So the way it works is you are tasked to actually go on and collect the data. They don’t have an audience for you to collect that data from. So personally for me, I reached out to everyone I knew, and went through a few questions and then after everyone, do you have someone that you can refer me to?
Giles Smith: That's that sounds really, really interesting. That sounds like something more people need to know about.
Giles Smith: I love what you said there about the conversation you had at dinnertime with your daughter about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, if only because I remember the exact same moment around my dinner table with my teenage daughter, probably about five years ago. It's one of the things that led me to where I am today as well. That very same conversation. Its so important to separate out time over dinner with your family.
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: Yeah, that's really interesting actually, Giles to say that, because that to me is the moment that I actually switch off. It’s the moment when we actually engage because it's the only opportunity to have an hour to engage with the kids. So I actually do look forward to these moments.
Giles Smith: Another thing I think you said that I love was you dropped in a couple little nuggets there around the fact that the research showed you that number one, the product had to work. It had to be efficacious. It had to be at least as good as what was already in the market. And number two, it had to be convenient.
I think this is the essence of where sustainable product brands, if they're going to fail, this is probably a key moment where they fail is that they focus on the sustainability aspect, which is great, but they forget that we are all human and we all have busy lives. And none of us can really be bothered to go out of our way, maybe once, maybe twice, but eventually if it's hard, it's gonna stop happening.
And so that convenience part is essential too, especially when you are a purpose driven brand, it's essential to making that business model work isn’t it?
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: It's everything actually! In fact, it's one of the things I try to put across is we cannot solve the planet problem without the human empathy. We’re not gonna do it. It's just not gonna happen because the problem is human linked. So first you have to solve that human experience to the problem for them to. Part of our messaging always is we exist to create change by providing a solution that actually uplifts your everyday experience of your hygiene care. So, we are not here to say you have to give up a lot of things. We're asking you to just come along the journey and we have done all the work.
When you use our products, you are creating change, but you are not giving up anything.
Giles Smith: Yeah. I love that. Such a powerful thing you've hit on there. At Sustainable Ecommerce we built something called the Purpose Marketing Playbook, which is kind of like a framework for brand messaging. One of the core essences of that framework is exactly what you just said. It's about communicating the fact that your business exists to make it easy for the customer to be the hero in the sustainability journey.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you see the importance of telling that message and how you structure that messaging through your interactions with customers?
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: I believe that that messaging has to be authentic. It has to be true. Do we have conviction that this is why we exist? And I think when you do that, it's easy to communicate because you're communicating from the heart. So for is it’s simply use sharing what we’re doing. I do find it sometimes quite cringy when I see a brand, you know, when it's a PR pitch.
Giles Smith: I think that's the difference though, between somebody like you and your brand Baresop who have genuinely, or are genuinely building a purpose driven brand, with the impact that you want to have in the world at the heart of your business model versus somebody who is PR pitching.
I mean, PR can be used for good to sell a genuine message or it can be used for bad to greenwash and have something appear to be a lot stronger than it really is in terms of the impact it's having. And I know that you are all about impact. Can you tell us more about that?
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: One Hundred percent. For me, I ask myself what is going to be my lifetime’s work? Part of my journey has always been to help people ignite that part of them that helps them be the best that they can be.
That is important because we are building a team, and every person we attract to the team, it usually starts with the heart. If you're coming into this to actually just make money, then you are in the wrong team. Here it’s actually impact first. And obviously the revenue is tied in because we cannot create the impact if we don't have the funds.
Our Mission in the short term to eliminate 1 billion single use plastic bottles from landfill by 2035, alongside that 5,000 tons of CO2 avoided from our atmosphere and 600,000 litres of water conserved. And when we are doing that, every litre of water we conserve, we are actually making that accessible to communities that are running out of clean and safe water due to climate change or other reasons.
This is very grassroots-driven. So we are working with only grassroots driven organizations that are actually digging the wells etc. We are also working with schools at the moment to actually be part of their journey. We are using Baresop to help them raise funds for building schools and libraries. That’s so rewarding. Obviously there is the commercial piece, we have to make revenue, but we are very focused on purpose, and its interesting how that goes together.
Giles Smith: I think one of the key tenets of building a sustainable and purpose driven business is that you have to make profit, right? Because if you don't have profit, you can't do the things that you wanna do. We're not charities, we're doing it for a reason. And the power behind that whole model is the profitability that you can then use to have an impact in the world, whether that's directly because you are making things out of sustainable materials, you can invest in doing that or whether it's, because you can then use that, leverage that into impact projects that you're doing.
You mentioned something that I didn't know a moment ago, about the fact you have a COO that you've appointed into your business. You're obviously building out a team there. So tell us a little bit about how you're handling that team. What's your approach to building out your team?
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: I'm bringing people in that know better than I do in this spaces they’re coming to fill. So I think that's how the best teams build. I don't think there's any CEO that actually knows everything. It's about hiring the people that are smarter than you in the spaces that they come to fill.
People who are coming for because of impact, they are already really good at what they do. They often come in and take a pay cut because they want to help us change the world. Honestly, we are very lucky.
Giles Smith: There's always a conundrum isn’t there between hiring in and building skills and team in-house, versus outsourcing. So where do you draw that line? How do you decide in your business when to hire in for a role and when to outsource it to somebody?
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: So I would say, I draw the line on, does this person actually need to be a full time role or can this be done like two hours a day?
Is it actually that hard? Like, so I guess just the balancing of, is it very necessary, to actually have the business bear that cost based on the contribution and the need? So when you have someone coming full time, you are hoping that they're going times 10 or times five the investment you put into them.
Giles Smith: Fascinating stuff. I know that we're coming towards the end of our time together. What's coming up then, you've alluded to three times growth over the next year. What are some of the big things that are coming up for Baresop?
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: In nutshell, we are launching the US. We have a team of four in New York at the moment. We are expecting to actually start fulfilling orders with B2B by October.
We are also planning to activate Indonesia, India, Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong and China in 2023.
We are also working on the product too, to make it even easier to use.
Giles Smith: What a tremendous trajectory you're on and absolutely is well deserved and much needed in the world. All the work that you guys are doing. Absolutely tremendous!
Where can people go if they want to try out your products for the first time?
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: They can go baresop.com and use code FORGOOD to get a 15% discount on their first order!
Giles Smith: Thank you so much for joining us today!
Prisca Ongonga-Daehn: I just wanna say thank you so much for the opportunity for me to actually share why we exist on a, on a one to one, which somehow I feel usually more, uh, sort of comfortable to do so. Thank you for that opportunity.
Top 3 Takeouts
- My first key takeout was not really anything to do with building a sustainable brand per se, rather about making sure you make time to really connect with family every day, especially if you have young and teenage kids. Life is insanely busy, and as entrepreneurs I think we have a tendency to take on more than we can handle, often at the expense of time with family. Yet had we not had the discipline to put technology aside at dinner time and connect with our daughters, Prisca and I may not be travelling in the direction we are today. Family dinner times should be sacred, technology free and a time to reconnect with each other.
- Secondly, it was interesting that Prisca’s view on product effectiveness echoed one of the points I was making in last week’s show. Sustainable products still need to be at least as good at solving the customers problems as existing products in the market, and we need to make it easy for our customers to change their habits & shop sustainably if we want our brands to grow and make an impact.
- Lastly, some pretty good observations on hiring. Clearly, Prisca’s experience is that in being strongly mission-driven, they are able to attract people with the right heart, and indeed that they can attract very talented people committed to the cause without having to compete on salary. Prisca’s rule for hiring internally vs outsourcing straightforward and simple – if there is enough work for a full-time role, hire in, otherwise contract or outsource.
So, I hope you enjoyed listening to Prisca and found inspiration in the trajectory they are on as well as in the sheer scope of social projects they’re already involved in. We’ll be back next week with another terrific founder interview, so until then, keep building your brand for a healthier planet!