Every now and then we come across entrepreneurs that take up the challenge to solve a consumer problem, be it a convenience, productivity, functionality or safety. Recently, there’s been a fresh crop of entrepreneurs that are going beyond solving a problem for the consumer but finding solutions for the planet through ideas that help reduce waste and minimize toxins. One inspiring start up founder is Brian Bushell, co-founder & CEO of By Humankind.
Coming from the Middle East, I’m quite familiar with shampoo, dishwashing and detergent bars, I spotted them in my grandmothers kitchen growing up. Never did I imagine that after soap was liquefied, would it ever go back to solid- at least not in my lifetime. Now, the reality has superseded my expectations and shampoo bars are back in business. They’re on a mission to reduce plastic waste and packaging. Brian was on a trip to Thailand and was shocked to see the amount of plastic floating on waters, ruining marine life and damage caused by people. He went back home to the US and was adamant on creating a company that would contribute to the end of all this waste by starting at his bathroom- mouth wash, shampoo bottles, deodorant and the works. We spoke to Brian about the process he went through to create a sustainable, ethical business and his ‘why’.
What is by Humankind?
by Humankind is a mission driven, ethically made personal care brand dedicated to reducing our global dependence on single-use plastic in the products we use every day.
What prompted you to create by Humankind products and how did you find the gap in the market?
While visiting some of the tiny islands off Thailand, I was shocked to see so much plastic waste floating in water I had expected to be untouched by humankind. That experience inspired my initial curiosity into plastic as a material, and its impact on the planet. In my research, I learned things like every piece of plastic you’ve used in your entire life is still here on earth in some form because plastic takes about 1,000 years to breakdown in nature. I also learned that one-third of all waste that fills U.S. landfills comes from personal care products. The original idea for by Humankind was to build a personal care brand that cared by creating formulas that passed through your body, inside packaging that passed through our planet.
How did you transition from baked goods to skincare/consumer products?
I always get excited about finding a better way to do something. At Baked by Melissa we didn’t just bake a more-delicious cupcake, we also built a more functional product: the world’s cupcake that you can eat in just one bite, without making a single crumb. At by Humankind, the problems we’re solving are maybe a little more complex, and maybe not as delicious, although I have eaten our deodorant a few times to make a point. We’re looking at the products we’ve used in our morning routines for much of our lives, and we’re making them more functional, defining function not only by how that thing works for you, but also how it impacts our planet.
How long did it take you to create the products?
From the date I first began researching the impact of single-use plastic waste, to the date we sold our first by Humankind product, was roughly two years. That two years was filled with lots of trial and error, lots of meeting new people, some of whom are now essential members of the by Humankind team, lots of wondering if people would even care about reducing their single-use plastic waste when we were finally ready to launch our company, and at least one night of sleeping on the lab floor. The biggest takeaway I have from that pre-launch development process is that building anything worthwhile will seem like a never ending cycle of build, use, fail, repeat, and eventually it will make you crazy. So if you’re in it, and you know what I mean, and you feel like you’ve lost your mind, then keep going because you’re almost there. Crazy always comes just before ready.
Crazy always comes just before ready.Brian Bushell on the period before product launch
It seems like brilliant ideas that are disrupting the norm, routine and culture are difficult to launch, at first. How did you tackle this challenge?
You hear a lot of “nos” and we certainly heard our fair share. Each of the founders I know have a different way of handling the pressure and negativity that comes along with the totally illogical decision to start a company that does something nobody has ever done before. The way I do it is by not doing it alone. Nothing great is the work of a single entrepreneur. There is always a team. At by Humankind, I was lucky to find a co-founder who compliments my strengths and my personality, and along the way we learned to laugh at the no’s together. It’s funny how forcing yourself to laugh at something has a way of making that thing funny, even when it totally isn’t.
Nothing great is the work of a single entrepreneur. There is always a team.Brian Bushell on teamwork
Have you come across particular hurdles in trying to empower your consumer to embrace the by Humankind philosophy?
The public conversation on sustainability is growing and so too it seems are the number of people ready to make small adjustments to the lifestyle choices they’ve become accustomed to in order to reduce their impact on the planet. Our customers have so far been very receptive to our products and understanding of their effectiveness and the reasoning behind their design.
What approach do you take in navigating a business challenge?
I’ve learned I’m going to make lots of mistakes. But at the end of the day I need them to be my own.
- Find a problem you want to solve, write down how you will solve it.
- Then stop and don’t do anything until you write down three other ways to solve the same problem.
This is a magical exercise full of surprises. If you try it, and it helps to unlock some profound truth or value, please send me a note. I’d love to hear about it.
What do you spend your time on the most in your company?
I try to focus my time on the biggest problems (or opportunities) that nobody else on the by Humankind team is more well-suited to solve than I am. I find myself asking a lot of questions, am very hands on with product, and spend a lot of time meeting new people.
What is by Humankind doing to contribute to climate change, other than product?
We use recycled, biodegradable paper for all outer packaging. We minimize scrap factor by consolidating manufacturing runs and minimizing line changeover between color SKUs, which is typically a common source of manufacturing waste, and we’re in the final stages of becoming carbon neutral as an organization.
What’s next for by Humankind?
We just launched some great new products, including a Conditioner Bar and a Dopp Kit made of post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. Our goal is to take a more responsible approach to all personal care products we use in our daily routines. We’re also working on a handful of strategic partnerships with brands outside personal care to help them to reduce single-use plastic waste in their respective industries, and we’re always pushing the envelope on promising new materials to power a more planet-friendly future.
A quote you live by?
“The fruit ripens slowly, but falls suddenly and without return.”
Brian Bushell is the Co-Founder and CEO of by Humankind. During a trip to remote islands near Thailand, Brian was shocked to see the amount of plastic waste floating in the water in a place he expected would be untouched by humankind. Upon looking again at the products on his bathroom counter, he realized how much his own everyday habits contribute to the global crisis of single-use plastic waste which sparked his inspiration for founding the brand. Prior to developing by Humankind, Brian was the founding CEO of Baked by Melissa for 7 years where he pioneered the concept of a multi-channel CPG foods company, selling fresh cupcakes online and shipping them nationwide. Before Baked by Melissa, Brian lead multiple digitally native consumer product companies. He was additionally a 2016 Ernst & Young Finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year.