How many of you use plastic bottles full of harmful and toxic cleaning products at least x 5 times a year? I’ll raise my hands because I used to be that person- mindlessly buying cleaning products that have several warnings on their labels for fear of toxicity. Oh and they’re encased in the cheapest of plastic one can find that usually ends up in the ocean. On the other hand, how many of you out there create your own vinegar, essential oil and water concoction only to try and attempt your best bet at natural cleaning with little success on the smell front and efficacy? I’ll raise my hand again.
In between these two consumers comes one that’s in between with a need for something that’s good, effective yet easy to use. A product and formula that’s taken its time to develop and launch into what is now known as Blueland– a company that promises effective cleaning and a reduction in single use household product waste <in both chemicals and plastic> while maintaining that delightful clean scent for a clean home.
Meet Sarah Paiji Yoo, the mastermind behind Blueland and co-founder. No stranger to a startup, Sarah was previously a Founding Partner at LAUNCH, which created cult-favorite brands like M.Gemi, Rockets of Awesome and more. Prior to LAUNCH, Sarah was also the CEO and Co-founder of Snapette, the largest mobile platform for local fashion shopping, that she sold to PriceGrabber in 2013.
After having children, Sarah was careful with what she put in her household, specifically cleaning products. In addition, she was becoming more aware and mindful of the damage we’re causing to the planet and the future of our children through plastic waste. That’s when she decided to join the eco-warrior business space and create Blueland products with her co-founder Here’s her entreprenurial journey and how she’s on a path for success.
What were the values at your home, growing up and how has it impacted your business right now?
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles. There are a lot of associations in home keeping that I grew up with, that at Blueland, we’re now flipping on their heads. One myth is that strong disinfectants and toxic smelling scents denote “clean,” whereas at Blueland, we’re big advocates of the fact that specific disinfecting agents don’t necessarily clean better than non-toxic alternatives, and can instead often times be harmful to both the health of people and the planet.
Another notion I grew up with was that cleaning was a chore or a task to be done with the reward being a clean home. With Blueland, we’re also aiming to deliver joy in the process of cleaning your home. Many of our consumers have told us that they now enjoy using our products and cleaning because they feel like they’re also doing something great for the planet. We’re certainly not the only ones who are pushing to shift the mindset on cleaning as Marie Kondo and others are also showing consumers how cleaning can be joyful, meditative or even cathartic!
You were a founder of a company in the past and then went on to handle all marketing for another. Would you say marketing is your strongest skill?
I would like to think marketing is one of my stronger areas and certainly marketing is one of my favorite areas. I love marketing because it is a great balance of right brain and left brain. Branding, events, campaigns and social media can be very creative and visual, while paid, email and other performance marketing areas can be very analytical and data-driven. I also think marketing is incredibly important because it’s all about figuring out and delivering what matters most to consumers, and how to do it profitably and at scale.
I think marketing is incredibly important because it’s all about figuring out and delivering what matters most to consumers, and how to do it profitably and at scale.
Was it easy switching industries (from fashion to consumer goods)?
I’ve found that selling everyday consumer products is both easier and harder than fashion. On one hand, I love selling products that everyone needs, uses and replenishes. All consumers wash their hands and all consumers wash their dishes. That said, many of the products we sell are also lower interest categories than fashion, where people aren’t excited to purchase or driven as much by emotion or impulse.
I’ve found that selling everyday consumer products is both easier and harder than fashion.
How did you figure out a need in the market for Blueland products?
There is nothing on the market that checks all the boxes of being effective, non-toxic, affordable, convenient and free of single-use plastic. To date, most consumers have assumed that earth-friendly products means more work, more money for something that doesn’t work. But now with Blueland, you can have it all!
Reimagined cleaning: How did you develop the tablet formula? The process?
It required hundreds of iterations, and we were lucky to have a very talented chemist, who was formerly the Director of Formulation at Method, to help lead developing our tablet formula. Given these tablets are a product that had never previously existed before, we would not have been able to do it without a dedicated R&D team and our own lab based in Montana.
How did you decide on tablets?
We wanted to provide a form factor that could be packaged in paper, instead of plastic. Our tablets are just $2 for a refill because the tablet form factor enables us to sell to consumers only what they need. Conventional cleaning sprays are sold in a new plastic bottle each time, and are 90%+ water, which you already have at home. By selling just a tablet <instead of water + plastic packaging?, we can offer it for lower price than buying a full bottle of comparable cleaner. These tablets also save a ton of space – being 300x lighter and 200x smaller. 9 bottles of cleaners can fit in your pocket!
How long did it take to develop product?
It took over a year and half. Every step of the process was more difficult than we had expected, from formulating an effective product, to setting up a unique manufacturing process, to figuring out how to package these tablets in paper instead of plastic.
The starter kit- how did you create the ‘forever’ bottle?
Our Forever Bottles are the first and only cleaning bottle to be certified Platinum by Cradle 2 Cradle, the leading and most comprehensive product assessment program for human and planet health. They are shatterproof acrylic and designed to be reused and not leach or break down over time. We hope that these bottles will help shift the consumption mind set from single use to re-use, from cleaning products to other categories as well.
- Challenges of developing new formulas that disrupts and replaces an existing way of cleaning/culture.
One of the biggest challenges about building this business has been creating effective, non-toxic tablets. We had to be incredibly creative since these products have only ever been made in liquid form and simply did not exist in a tablet form, and traditional cleaning products manufacturers do not have tablet making capabilities. We spoke with over 50 different potential manufacturers, across a range of industries <even candy manufacturers!>before finding the perfect set of partners.
What steps should an entrepreneur take to prepare themselves for disruptive product development?
- Do your research – Know your space inside out. If there’s any publicly available information on your space or target product, you should get and understand this information in detail.
- Be resourceful – Leverage your network – ask friends and friends of friends for intros. Scour the internet and LinkedIn. Pick up the phone and cold call, and if it’s a dead end, ask those people for other introductions.
- Be tenacious – It’s going to be a long, iterative path, and there will be breakthroughs sometimes when you least expect it
Future plans for Blueland?
Cleaning sprays are just the beginning for us. We’ll be launching other products quarterly across cleaning and personal care.
A quote you live by
Jump and the net will appear.
Photos of product taken by the talented Enas Siddiqi from Chicago, IL.