Single use ain't sexy · Josh Howard

Josh's startup 'Single Use Ain't Sexy' is changing how Aussies think about plastic. They're helping to clean up the world by eradicating single-use plastic bottles.

May 21, 2021
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Table of contents

  • Single Use Ain't Sexy
  • Founder - Josh Howard
  • Based in Melbourne, Australia
  • Started in 2020
  • 1 founder, an army of helpers

Founderoo caught up with Josh and his business 'Single Use Ain't Sexy.'

This story is a lovely, honest account of an Australian start-up, full of purpose, forcing Aussies to think about their use of single-use plastic.

Josh, what's your backstory?

Technically I was a lawyer who never practised. As soon as I finished law school, I decided to get straight into media. I worked in TV production which was really fun and then got into executive management at broadcaster  Channel 10.

From there, I worked in media & advertising and eventually got into start-ups. 

I’ve always had this obsession with owning my own business. I love the idea of being in charge of yourself & living life on your own terms. There is a freedom which comes with that. Obviously it’s also a really big responsibility, particularly when you have people working with you. 

At the end of the day, I think it’s incredibly empowering and I wouldn't have it any other way. I absolutely love it.

Tell us what your company does?

‘Single Use Ain’t Sexy’ is an Aussie sustainable hand soap business. We created the first Aussie dissolvable hand soap tablet and reusable glass bottle designed to save single-use plastic soap bottles from landfill. I like to say our tablets are like Berocca but for hand soap.

When someone buys just  one of our glass bottles, they can save up to 25 single-use plastic bottles from landfill every year. Since launching just over a year ago, our amazing community has saved up to 125,000 single-use plastic bottles from landfill. 

I'm really proud of what we've done. It's so great seeing people feel empowered to make a tangible & sustainable change, whilst having fun at the same time. That is ultimately at the heart of our mission - to make sustainability sexy, fun, cheeky, irreverent, affordable & easy.

How did you come up with the idea?

I've always been obsessed with the ‘Just Add Water’ category so I wanted to create a product in this space which wasn’t being done yet & would have a positive environmental impact. We are well on our way to positioning ourselves as a global leader in this area.

Adding water to products is not new.   Your grandparents used denture cleaning tablets, your parents used chicken stock cubes & you probably drank powdered cordial when you were a kid.It's about taking existing technology with effervescence and dissolvability, and leveraging it in product categories where we're burning through single-use plastics.

We’ve started with hand soap & currently have in development a full home suite of tablet-based products in the personal care and home cleaning space.

How did you come up with the name of the business?

The name of any business is the single most valuable piece of real estate you can create & it’s free to create! 

Business names need to be compelling and engaging enough so that people want to know more.

I love business names which say what the company does.   It’s effectively using a slogan as the actual name.  I love business names which say what the company does.   It’s effectively using a slogan as the actual name. 

Our name ‘Single Use Ain’t Sexy’ sets us apart in the sustainability space because it’s cheeky, irreverent, witty, funny, and something a little bit different. I came up with it after brainstorming lots of ideas and just thought this was the perfect balance between functional & fun.

How did you go about building the business?

Building the product was bloody hard. I reckon I spoke with 95 manufacturers globally. I quickly learned that creating something new in any market is hard.

There were two ways to go about this. I could either go to a traditional soap manufacturer and get them to tabletise the raw ingredients, which means you put them in a powder form and then in a tablet press. Or I could go to an effervescent tablet manufacturer and get them to make a hand soap version of their effervescent product. We ended up going with the latter.

It's such a good feeling when you finally find a partner  who can make your productHaving a physical product is very different to having a tech platform or a piece of software because you know people are going to touch, feel & smell it. It has to be perfect!

I love the tangibility of having something physical that you can hold. I'm kind of old school like that.  In this weird digital world, I love things which are real - they cut through all the online noise and are easier to connect with. 

We're trying to encourage people to have a physical and emotional connection to sustainability.

What did you need to do for the launch?

Coincidentally we launched the business at the same time as Covid in early April 2020. All of a sudden, we were solving dual crises. The first was the immediate public health crisis & helping people stay clean & safe by washing their hands. The second was the ongoing environmental crisis & helping people save single-use plastic bottles from landfill.

So for us, our launch strategy was very much around clearly communicating we were solving two problems at once.

In terms of growing a business, something that helped early on was going out to a lots of influencers who had big family followings.

They needed something to entertain their kids while they were stuck at home. So we suggested using our product as an home science experiment for families doing home schooling.

That got lots of people posting about it early on because creating a tangible experience in someone's home was a great way to kick things off.

That set us off on this path of virality, where  our soap has become something people love.

And then there’s also lots of PR. We hustled to get as much PR for the business as possible.

How have you grown the business?

We've tried almost everything under the sun, which has been a fascinating experience to see what sticks and what doesn't. It always fascinates me how many things we've tried that don’t work.

On the other hand, sometimes things do work which you didn’t expect and all of a sudden you get some incredible lead or opportunity from it. We've had some high profile people who've gotten behind our brand, which has been very exciting. Many just found it themselves on social media. Having people like that evangelise your business, mission and product is incredible because it lends it credibility from voices who are already trusted in the community.

What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?

Quite frankly, it has surprised me how many things I could have gotten wrong. I’ve quickly learned this whole game is an endless series of missteps, fixes and lessons. It’s very easy to think you’re the only one making mistakes, but you soon realise everyone is in the same boat, no one knows what they’re doing & most of us are making it up as we go.

Having a product business is challenging. Forecasting inventory and dealing with freight companies is complex. Launching a business during COVID was hard - getting hand soap into the hands of the people who need it most is difficult.

Having a brand that resonates with people is tricky. Creating products that people genuinely want is not easy. Building an online storefront from scratch based on  YouTube tutorials is difficult; the list goes on. Everything is hard.

This whole idea of having a business is not for the faint of heart, because usually nothing works the first time.

What’s your biggest selling product?

The Full Home Pack is our biggest seller. It retails for $59.95 for three bottles and ten tablets. Then when you need to restock on tablets, you can order a 10-Tablet Refill Pack for $3 per tablet.

The Full Home Pack alone can save up to 75 single-use plastic bottles from landfill each year, which we’re so happy about.

At the moment, I've decided to make our hand soap famous, which means focusing on that as a single SKU and not fragmenting people's attention by bringing out every other tabletised product under the sun.I want to become known as the tablet-based hand soap company. After that, we'll bring out other products that we currently have in development.

What day to day digital tools do you use?

Everything that everyone else uses.

We use Zoom, Klaviyo, Google Analytics, Slack, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Xero and Asana.

The App Store, Google suite (specifically Google Sheets).

Outlook, Spotify, Pinterest, Microsoft Office and Stripe.

The list is endless.

What book has been a great inspiration to you as a founder?

A Promised Land by  Barack Obama.

Anything you read, watch or listen to that help's you run your business?

I love listening to the New York Times podcasts sway by Kara Swisher on Spotify.

What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?

Just keep cracking on. We’ve all heard it a million times but it’s true. Don’t give up and just persevere through every hurdle or difficulty.

What keeps you up at night regarding your business?

Everything haha! 

How to find a better product-market fit?

How to develop new categories of products?
How to make sure that our customers are happy?
Is our digital advertising working well?
Where am I spending too much money?
Where am I not spending enough money?
How do we structure things so that we can get more people helping us?
Is our branding working?
Is our copy working?
What press are we getting?
What press did we miss out on?

Everything's keeping me up at night,  which is probably why I'm not sleeping much.

What's the biggest surprise you've had as a founder

"That the experience can be so inspiring & so exhausting all at once."

Have you ever felt like quitting, if so why?

I've never truly wanted to do that. Of course, I've thought about it. Kind of when I've been thinking about what an easier route would take.

I left a high paying job to do this so that’s an easy comparison to draw from. But at the end of the day, I absolutely love it and I have never felt more fulfilled or energised.

What do you do to look after your mental health while running your business?

I do boxing three or four times a week and that keeps my body and mind both sane!

What quotes do you live by?

I don't live by quotes.

In a few words what does it mean to be the founder of a business?

I think it's incredibly empowering to take your idea from concept to execution and then scale and commercialise it.

Especially when your business is mission-driven, it’s particularly empowering and fun. I just think it's the best way to spend your life.

Anything else to add?

Sustainability-wise, our business is exciting for two reasons.

Firstly, it's helping people save single-use plastic bottles from landfill. 

Secondly, we're helping people minimise their carbon footprint in the supply chain by not shipping water around, which I always thought was complete madness.

If you think about a liquid hand soap, 95% of it is made up of water. 5% is the raw ingredient. So we're just compressing the raw ingredient into a tablet and enabling people to leverage the water (which they’re already paying for) at home.

Where can people find out more about your business?

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