Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your favorite interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’ve been watching out for entrepreneurs creating opportunities for responsible consumption. Today I’m going to learn how one company is on a mission to remove plastic waste from our food system! Join me as I welcome Zuleyka Strasner, founder and CEO of Zero Grocery.
Spiffy: Welcome, Zuleyka! I’m so excited to hear how you’re addressing the challenge of plastic waste in our food system! Can you tell me about your work?
Zuleyka: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Zero Grocery is on a mission to remove plastic from the food system. Most global plastic waste comes from food consumption, so we are changing the way we consume food. We are the first plastic-free online grocery store in the US. This means that your groceries and everyday goods — everything from fresh produce and prepared foods to pantry staples to home and personal care goods — are delivered to you without any trash. We like to think of ourselves as the modern-day milk wo(man) — with more variety and a lot more tech. We deliver products in reusable glass jars and pick them up with your next delivery.
Spiffy: It’s like harkening back to the Earth’s good old days! Tell me, Zuleyka, what was your motivation to do this?
Zuleyka: Well, Spiffy, I launched Zero in November 2019. After living plastic-free for 18 months, I felt inspired and motivated to create a more seamless solution for zero-waste and conscious consumption. I realized very quickly that it was too hard (or too expensive) to make decisions that are good for the planet, and when I spoke to others, it was clear I wasn't alone. So I started Zero to empower people to protect the planet as they shop for groceries and everyday items — without sacrificing convenience, quality or cost.
Spiffy: Phenomenal! How are you and Zero working at creating a more equitable world?
Zuleyka: This is such an important question, Spiffy. There's not enough space! I'll focus on a couple of things. First, we empower and embrace underdogs at Zero. As a Black trans woman, I've been overlooked, second-guessed, and cast aside. I know how that feels. I believe everyone has excellence in them; they just need believers. This is one reason we partner with R3 Score to provide jobs to people who were formerly incarcerated or have past criminal records. Second, I speak up — we, as a company, speak up! And we always tie our words to action, whether celebrating Blackness or supporting and giving back to the communities where we operate. As an example, we launch in Los Angeles, CA on February 10, 2021, and for two months, we'll donate one meal to The Midnight Mission for every order.
Spiffy: That sounds like a standard many should follow. What about milestones, do you have any exciting ones that you can talk about?
Zuleyka: We just announced that we are coming to Los Angeles, which is huge and special for us on a lot of levels. It's our first expansion beyond the Bay Area, which is where we first launched in November 2019. Launching in a new city means that we can bring convenient plastic-free grocery shopping to more people. It means we get to work with awesome new local partners. It means we're building something that is working and that can scale, which means we can go to even more cities after this (and we will!). It means we can support new communities through initiatives like the one I mentioned above with The Midnight Mission. And it means that a bigger group of people will be more empowered to do good for this planet that we live on — and needs lots of love.
Spiffy: One more question for you. Can you talk about a time when you experienced failure, but didn’t give up? What did you learn?
Zuleyka: Well, Spiffy, I pitched to 263 investors before getting my first investment for Zero. I knew fundraising wouldn't be typical for me, because I am not a typical founder. But I had a vision and I had data from market research and our own data — which existed because we had real sign-ups and we were working with real customers. Yet it was very hard to get investment. I learned (and re-learned) a lot during this time. I'd say the things that most stand out are: Resilience is key. You cannot take baggage from one meeting to the next one (or one day to the next). It is crucial to find your tribe and champions. There will be people who don't believe in me or you — which makes the previous learning even more vital.
Spiffy: It sounds like you’re poised to make a huge dent in responsible consumption, Zuleyka. Thank you for inspiring — and challenging — us!
Zuleyka Strasner is the founder and CEO of Zero Grocery, the first online grocery store to be zero waste and free of single-use plastic. Previously, she was Chief of Staff at Felicis Ventures and, before that, worked as a policy advisor during the preliminaries for the 2015 Labour Party Leadership election. Originally from London, Zuleyka studied politics at Oxford University and was vice president of the Oxford Union, a well-known debating society. (Nominated by Gaingels)
© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog