ThreeMain Creates Plastic-Free Cleaning Products
ThreeMain is an eCommerce startup selling environmentally-friendly cleaning products with the goal of combating plastic pollution. The company recently announced its seed round where they obtained a total of $1M in funding.
ThreeMain’s Co-Founders Joe Budzienski and Lauren Simonelli have been working together in some capacity throughout their careers. They connected with us to talk about the founding of the eCommerce startup, their respective backgrounds, and tips for funding for early-stage companies.
Colin Barry [CB]: Prior to starting ThreeMain, the two of you have extensive careers in the Boston tech/entrepreneurial space? Can you share the details on your respective professions?
Joe Budzienski [JB]: Much of my profession was in the HR tech space. In 2012, I founded Gozaik, which was acquired in 2014. I spent 3 years at the acquiring company, and we scaled our product from $0 to a $40M business inside that time, with the entire core Gozaik team in place during our tenure. I then got an itch to tackle a bigger problem that was affecting our families, friends and the planet-- plastic. It is clear how much our technology background aligns with the solution we are building today.
Lauren Simonelli [LS]: In 2012, I joined Joe to start Gozaik, a social-recruitment platform for the HR space. At Gozaik, my focus was product development. Upon the acquisition, I joined Joe and the rest of our Gozaik team at the acquiring company, where I continued to focus on developing cutting-edge advertising technologies for the HR space.
CB: Now onto ThreeMain. What is the story behind the new startup? Why go from hard tech to cleaning eCommerce?
JB: My hobbies have always taken me to the water during my career (fly fishing). I never realized that my outside passions would reveal a new path for me to try and protect our health and oceans from plastics and microplastics.
Water bottles were already being tackled--check. I couldn't believe the entire $32B cleaning industry wanted everyone to believe that refilling a plastic bottle was the answer. To me, aluminum is the only answer -- but it's not easy.
Even though we had to map out roads not traveled yet and hire a brilliant green chemist, I would say we are still in hard tech. We just had to approach our business GTM a bit differently from traditional tech. A great eCommerce consumer product company is also a great tech company. Had we not previously built a scalable tech, I imagine this would have been even more of a challenge.
LS: As someone who is very health conscious, I was horrified to learn about the toxic chemicals in the products I used regularly, and how my efforts to recycle were simply not good enough.
The realization that there are millions of consumers out there who are just like me is what drove me to make the switch to cleaning eCommerce. I knew that if we could offer consumers a more effective alternative that was healthier for their families and enabled them to easily make an impact on our planet, it was worth the risk.
I love developing products and solving problems and with ThreeMain, I’ve been able to do just that -- develop an innovative solution for green cleaning, while making an impact on the ever-growing plastic-waste problem our world faces.
CB: What kinds of problems is ThreeMain solving with its products?
LS: It’s no secret that our world is facing a plastic-pollution crisis and that there are far too many toxins in the products we use every day. While consumers know this, it can be a daunting thought to ditch the plastic and toxins entirely, without sacrificing efficacy, their health, or their time. Our goal is to enable consumers to easily make the switch to sustainable in the household cleaning products space, with no sacrifice.
JB: Safe green products have been around for over 15 years. However, it amazes me how they still cut corners to save money and use unnecessary ingredients.
We didn't just want a safe product -- a product that you could give your kids to use (if you can get them to help you clean), but one that performed. When we started early testing, I was blown away to learn that one of the top three green brands had a close to zero percent microbial efficacy. How can you sell a product to clean staph, Noro, etc. and have close to zero?
We needed to keep it simple for the customer which meant more work on our end, but we were ready. The way we abuse plastic today isn't right. It makes no sense.
When you see the life expectancy of a bottle and that 91% of them are not recycled it really makes you stop and think, especially because they last 400 years. When you think of that--are our competitors really sustainable?
Aluminum, on the other hand, has infinite recyclability. 75% of all aluminum produced in the last century is still in circulation.
Every product ThreeMain sells will be in an aluminum bottle that will not only last, but if needed, will be recycled into eternity.
CB: What are some of the challenges you two have faced since starting the company?
LS: While we’re problem solvers, our background is still in tech, so navigating a supply chain was an entirely new concept for us, one that we’re still working to perfect.
From a packaging perspective, there were also a lot of challenges. We initially explored using recycled ocean-bound plastic for our bottles but quickly realized that while this approach saves money and takes plastic out of or away from our oceans, it doesn’t prevent it from going right back to where it came from after its single-use. Plastic is plastic, after all.
After several hours and dollars were spent on exploring this, we had to pivot, and thankfully, found our answer with aluminum – it’s refillable AND reusable.
Another challenge we faced was shipping our products safely, while keeping our packaging sustainable. Because eliminating plastic is at the forefront of our mission, bubble wrap or plastic packaging was simply not an option. So, we developed custom boxes for our bottles that eliminate the need for any additional packaging (no bubble wrap or packing peanuts here!).
CB: Congrats on the recent round of funding! Could you share some advice to other entrepreneurs working in a similar space?
JB: Thank you! There are so many but I have a top three.
For me, the first two are to never stop networking and reading. I can't remember that last time I had time to read fiction. Maybe somewhere between my last startup and second of three awesome kids.
In all seriousness, read about your industry, your competitors, never stop. Know your data and always be learning. You never know as much as you think and there is always someone out their sponging more than you.
For networking, it's simple -- keep building that funnel! If you don't ask for an intro, you won’t get it. Raising money is really tough. I would say it continues to be the hardest thing I do as an entrepreneur and will only get harder.
Oh, and #3... make sure your business is scalable.
LS: Echoing Joe, Thank you! Simply stated, my advice to other entrepreneurs would be, set a mission and don’t divert. There are so many times when we could have saved time and money by using lower quality ingredients or less-sustainable materials. We could have cut so many corners to make things easier, but it would not have been in-line with our mission to protect the health of consumers, and our planet.
CB: Switching gears here to a light question; how did you come up with the name for the company?
LS: ThreeMain was founded with three guiding principles in mind – Simplicity, Sustainability, and Effectiveness. All aspects of our business from our formulas to our packaging, reflect these three main principles.
In addition, there are three staples a household needs in order to maintain a clean home – that is a bathroom cleaner, a dish soap, and a multi-surface cleaner. These are the three products we launched with and offer today, but we’re excited to continue building on this with even more soon!
CB: Any other additional comments you’d like to make?
LS: Partnering with an organization called the Rozalia Project has been a large part of our mission to eliminate plastic waste and protect our oceans. We know that together with our customers, we can make an impact on plastic consumption in the household cleaning products space moving forward - but this partnership takes that a step further.
We donate 3% of all of our sales to the Rozalia Project. It enables us and our customers to make an impact on the damage that has already been done – the plastic waste already in our oceans and on our beaches.
With this contribution, the Rozalia Project protects and cleans the ocean using technology, innovation, solutions-based research, and engaging STEM programs.
Images courtesy of ThreeMain