Pierre-Yves Paslier


Making Packaging Disappear - Pierre-Yves Paslier of Notpla (formerly Skipping Rock Labs)

Jan 25, 2019
Pierre-Yves Paslier

Making Packaging Disappear

Pierre-Yves Paslier, cofounder of Skipping Rock Labs who is behind the viral Ooho sustainable packaging talks about replacing single use plastic water bottles. 

Highlights of the episode:

  • Why there is a need to move a way from current plastic packagings
  • Why crowdfunding is a good way to reach new investors.
  • Challenge of creating a product like Ooho
  • The transition from industry and a Master from Imperial College
  • Creating natural products with the Skipping Rocks Lab approach

Time Stamp:

[00:46] How does the Ooho packaging works?

[01:44] How big is the single-use plastic problem?

[03:00] Barrier in getting people to try out Ooho.

[05:05] Traditional shaped plastic bottles with Pepsi and Coke

[08:06] Are people concerned with hygiene?

[10:09] Bridging the Skipping Rock Labs team together and crowdfunding

[14:33] How to convince investors to invest?

[17:00] Crowdfunding and managing 900+ investors

[19:56] Scaling Ooho to restaurants

[21:47] Biggest challenges

[23:53] What is the vision of Ooho?

Useful link:

Skipping Rock Labs - http://www.skippingrockslab.com/

Pierre-Yves Paslier Linkedin - https://www.linkedin.com/in/pierrepaslier/

Listen to this episode now:

Read the transcription: 

[0:30] Maiko: In today's episode, I'm talking to Pierre-Yves Paslier, the cofounder of Sklipping Rocks Labs, a startup that has developed groundbreaking edible packaging. In the UK alone, 35 million plastic bottles are used every day and thrown away with almost half of those bottles not being recycled, Skipping Rock Lab, once again, Skipping Rock Labs first product is an edible water bottle that can eliminate any waste related to bottled water or soft drink. The Ooho bottles, as the company calls them, are completely made from plants and seaweed and are cheaper than the use of industrial plastic. It's great to have you on the podcast Pierre. 


[01:10] Pierre: Thanks for having me. 


[01:11] Maiko: Thanks very much. How do your water bottles actually work? Do they look like bottles? How do I use them, if I come across them?


[1:18] Pierre: Yeah, so usually, we like to say that our packaging looks a bit more like a fruit than like a bottle. So, Ooho looks like a bubble, a sachet that contains water or other beverages, other liquids, it's transparent, so it means that you can see through it but also if the content is colored, it takes the color of the juice or whatever's inside. And it's made from seaweed, so the material is completely natural, it's also edible, as you say, so you can eat it and it's also biodegradable. And when we say biodegradable, it's truly nature biodegradable so it takes four to six weeks to biodegrade, doesn't require any kind of industrial composting or anything. So, it means that when waste ends up in the environment, like it often does, it doesn't create any negative impact.


[2:12] Maiko: How big is the problem that you're trying to solve? Is this about plastic waste and how big is that problem?


[2:18] Pierre: So, the problem is pretty massive, you just said that this figure of like 350 million bottles in the UK every day and actually, the vision we have around Sklipping Rocks Labs, is to look at a lot of single use packaging or single use plastic. And those represent a large amount of all the trash that we generate, I think that in the, on average, there's one garbage truck of plastic that is put in the ocean every minute and packaging is about 40% of that. So, it's a huge amount of materials that we waste after a single use.


[3:04] Maiko: So, looking at your solution, it sounds pretty genius, right? So, you basically eliminate plastic, it's actually cheaper to produce and it's fun to use as well, so I actually had a sip from it at an event a while ago. So, you ever get eradicate plastic, so why isn't it used everywhere yet and what's the barrier for you that you find you face when you're trying to convince people to use this?


[3:30] Pierre: So, at first of all, I think that our solution works particularly well for on the go consumption. And so, we don't expect to solve the problem of the big bottle in the supermarket but it's more than one that you're going to consume really quickly on the go, on your way to work or at an event. And that's a pretty big market, we're really might have a lot of work if you want to eliminate plastic from those alone. But it's important for us to focus on where our product works best, which is consumption within a few minutes and then having something disposable, that's not going to create any negative impact. So, we're looking at marathons and running events, we've done lots of events already and it just works really well for those kinds of situations. Over the summer, we were at a lot of festivals, providing hydration, but also cocktails and like shots. So, that's when you mentioned fun, that's like the other possibility of that, like the edibility of the content. 


[04:35] Pierre: But we're really trying to find a way to enter in the retail market because there's a huge amount of plastic generated in take away places, so we've been in suffragists for a month, and really doing pilots to prove that this can work. And someday, I think that there's a chance for every 04:53 [inaudible] mostly in Starbucks, and wherever you're buying your lunch to provide these kinds of sachets rather than plastic bottles. One of the markets that is quite exciting at the moment is deliveries and we've been partnering for the past six weeks with Just Eat to provide ketchup sachets, and mayo sachets to one of the restaurants. And it works just great because those kinds of packaging, have such a short amount of like, use time, you literally are going to use them from like the time you get bring the box to time you're going to use them. So, for this, it just doesn't make sense to use plastic, which is pretty much indestructible. So, we're really focused on those situations.


[5:33] Maiko: And could this material that you have also be used for, let's say, you know, traditional bottle shaped forms like where maybe one of those big companies that produce soft drinks and water like Pepsi Co or Coca Cola could actually say, oh, yeah, we use this material, you might not want to eat it, but at least it's biodegradable, is that something that could be done with what you developed?


[5:57] Pierre: So, at this time, two things to that question. The first one is about eating the packaging and you're absolutely right, in terms of what we expect people to do when they consume all right, you eat it the first time because it proves how natural it is. But actually, you're not really meant to you to eat your packaging, so it's really just there to prove that we are in the category of my fruit peel rather than plastics. But most of the time, we expect people to throw it in the bin and it will biodegrade. In terms of using it to make bottles, we face the problem that when we develop this that you can't really expect a material to have a shelf life on the shelf for like three years or something like this but to biodegrade very quickly after that. And so, we've realized that you have to compromise on one of the two. And currently, the plastic bottle decides to compromise on the 700 years that it's going to take to biodegrade first, we're really focus on short shelf life. 


[07:05] Pierre: And, if you think about it, it's a bit more like a fruit, it's a natural material. So, water is going to like slowly to evaporate out of it, you have something that is requiring to be a bit more fresh. And so, when we were developing the solution, we had to come up with a new manufacturing process that really brings an innovative take on the whole current ecosystem. So, we couldn't use, the traditional model of having a big factory that produces for an entire country or a few countries goes through a very long supply chain and like after maybe six months in trucks and hubs, arrives to the consumer. That just doesn't work with our materials. So, we had to create something that is based around local manufacturing, so we've developed a machine that, if you can think of it, it's a bit more like an ice cream truck, things get made just before you consume them or like a Nespresso machine. And so, by bringing the machines closer to consumption, you can actually have products that are very fresh, and that don't require the very long shelf life that is usually required by the supply chain. So, in that sense, we don't really make bottles out of our material that have very long shelf life, but we can bring production really close to the consumer.


[8:23] Maiko: And I think this is a question that you get asked a lot asked here as well, because probably many people will wonder about and I know you developed some solution. But are people concerned about hygiene at all, if they have this bubble in their hand that, you know, 20 other people might have touched before them? Is that an issue? And how have you solved that issue?


[8:42] Pierre: So, that's a really good point. I think that's something that definitely people who haven't tried the product usually are a bit skeptical about. And for this, there's several ways to tackle the problem. The first one is that for instant consumption, and because our products are fresh, actually, there's a much lower kind of like risk associated with contamination or dirtiness on the product. So, for example, for running events, everything is produced, like the day before the event, and everything is handled with gloves. And that way we have something that is really clean, and the first person to touch it is you. But we also know that there's certain situations where you definitely need to have like an extra layer of protection. And usually people say, oh, but what are you going to do, you are going to put it in plastic sachet or something like this? So, what we've actually developed is, again, trying to copy nature with fruits and vegetables, we've made peelable layers, they're made from the same material. So, basically, you just peel the exterior layer that you can throw away, it's completely biodegradable, and then the layer underneath you can eat if you want. And that's basically a very simple way to create something that is not that unconventional when you think about a lychee or any kind of fruit, orange, we are used to peel something before you consume it. So, that's the middle we're going for.


[10:09] Maiko: All right, both you and your co-founder, coming out of Imperial College, or came out of Imperial College a few years ago. So, you have a scientific background, you have still a team of scientists that actually work with you at Imperial. How did you make the transition from making this discovery or seeing this technology and then actually building a company around that? Can you talk us a bit through that process?


[10:36] Pierre: Yeah, sure. So, I think it's been a really interesting journey, we've been in the making for four years now. And we are technical founders, but actually, our backgrounds are not at all in chemistry or biology, so we decided at the beginning to leverage some existing technologies, the inspiration came initially from fake caviar that uses a technology that uses extract from seaweed, and, you know, start to prototype things in our kitchen. So, there was an element of almost non-expertise in this area that maybe allowed us to take things where, might people didn't take them before but really quickly we brought together a team of chemists and chemical engineers from Imperial, and that was really allowing us to improve the material and the technology overall. But it took us a while to figure out how to turn this into a business. And I think that it was an interesting journey, because we had to learn the business skills a bit from scratch. 


[11:45] Pierre: And we took some detour but now we have found a model that works quite well, we have a team of very skilled people who are really doing amazing job to bring this forward. And about a year and a half ago, we kind of got to the point where we were ready enough, the plan was ready and robust enough to raise some funding for execution. And so, we decided to go for crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding, so people were able to buy shares of the company, pretty much for any price they wanted. And so, that was a great way for us to jump into the action. We raised in just three days, double the amount we have planned. And now we have 900 investors who are kind of like our ambassadors everywhere in the world. So, it's been a really good push. And I think that that, that way to fund my business from other people who are motivated to see this happens, is a really great one. It's very democratic and it's a very direct way to get projects to move on.


[12:52] Maiko: And I think your background is also you actually worked in a consumer goods industry and have a bit of background on that and got exposed to packaging and how it works, like how did you first, when did you discover this problem? And did you face it in that job at all or?


[13:10] Pierre: Yeah, so I used to work for L’Oréal and I was like, working on the skincare product, so launching new products in the 10s of millions, making bottles, making jars. And when you visit those factories, you realize the scale that is required for feeding all of the supermarkets of the world and it's a bit scary. I think as a first job, as a, like fresh graduate, it's quite impressive and exciting to work on really large-scale projects. But very quickly, you just have to realize how crazy and unsustainable that industry is. And also like the realizing that decisions that get taken by people who are not well informed about the impact on the environment. So, it's really hard to change things from within. And actually, I think that I came to the UK to do this master’s where I met my co-founder after this experience. And I really didn't think that I would end up in packaging again, that was kind of like enough for me, I wanted to move on to something else. But I think that, yeah, there was definitely a lot of insights from how this industry works, extremely committed ties and really hard to bring innovation from within. But as well, a huge potential of disruption when you're actually doing things that are in line with sustainability and what people really want. And I think that it's a fascinating shift that's happening in this industry and one that is going to be probably bringing more disruption in other industries because it's a very fast turnaround industry so, things can be disrupted super quick.


[14:59] Maiko: You talk about your investors and your successful fundraiser before and I begin to dig a bit deeper on that. Because I can imagine when you first came out with this idea, which had some applications where fake caviar, but besides that, sounded like pretty new and like not really tested and proven. How did you convince investors, or did you struggle to convince them in the beginning? And what did you do to eliminate some doubts that people had?


[15:28] Pierre: It was definitely a rough time, I think at that point, our resources were really stretched, we were running on some grants, but it was really hard to get anything moving. And so, we had to convince people on the vision alone, we had really early prototypes that maybe didn't demonstrate the industrialization that we were working on. And so, it wasn't easy. And I think that to kick start the fundraising, we had, like some initial commitments from some angel investors. And it probably took us about nine months of hustling of like, talking to people, presenting, pitching, to get the first maybe 150,000 pounds committed, and then it took three days to get the rest of the 850,000. So, it's really hard to get the first people to say, okay, let's take the risk, let's go for it. As soon as you've got a bit of traction, then you can really use that to your advantage. So, definitely that that first part was hard and I think that, especially with the current ecosystem of startups, there's specific themes that people want to invest in, and when you're falling, not really in food, not really in sustainability, not really in like tech, the classic, like way we describe tech, it's a bit harder to convince people that this is an idea that has a lot of potential, and we're often going behind.


[17:00] Maiko: And then after you secured some angel investment, you basically went to crowd investing platform, right, so that's why you have 900 investors? Well, is that hard to manage those numbers?


[17:12] Pierre: No, it's awesome. I think that the way now crowdfunding works, that there's a great amount of structure, and it’s really and it's done really well. And we use crowd to really happy with our experience. And I think that it's really great to have that direct way to run the business. I think it's also a way to give a lot of freedom and responsibility to the founders to get to the next stage. Because obviously, you have a very fragmented cap table and like an increase of investors. So, it's really your responsibility to make sure that you get to the next level. But our investors are great, they're always kind of like, really enthusiastic about the progress we've made, sometimes trying to give us a bit of advice or introductions on different things and they're all around the world so it's also really great way to share the word and say that this is happening. So, great experience.


[18:17] Maiko: And moving from investors to your customers, you mentioned, Just Eat and the work you're doing with them. I don't know if you can mention a few more but what were some of the challenges with your first customers, when you first started approaching companies and people out there with that concept? What were they hesitant about? And how did you break that hesitation?


[18:39] Pierre: I think it's been really interesting, because from a consumer point of view, there's something quite so differentiating, quite fun, quite a bit like unreal about eating your packaging in those transparent bubbles. So, we definitely get the attention and the discussions going. But then it's about transforming that into a trial or contract and I think that we quickly realized when we were, like early stage that it's really hard to work with big companies, with corporations because it's really hard to get the validation from the right people, the cycles are super long. So, we focused a lot our energy on smaller players, on people that can say, yes, and it just happens. And so, that was a really great way to prove that that was working, that there was a lot of good things coming out of those trials, and then using those to really convince the bigger players that it was worth trying to get things going. 


[19:47] Pierre: So, we have been doing a lot of running events and that was probably the one that was started the earliest because it's very easy to explain the use case and get people engaged, then we've done some trials in the retail industry with Selfridges, and with a number of like juice shops. And that's been using those smaller tests to convince them some bigger ones. And now I think in the service industry was, the trial was Just Eat, there is something really nice about how scalable that model is. We provided, I think about 6000 sachets, or like a month and a half to a restaurant on the platform at Just Eat and it just worked. People were excited about it, there was no complaints, just working well. So, now we can see how we can bring that to the 28,000 other restaurants of Just Eat, for example. So, trying to make small pilots and then scaling afterward:


[20:44] Maiko: Scale from that. And do you still produce all that in your own facilities or how do you manage that scale?


[20:50] Pierre: Yeah, so one of the things that is holding us back, still is the deployment of that machine that I mentioned. And really the vision for us is to provide those machines and sell their categories of materials, and people can, then encapsulate their own beverages for a restaurant or for an event or whatsoever. And so, we've been making several iterations on our machine, we're finalizing the first commercial machine so that's why we have any capacity at the moment. So, we are producing everything in-house, in our own facilities and we're using the capacity of the machine for doing those trials, one after another. But hopefully, from 2019, we're going to have a bunch of machines in different places and be able to really show that we can scale that model.


[21:36] Maiko: Since you first came up with this concept, you've really come a long way. You've been in great places talking about this, you've partnered with amazing organizations to spread this. I've seen your co-founders talk at Google X, the moonshot factory of Google, I think they had an event in Berlin, where you presented, so yeah, and obviously, there's been a little lot of buzz around your concept a while ago on social media and Mashable and there's just so much content about you guys, it's really amazing to see. What would you say, was the biggest challenge you had to overcome, since starting out? And what would you regard as the biggest challenge to come that you still need to solve to get where you want to get?


[22:23] Pierre: And I think the biggest challenge that we've had so far was to get all of the elements right, for this to fly. And I think we started with the concept of that edible packaging with initial prototypes but there was a lot to do on the material side to make this a robust packaging, there was a lot to do on the, like manufacturing and the machine side to make this producible at scale. And there was a lot to do on design, to make it something exciting and desirable for people and make sure that people are understanding what it's about. And so, those elements took, when they arrived, kind of in sequence and it was waiting for all of these things to be developed enough to have a cohesive story that was challenging for maybe the first couple of years of the business. And I think moving forward, the biggest challenge we're going to face is probably just trying to bring this, so we're going for this local manufacturing model. And so, it means that we're going to have lots of machines around, lots of situations where this is going to be used and make sure that we have something that works for each individual situation is going to be quite a challenge. But I think it's also quite exciting to imagine that, like someone in Mumbai or in like Paris, or in Sydney can use the same machine and produce locally, some seaweed packaging to get rid of plastic. And so, that's going to be what we're going to work hard on for the next next few years, I guess.


[24:18] Maiko: All right, I'm excited to see that machine. Last but not least, I'd like to ask you what is the massive global impact you're trying to have, what's the vision for the next 10 years of this company? Is it that everybody has such a machine and this production gets so localized that people can just locally produce these little bubbles to drink out or what's the big vision for the next 10 years you'd like to accomplish?


[24:44] Pierre: So, I think at the scale of the company we see beyond just Ooho and we like to say our motto is, "to make packaging disappear". So, we want to apply the same kind of thinking and technology that we've developed on Ooho, on other single use packaging, or single use plastic. And we've got in the pipeline some pretty exciting prototypes of bags and sachets and coffee cups and straws and a lot of other things that currently we use it over a very short amount of time and that we dispose of. And I think the potential for using natural materials for replacing that disposable object is huge. So, I think for me, the vision is to have a portfolio of different solutions that each one of them is quite specific to an application but has a real impact and can really stop traditional packaging from being used. And I think the goal is really to start seeing an impact on the amount of packaging that gets to the ocean or gets to the landfill and when we're going to start to see a bit of a dip on our consumption that would be just amazing.


[26:01] Maiko: That's an amazing lesson to work on. I wish you all the best for that. Thanks very much for joining me today.


[26:07] Pierre: Thank you very much.