PodcastBe A Guest
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY
Episode
112

Safia Qureshi

CEO & Founder of CLUBZERØ

Ep
112

Scaling Impact Through Zero Waste Packaging System

May 24, 2022
With
Safia Qureshi
01:00:49

Scaling Impact Through Zero Waste Packaging System

Reusable packaging has been around for a while already as an alternative to single-use plastic or disposable packaging, but if there was a way to level this sustainable experience up? That’s where CLUBZERØ, formerly known as CupClub, comes in through innovatively combining sustainability and technology. Safia Qureshi of CLUBZERØ’s joins us today to share how she went from being an architect to a startup CEO and founder and why their reusable packaging experience is better than the rest. 

Safia shares how her background in architecture has helped them develop CLUBZERØ as the most scalable and best quality setup in the market, why user experience or UX is a big deal, improving the customer journey, and more. She also gives her insights and advice for entrepreneurs on the qualities you need to survive, addressing customers’ needs, and partnering up with the right businesses, among others. Tune in to this episode! 

With the likes of Just Eat, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Nestle, and more companies promoting the use of CLUBZERØ, we’re proudly on the way to lessening or eradicating single-use or disposable packaging. Say no to disposable packaging and sign up to join CLUBZERØ here! https://www.clubzero.co

Safia’s key lessons and quotes from this episode were:

  • “Fundamentally, it's about finding your purpose. I think you're answering your inner brief, which leads you to do what you do.” (7:59)
  • “There's always value in selling your product if it's creating impact.” (51:25)

In this episode, we also talked about:

  • Finding your purpose (3:57)
  • CLUBZERØ for consumers (17:17)
  • How to gain customers (33:47)
  • Overcoming COVID and other challenges (44:09)

Transcript of the episode

Maiko Schaffrath  00:00

This episode is brought to you by Content Multiplied. It's not a secret anymore that content creation is really important, but very few people talk about the importance of consistency, and I myself have really struggled with that consistency.

And for that reason, I looked for a solution, and Content Multiplied was a really good one for me. Since using them, I've been able to focus on what I enjoy the most which is recording podcasts while Mhyla and her team are really taking care of everything else.

Whether you have a podcast, you're holding keynote speeches, you're doing a YouTube series, you're writing a blog, a newsletter, a book, the Content Multiplied team can really take whatever you're producing and repurpose it into a series of micro content.

And suddenly, you have dozens and dozens of pieces that can be shared for you, and Content Multiplied even takes care of that for you. Unlock your content superpower with Content Multiplied and go to contentmultiplied.com today. That's contentmultiplied.com. Thanks, Mhyla, and let's go into the show. 

You are listening to Impact Hustlers, and I am your host, Maiko Schaffrath. I have made it my mission to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve some of the world's biggest social and environmental problems.

And for this reason, I am speaking to some of the best entrepreneurs out there who are solving problems such as food waste, climate change, poverty, and homelessness.

My goal is that Impact Hustlers will inspire you, either by starting an impact business yourself, by joining the team of one, or by taking a small step, whatever that may be, towards being part of the solution to the world's biggest problems. 

In today's episode, I speak to Safia Qureshi, founder and CEO of CLUBZERØ, which is a platform allowing restaurants cafes and food delivery services to offer reusable packaging for foods and drinks. Customers can choose to receive their food in a reusable container, and after use, the containers either picked up at the customer's home or returned to one of CLUBZERØ's partner locations.

Safia initially developed the idea behind CLUBZERØ at Studio [D] Tale. Hopefully, I said that right. A design studio that she founded with Maxwell Mutanda, and we'll talk about her background as a product designer and more importantly, even architect. I would love to hear more about that. 

By now, CLUBZERØ is actually used across the US and the UK by companies like Just Eat, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and Nestle, a bunch of big names, but also smaller names across those countries.

So far, CLUBZERØ has avoided about two 2 million pieces of single-use plastic waste and is set for a massive impact on reducing single-use waste, which is super exciting for me as somebody that's somehow addicted to delivery services, especially, and seeing the waste that I produce as a result of that. So, Safia, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been long overdue.

Safia Qureshi  03:24

It's a pleasure, Maiko. We've known each other for so long. I'm almost like, "How have I not made it on here for that amount of time?" So, yes, it's a pleasure.

Maiko Schaffrath  03:35

Thank you, Safia. So, let's start with your personal story. I'm always keen to understand what drives people to do what they do. Yeah, maybe let's just ask that question. What drives you to do what you do? What's your story and how did you end up becoming an entrepreneur?

Safia Qureshi  03:57

So, I mean, finding purpose is a really fundamental part of your entire well-being. I think for me, I, from a very young age, decided that I needed to be producing things that have value to people and society that could be accessible by anybody.

And so, funnily enough, I felt that that inner brief really matched up well with becoming an architect and having wonderful spaces like physical tangible places or things that people can experience and enjoy. 

From that perspective, I felt that the journey was about becoming an architect and understanding how to create well-being at scale. This is looking at cities is, looking at how do we organize people, how do we organize our lives to be more effective and more sustainable and just enjoy it. 

So, I became an architect, which I absolutely love. It's my perspective on everything, I guess. It's how I view the world.

And I got to a point where I realized that, actually, a lot of my purpose was around building things that could be accessed by anybody, and architects in this country are predominantly working either in residential, because we have a housing crisis, or they're doing the odd mixed use development projects. And actually, there's very few projects out there which are open or accessible to anybody anywhere. 

And so, my inner brief wasn't being met, and my purpose wasn't fully being met, and I felt if I wanted to take on the next chapter, I wanted to use my understanding and skills from my training as an architect to enhancing other forms in society that required problem-solving and that required that high level of design thinking, and I set up a design studio off the back of that.

I went from working for a large corporate practice to setting up my own studio with one of my best friends who's also an architect, thinking, "Okay, well, let's answer really major briefs," one of them was the single-use plastics crisis, pretty big. 

And at that time, this was 2015, and we used to be called CupClub, as you might remember, I saw this huge problem around single-use packaging and plastics, and I thought, "Why could we not have a more sustainable way in which we consume and also how we distribute food and beverage?"

So, instead of us taking away any kind of single-use packaging, could it be reusable? Could it be returned to a network of drop points, where that product is essentially serviced. It's not a bin. It doesn't end up on the other side of the planet in a landfill or being incinerated, but it's brought back into the system, it's washed, and then redistributed. 

So, there are modern reuse systems out there, but they never combined technology, so there's a lot of thinking around using technology to fuel and create the next level of smart systems or return systems, and that's how the ideation started. That's how CupClub started in 2015.

Many years down the line, it looks very different, and we're operating in mass markets, and we're operating across multiple product lines. But yeah, that's the genesis of how it all evolved, I guess. Fundamentally, it's about finding your purpose. I think you're answering your inner brief, which leads you to do what you do.

Maiko Schaffrath  08:06

Yeah, we'll talk a bit more about your product range at the moment and how you're actually operating right now. I'd love to zoom in on the architect's mindset that you mentioned.

I mean, in startup land, definitely, I think, most people are really aware of design thinking and things like that, how a designer's mindset is brought into the startup world, and loads of people have adapted that. How's the architect's mindset different or how have you applied that to solving problems if you think about CLUBZERØ, for example?

Safia Qureshi  08:41

So, when you look at the design pyramid, architects are at the top, because typically, we will have to do a lot of the other design disciplines within the scope of what we deliver.

When you are organizing a space, you are organizing, let's say, graphic design, because you have to introduce wayfinding or communicate to somebody, how do they find you? How do they get into that building? How do they navigate through and where do they go? 

These are just common examples of communications. It's also product design. Bigger buildings have an assembling of thousands, if not millions, of products. You're specifying everything from physical materials that are required to make the building through to everything that goes inside the building. 

So, product design is a really big part of what you work on. I've covered communications, I've covered product. Then, you've also got service design, because you are thinking about, how do I ensure that this space, in the context of where it sits, if it's a building, if it's a high story, whatever the use case is, who are the occupiers?

Who's coming? Who are the users? And why would they come? What would be the incentives? What would be their UX? What would be their journey through the space? 

This is obviously a physical tangible space, it's not digital. And what value do you give to them? That would mean that they might want to come multiple times or enjoy it and feel fulfilled or have a sense of what we call in tech stickiness.

Obviously, you want people to occupy your buildings and not be completely awful, so UX is a really key feature of that journey. When you start to break down the design pyramid, architecture is at the top and all of these other smaller components actually build the base of the pyramid. 

When I came to developing a new system for food and beverage distribution, so a new returnable packaging system, which is what CLUBZERØ is, I am also the product architect, so I built the architecture of the entire tech stack.

I figured out what are the key components required of the technology side, the software side simply by trying to understand what are the data flows, who moves where, what needs to be captured where, what needs to be informing what as part of this entire tech stack, so that I built as in architecture, and then handed it over to somebody who I brought onto the team to actually go and probably also just challenge it, because I'm still an architect, very self-aware I'm not a technologist by background, or an engineer. 

I scoped that and then, of course, on the product side, I know so many amazing people who actually design wonderful, beautiful things, so we've brought on an amazing designer to lead our packaging, who used to be the ex-Head of Packaging at Burberry, so have a lot of high experiential value behind tactility, holding things and to really think about our packaging product lines in more detail. 

And then, on the communication side, amazing, amazing digital designer, Matias, who's now joined Apple to help us reimagine, how do we help a customer find these drop point network points for returning the packaging as easily as possible, and how do we visualize those. 

Again, because you're at the top of the design pyramid, you have essentially this awareness and understanding of the entire design structure, and you know where people need to be sat to really deliver something phenomenal. It's always about that.

It's always about that talent. It's always about those multiple disciplinary expert minds, and bringing them together to deliver something that will, altogether in those pieces, give you the best UX, and that's what architects do. We assemble a lot of complex teams to deliver very complex projects. That's, I would say, how it's translated.

Maiko Schaffrath  13:50

Hmm. And you've really got to think in terms of systems and the relationship between different things as well versus, let's say, designing a single item. I mean, we'll get into CLUBZERØ now. Obviously, you're designing single items, but it's much more than that, right?

You're designing a whole system, a new way of doing things, which has to be designed from beginning to end. If you went out and just designed some reusable packaging and dumped it and put it in a shop for people to buy, it will probably have failed or at least not have the impact that you can make. Is that a good summary?

Safia Qureshi  14:30

Yeah, it's a systems approach. We sit within the circular economy, and this is, I guess, nothing new. We have had reuse systems for a very long time. They are also circular. We've seen them led by different brands, beer bottling companies. We've seen the large beverage brands run their own returnable bottling system, so the circular economy has existed for a very long time. 

I guess what we have done is we came to the space thinking, "Okay, these are great, but there is a very, very important need to have a technology layer over this," in the same way as we've always had cycles, we've always had rental bikes, but there's a difference between e-scooters and city bikes to common rental bikes, and we're the same.

There's a difference between CLUBZERØ and your beer bottling systems that you see, and the key fundamental thing is technology. 

You have the capacity to overlay tech, and that takes the entire system approach into effect, because it gives you a view on how you can integrate this at city scale, how you can bring more exposure into understanding dynamics of how people move, where they need to buy, where they need to drop.

It informs your city planning actually. It also informs you how much people consume, and that's an important metric. And if you don't measure, you don't know. We have data in play, that helps us improve our operational activities, but also for us to have sustainable credentials and be able to share them in the marketplace. 

So, systems approach is adding this circular system, because you basically build the whole thing, you're moving things in a circular way, and you're responsible for maintaining and managing this whole thing as opposed to just one key component, and then saying, "Oh, well, we don't manage the rest of it, so we can distance ourselves from." It actually takes a lot more ownership to design a system and implement system as opposed to just one component.

Maiko Schaffrath  17:00

Alright. Let's talk about the system that you have designed. We haven't actually covered how CLUBZERØ works beyond the brief introduction that I've made, so give us an introduction to how CLUBZERØ works. What is the whole process, and what's the innovation that you brought to this space?

Safia Qureshi  17:17

Yeah. I mean, your listeners are going to be mostly consumers, so let's start on the consumer side. What we wanted to give consumers was the opportunity for them to go into any of the restaurants and cafes that they always do, their most favorite ones, and be given an option for takeaway but in reusable containers that they could return conveniently to a wide network of drop points across the city. That's fundamentally what our consumer offer is. 

It's find your favorite locations and be able to enjoy the same experience that you already have but using higher-quality, reusable packaging, which you can either borrow for free on a payment-on-file model or you pay an upfront deposit, and you are refunded that deposit back and you have 30 days to return this product, so ample time.

That way, we see ourselves within the alternatives movement. We've seen plant-based alternatives to meat. We've seen plant-based alternatives to dairy. We are the alternative to single-use packaging. We're giving consumers basically that optionality which we believe is theirs, so that's the consumer offer. 

On the host side, which is essentially your brand, restaurant, or cafe, or food delivery company, we sell B2B. You essentially have a mandate to transition your packaging from single-use to something that's reusable, and that's why you would sign up with CLUBZERØ, or you're already buying sustainable packaging, and you're paying for something that's compostable. 

And so, you're thinking, "This is a great alternative. It's comparable in price. Why would I not offer this?," and you would sign up to CLUBZERØ for us to help you set up that system. So, it's working with those particular brands.

Some of them are the likes of Nestle, and they're very large brand levels. And on the other opposite end, they are your typical locations that have anywhere between three onwards location, that they've got a good level of organization. They're not necessarily your mom or pops, because we find that's a little bit more challenging for really small micro organizations is to have so much variety. 

We basically offer them a certain volume of packaging on a daily or weekly basis, and we collect it on a daily or weekly basis. It gets washed, redistributed, and then we provide them the drop point and technology to set up, then that's it.

Once we have it set up, we see that their uptake, for example, with our food delivery side, where CLUBZERØ is always the first to sell out across hosts that have signed up with us. 

So, customers tend to offer or want to have reusable or zero waste packaging over others, if they are seeing that hosts are providing it. So, they'll veer towards the one which is offering it to them. I think it's a fantastic indicator for us.

I think we're just trying to make sure that consumers have the broadest options possible to them and make it as convenient as other kinds of takeaway.

Maiko Schaffrath  21:08

Amazing. So, you take care of pretty much anything that could be inconvenient and the process. The alternative to this would [be] either you keep producing single-use plastic and as a consumer, okay, it's great and convenient to chuck it in the bin.

But if you're an environmentally conscious consumer, it's definitely nothing you feel good about. 

But then, on the other hand, the alternative would be bring your own Tupperware box or something like that, and then you have the hassle of cleaning it. You take care of that whole process, right? So, I just need to return the dirty box to where I picked it up or one of the other spots, and that's all on you.

You then take care of the logistics in the background, which I assume can be quite complex, basically managing all these different locations, returning washing, and redistributing.

Safia Qureshi  22:03

I mean, we work with trusted partners. So, CLUBZERØ itself is a brand, and it's a product, and it's a design company, tech company. It's not a logistics company. It's not a washing company, so we personally do not do any of that. We work with trusted partners in the marketplace that help us optimize. We build partnerships with the right folks. 

Now, just to give you an idea, our wash system is kitted out with some of the best technology that you can see out there in the marketplace. It's worth quarter of a million. It's a major investment, and it's specifically for plastics.

We ensure that we have the most scalable and the best quality setup that there is available in the marketplace, and that enabled us to have the best care or the user experience for consumers. 

Also, it's super important for a lot of the brands that we work with, because they have certain audits that they have to work within. From that angle, it's not like we try and do all of it. I mean, there's a lot, of course, proprietary wise, in terms of our tech stack, that we've built.

There's a lot going on. Besides the API platform and the dashboards that we directly have developed and designed in-house, we have three different apps, which optimize operations in different ways, and so we're constantly making sure that all those learnings come from the ground, and we're implementing new releases in May, for example, across quite a few of those.

There's always work to be done, but we are essentially very light in terms of physical operations.

Maiko Schaffrath  24:04

Got it. So, in terms of the apps you talked about, it is obviously the consumer app that I have on my phone, and you can see the locations and basically sign up and use the system. I assume there's something like that for the locations or the partners you work with to manage what they have. And then, the third one what's that? 

Safia Qureshi  24:29

Operations. 

Maiko Schaffrath  24:30

Logistics focus on operational one, yeah.

Safia Qureshi  24:32

Operations, yeah. Our wash systems behind the scenes have our technology fitted into those, because what we want is as much visibility. One thing which I should just mention, the main fundamental difference between single-use packaging and reusable from where we have developed and created the IP around is we have basically said that every item of packaging should have its own unique ID.

By us having the capability of scanning and having visibility of this, we can track it better. We just know where product is, and we know how many times it's been used. We know if a customer has returned it, and it's been returned damaged.

There's a lot more accountability around product, also counterfeiting and all of the other various reasons why you have unique identifiers. So, we have technology that we build into the operations, and it helps us to get more visibility of where product is at any given time.

Maiko Schaffrath  25:40

Hi, it's Maiko here. I want to interrupt this episode briefly to make you aware of two exciting things that are going on here at Impact Hustlers. First of all, if you are a founder solving social and environmental problems, and you're looking to connect to like-minded founders like yourself, you're looking to learn from some of the most experienced entrepreneurs, experts, and investors in the world, and you want some support and actually fundraising for your startup, we've built the Impact Hustlers Community. 

We are now about 100 entrepreneurs and founders, and we're growing every month, with more founders from all over the world joining us, and we're really here to support each other. Our goal is to build the most supportive ecosystem for impact-driven founders. So, if you're a founder, head to impacthustlers.com/community to learn more. 

And if you're not a founder, but you want to work for impact-driven companies, we have also recently launched something really exciting for you, and that is the Impact Hustlers Talent Collective. This is a group of some of the most ambitious and talented individuals in the world that want to use their talent to make a difference in the world and work for some of the most innovative impact-driven companies.

If you're keen to join the Talent Collective, this is all free of charge, obviously. You can submit your application to the Talent Collective on impacthustlers.com/jobs, and what will happen as a result is that companies will start approaching you through our Talent Collective and share job opportunities with you. 

We'll also share our Weekly Jobs Update with you where you see relevant jobs in the field of impact, including from all the previous podcast guests, so you will actually see opportunities from companies that have been covered here on the show and also companies that are members of our Impact Hustlers Community.

So, go to impacthustlers.com/jobs If you're looking for a job, or if you're a founder and need some support, go to impacthustlers.com/community. Okay, let's get back to the episode now. 

Amazing. Let's talk briefly before we move into some lessons learned and some of the hard things about the journey and lessons learned and lessons that you can share with people. Let's quickly cover your business model as well, because there [are] so many different actors involved.

There's the locations. There's the consumers. Who's paying for this, and what are the benefits for your customers basically to justify paying for this?

Safia Qureshi  28:21

Sure, so we are B2B pure enterprise sales. For a consumer, this is a completely free setup. As long as they return the packaging there, they don't pay for it; they get the deposit back, and it's the same as any current business model for any business.

They buy packaging. Instead, what they do with us is we're packaging as a service, releasing them packaging. We're comparable in terms of pricing to Compostable. In terms of a cost line, it's just a replacement cost line. There's nothing more complex. The number looks the same as what they currently buy. 

The only difference in language is that they don't buy it, they rent it, and we're comparable to Compostable and sustainable packaging. We pretty much target those kinds of players. We don't really look at lower, inferior packaging format hosts, because we know we cannot drive our product down to those commercials unless they buy at very high volumes.

So, if they are very high volume and at low pricing, that could work. But if they're low pricing and not very high volumes, we can't serve them. It doesn't make any commercial sense. So, yeah, pure B2B, and we mimic basically packaging cost in a P&L. It's nothing more than that.

Maiko Schaffrath  29:58

Do you see your partners, I assume, initially, most partners wouldn't get rid completely of single-use plastic, being afraid, "Okay, now, I need to sign up everybody to CLUBZERØ before they can even take my dishes"? How does the journey usually work for them? Would they start introducing you and then gradually transition over? How does it work for them?

Safia Qureshi  30:23

What kind of partners do you mean?

Maiko Schaffrath  30:25

So, if you talk to your partners like the cafes, the restaurants, the delivery services, I assume that because, obviously, both them and their customers need to be on board with this to be able to return the packaging, etc., there is probably still a need to keep some single-use containers, for those that are not using CLUBZERØ.

So, how do you see the journey of those customers, ideally, I mean, transitioning over to 100% CLUBZERØ packaging or at least a large share of what they're giving up?

Safia Qureshi  31:07

Yeah, it's exactly like the alternatives movement. You don't have major brands saying, "Okay, well, we've introduced the Impossible Burger, and now, all our burgers are going to be plant-based." We will never have that.

Just to, I guess, manage expectations, the marketplace will always exist for many different types of people, and we are not expecting a full conversion into one category. We're going to see many use cases where disposables are just required for various reasons, and we fall outside of the optimal UX, because I know someone is like in a mad hurry and will never go to that place ever again. That's a great example. 

If you are a complete tourist and you're unlikely to want to come again or return, for whatever reasons, your user experience is an outlier to one that would, then you're not going to go in for a reusable. And then, many other examples here.

I'm just going to quickly stage in one for you. The main purpose for reuse is essentially to give optionality to a consumer and transition a brand toward zero waste. Most companies will want to start with being able to say that they are 20% or 30% on that journey, and then slowly increments towards whatever their goals are, and their goals might be over five years, 10 years, two years, whatever those goals are. 

We do, of course, have to then support them on the consumer adoption side, because you could set everything up, but then you've got to create that visibility and understanding of what the product offer is and communicate that to the consumer side.

So, that activation does require collaboration. It does require a lot of training for their staff to offer that product in-store and to make sure that people are aware. And yeah, that's the process.

Maiko Schaffrath  33:29

Is this your main channel of the acquisition of your end users? Those that are actually consuming the food and drink, is that through your customers through your partners? Or do you follow another strategy as well to spread the word about what you're doing?

Safia Qureshi  33:47

Oh, there's loads. We do peer-to-peer advocacy. We're really trying to hone in on our advocacy piece at the moment. So, how do we engineer more ways in which people can refer? Whether that's referring peer-to-peer and giving them something for free as a overview award.

Yeah, there's a lot of areas that we're looking at in Q2 to increase that. In general, something like 35% of our consumers are loyal. We see them go through the converted, which is using it one time, loyal is 1-10, and then super loyals and advocates. 

We are always measuring that split. I don't know what the magic numbers are, but more than 30% of our users are in the lower categories. These are active. Every month, they are using it between one and 10 times, so that's a great indicator for us, that if they keep enjoying it, they will tell more people, and then those people will tell more people etc., and that's how you grow, essentially, your brand.

Maiko Schaffrath  35:03

Let's move a little bit into the lessons learned, especially for early stage impact-driven entrepreneurs listening to this. It feels to me for you, the initial starting point was really, you said, "It's the single-use plastics.

We've got to do something about them," and that was the initial starting point to develop something. I think this is how many impact-driven entrepreneurs think. I know you talked about previously as well, like when you first started out, which has been a few years ago now. Was it 2015?

Safia Qureshi  35:39

That's when I coined the idea, but we started to operate in 2018.

Maiko Schaffrath  35:44

Got it. Still, it was a few years ag. It seems like not too long ago, but still, the environment was quite different. I think you were speaking about how you talk to people about the idea, and people were just confused.

Whereas now, I mean, there's some sort of agreement, at least amongst the more forward-thinking companies that, "Okay, we shouldn't just continue applying waste," especially for single-use waste.

Safia Qureshi  36:11

Yeah, then it was just totally... 

Maiko Schaffrath  36:14

Yeah. So, how did you have the confidence, first of all, that, "This is what's going to change," and then move from this idealistic perspective of, "This has got to change," to building an actual business of solving customer problems and getting people to pay you to solve a problem for them?

That's  the gap that I think impact entrepreneurs always have to solve, so I'm keen to see how you solve that. Was it just being very patient? How did you approach it?

Safia Qureshi  36:47

Yeah. That's a very good point. I mean, I was going to say grit, but I think that you have to have grit. You have to have a lot of self-motivation and patience, because I know a lot of founders who I've come into contact in the past who said, "I tried this for a year, and it didn't work, so I moved on," and some people do that.

Some people are very, I guess, finite with how long they're going to give something, and that's hard, because if you're looking at our journey in 2015, the team wasn't an issue, product wasn't an issue. Market was. 

There's nothing you can do about market. You cannot move a market. A market has to mature and build itself to a point where you have optimal opportunity, and there's nothing you can do. So, if I ever gave myself a finite timeline in a situation where I am depending on the market, that's useless.

That doesn't make any sense. For me, I had to just be patient, and it's very frustrating, obviously, when you realize, "Oh, God, I'm so early to this game." 

And equally to some degree, even at this point, I'm like one of the pioneers, and there are so many copycats now and so much going on in the reuse space, which is fantastic, which is what you need.

You need many, many players to, I guess, chime on the same story, so that you propel the market to move quicker in that direction. I would say patience, grit. I think if you've created an inner brief, which requires to gain purpose in a certain way, you are looking for different kinds of outcomes. 

My outcome isn't my purpose is not built around, my objective is not about becoming a millionaire. My objective and my brief is about building products at scale that anybody can use and, of course, to get to that point, implicates a lot. It's like, well, you would have to raise a shit ton of money. You would also have to be in a position that you build a fantastic brand, otherwise, you're not going to. 

So, there are lots of implications and objectives within that stack. For me, I just felt I just have to wait. I have to be patient. I have to allow the market to mature, and by the time I'm ready to strike, I'll be in a much more powerful position, because I have come from a space where I have had the opportunity to learn and build and prepare myself as opposed to desperately trying to wrangle and catch up and understand it whilst on the fly.

That's very different. What's very unique about CLUBZERØ to a lot of other companies, in general, is that we're not here struggling with 10 developers trying to build some code. We are not struggling here trying to work out, how do we sell this product and to whom. 

We have incredibly mature aspects of the business, across the engineering, across the physical product, across the sales approach. It's very mature as a business, interestingly, although very small. We're full-time people, five. And so, a team like that also doesn't require a crazy amount of round-sizing either, because we're not throwing money at the problem, because we don't have a problem.

We built it, and it's been done incrementally and through understanding and change over a long period of time versus what typical startups do is zero to six months and then six to 12 and then another 12 months. You build basically in segments, and then you want to try and fit it all together, and you hope it's all going to work. 

It's actually chaotic, and then you're constantly trying to throw money to just keep it going, and that's how very, very fast scale businesses work is you compartmentalize and then you try and combine it, whereas we've never had to compartmentalize.

We've actually had a very well-integrated approach across all of our parts, and they work very well, so there are pros and cons. Some people might say, "Gosh, for me, this will be a long time." I'm sure if you told me this is going to take five or seven years, I probably wouldn't have believed it. We would have laughed and would have been like, "Well, I'm not doing that," but we are where we are.

Maiko Schaffrath  41:56

You think you got the timing right in some way, though? I can imagine if you started two or three years earlier, I don't know if you would be around to be honest. Just putting it out there. And if you started later, maybe all these people doing it as well would have been further along, right?

Safia Qureshi  42:16

Exactly. Yeah, right place, right time. The people are a big indication. So, if you are not attracting fantastic talent to your team along the way, I would question if you were doing the right thing.

I think that giving yourself a finite time is very dangerous. Basically, hopefully, that's my main message is be really careful about that, in impact specifically, because when you're looking at a specific market, it's a dangerous one. So, ask yourself to measure against other types of indicators. 

We've just brought on someone who's ex-Tesla, and ex-Impossible Foods and Rubicon as our Chief Commercial Officer, and that's one of our best key hires as far as you can go for what we are doing. I can't see an example better than that in the marketplace.

And so, that's a huge indicator for me to say, "Okay, you're doing things the right way in the right pace with the right people," and just more of the same. That's what you need.

Maiko Schaffrath  43:31

Got it. Let's talk briefly about the last few years. I'm sure in your mind, you have moved on from that a long time ago. But obviously, the last two years in the pandemic, selling to customers that have been the most heavily hit by the pandemic, I mean, I don't know how long you've had Just Eat as a customer.

Maybe they were not as heavily hit or not hit, well, hit in a good way. But, tell us about the pandemic, how it impacted your business, and did you have any near death moments, or how did you pull through?

Safia Qureshi  44:09

Yeah, anybody in F&B has, I mean, it's gone either way. If you were in the delivery or supermarket space, you did phenomenally well. If you were anywhere else, you really struggled. Now, you might have struggled a bit, excruciating struggle or just quite a good level of struggle.

So, food and beverage as we knew it changed overnight. Everything closed, everything opened, everything closed, everything opened. 

You can imagine, I think, actually, the opening-closing-opening-closing is probably what killed a lot of businesses as opposed to just closing, because you can't sustain that jumpstart, jumpstart, and close.

That's a really, really tough call, because you don't know how to manage resources, and that's both assets, people, time, etc. From our perspective, it was a huge blow, because we had just launched in the US, in Palo Alto, and we did that off the back of support from consortium brands, Starbucks and McDonald's. 

We had a waiting list of about five major brands. Some of them flew down to visit us, and the others slowly all canceled their fights and said, "Yeah, we can't get clearance or insurance, and this is looking really bad.

We don't think we're going to be able to come and see you." And then, two weeks later, I had to shut down all operations and come back to London. So, our US operation launch pad, February 2020, was basically put on deep freeze, and we've actually just started it again now. So, you can imagine, that's two years lost in terms of growth, opportunity, traction in the marketplace. That's two years gone. 

So, what we did was we, I suppose, just focused our energies in London. We came back. We had to do a number of things. First of all, we had an awful lot of technical debt, and we realized that, "This is probably a fantastic time to focus inwards, so let's completely look at our product.

Let's look at what components of our engineering needs to be overhauled." It's like a maintenance process. We thought we had an opportunity where we're not going to be massively active and, "Let's use this as a way of rebooting and creating a 2.0 version of CLUBZERØ, and what does that look like?"

That's also part of the reason why we rebranded, because we were CupClub, and we were looking at beverages. 

And now, we wanted to expand into food and sign a partnership deal with Just Eat. And so, that transition for us was amazing. It was actually very energetic. New briefs were on the table, and we said, "Okay, well, we're going to change our name.

We're going to come up with a new brand. We're going to get rid of our technical debt. We're going to have new product lines. We're going to completely 2.0." And so, we used that time, which was about 12 months or 15 months to launch the results, all the work of that. 

We basically started again, I would say, in Q4 2021, so six months in, really, into a more supercharged version of what we were, because prior to that, our London operations were all related around offices.

And so, that's a really hard hit sector, because the future of work has completely changed. We're now very distributed. We work in offices, we work in cafes, we work at home, we work in members clubs, we work anywhere, actually, bus stops, whatever, wherever you find a laptop and zoom. That's part of our culture. So, moving into delivery was a really big strategic plan. 

And now, that part of the business is doing really well with Just Eat for business. We have some of our strongest offices that are being served by some of our strongest hosts, and that is going very nicely.

We launched into the consumer side, and we're working on basically more seamless UX for consumers across delivery platforms at the moment. So, that's in the pipeline, and there's a lot more, but I can't talk about it all. 

But yeah, there's some really exciting new brands that we'll be announcing later on in Q2, Q3. So, yeah, I think peak reuse is about two years away. Wait, let me rephrase that. I think peak reuse is about five years away. But I think in two years, it'll become very prominent as in, "I'm seeing this in a lot of places." It's starting to feel quite normal. But peak, I think is about five to seven years away, probably 2030.

Maiko Schaffrath  49:40

Alright. We'll talk then for sure again. I think we could definitely chat then again. I'd like to cover one more theme, although just conscious of time as well, but I'd love to cover one more theme if you're up for it, which is basically, the main theme for impact-driven entrepreneurs, especially in the early days, I think.

We already talked a little bit about the focus on impact, not wanting to compromise and really designing for, in your case, really the main environmental impact and reducing negative impact, which was really interesting to learn. 

At the same time, as an impact-driven entrepreneur, you have to solve a market need, you have to cater to the needs of your customers. In preparing this recording, you've talked about the challenge sometimes with customers having maybe a slightly different goal in mind than you have, for example, seeing it as more of a PR initiative to partner with you instead of actually trying to transition the operations of their business.

How do you deal with that if the customer goals are a bit misaligned with your goals, but there is some sort of overlap? A PR-focused company can still buy your products and use them and then use it to have a great PR initiative, how do you think about this, and how do you get them into the right corner?

Safia Qureshi  51:24

So, there's always value in selling your product if it's creating impact. The first thing that I would say is, you don't need to walk in the opposite direction from brands that are clearly utilizing it for short term, because even the short term has value. You're not there to judge them on whether they need to be short-term or long-term. 

We all know long term is obviously more sustainable has more value and all of that. But, for some brands, this is a very long thing that they have to take themselves on a journey on. For some, it's about proving to their own organization that this might be something they want to do.

And so, they will take very small incremental steps, and they will make a big display of it, and then they will review it, and someone will hopefully in that organization say, "This is great. Why are we not doing this at a bigger scale?" 

And so, I would never stop and say, "There are certain brands that are clearly only going to do this for a small scale of time and use this as a PR stunt, so why would you work with them?" I think if you're creating value, I think you've got something impactful, you should definitely work with any business that wants to work with you.

That's the first thing. Then, long term, we are in the business of creating FOMO. So, if you have a great product, and your customers are happy, and they talk about you, you're only going to attract more of the same. You're going to create more impact. You're going to be able to bring in some further fantastic brands. 

And so, there's no lose-lose here in the grand scheme of things. As long as you're not deviating from your main core offer or product or impact itself, and you're not negotiating the actual core product down, I don't think there's any major concern.

It's just some brands are very slow, and they need to prove internally, externally, and also consider that not every brand is a leader brand. Some are very follower brands, and they're a bit more risk averse. 

And so, for them, they're not the ones who will lead the market, but they need somebody else to do that, and then they'll come along. So, there are so many different types of customers out there, and there are so many different motivations.

And I would just say, if you're doing impact, you're bringing them value, as long as you can show them what that looks like, and then it's up to them whether they take it up long term or not, that's just something that you have to work through.

Maiko Schaffrath  54:27

Got it. So, what I get from that is really being principle-led with your product design, making sure that you wouldn't compromise if a customer comes to you and says, "Could you use a different cheaper material that's not durable maybe or but cheaper for us at the end or maybe not as sustainable as what you're using now?,"

I don't know. Maybe that's an example or another example where they would try to push you to reducing your cost while trading off the sustainable impact environmental impact, right?

Safia Qureshi  55:04

Yeah, I mean, that's not your core product offer anyway, so you wouldn't have something for them. If somebody came to me and said, "Can you provide us this entire system and reduce your service levels to something that was just never going to provide a great service to customers?,"

I'd probably say, "Well, that's not a great system. I don't know how I'd make this work within this particular budget," and that's pretty fair. 

And so, I think, if they came to us to say, "We have our own product and our own packaging, and we want to run it in your system," that's brilliant. Yes, absolutely. We can work to that. Again, every brand has its own journey, and there are so many nuances along that journey.

We will never have time to understand every single brand's entire structure and how they internalize and how they work. So, if you land a fantastic brand and you see that opportunity, as long as you're not creating an inferior product version of what you offer, I think you should definitely drive it home.

Maiko Schaffrath  56:23

Last quick question is, how does the world look like in 10 years if CLUBZERØ succeeds?

Safia Qureshi  56:29

When we are expanding across 20 cities in the next seven years and IPI, you'd basically see a very seamless model for reuse across something like between 1,000 and 2,000 locations per city where you can pick up and drop off packaging.

And then, within each city, we essentially have the capability to, of course, operate that with our local partners on the ground. You'd be able to provide or access that through the delivery platforms that are in that city. 

So, yeah, I mean, it's just normalizing this concept of reuse and building it at scale. Like I said, reuse has existed for a very long time. The only difference is that brands have initiated it on a very brand level, on a very product level.

What we've just done is we've said, "Okay, we're initiating it at a city level where multi brands can plug and play." That's the main fundamental thing, and we've added technology as a way to manage that more efficiently. It's just a case of delivering that in a way where it's visible to a customer.

So, it's been like Uber. You just need one up. You can move from many cities, and you find the same service in any city you go to.

Maiko Schaffrath  57:49

Amazing. Can't wait for this vision of the future. So, thank you so much, Safia, for making the time. I could have gone much, much longer than this. Really interesting. But, thank you so much, and wishing you all the best for the next few years.

Safia Qureshi  58:06

Yes, well sign up, clubzero.co, and let's go.

Maiko Schaffrath  58:12

I really hope you enjoyed today's episode and learned some valuable lessons from today's guest. I want to share two things with you.

First of all, if you're a founder and you're solving a social or an environmental problem with your company, there is something that we've launched recently to support founders like you and to introduce you to more founders that are like-minded and that are solving very difficult problems in the world, and that is the Impact Hustlers Community. 

It is a community of over 100 founders that solve problems like climate change, education, the crisis in health care, and really pushing the boundaries on what's possible. And what we do as a community, we connect to each other, we run mastermind groups where you can connect to other entrepreneurs and founders.

We bring experienced investors, entrepreneurs, and experts in to run workshops and ask-me-anything sessions, and you can also connect to others in our online community.

And we have something for those of you that are actually fundraising. We have an investor matching tool where you get introduced to relevant investors based on the startup that you're building. 

But, it may be the case that you're not a founder, and you just want to be part of the change, and you want to join some of these companies that you've learned about here at the Impact Hustlers podcast, and we've got something for you as well. We've recently launched the Impact Hustlers Talent Collective. 

This is a group of some of the most ambitious individuals in the world that want to make a change and an impact with their careers, and you can join the Talent Collective, obviously completely free of charge.

You can apply to it, and we will introduce you on a regular basis to companies recruiting people like yourself. You'll get access to exclusive job opportunities from companies that have been on the podcast but also beyond that. 

So, make sure that you go to impacthustlers.com/jobs if you're looking for jobs in the social impact space. Even if you're not actively looking right now, you should still sign up and be part of our Talent Collective. And if you're a founder, don't forget, go to impacthustlers.com/community. Okay, thanks very much for listening and bye. See you at the next episode.

Related Episodes