I always love sharing the latest Behind The Biz interview with you. Today’s interview is really interesting and highlights a very important issue. If you’re new around here, Behind The Biz is an interview series where I discover small and growing businesses, the people behind them and their business journey.
Today’s interview is with David McLagan, the founder of Ecoffee Cup.
Please tell us about your business
Ecoffee Cup is a new generation of reusable cup which we created to help tackle the ever-growing problem of single-use packaging going to landfill – while simultaneously providing a stylish, practical reusable for the coffee-consuming public.
Our product is manufactured using bamboo fibre – the world’s fastest-growing, most sustainable crop – and non-GMO corn starch, which means it’s not only BPA and phthalate free, but biodegradable and as such, can be buried with household organic waste at the end of its lifecycle (3-4 years if treated well). Ecoffee Cup is sturdy yet light. It has a resealable ‘drip proof’ lid, is fully dishwasher safe and importantly, because bamboo is naturally sterile, it won’t flavour-taint drinks, unlike some other reusables.
Ecoffee Cup comes in an extensive range of stylish, contemporary designs. It is currently available in over 400 outlets in the UK and a further 500 across Europe. The cups are also available online in our shop.
Where did the inspiration for Ecoffee Cup come from?
In late-2012 we were creating more and more products for the gift industry – we were producing “stuff” unquestioningly, without ever considering the impact of what we were doing: Manufacturing. Shipping. Packaging. Then one day, I guess you could say I had an existential moment, realising we were very much part of the problem, not the solution.
At around the same time, I also read that single-use coffee cups could not be recycled as they contained plastic, subsequently resulting in a crazy amount of them go to landfill each year. I put two and two together and changed our business model accordingly. Within six months we were producing our first prototypes.
How did you decide upon the name of your brand?
Pretty simple really: Ecoffee Cup is a play on words: ‘Eco’+ ‘Coffee’.
What did you do before starting Ecoffee Cup?
I had a career as a creative director in advertising in both London and Australia. I then founded a souvenirs brand in 2008 – manufacturing a wide array of different gift products for High Street retailers, museums and galleries – the basis of which went on to form Ecoffee Cup, which we started in 2014.
Did you always plan to be self-employed?
Not really sure I’d class myself as “self-employed”; more a founder of a growing brand focussed on achieving great things. That is certainly something I always planned!
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
Predicting and dealing with such rapid growth has been exceedingly challenging and despite all the planning in the world, we ran out of stock in the run up to Christmas last year. Whilst it may sound like a good thing, it played havoc with our sales for the year and challenged customers’ patience in getting the products they wanted. Managing cash flow is always a big challenge, especially when growth has been around 300% per annum.
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
It’s great to be right at the start of something; people are really starting to understand that single-use items are a massive waste of resources. It’s very fulfilling to know we are beginning to play an active role in shaping both policy and behaviour. Watching the message take hold in a lot of different countries – from South Africa to Slovenia – is also exciting.
Please tell us more about the #stopthe100billion campaign and the role that social media plays for your business?
Well, over 100 billion single-use cups go to landfill each year (Starbucks, in the US alone, serves 8,000 cups per minute!). Unfortunately most British tea and coffee drinkers still believe single-use cups to be recyclable. However, no facilities currently exist to manage the complex task of separating the plastic from the paper – so the vast majority end up in landfill.
We have set up the #stopthe100billion campaign in an attempt to raise awareness of the issue and effect real change in the way we consume takeaway products. Social media plays an important role in our business in terms of communicating, engaging with and educating audiences about the magnitude of the waste issue and how we can all make a difference in our behaviour.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
No one goes out of their way to make mistakes and you don’t know you’ve made a mistake when you’re living it; consequences usually can’t be seen for months afterwards. It’s not ever pleasant nor avoidable, just don’t beat yourself up when you get through the other side. Mental toughness and an uncomplaining attitude when things go wrong, is the mark of a true entrepreneur.
Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?
The issue of consumer waste is not going away anytime soon. Ultimately, our aim is to make a real difference. It’s not solely about Ecoffee Cup sales and business growth, but also about raising awareness of the issues. We want to influence consumer consciousness to the point that we see a marked change in attitudes and increasing numbers of commuters switching to reusables.
I want to say a big thank you to David for taking the time to get involved with Behind The Biz. I really enjoyed learning more about his business and his passion to encourage people to switch to reusable coffee cups instead of contributing to landfills. I can’t wait to see the business continue to grow throughout 2017. I’m a big fan of my Ecoffee Cup (review coming soon) and I think it’s so important to raise awareness about all the coffee cups that find their way to landfill each year.