When Jason Graham-Nye's first son was born, he and his wife Kim weren't excited about the idea of ripping through the thousands of plastic disposable diapers necessary to see him through to potty training. They did a lot of research and found a small company in their native Australia that sold reusable diapers that came with a flushable insert. They had an entrepreneurial epiphany, licensed the technology from the company, and moved to Portland, Ore., to start their now-thriving company, gDiapers. You can now find gDiapers in stores like Whole Foods all across the country as well as at online retailers like Amazon.
Jason is a savvy online marketer and has been maintaining a wonderfully written blog for years. I first got to know him as a reader of his blog and have had the fortune of meeting up face to face at various green trade shows. Jason is one of the smartest guys in green and has helped keep millions of diapers out of the landfill. I have always been impressed with his work and was happy when he carved some time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions.
Here are seven questions answered by eco-entrepreneur Jason Graham-Nye:
MNN: What are some of the most surprising things you've learned as an eco-entrepreneur?
Jason Graham-Nye: Early on (2005), I was surprised at how difficult it was for prospective investors to grasp that a sustainable business can throw off non-financial benefits, not just profits, like a great place to work or a product that improves the planet. That was such a foreign concept to the investment community then. I think progress has been made, but it is still a sore point for some. We offer onsite daycare for our teams' kids — 18 in all as well as 60 from the community. As we went into the very tough recession of 2009, there were suggestions that we close that down to save some money. For Kim and I that was a non starter. It is core to our DNA. We got through that without closing the day care and are stronger for it.
You work with your wife Kimberley at gDiapers. How do you balance family and work time?
It's tricky but we just love it. Young, fast-growing companies are a labour of love so being able to work with your partner is perfect. We wouldn't see each other otherwise! We work a slightly odd day, starting at 6 a.m. and leaving at 3 p.m. That way we can pick up our boys (Fynn 8 and Harper 6) from school and have a fun afternoon with them each day. We have worked together in the past running an event management business so we are very used to it. We do very different things at the company: Kim is the keeper of the brand and focused on product. I oversee more of the operation/finance part of the business. Having a clear delineation of roles is critical to our success. When we travel we try to do it with the kids so they get to see America, too. Last week, Kim and I had a trip to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and L.A. It was spring break for Harper so Kim flew him to Toronto to be with his cousins for the week and then joined me in New York.
He then flew solo from Toronto to Chicago and I took a day off to explore Chicago with him while Kim flew to L.A. Fynn then flew from Portland (our U.S. HQ) to L.A. to spend the weekend with Kim in and around a consumer show she was doing. Lots of frequent flier miles, but the kids seem to love it.
Should all diapers be flushable? How would you green up a diaper like Pampers, Huggies or Luvs?
It's a tough challenge as the big players are completely engineered around using polypropylene. They struggle to change course and consider other materials. It is such a brutally competitive business in terms of price at shelf. New, more enviro friendly materials are, by definition more expensive so that makes it hard to make a change. I think the solution is not one silver bullet but a variety of disposable options that suit Mums. Flushing, home composting and commercial composting are all good alternatives.
What's the difference between green and greener?
It's a continuum and every little step you take does make a difference. Green is where we all want to get to and being greener today bridges the gap between a bleak world today and a green tomorrow.
Does the world need saving?
No. The world — planet — will be just fine. Humans need saving. I love the book "The World Without Us."
Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?
Laura Peterson, founder of Hands to Hearts International. She is an incredible visionary but also puts the vision into action with this nonprofit that teaches impoverished women in Third World countries the art of baby massage. They in turn work with orphanages and the result of baby massage is nothing short of extraordinary. The simple power of touch has saved thousands of orphans and enriched the lives of women who would otherwise have not been given the skills and opportunity to give their love to others. If Kim and I weren't running gDiapers, we would be working for Laura. The work is so incredibly impactful.
(Shea's note: I asked Jason to come up with and answer his own question here) What is the one thing you would never do in the fund-raising process?
Never, ever ever count your chickens before they are hatched. Way back when, we raised a Series A round. We met with a terrific Angel investor. He loved the business and our prospects. He was signing up for the lion's share of that first round. We met many times. At our last meeting, we walked through how we would use his proceeds on the business. We closed with him saying that by week's end we would close his investment. We mentioned that in the meantime, we needed to take care of some bills (we were pre-revenue). He said absolutely, go ahead and get them paid because come Friday his cheque would be in our hands and we'll be all set. We paid some big bills that drained the account. That was Monday. He passed away on the Thursday. We were devastated on every level. But we lived to tell the tale...
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