Origin Story Interview W/ Anastasia Kiku, Reusables

Origin Story Interview W/ Anastasia Kiku, Reusables

Brighter Future


Oct 18, 2023

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #reusable #plasticfree #circulareconomy #lowwaste #choosetoreuse #saynotosingleuse #reducewaste #ZeroWaste #ReusableRevolution #PlasticFree #WasteReduction

Brighter Future

We’re here with Anastasia Kiku, a co-founder of Reusables.com. Her company is dedicated to ending single-use packaging waste.

Thank you so much for talking with us, Anastasia. Do you think you could introduce yourself and your company?

My name is Anastasia Kiku. I am one of the co-founders at Reusables.com, where I primarily focus on operations. Reusables.com is a zero-waste packaging platform on a mission to eradicate single-use packaging waste. My background revolves around business processes, optimisation, efficiency, and supply chain planning.

From my perspective, the issue of waste in our society represents a significant inefficiency. We use raw materials to create products, only to use single-use packaging for a brief period, usually five to ten minutes. For instance, consider the short lifespan of a single-use coffee cup discarded soon after use. This process is inefficient as it involves expanding production and waste management resources. Our goal is to prompt a reevaluation of consumption patterns and work toward a more streamlined system that maximises efficiency.

What do you hope to accomplish with your reusable products? Are you aiming for an overarching goal? Is it to eliminate all plastic usage, or is a more personal mission driving you?

The end vision revolves around eliminating single-use food packaging. The aim is to establish a system where reusable packaging is as convenient, affordable, and accessible as single-use options. Rather than attempting to change people's behaviours and mindsets, we aim to create a seamlessly integrated system that aligns with modern lifestyles and how people live.

If we can successfully achieve this, transitioning away from all disposable packaging becomes logical. On a more individual level, the primary objective of our company is to inspire individuals to take action.

My entrepreneurship journey began accidentally, spurred by the expectation that various entities like government and private companies would address the issue. When I saw that no action was taken, my co-founder and I decided to take matters into our own hands. We embarked on this path with the mindset that if it worked, great, and if it didn’t, the learning experience would be invaluable.

We also aimed to view this venture as a means for people to feel empowered through their choices. It's about recognising that even minor adjustments and seemingly insignificant decisions can accumulate into substantial impact.

Where did your career originate, and what pivotal experiences did you undergo before venturing into building reusable products?

To be completely transparent, I'm relatively young, so my career history is brief before my involvement with reusables. That said, if we think about the significant milestones, the initial one probably relates to my move to Canada, where the current reusable projects are being developed. I am originally from Russia and relocated here about five or six years ago to pursue university studies. During that time, I focused on operations and logistics.

Throughout my academic journey, two particularly noteworthy experiences have stood out. The first was my engagement in impact evaluation work in Indonesia. This involved assessing an economic development initiative and scrutinising the alignment between the project's intended design by the Western organisation overseeing it and the actual outcomes. The disparity between the envisioned goals and the real-world implementation taught me valuable lessons about design thinking, systems change, and solving complex issues. This experience highlighted the significance of comprehending context and distinguishing between core and secondary problems.

The second pivotal moment arose when I participated in an exchange program in Copenhagen. The Scandinavian countries are recognised as global leaders in sustainability practices. Immersing myself in the Scandinavian way of life for half a year exposed me to their lifestyle and values. Sustainability for them doesn't equate to sacrifice, but rather is seamlessly woven into their daily routines. This outlook, such as their efficient approach to food waste, doesn't necessitate reducing purchases but is naturally integrated into their lifestyle. This observation intrigued me, leading me to contemplate implementing similar principles in North America. This was especially important as sustainability was virtually absent in my native Russian culture. The notion lacked a translation and simply didn't exist in policy or education.

My internship at an online grocery delivery company was the turning point. It was during this time that I crossed paths with my future co-founder. Our collaboration revolved around a circular economy project for the online grocery sector. This experience introduced me to the circular economy, reusability, and zero waste. It was this experience that greatly inspired the direction of our reusable projects.

When you were growing up in Russia, were you surrounded by entrepreneurs? Did that influence your development of an entrepreneurial side in comparison to your upbringing?

Initially, I never aspired to be an entrepreneur. I generally lean toward risk aversion, and moving to Canada, with all its uncertainties, didn't make me seek more unpredictability or financial instability. The notion of venturing out on my own never really crossed my mind. Yet, when you mention my environment, my parents and even one of my grandparents were entrepreneurs. Reflecting on this now, it makes a lot of sense. However, during my formative years, entrepreneurship wasn't alluring to me. It didn't have that magnetic pull, primarily because I observed the challenges and extensive efforts it demanded from my family members. Thus, I never consciously steered myself in that direction.

Interestingly, I must credit a significant influence from my upbringing. Spending considerable time with my grandmother played a pivotal role. She and my grandfather survived the Second World War in Russia and often recounted stories of enduring food scarcity. For instance, during the Leningrad blockade (now St. Petersburg), they lived on just 100 grams of bread per day, which is basically an amount of bread the size of a fist. These narratives embedded in me an appreciation for resourcefulness and efficiency. They had to manage those 100 grams extremely carefully. This brought me to reflect on scarcity— the fact that certain places or times may not offer abundant resources and require making the most out of limited resources.

How do you explain your work to your Russian family? Is it understandable for them?

Over time, it has become understandable to them. They still don't understand why anyone would choose to do that. They're like, "But this is for hippies, no reasonable person would ever do this. No reasonable person would engage in this. Right?" They question how the business model functions and whether it can truly make an impact.

But of course, the answers lie in differing consumer preferences, varied consumer education, and more assertive government regulations. This combination facilitates a quicker understanding of the concept here compared to other parts of the world.

When you encountered your co-founder, how did the process of developing this idea initiate? Did it involve a significant leap, or did it evolve organically?

It progressed naturally. During the summer of 2020, I crossed paths with Jason Hawkins while completing my internship. This encounter occurred just before my final year at university, scheduled to commence in September. After the end of the internship, Jason and I kept in touch. Despite recognising the infeasibility of the online grocery delivery project we had been engaged in, we discerned the potential applicability of a similar concept across different industries or sectors. This realisation paved the way for venturing into the restaurant domain.

Throughout the next autumn, our activities were centred around extensive research, reading scholarly papers, and consultations with various individuals to fully shape our vision. By around December 2020, we had to try it and see its viability. Simultaneously, my academic commitments were relatively lighter, granting me much free time. This allowed me to immerse myself in this captivating project. So we formally launched the initiative in March 2021, coinciding with the final three months of my university journey. With a reduced course load, I had even more time for refining the project and engaging in personal pursuits like skiing.

This transition occurred naturally, marked by the fusion of genuine interest, a considerable workload, and the positive responses garnered post-launch. A pivotal juncture arose as I graduated: whether to pursue conventional employment with an important corporation or invest energy into nurturing our venture. Given the promising traction and favourable market trends, the decision to commit to the venture became clear.

I remained dedicated to Reusables while Jason continued his full-time engagement elsewhere. Approximately six months later, Jason, too, opted to join me full-time. This transformation marked the culmination of over a year since our initial launch.

What do you find to be the most fulfilling aspect of your work?

The most fulfilling aspect is when others genuinely share in the excitement. In the past, it often involved persuading people to get on board, emphasising its environmental benefits, and urging them to trust us— which was great. But encountering someone who expresses, "I've been looking for this, I really want this and you guys are solving every single problem I thought of when I was trying to implement it myself," is super rewarding.

Additionally, our interactions with many fascinating and inspiring individuals from the industry contribute to this fulfilment. Given our small team of only three full-time members, external networking becomes crucial. These industry connections are captivating and encouraging, instilling in me a belief that collective efforts can drive substantial and positive change.

How does your system function?

We're developing a container-sharing platform that operates differently from traditional models by not requiring deposits. What we do functions more like a library. Currently, the process involves downloading our app, becoming a member, and obtaining a unique ID within our system. This ID allows you to borrow numerous reusable containers from any participating store. This includes coffee cups, grocery containers, takeout boxes, and more. The containers must be returned within two weeks. The return location doesn't have to be the same as the pickup location; you can return them to any participating store. As we continue to onboard more stores, the system becomes increasingly convenient.

Our overarching goal is to have return bins situated in various public spaces. Just as we encounter garbage and recycling bins in train stations, bus stops, and plazas, we envision reusable bins becoming just as commonplace. This opens up possibilities for partnerships with cities and waste management companies, facilitating convenience that rivals single-use items. This aligns with our aim of making reuse as effortless as disposable use.

What were the most significant challenges you encountered?

There were many challenges; however, as entrepreneurs, the most considerable challenge is maintaining self-motivation and ensuring you're on the right track. I believe this has been the most significant obstacle— struggling with one's mindset and psychological aspects to ensure you're making the correct decisions and persisting in your efforts. As long as you hold onto the mindset of perseverance and hard work, many business challenges can be overcome with the appropriate assistance. We've been fortunate to have access to numerous mentors, experts, and a supportive startup community in Canada. Accelerators and various programs have also enriched our journey. Nonetheless, the truth remains that productivity will suffer if you cannot maintain your drive. So some challenges have revolved around learning the ropes of entrepreneurship.

How do you manage your mental health, stay grounded, and continue pushing forward when necessary?

I'm still figuring it out, but I've discovered that exercise plays a significant role. Having been a professional ski racer at one point in my life, staying physically active and spending time in nature are natural parts of my routine. Fortunately, living in Vancouver provides plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, allowing me to maintain this lifestyle. So far, regular exercise and maintaining balance are crucial. Prioritising my health by getting sufficient sleep, staying hydrated, and practising self-care has made a real difference.

Building a supportive network has also been essential on the social side of things. Surrounding myself with trustworthy individuals with whom I can openly share my challenges has proven invaluable. This network offers honest, and sometimes tough, advice.

Have you ever experienced significant “Aha!” moments that have influenced your perspective on certain things, your approach to work, or your general attitude?

There have been such moments. I like to focus on the task rather than get distracted by things around me. When something goes well, I avoid excessive celebration, and when faced with challenges, I refrain from dwelling on disappointment for extended periods. Regarding those enlightening moments, there may have been some, yet I haven't dwelled on them excessively. Instead, I acknowledge them as learning opportunities and swiftly integrate the insights.

I'm still determining whether this approach is positive or negative, but I tend to absorb information without a strong immediate reaction. Instead, I prefer to ponder and reflect on it extensively. Even when faced with those “Aha!” moments, I intentionally restrain myself from becoming overly enthusiastic. Instead, I allow the insights to embody and analyse them gradually. Eventually, I make adjustments to my thinking and perspectives over time. It's not about standing still and fixating on the momentousness of the discovery but about incorporating it into my ongoing growth process.

From where do you derive your inspiration? Have you encountered any books that have inspired you, or have you been moved by speeches or connected with specific individuals?

I find inspiration in the pages of many books; there are a few of real, profound importance to me. Apart from that, I'm also often motivated by the actions of people who are deeply involved in meaningful projects.

But I must admit that there isn't a single role model whose newsletter I read every week, finding inspiration within it. For me, it's more about embracing challenges— particularly the significant ones. Whenever a problem arises, there are two ways to approach it: you can cave into frustration, sadness, and fear, or you can view it as an opportunity. Personally, my driving force emerges from not allowing major problems to overwhelm me but rather perceiving them as chances for growth and progress. This mentality propels me forward.

Unless I tackle a particular problem, I don't allow myself to pause or rest, which I recognise might not always be a healthy approach in the long run. For the present, it feels akin to saying, "As long as I have the energy and as long as the pursuit remains logical, it's imperative to keep working hard, even make a minor dent in the issue.".

That’s great. What do you think your most significant compromises or sacrifices have been in reaching your current position?

For me, a significant aspect has involved relocating away from my family. All my family members still reside in Russia, which used to be just a 16-hour flight away, but due to the increased border restrictions, that travel time has now extended to around 30 to 40 hours, making it practically unfeasible. Yet, as we previously discussed, the primary reason driving my decision to leave Russia was the absence of aligned values, particularly regarding sustainability. The prevailing legislative and governmental attitudes there are far from progressive concerning climate change and related matters.

Consequently, I sensed no support or opportunities in such an environment. As a result, I had to withhold my life with my family to relocate somewhere that would allow me to pursue these objectives. Despite this sacrifice, it's a decision I don't regret; I've come to appreciate my new location and my choices.

What future do you hope for or envision in your efforts with Reusables.com?

Our focus is on reusables. This platform is a means to engage the community and empower individuals. Beyond the practical solution of utilising and returning containers to minimise waste, which is excellent, we also aspire to establish a larger brand presence. We aim to play a more significant role in the community, serving as a resource for ordinary people to create a meaningful impact. While ambitious, striving for a zero-waste household can lead to pessimism due to the perceived insignificance of minor changes. But we believe it's essential to emphasise and celebrate even the smallest changes. The collective impact is substantial and positively transformative when numerous individuals make incremental improvements.

What does waste management look like in your household?

It's not the best. I have a roommate, so I can only sometimes influence her decisions. When you live with roommates, you have to find a middle ground. I shop at zero-waste grocery stores as much as possible, but the reality is that you sometimes have to sacrifice convenience and accept higher prices. I'm proud that I haven't used a single-use coffee cup in over a year. It's not necessarily a principle, but I can't do it anymore. It's like, once you see the impact, you can't ignore it.

I think many of our readers can relate to that; I certainly do. Thank you very much for spending some time with us, Anastasia. Your product is beautiful and functional, and we think the core idea of reusable food and drink packaging used like borrowed library books is brilliant. You’re surely headed toward great success, and from all of us at Brighter Future, we sincerely hope you get there.

If you’d to learn more about Reusables, check out www.reusables.com.

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