Origin Story Interview W/ Simone Köchli, Loopi

Origin Story Interview W/ Simone Köchli, Loopi

Brighter Future

 / 

Dec 21, 2022

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #CircularEconomy #Parenting #EcoFriendly #consciousconsumer #sustainableliving #babyessentials #ReduceReuseRecycle #SustainableChoices

Brighter Future

We’re joined by Simone Köchli, co-founder of Loopi, the stroller subscription service offering parents flexibility with their stroller needs.

Hi, Simone! Many thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Could you start by introducing Loopi and what it is that you do?

Loopi is a subscription service that offers rentable strollers, making the parents' lives easier. It can be overwhelming for first-time parents to choose a stroller due to abundance of choice in style and features, etc. And how will they know what their family really needs when they have to make this decision before their child is even born?

Secondly, there is really no perfect stroller for every family, as each family’s needs will change as their child grows. However, with Loopi’s subscription service, you don’t have to worry about making the wrong choice because if the stroller you’ve rented doesn’t meet your needs, you can change it for a different one. So, if you need to change it after a year or two, thinking maybe you want to switch to a lightweight stroller because your child is already walking, our Loopi can provide the stroller that is perfect for your child’s current stage.

What I like about Loopi is its core values of sustainability. We ensure that the strollers have the most extended life possible. So, instead of throwing strollers away after being used, we thoroughly test, service, repair and clean them before making them available for rent again. There are some rental services out there already, but what I think makes us different is that we didn't buy 1000 strollers from a particular brand. We have a partnership with stroller brands such as Bugaboo, which means that these brands are responsible for maintaining and repairing the strollers while they are in our storage. That means, if something breaks or if a stroller is no longer repairable, we can return it to the manufacturer.

This process is changing from the consumption model of a linear economy, where a company depends on selling as many products as possible to increase revenue; for example, if a stroller breaks, a parent will have to buy another stroller. Instead, our model incentivises the increase in the lifespan of their products while making it cost-effective for parents.

That sounds great, and it’s such a simple concept. Can you tell us a bit more about the journey that led you to Loopi?

My path at the beginning was a very traditional one. I worked in the healthcare sector for 15 years. Like most of us, I went through university, gained my degree and applied for a job in a corporate company. But, throughout this time, sustainable topics were constantly on my mind. Later in life, they became a primary focus, eventually bringing me to a point where I felt I needed to change direction and pursue this path instead.

I think I was always aware that we have challenges regarding our environment and its huge destruction. But I was unaware that parts of climate change had started and that we are very close to some critical tipping points. So, when this whole movement started some years ago, and people began to speak out and discuss the environment and climate change, I reached the point where I said I have always cared, but now I can actually see. So, that was when I decided to quit and take a year off. I used the time to find out what I wanted to focus on instead of going from one thing to the next, and I had to reorient myself.

You started your business at a very difficult time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Did this affect you? If so, how?

It made some things more difficult because networking is one of the essential points of starting and running a business. Many other startups will have gone through the same challenges we’ve faced. In this world, it doesn't make sense to do everything without any collaboration because, usually, there is someone to help you, and you can help them. Another important thing about networking is that you can surround yourself with inspiring people and people whom you can help on a similar journey.

With COVID-19, everything went digital. In the beginning, we weren't prepared to go digital. So, it was chaotic, and all the events, networking opportunities, and workshops were gone. Yet now, people have found ways to deal with it.

Secondly, team-building was challenging because we were a team of five co-founders at the very early stage of getting to know each other. It's not just the working relationship; it's a little like a family. So, you need to get to know each other, which is harder if you can't meet in the office.

That must have been difficult to navigate, but, thankfully, as restrictions gradually eased, it must have been a lot easier to meet in person again. What motivated you the most to start Loopi?

We probably all want to do something meaningful. Something that we're passionate about; something where we can leave a positive handprint on the world instead of a negative footprint, right?

But this means, that we all need to read and learn more about climate change. I myself went through the IPCC report and read every single sentence. I realised that we were not changing our behaviours and that we continued to damage the world.

I saw this big opportunity in the circular economy model. We need to change how we use and consume short term products. Moving away from this capitalistic system that gave us a lot of wealth but caused problems like waste and pollution, I reinstalled a circular economy as an alternative to the current system.

So, who are you doing all this for, and why should parents use your subscription service?

In a way, the obvious thing is that we offer an alternative solution for parents. But additionally, it's a way to consume products they only need in the first years of their child's life. I think, in Europe, you can't live without a baby stroller, so giving parents an alternative to today's consumption model is the best way forward. Instead of buying so many of the products they need for a very short time, they can subscribe to products so parents can use them when needed and return them after use.

We removed some of the hassles that parents have. Statistics show that 50% of parents buy a stroller when expecting their first child and are unhappy with the choice. With Loopi, there is no wrong choice. Parents just exchange their strollers as their family needs change. So, I believe we give parents a lot of flexibility through our subscription model. Secondly, subscriptions can also be placed at the last minute. Our delivery time is only 3-5 working days. Whereas you can't do that if you go to a store, you must decide at least four to six weeks in advance.

After ordering all those products from the store, when finished with them, you get rid of them. But with Loopi, it's easy to pick it up as you go and return it to us when you're done. You don't even need to think about cleaning or repairing it and then putting it on a second-hand selling website. So, we make parents’ lives easier.

On the other hand, I see our vision being even broader because we are also like a pioneer project. How many different products and services could use this circularity model? So, I wouldn't focus too much on the strollers—as you will agree, this model could be used for a range of toddler products used for a limited amount of time.

So, you're becoming a role model for the circular economy model?

I would say so because our product follows the circular economy model, meaning you only consume and use the product when needed. So, for example, say we build the perfect stroller, but then it will still be sold and thrown away after two years; it wouldn't make sense because the environmental footprint would support the continuation of climate change. However, if we kept the stroller in the circle economy, we wouldn't have to continue making new strollers.

I hope other companies in the children's industry follow this type of thinking because this model could be applied to all things; people really want to change.

What is your definition of a circular economy?

That’s a good question, and I want to make sure that people understand this because the problem is that there is so much greenwashing going on from a lot of companies. For example, some beverage companies try to make their bottles recyclable. The point I want to make is if you go to a store and buy a bottle, you drink it within a minute, and it's thrown away. Even if the product is considered fully recyclable, in most cases, it isn't. Even if you come up with a recyclable bottle, it doesn't make sense that something's already thrown away after only one period of use.

The idea of a circular economy is not to solely focus on recycling but on keeping a product in the lifecycle as long as possible. So, it's not only about the recyclable stroller. Instead, it's about repeatedly keeping that stroller in use by different families by repairing and refurbishing it. Recycling is only the very last step in order to close the loop.

What gave you the knowledge and the optimism to start Loopi and know it would be a success?

Compared to the corporate world, the cool thing in the startup sector is that no one asks for your CV or what part you're playing. In the corporate world, you need to show a CV and show that you have x, y, and z years of experience in, for example, marketing; otherwise, you wouldn't get the marketing position. In a startup, no one cares if you have a nice Master's degree from a university—people just want to see if you can do it. But, of course, there needs to be something inside you. I, for example, am very confident that if I put something on my plan, I will do everything to reach that goal. I am confident that whatever challenge comes my way, I can overcome it. I can't say that this business will succeed 100% because I know most startups fail, but I will do everything possible to reach that goal.

Were there any times with Loopi that you took a different direction than planned?

The original idea was to build a circular economy stroller. From the initial product development to the final product, showing how you can make strollers using circular economy design principles. These principles are new to science; most people have not yet learned them, and there is little knowledge about them.

One of our co-founders did a Master's thesis about those principles. It showed us how to apply this thinking during our product development. The initial idea was to build a circular economy stroller that we never wanted to sell but offered as part of a subscription service. However, we realised that building a product takes quite a while. We didn't want our new parents, who were interested in Loopi, to wait for us to develop and build our stroller. I learned that this development process takes years. So, instead, while creating the perfect stroller, we changed our approach and said, "Okay, we’ll continue with the product development, but we will also partner with one of the most known brands.” In that way, we established a whole service system. Parents can now choose between known products, like a Bugaboo stroller, and our circular economy stroller.

It's cool that we have early adopters who are now willing to subscribe to products such as strollers instead of buying them. But I think it will get even cooler if we can offer our circular economy stroller that will be perfectly designed for a service model. The circular economy stroller will pioneer stroller design to be repairable, refurbishable and recyclable.

As with most startups, things are never usually plain sailing, did you experience any failures or struggles starting Loopi?

I wouldn't say we had any failures so far. Of course, we had struggles, like every startup, but somehow, as a team, we overcame them. There is no other part of life where you have so many battles than when you have your own company. There are new challenges and struggles every day. So, the question is, are you determined enough to believe in yourself, stick together as a team, support each other, and say “let's do it together”?

Another challenge is establishing a circular economy service model with big international brands. These challenges were due to political regulations, which made it harder for businesses in Switzerland to implement that model.

We think it's advantageous to share knowledge and give away some know-how. So why not collaborate and work together? Why should we all separate? Is it because we fear that others will steal our know-how and ideas? We believe sharing is better because things can grow, and something even better can emerge.

Collaboration, working together, and sharing ideas are crucial to reaching shared sustainability goals and helping the planet. What was the biggest sacrifice that you had to make when you started?

I'm not sure if I'd call it a sacrifice, but the financial part was a huge investment. You need to invest in your idea; you cannot just let others invest. During the startup phase, we had small salaries, so we were at the edge of how we could live. I wouldn't call it a sacrifice; some things are easier in the corporate world, and some are nicer in a startup.

You can't find the perfect person for everything you need in a company. Most things need to be done by the five—or now, six—of us. For example, I had to do logistics, which I've never done. I had to grow over the year. I was willing to do whatever it took to make this business successful, and I needed to grow as a person.

With a normal job, if you lose it, you won't care as much, unlike in your startup; if the business fails, it is terrible. It's like a new baby where you want to feed it and ensure it learns to walk. You really care about it. Sometimes, it's hard to switch off your brain, so you’re constantly thinking about it. It's a delicate balance because work and free time are not separated as much. This can be advantageous because it's your passion; you like what you do.

It must take a lot of time and effort to run a business like Loopi and make it a success. With the world how it is today—with war, a pandemic and other atrocities—how do you see or envision our future?

We all want to live in a world that we would wish for our children. I envision a world that is safe and is at least as good for them as it is for us. An environment where our children can grow, be happy, explore, and so on. Although I sometimes feel like we live in a hostile world, it is important to envision a beautiful future, one where humanity doesn't go extinct. I'm pregnant, and I want to give my child a safe future to grow up.

Do you think it's possible?

I guess, but not by sitting in my chair and waiting for others to do something. It will only happen by getting active and trying to be part of the change and the solution. So, that gives me hope. I try to focus on the positive side but also be aware of the negatives and the facts. We can make a difference if there are many of us; even small changes can significantly contribute. So, Loopi is a contribution to something way more significant.

Every bit helps. We could be part of the solution, no matter how small the contribution. When you're no longer on this earth, how would you like people to look back on you and your journey?

I don’t think that I’m an important person. People from other startups always want to know so much about me, but actually, I'm not sure if Loopi is really about me or my personality, but it's about something bigger. For me, people don't have to remember me as a person. I don't want to be an Einstein. I don't have to be someone who is remembered. Instead, I focus more on what I can do when I'm here, not when I'm gone. I know there will be others who, hopefully, will do something positive for other human beings so that we can continue.

I want to conserve more of nature and all that beauty on our planet that others can enjoy. But to remembered as a person, that's not important to me.

Do you have any advice for your younger self and young entrepreneurs just starting their journey?

There's one piece of advice. If you start the entrepreneurial journey, many people will tell you that it won't work, that you shouldn't do it, that they won't invest in, whatever it is, or they'll be negative about it. Listening to others with more experience is important, but don't let that stop you. If you believe that something can work, keep going and don't hold yourself back. Just try it, because at least you will find out if it works, rather than looking back at your life and never knowing if that idea could have become a reality. Be confident in yourself; you can do it if you want to.

When we leave university, people are so afraid that they need to find a job and need to be well paid. Allow yourself time to breathe and find out what your purpose is and what you're really passionate about. Don't hold yourself back with all the boundaries that society might teach you. Try to grow as a person.

If there was a message you could impart that everyone in the world would hear, what would that be?

We're all in this together. Sometimes, we've all been fighting against each other. We’ve been making boundaries, whether real or artificial, and this is worsening things. Remember, this is the planet we all share, and we should be helping each other.

Thank you, Simone, for your time today. We wish you every success with Loopi. We hope that the many parents looking for their next stroller consider the more sustainable options available and contribute to change.

If you would like to find out more about Simone and Loopi, you can find them at www.loopi.ch/en.

To stay up to date with our latest content and interviews with amazing people like Simone, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter.

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