Knook #9: Again Again
Meet the company enabling takeaway without the throw away.
I’ll admit it. When it comes to using a keep cup, I’m a bit of a shocker.
Mine sits on my desk — great for the mid-morning nip-out-for-a-coffee-break but not so great if I’m grabbing one on the way to work. Carrying it with me to and from work would inevitably result in me forgetting it, losing it or breaking it.
One company set to change this is Again Again.
Again Again is a cup-lending system. As co-founder Nada Piatek explains, it enables “takeaway without the throw away.” They’re primarily a distribution business, with the expressed purpose of ending single-use waste through their sustainable system that can support New Zealand’s on-the-go coffee culture in a guilt free way.
Again Again’s system allows customers to check out a sustainable, reusable cup for those individuals — like me — who forgot theirs. When you order a coffee in an Again Again cup, you pay a $3 usage fee which is refunded once you return the cup. The cups can be returned to any participating Again Again cafe, not just the one you ordered your coffee from.
The system was validated in Wellington in November 2018, and then commercialised in February 2019. Since then, they have had 70 cafes in Wellington come onboard, and have launched in Auckland, Christchurch and the Southern Lakes with more to come. There are currently 170 cafes signed up to date. Their waiting list is sitting at 100 cafes.
With sustainability at the heart of what they do, Again Again also offsets their carbon to 120% on freighting, and gives 3% of revenue back to community organisations working on waste minimisation.
I asked Nada how they got started.
“I was working in the industry and acutely aware of the issues around single-use coffee cups — one day I just had a lightbulb moment that this is what we should do. I quit my job the next day.
“I was previously in the leadership team at Sustainability Trust and I’d been focused on projects around helping businesses with waste minimisation. It’s an area I’m well-versed in and could see that combining the operational needs of the partner vendors with the positive environmental impact would create a commercially viable business model.
“First we tested a lot of product. We knew it was going to be impossible to change the cups themselves after launching, so we gave a lot of thought to materials and how we would source them.
“Initially we started that process of finding the best deal for the best product. At the same time, we were cementing our business values — no child labour, full sustainability etc. We’re importing cups and lids are from China — so we wanted to ensure that our partners met certified food safety standards, social certification (child labour free), no plastic in cups or lids, non-toxic dyes and forestry friendly. In the interests of full transparency, we couldn’t achieve all of these values in the first order. But as we’ve gone along, we’ve moved our production and supply chains to reflecting our values.
“In terms of our manufacturer, we had some ‘veto’ things we wouldn’t budge on, as well as price requirements, but at the end of the day it came down to customer service. The companies we work with are kind and nice and generous. It was an excellent foundation for the start of Again Again to take the time to develop those relationships.
“I had a three month period between leaving for Again Again and actually piloting the system. In all honesty, those were lonely months. From previous ventures, I had anticipated the snowball effect of the business and so I spent that time doing lots of dull things — writing company policies, setting up a payroll system for employees we didn’t have, drafting employment contracts. All the stuff I knew I wouldn’t have time to do later,” laughs Nada.
“Then we launched the trial with an initial pilot of 14 cafes. Peoples Coffee were great champions from early on and helped testing the cups during the pilot.
“Mojo Coffee were our first commercial clients and as you’ll know, they’re a big business. We had a meeting one day about them adopting the system, and the next day I got a call saying ‘Hey, let’s launch next week’. We didn’t have the cups for them so had to put the brakes on a bit, but it was great to see how enthusiastic they were. We had to get the order in to our manufacturers, but didn’t have heaps of cash flow to make it happen as quickly as Mojo wanted. So they paid for their order upfront and basically helped us bootstrap. It’s been great to see a big business look after the little guys in the industry. Mojo has real foresight and their commitment to sustainability is strong.
“For some of the big guys, using Again Again isn’t necessarily cheaper for them — they’ve got some great economy of scale in ordering single-use cups. All this means that the financial saving for them from our system are less, but because they’re really behind what we’re doing, they make the call to sign up anyway. They want to be on the right side of history and to do the right thing by the environment.”
I asked Nada what the uptake has been like.
Says Nada, “Oh the uptake has been next level — we had 170 cafes signed up in the first 9 months. More than half of the takeaway coffees leaving Vic Books in Wellington are in Again Again cups.
“We’re currently supporting a cohort in Wanaka, who have pledged to see their whole region single-use cup free by 2022. As we’ve gone along, we’ve been predicting what the uptake will be for a cafe and suggesting an initial order size based on that. Normally a cafe will make a reorder after one month. In Wanaka, every cafe has reordered five times in the six weeks since they launched.
“Initially we wouldn’t launch in an area with less than 10 cafes interested in participating. But we’ve just launched a network where individual cafes can launch the system and champion it in their area as it snowballs.
“The real thing that restricts our speed of growth is the lead times, as everything is imported from China.”
I asked Nada what the motivation behind the brand is.
“Education alone struggles to affect change without infrastructure to support it. I firmly believe that businesses have to sort themselves out, in order to make it easier for consumers to have good behaviour. There’s a need for infrastructure to support change,” says Nada.
“Here’s a personal story. For our family, you can imagine we’re very focused on waste minimisation. I make my own bread at home but I simply cannot make enough bread every week to make lunches for my kids to take to school. Therefore I have to buy loaves of bread in plastic — that’s two plastic bags a week that I can’t eliminate from our waste as a household.
“Responsibility should sit with business to improve consumer behaviours. Proper governance and compliance is the last piece of the puzzle to improve this. If businesses were required to think about the whole-of-life cycle of the packaging their product comes in — like the plastic bags for my bread — then they would either innovate to work out a cheaper way to package, or put costs up on the product to account for the real recycling of their packaging.
“We’ve been criticised for validating the on-the-go attitude of consumers who want convenience. Of course it would be better if everyone used crockery in the cafe, but it’s not a 1–0 equation — customer behaviour change is a long journey and we believe we’re smoothing the path towards waste minimisation.
“Quite simply, we are making it easier for people to do something that they wouldn’t have done yesterday.”
I ask what challenges they’ve faced in this journey.
Says Nada, “Cash flow is always hard — we’re tracking on forecast, but all small businesses invest a lot before they crawl out of that cashflow dip. Our business has been embraced so rapidly that that rate of growth puts further pressure on cashflow.
“Another challenge is really a problem of success — we’ve got heaps of demand for product but we constantly need to be prioritising. Every week over an above cafes wanting to join we have about five requests: one international, two for events and two saying they love what we’re doing but can we pivot to apply to their specific business.
“We’ve had become good at saying no, particularly in people looking for variations in our product. It does mean we’re building a great pipeline of where to next and where to scale, but at the moment we just have to say ‘Thanks for your enthusiasm but we can’t help you.’ Some of those opportunities are really hard not to follow but we’re seasoned enough to stay focused.”
I asked what advice Nada would give to other entrepreneurs or small business owners.
“ I think the big one for me is to have integrity in every decision you make. Don’t ever remake a decision. Make the right decision for the right reasons at the time and use that as a foundation for your next decision. This doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind with new info, but I would say you’re not rethinking an old decision, you’re making a new one,” Nada says.
“I have a long term mentor who has been there on my business journey, and he taught me that — I made a decision that flew in the face of his advice, but he modelled the power in learning from that. It transpired that I had made the wrong decision in the long run but I learnt a lot from that process.
“In business, it’s not as black and white as a right or wrong decision (unless its an ethical one) but both will take you on a journey. At that junction, you have to ask yourself ‘Do I know where I’m going and will this help me get there?’”
I asked Nada where to next for Again Again.
“We’ll be heading into an investment round — fundraising in the short-term with the medium-term goal to have a strategic funding approach to growth. We don’t want to grow so fast that we fall on our face!
“The opportunity to create impact in the single-use industry is enormous. We will grow to address the problem where we can create the greatest impact — food containers and global expansion are the two big growth areas on the horizon.”
Originally published at https://www.knooknz.com on January 21, 2020.