Tru Earth – A Revolution in Laundry
Tru Earth is a company with a mission, and Brad Liski, the company’s CEO and co-founder wastes no time telling us what it is. Tru Earth is a rapidly growing company, but it’s also the vanguard of a movement.
“At its core, Tru Earth is a movement to eradicate plastic from household products,” he tells us. “It’s morphed into an eco-friendly household product company, with a suite of products running and being launched over the next 18 months.”
Tru Earth’s lead product is their laundry eco-strip. It’s a simple concept, a patented dissolving sheet detergent that removes the need for bulky plastic bottles and cleans clothes as well as any other detergent. But it’s disrupting a multi-billion-dollar industry.
“Without question, our unique value proposition is that we are producing zero-waste products, but more important than that is the movement that has been created around them,” Liski says. “The ChangeMakers which are our customers are really driving this growth. We’re the second-fastest start-up in Canada and the fastest retail start-up in 15 years. We’re already in 55countries.”
The Tru Earth movement is built around three core values. “Simplicity”, “Empowerment”, and “Integrity”, and they can be found in everything Tru Earth does.
“We will never compromise our values to cut costs,” Liski insists. “We produce in Canada rather than bringing it in from offshore. It makes it more expensive, but I won’t short-change the environment to make a profit.”
Tru Earth has grown with astonishing rapidity, even during the coronavirus pandemic. But while Tru Earth has taken all precautions to combat COVID-19, it’s the growth itself that has proven the biggest challenge.
“Our first sale was in April 2019 and last month we did $4 million for a $16 product,” Liski points out. “The sheer volume of sales has allowed us to add 100 new employees during a time when we can’t have more than ten people in a building at any one time.”
While COVID-19 brought challenges with it, Liski at least had the benefit of having navigated a business through two previous global crises.
“I was unfortunate enough to be running businesses impacted by both 9/11 in 2001 and the housing crisis in 2008, so I had that previous experience to draw on,” Liski says. “We de-risked the organisation, made sure the supply chain had continuity plans in place and assessed the sales pipeline. We implemented a chain of command and went very vertical so every individual knew exactly what to do every day. We went transparent, having weekly town hall meetings so everyone could tell us a win they had achieved. We created a mindset of positivity, building on the processes we already had built, instead of trying to reinvent them.”
Furthering the Cause
But even this task is dwarfed next to the challenges of bringing a new and disruptive product into the well-entrenched consumer-packaged-goods market.
“We realised we had to continue to push innovation. The initial launch sold over ten-times what we’d expected, and that’s when we realised there was something more to it than a really cool product,” says Liski “As it grew, we saw a requirement for more products. Our critical cause is eliminating plastic so we were looking for ways to do that.”
It’s a cause that has become increasingly urgent, as the trend towards declining plastic levels has been reversed by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. A detergent that can arrive in a biodegradable paper envelope rather than in a plastic bottle is a valuable proposal.
But as valuable a contribution as that is, it’s useless if it’s not accessible to as many people as possible, as Liski points out, “Environmental products often get labelled as only for the rich. What we’ve done is launch a match programme where for every first order that’s made, we will send laundry detergent to shelters, food banks, and charities, as far away as Ghana. The product is perfect for putting in a tub and washing clothes or putting in a backpack rather than hauling around a big plastic bottle.”
People on a Mission
Tru Earth’s work has always been a people-powered movement, but from the beginning, it was a challenge to draw in people with the right skills.
“When we began, we had to fight to find new talent. Nobody knew of the product or our objective, so it was a lot of work and a lot of interviewing,” Liski remembers. “But as the movement took off, the talent started tapping on the door.”
Tru Earth’s higher calling has drawn in some key talent from across the industry.
“Recently we hired a COO from Keurig, as well as Gillette. She brings 30 years of experience in CPG but she wanted to wake up in the morning feeling like she’s making a difference,” Liski says. “A recently hired director of sales has 18 years of experience with Johnson & Johnson, and he has the exact same mindset.”
It’s a mindset that permeates the entire company.
“We’re ChangeMakers, making sure every individual in the company knows they can create true change,” Liski insists. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re packing an order, cleaning a warehouse floor, or leading the sales team. They’re all treated as ChangeMakers equally.”
This is why when Tru Earth’s staff meet up to talk the discussion isn’t about productivity orders or efficiency targets.
“We meet to talk about the critical cause, how many jugs we’ve saved from landfills. We find people would rather rally around saving the planet than making a business run a bit faster and a bit better,” Liski tells us. “Ironically, that will often drive them to do things faster and better! Because they understand they have to make an impact now.”
A Movement for the Future
Tru Earth has had a launch that most start-ups can only dream of.
“We’re an 18-month-old company at a $45 million run rate. The future involves continued hypergrowth but in the next six months we’ll also be launching in-country distribution in our top ten international markets,” Liski says. “We’re servicing 55 countries right now, but what we’re most excited about is our first in-country distribution in the UK this January. Then within 30 days of that, we’ll have Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Southern Europe, all slated to launch. From a product perspective, each quarter there will be a new product launched in the zero-waste space.”
All of these operations are geared towards inspiring a genuine, significant change in the laundry room, the kitchen and the bathroom. But as hard as Tru Earth and its people are working to achieve this, Liski is keen to point out that their customers are a central part of the equation.
“We’re a movement, and what that means is that the customers are the biggest ChangeMakers, and are now dictating what the future will be,” Liski says. “They’re going beyond just wanting to know how well it cleans.”
At the same time, Tru Earth’s movement is an inclusive one, and Liski rejects the preconception that all green activists have made a full-time job out of it.
“The problem has been that environmentalists and environmentalism are labelled as a binary, you’re either in or you’re out, and that misses this whole grey area of people who want to do what they can while living their own lives,” Liski says. “Our objective is to allow people the ability to make small changes. Many hinges can swing big doors. If it’s just one change they’re making, then soon they make another change, another change and another change, and very quickly a big impact is being made. Our goal is for people to help save the planet- not save the planet on their own. We all have to work together to make this work, no one person or company can come in and do it all.”