Julia and Jordy Kay, the co-founders of Great Wrap, weren't materials scientists before they founded a materials science company – Julia was an architect and Jordy was a winemaker. But a mutual frustration at the hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic wrap used to cover pallets of building materials and product shipments sent them down a rabbit hole that would change their lives.
Now, three years later, the duo are behind a company that sells compostable plastic wrap made from potato waste. After selling their product to consumers to help build up brand awareness, they're finally set to sell to a waitlist of more than 3,000 businesses. But, as they were launching in an area that neither of the co-founders had a background in, they had to do things a little bit differently. Here are Julia's tips for making it work.
Find your corner of the market. Plastic waste is a nearly unfathomably large issue to tackle – global plastic production has reached more than 460 million tons, coming from packaging, clothing and consumer goods, with about half of that amount ending up in landfills. Focusing on a specific problem area – it's estimated that only 5.4% of pallet wrap is recycled globally – helped Julia and Jordy gain momentum. ‘If you think about plastic holistically, it can be pretty intimidating,’ Julia says. ‘We had the idea to attack pallet wrap as a product because it felt like the only segment of the plastic market that [was] big enough to make a difference, but also achievable for us to work on.’
If you're not an expert, seek one out. Julia and Jordy didn't know that potato waste would be their silver bullet. But they started their research by going to those who would know: people who ran home-composting businesses. From this research, they partnered with a team of scientists at Monash University in Melbourne and found a manufacturing company in Idaho that was working on a similar product. Having these groups on board helped them raise their initial round of funding. ‘We don't necessarily want to be experts at everything,’ she says. ‘It's just knowing how to find those experts and have the conversation to solve the problem.’
You may be more of an expert than you think. Julia was able to use her background in architecture to help with project management, while Jordy found the process of making their materials – essentially fermentation – similar to his previous work in natural winemaking. Plus, their initial brand launch drummed up interest and potential sales that later helped with investors. ‘There are a lot of businesses with amazing technology that stay in universities and aren't able to be commercialized,’ Julia says. ‘Because we had that traction with an actual product, we could say: look, we can take a product and people will buy it.’
Don't be afraid to take the long road. While they were keen to go after the business market, they launched Great Wrap in March 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic really kicked off. So they had to change tack. Instead, with people spending more time at home, they focused on building a consumer product, which led to better brand awareness. ‘If we just come straight into the market with a B2B product, it's really hard to talk about pallet wrap and [make] the majority of people get excited,’ Julia says. ‘In 24 hours [after launching on Instagram], we had emails from international airports and the largest winery in Australia asking about what we were doing. I think that was probably the moment that Jordy and I were like: OK, we're on to something here. It's not just us searching for something meaningful – this is really important.’