Taking a leap
May 17, 2016 · 6 min read

Since I was very young, I’ve loved planting seeds. In high school I co-founded the Sierra Student Coalition, the Sierra Club’s student program, in the hopes of passing legislation to create Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. Many years later the SSC has grown into more than I could have ever dreamed on campuses across the U.S. In a way, this early experience was a seed of its own — my life has followed the inevitable and unpredictable twists and turns, the branches and changes of season, but the roots are still there. Of course, I could never have known where my path would take me — I certainly could never have imagined Yerdle when I was mapping desert canyons to be protected.

And now, I face another branch, another fork in the road. Yerdle recently moved its 1 millionth item, a 16 CD French language set. With that milestone achieved, I feel that it’s time for me to pass on my day-to-day responsibilities and begin my next adventure towards a sustainable world.

I’m enormously proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and I know that my co-founder Andy Ruben will lead Yerdle to scale. We’ve built an amazing community of dedicated people who truly believe in the mission.

Their commitment gives me faith that Yerdle will build on our success:

To date, 900,000 members across the U.S. have saved over $25 Million by using Yerdle. By re-using 1 million items they’ve prevented 2.5 million pounds of coal from having to be burned. They’ve saved 740 million gallons of clean water, the equivalent of 2 weeks of water for the entire city of San Francisco.

Thousands of people, including actress Ashley Judd, joined the Unshopping Challenge.

The pathway to this milestone was sometimes painful, usually challenging, and always rewarding. We failed constantly. We tested thousands of variations of user experience, messaging and platform. The Yerdle of today is so different from where we started: We launched as a gift economy for your local friends on Facebook. We drove around an ice cream truck collecting stuff from people at Dolores Park and Atlas Cafe. We held hacka-surfa-sharathons, coded all night, and drew inspiration from the ocean during surf breaks.

We had no currency or means to ship items. We eventually developed an alternative currency, opened up the network and made it easy to ship items. We found our audience, millennial women between 18–28. Yerdle took off.

Yerdle members often decorate their packages for eachother

For my part, there are several things I’ve learned about myself — my strengths and weaknesses as a leader, my “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns,” to borrow a phrase — and, as always, I have much to be proud of, and much room to grow. We began Yerdle with an environmental argument for why we should re-use our stuff, but it quickly became clear that saving money was the top motivation for our members, who, like most Americans, are one $400 expense away from financial disaster. Millennials expect sustainability to be built in to the services they use.

I grew during my time as head of product at Yerdle. I love big audacious ideas, but I’ve come to believe that ideas are less important than teams that can test dozens of ideas. Even with a killer team, every big new idea, no matter how exciting, has less than a 50% chance of succeeding. In other words: I now trust A/B tests more than zealotry. Show me, don’t tell me.

I’ve also learned a lot about the broader community of entrepreneurs and investors who engage technology as a transformative force. It’s thrilling to be surrounded by people who, like my activist colleagues, profess a desire to change the world. But “changing the world” can’t be a lazy slogan. I’m reminded of the Princess Bride character Inigo Montoya, who said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Most consumer tech isn’t world-changing; life-changing, perhaps. We need more world-changing investments, and we need them yesterday.

I’ve learned that building around a societal mission is important in Silicon Valley too. Setting up Yerdle as a California Benefit Corporation helped us recruit talent, saved us from taking on the wrong investors, and pulled us through the inevitable moments of utter despair. At one lean moment we were nearly compelled to accept a financing that would keep the lights on but went against our values. Since we were among the first venture-backed California Benefit Corporations, the lack of legal precedent restrained our ability to take a bad deal.

I’ve also re-affirmed my belief as an activist that, when you truly believe in a cause, you should never take no for an answer. When we launched, multiple CEOs of major apparel companies actually laughed in my face at the prospect of people re-using their clothes and shoes. Today I promise you that every major product company will have a re-use program for its products before the decade is over.

We’re drowning in stuff. Self-storage is up 1000% in the last 30 years in the U.S. There’s no room to park a car in 75% of American garages. The world buys 100 billlion garments a year and a ginormous number of toys.

The U.S. has 4.1% of the world’s children and purchases 40% of the world’s toys. There are 55 Legos for every person on the planet.

It’s insane that it’s still easier to get a new coffeemaker than to get a used one sitting in your neighbor’s garage. That’s all starting to change. Millennials don’t want to own useless stuff, and our planet can’t afford to provide it.

Here’s my prediction: Within a decade 1/4 of all of the things you use will have been used by someone else first.

One final thing I’ve learned, don’t name your company Yerdle unless you’re alright with SIRI spelling it ‘Urinal.’

Why am I making a change? To be honest, I’ve given Yerdle my heart and soul, learned a whole new set of skills, and helped it through some rough transitions. I’m ready to hand the reins over. The seed is sprouting, we’re heading towards technological breakthroughs that will allow us to auto-magically identify all of your unused stuff.

Preparing to talk about re-use at Davos with CNN’s Richard Quest

My sweet spot is in starting new initiatives and in helping very large institutions reinvent themselves. I haven’t figured out what’s next; I’m open to suggestions, and I’m equally open to taking a break, spending time with my three young kids, and letting my spectacular wife Lyn fully own the family spotlight as the COO of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

For now I’m happy to become a member of the Yerdle community and share my idle things with all of you who use it. It’s really an amazing community. There are so many stories of Yerdlers going above and beyond to give back, to really make a difference — I can’t really do them justice, but there’s one I’d like to leave you with.

Eve Hiatt makes sure that when child refugees reach new apartments in Louisville, Kentucky, they find the things they need for a new life, from crockpots to school bags, waiting for them. She works with the Yerdle community to set up their new homes with love for their new beginning in America. The things in your garage can make a difference in someone’s life right now. The seed is sprouting. The roots are deepening. Change is coming.

A thank you from kids in Kentucky helped by Yerdle


Written by

Environmental activist & social entrepreneur. Co-founder, Yerdle. Sierra Club former President. Author, Strategy for Sustainability.

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