Never underestimate the importance of a strong founding team. If you’re trying to create the next best thing on your own, you probably need to give up the unicycle and surround yourself with great partners.
As part of my series about how companies are becoming more sustainable, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Deitz, Taylan Pince, and Linsay Moran, the three co-founders of Unwrapit Inc.
Peter Deitz is a successful serial entrepreneur committed to creating e-companies that have a deeply-rooted social and environmental purpose. Peter serves as a full-time co-founder of Unwrapit Inc, a social purpose business that helps companies spark and maintain meaningful connections through a fun, innovative, and easy-to-use virtual gifting platform. He is joined by his co-founders Linsay Moran, an operational leader, committed to social impact businesses and with extensive experience in sponsorships and events, and Taylan Pince, a product and team leader with over 20 years of experience building and scaling technology startups.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
PD: All of us have consciously rooted our careers in social impact in some way or another.
If you visit Taylan’s LinkedIn page, the first thing you’ll see is a statement that guides him, “building the future with tech + empathy”. This thought is deeply ingrained in our product methodology, as we all believe that technology should be about more joyful and accessible experiences for people.
From childhood, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. In University, I became more socially, politically, and environmentally minded. From that point, I realized that starting businesses would only offer a sense of purpose if they were contributing to advancing a cause or righting some kind of wrong. I later discovered the BCorp movement and have been committed to creating enduring companies with BCorp certification.
And for Linsay, losing a young friend to breast cancer just after university graduation led her to work for a non-profit within an events context initially. That opened up her aperture and an eventual conscious decision to focus on social impact work including women’s leadership and now, sustainably minded gifting through Unwrapit.
We are all parents. We all care a lot about the future of our planet and what we’re leaving behind for our children. We feel it’s our responsibility to do our part to minimize the waste that is inevitably part of an industry (corporate gifting) so heavily rooted in the linear economy.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
Unwrapit: We believe that giving gifts and making a positive impact can be one and the same. A recent Forbes article placed the corporate gifting market at almost $250B and growing (up from $125M this time three years ago). We know that the vast majority of these gifts are physical in nature. We’ve all received them. Mostly a lot of logo “stuff” that a company assumes will keep its brand top of mind.
Single use or multi-use, sustainably produced or otherwise, a physical gift still has to be manufactured, packaged, shipped, and ultimately discarded. In some cases it may not be appreciated or wanted and surfaces more guilt and frustration than joy and gratitude.
Our ultimate goal at Unwrapit is to minimize the number of physical gifts that are given at events and through corporate gifting as this in turn minimizes the number of physical items that end up in landfill and create emissions through manufacturing & shipping.
The way we’re going to achieve that goal is by transforming an often impersonal and cookie-cutter approach to digital delivery. Instead, Unwrapit provides a highly personalized digital gift giving experience that allows our customer to fully immerse their gift recipients in their brand, messaging and content. While offering end-users (recipients) a fun experience and the ability to choose a sustainably-minded gift that resonates most with them. It’s a win/win for them, and an extra win for the planet.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
The climate crisis is real and barrelling toward us. The next decade is going to require many companies to completely transform the way they do business in order to avoid runaway global warming. Some of the biggest players have made bold and challenging commitments to uphold and we can help them succeed.
Shifting away from physical gift giving to experiential, digital, and charitable gift giving is an easy way for companies to embrace sustainability. They can integrate this type of giving seamlessly, without friction and with no need to significantly change their operations. They simply use Unwrapit instead of procuring a physical gift. The circularity is built in. In this way we often say that we help insert our customers into the circular economy as we design the waste out of gifting in the first place.
This shift may appear small and insignificant when compared to decarbonizing a company’s main business. But in the aggregate, it adds up to a substantial decrease in emissions and is a shift that a company can make regardless of their industry and type of product or service.
Unwrapit is also a member of 1% for the Planet. Each year, we donate 1% of our revenue to nonprofits working on causes related to the environment and we are currently in the process of becoming a certified BCorp. To certify, a company needs to demonstrate what it is doing within its operations to protect the environment. The certification process gives us a framework and an approach to ensure our business operations are as environmentally sustainable as possible.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
The urgency created by a rapidly warming planet is forcing business decisions that favour circular solutions and sustainable processes over linear ones. Overtime, they are becoming the less expensive, higher value option.
When it comes to corporate gifting, it is already the case that sending a branded promotional product is more expensive than the alternative. Just about all physical gifts have two “shipping taxes” built in. First, there’s the tax of shipping physical gifts to a warehouse. And then there’s the “shipping tax” of getting the manufactured gift to recipients. Both of these “taxes” are paid by corporate customers monetarily and by the planet in terms of emissions. Gifts that don’t require manufacturing don’t have these costs. As a result, companies that embrace this kind of sustainable gifting can be more profitable. We would argue that they are also building deeper relationships by making their values more visible to their customers and employees.
Competition is also a driving factor. “Circularity is a trigger for continuous innovation, enabling a company to deepen its engagement with its business and customer base ahead of competitors.” That statement is included on page 7 of the Circular Economy Business Toolkit recently re-released and updated by the National Zero Waste Council (NZWC). It’s a great document. It is well worth a scan for those interested in learning more about how to embed their business in the circular economy. And perhaps more importantly, why they would want to.
And on a purely dollars and cents/logistics basis — we offer our customers the opportunity to carry their gifting budget from one unwrapping experience to the next. In traditional (physical) gifting the gifts there is a ‘breakage fee’ as items are often date-stamped or tied to the event or initiative in question. Once they’re printed, any overage or leftover is destined for landfill. Our model bucks this industry norm. We encourage our customers to give in a sustainably minded way by supporting their efforts and shifting their gifting budget to minimize waste, both monetarily and physically.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion, what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
This is a great question for us as we’re all parents and we are all experiencing this daily.
Kids are sponges. They are so interested in the decisions that adults make. We have the opportunity to be role models for the next generation in both small and big ways. And in turn, to be inspired and held accountable by the moral clarity and urgency that children and young adults bring to the conversation.
Our children’s generation will be truly and fully aware of climate change from an early age. If we (government, big business, small business and parents) lead by example, making low carbon and sustainable decisions won’t be difficult for them. In fact, it will be second nature (pun intended).
First and foremost, connecting kids to nature is key. That’s important to each of our three families. If our kids understand what we’re all fighting for and what’s at stake, they’ll engage. Rooting our children in an understanding that they are part of nature and not separate from it is one of our highest priorities.
Secondly, it’s easy to assume that the concept of climate change and global warming is too big or difficult for young children to understand. Instead, ask them questions. Engage them in conversation. Help them understand that big and small decisions they make daily can add up to a large impact.
For example, recently, Peter’s three-year-old son was very concerned about the forest fires in Western Canada and Ontario over the summer. One evening, unprompted, he explained to a dinner guest that pollution was making the climate “hot and hotter” and that it was leading to forest fires. The fact that he grasps these concepts and sees his family making choices that reduce pollution creates a coherent narrative for him that grounds him on the right side of the biggest story of his time.
There are big things we can do to lead by example for our children. Decarbonizing our households is one of them. For example, Peter’s family recently replaced its gas furnace with a cold climate heat pump. They have plans to replace their gas hot water tank as well. Linsay’s family has an induction oven and stove instead of a gas powered stove. Taylan’s family plans to get an electric cargo bike to get around the streets of Barcelona (where he lives).
Another thing parents can do is encourage, from an early age, a love for plant-rich meals. While opinions abound about the way we eat, focusing on eating more locally sourced, plant-rich meals is an obvious way to minimize our carbon footprint. Take kids to the local market, point out “product of” labels in the grocery store, and encourage them to make environmentally conscious decisions.
We can look at the small things too. For example pre-pandemic, it was easy to always make sure we were using reusable cups when we got takeout coffee. That’s slowly returning to retailers in Canada and is a small thing and an opportunity for a conversation with our kids. Reusable bags engage the same type of conversation. Linsay’s kids admonish her on the off times that she forgets. She loves that they notice this and understand the importance of reducing plastic waste.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
We all came into Unwrapit with hard-won lessons and past experiences that helped shape our approach to this business. So in that way, we were fortunate, and not first-time business builders.
The thing we wished we better understood was the very strong pull to traditional gifting. The customers that we work with who ‘get’ what we’re offering, get it in spades. They are our best champions and have utilized Unwrapit in ways that we hadn’t even envisioned when we started out.
It’s been challenging to find the forward-thinkers who are open to trying a different approach. But we know the tide will continue to shift over time and because there is a growing urgency around making better decisions for our planet. We often say that we seem to be a few years ahead of our time. So ask us this question again in a few years!
In the meantime, our Top 5 would be:
- Customers buy a product because it solves a problem first and foremost. The fact that it’s sustainable isn’t enough. It has to create value for the customer and help them get a job done.
- Pricing something new is difficult. We had to test multiple approaches to pricing our product before we found one that was easy to explain and didn’t hold customers back from choosing Unwrapit.
- Patience and urgency are crucial ingredients of any successful business. Every business owner needs to know from which well to draw based on the challenge and circumstance.
- Never underestimate the importance of a strong founding team. If you’re trying to create the next best thing on your own, you probably need to give up the unicycle and surround yourself with great partners.
- Getting enough sleep, eating well, having a reason to smile and laugh, and practicing self-compassion are not nice-to-haves. They are the foundation for entrepreneurial success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Over the past year, we’ve been able to go from concept, to newly formed founding team, to product launch with paying customers, to a growing team. We could not have achieved this kind of progress in under one year without each other. Most remarkable of all, in hindsight, is that we were able to get Unwrapit to where it is today while contending with virtual schooling, remote work, and collectively 6 kids under 6.
We are also fortunate to have a strong group of advisors who support Unwrapit. They joined us early on and are part of our journey because we trust their expertise and their intuition about our business. Having a small, curated group of individuals to reach out to to ask the tough questions is key.
You are doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Unwrapit is on a mission to help companies break free from the conventional thinking that corporate gift gifting = giving something physical.
We see our very particular work in this area as fitting into the much larger movement around the circular economy. As industries and systems move from linear practices to circular, we believe that ripples of positive impact will extend to people and the planet.
Engaging in and supporting the circular economy is as big and revolutionary of a concept as the industrial revolution was, many years ago.
Just as so many of us can’t imagine living without modern comforts & conveniences, in 5 or 10 years we hope the same will apply to psychological attachment to living in a circular economy. We see ourselves as helping to create the future by challenging convention and shifting culture. It will take hundreds of thousands of professionals embracing the same kind of systemic change to effect the wholesale transformation of market capitalism into one that’s compatible with respecting the natural limits of our beautiful planet.
At the individual level we hope that consumers will find ways to start questioning the gifts they are given by companies. While there is always good intention behind a gift, does it match the values and sustainability goals of the gifting company? Or is there a misalignment? Is the event you’re attending touting green and eco decisions and then giving out wasteful physical gifts? We all need to remind businesses that we are concerned about the environment, admire them when they demonstrate the same concern, and reward them for taking a strong stance while experimenting with new ways of doing what they’ve always done.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
Drawing on our own past work experiences and personal journeys, we’ve come up with a list of qualities we seek to develop in ourselves and model for each other and others on our team. They are:
- Cultivate and nurture trust in yourself and others
- Be forthright about what you definitely can do and what you definitely can’t
- Be open to giving and receiving feedback to help yourself and others succeed
- Take great joy in the big, long-term wins and the small, daily achievements
- Accept setbacks as a necessary part of creative work
- Be willing to strongly defend what you believe in
- Model flexibility and curiosity with everything else
- Work hard, work collaboratively, and have fun
Taken as a whole, these bullets help us check in with ourselves in our work lives and also personally when we’re working through a difficult situation and doing our best to model our values to our children.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Please follow us on LinkedIn where we are constantly sharing great topic ideas on sustainability, tech for good, and the circular economy.
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!