Updated: Aug 6
Alex Bruce, the founder of Turtle Straws has recently celebrated selling two million biodegradable straws. The company uses wheat stems, a natural waste product, to make the straws. We caught up with Alex to find out about his start-up journey.
Which came first for you - passion for business or passion for the environment?
I wouldn’t say either. I had a passion for the outdoors and for activity; surfing, windsurfing and snowboarding and these things are made possible by having a fantastic planet to enjoy.
Then I dived in head first and after flailing around for a bit - telling people I wanted to drink nice Mojitos - I realised that if this was going to be a success I needed to fall in love with the process. I began educating myself about business; how to sell, how to pick up the phone and engage with someone you have never met, how to add a personal touch to a brand and how to develop a message. At the same time I was constantly learning about not only plastic issues, but also the environment and the crisis it is going through, as well as trying to figure out how to communicate this learned knowledge in a way that made people want to come back for more.
What was the key motivating factor at the time you started your business?
I was due to join a yacht that I really didn’t want to join and I had a new girlfriend who I didn’t want to leave. I’m not with her anymore, but, positives. Makes me laugh to think about this.
How did you finance your business?
I used personal savings. I had been previously working on a super yacht so I had saved money while living expenses and tax free, I then doubled down with the cryptocurrency boom at the end of 2017 and that created my seed.
Did you have any initial challenges and how did you overcome them?
Personally I had some fairly crippling impostor syndrome at the start. I had to learn how to deal with rejection and how to objection handle - people don’t like paying more for stuff than they are used to. For both of these it was sticking with it; grafting, picking up the phone, figuring out what made someone agree to buy. Then I started to fall in love with the process.
What are your main revenue streams?
Large bar and restaurant supply, especially European, holiday-based beach clubs. Then website based orders then sales on Amazon.
If you were to start from scratch, are there any changes you would make?
I possibly wouldn’t have quit my day job until I had stock available in the country! I think I would tell a younger me to pick 2 or 3 people to listen to in terms of advice and told the rest to bugger off. I took too much advice and way too much to heart at the beginning. Is it difficult to make a green business profitable? It depends on so many factors; there is definitely an increasing chance to start a green business but also of market saturation. There is a blueprint for success, but for me I do think there have been some key decisions that if they hadn’t gone my way I’d have been in trouble. So I count myself pretty lucky.
Do you have any 'top tips' for those launching a green business?
Fall in love with the process and you will go far. Whatever you see your ultimate success as being, think “will I enjoy getting there?” Try and be relatable; people want to be greener (more on that in the next question) but most people aren’t “green” in the stereotypical sense.
Most people don’t want to see dolphins wrapped up in plastic but they don’t think about it every day; it’s not in the forefront of their mind. More aggressive environmental messages aren’t going to hit home and will possibly be overlooked, not clicked or scrolled past. Rather than going full-force, try and appeal to a wider audience and focus on bringing as many people as possible into the fold, with a fun strong message. We want people to want to come back and learn more.
What gives you the most hope for the environment?
People want to be greener, they really do. Everyone I speak to on a day-to-day basis says that what I’m doing is great and they tell me about something they’ve seen, or that they’ve used their bag for life today or that they have a carry cup. These might only be small, but they’re trying and it makes a difference.
This is an upward trend. If people keep on doing this, trying their best to make small sustainable changes, simple acts of kindness to our planet, then our planet will get there and I’m just excited to be part of it.