Pace yourself. Building a company is a marathon, not a sprint. Burnout won’t help you be at your best and most creative. I had a few overworked years and can admit that it did not help me build a better product.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anastasia Mikhalochkina, CEO and founder of Lean Orb.
Since 2017 Anastasia Mikhalochkina led the company’s product development, design, and execution of strategic revenue plans bringing sustainable year-over-year growth. Anastasia has extensive experience in sustainable packaging technologies, consultation on supply chain management, expertise in product lifecycle analysis, and responsible sourcing.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Since I launched Lean Orb in 2017, we’ve been able to design a complete portfolio of products based on various fiber technologies. Our headquarters is currently at the Cambridge Innovation Center, which is a known hub for many cutting-edge start-ups. In 2019, we were recognized by multiple media channels, like NBC and the Miami Herald, after becoming one of the finalists at Babson College’s accelerator WIN Lab (which stands for Women Innovating Now).
In October of this year, we were excited to win first place in the HI-HERImpact Miami Pitch Competition (HI-HERImpact is a joint initiative between the Ford Motor Company Fund and 1863 Ventures to help women social entrepreneurs).
I moved to Miami 7 years ago with the hope of building a company that can protect its natural habitat from single-use plastics generated by hotels and restaurants. I am a product designer and an avid water person. Learning that the food service industry is discarding 180 billion units of single-use plastics each year is what inspired me to start Lean Orb. Our vision is that we can build tangible solutions to plastic while setting a joint agenda between the public, academic, and private sectors. Miami is a waterfront community, so the waste we fail to keep onshore is not only a local problem, but also a global problem. With the help of my talented colleagues and my years of experience as a product designer for corporations, my mission is to help Miami form into an environmentally responsible hub for the U.S. and Latin America.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Lean Orb is a company that brings many environmentalists together to collaborate on building products, research, educating the public and promoting policies that will incentivize sustainable change. I am working alongside incredible people, and that’s been the most interesting part of my entrepreneurial journey thus far.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My funniest moments were always on-stage pitching the company in its infancy stages. It has taken many years to get comfortable presenting to larger audiences.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
The technology is based on a variety of natural materials. When building products, our team is committed to converting highly-renewable and recycled fibers. All products have an upside to the end-of-life challenges by being compostable. There is an undeniable convenience to conventional plastic packaging, so our shift to ethical alternatives is very much a marathon, not a sprint. Today, conventional plastic is a lot cheaper to build but, as we all learned, most cheap products have an invisible cost assigned to it. Someone, somewhere is paying the price. Beyond products, what’s equally important to our team is an educated consumer.
Besides market solutions and government incentives, we really want to focus on sharing information and best practices for clients to exceed their sustainability plans. This year we are moving forward to develop a data-driven tool that will help enterprise clients learn, measure impact and set goals for their environmental performance.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Lean Orb currently services 80+ businesses in Florida, providing sustainability solutions to hotels, restaurants, bars, schools, and museums. We are working with composting groups, ocean conservation organizations and environmental scientists to better understand the natural cycles and design our products for a resilient circular system. Through the strong leadership of our community partners and the support from local businesses (who switched away from plastic), our team was able to eliminate more than 8 million plastic units from circulation.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
There is a presumed convenience to plastic packaging, but as we’ve all learned, these products have unintended consequences. While Lean Orb’s expertise is in product development, our team’s ambitious goals for environmental progress go beyond sustainable product solutions. Much of the team’s attention is focused on raising awareness and educating the corporate sector on the responsible reduction of overall packaging waste. First, we hope that local government will help us both create more financial incentives for businesses who are looking to shift away from plastic and take greater responsibility for the GHG emissions related to waste.
Secondly, closing the loop of waste is a challenge, and these products are designed for industrial compost sites which are currently scarce. So, we hope to see more strategic planning done on the local government level for these sites. From the community, we always ask for consumers to demand better practices from their local businesses and “vote with their dollar.” Our current environmental crisis is obviously too big for one company, one politician or one individual to solve, but together, we can shift the tide.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Every once in a while, I ask myself if my time spent at work makes me peaceful, calm, compassionate, and joyous. Leadership to me is how I show up every day. No days off.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Focus on your team. Our product/idea means very little without the right people to execute it with.
2. If you build the solution for yourself first, you will always have a product-market fit. We spent too much time imagining creative solutions that no one was willing to pay for.
3. Pace yourself. Building a company is a marathon, not a sprint. Burnout won’t help you be at your best and most creative. I had a few overworked years and can admit that it did not help me build a better product.
4. Start with a small niche market, and grow outwards.
5. Don’t worry about competition. Instead, worry about bringing the most value to your customer.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to see people spend more time in nature because you can’t protect something you don’t truly understand.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You are what you do, not what you say you are.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private break- fast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I have so much admiration for Jack Johnson. Sharing a bite and learning more about his foundation would mean a great deal!
How can our readers follow you on social media?