You can’t make everyone happy every time. Even though I’ve tried really hard, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that even though I might be trying my best, it’s inevitable that someone will get upset with me, my business, or product. While I try to keep everyone happy, I know I won’t be able to win them all, and that’s OK.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Miles Pepper.
Miles’ commitment to sustainability began when he invented FinalStraw — a collapsible reusable drinking straw that helps people reduce their single-use plastic consumption.
Miles is a recipient of INC’s 30 Under 30 and is an international speaker on sustainability.
When he’s not trying to save the planet, he’s prototyping other crazy ideas, or camping. Or snuggling with his cat Moon.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I grew up in Northern California. I was always the kid tinkering with things and fixing stuff. Both my parents ran their own small businesses, and when I think back on my childhood I thought it was completely normal to grow up in a house where your parents were always working on something new and exciting.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
When Covid-19 hit the US, it forced me to close down another project I was working on. I saw the need that people had with access to hand sanitizer, and also saw the large amounts of Covid-related plastic and wanting to bring a little fun and convenience to our new Covid habits.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
In 2018 I invented and founded a company called FinalStraw, which is a collapsible reusable drinking straw. This project launched me into making sustainable products and really opened my eyes to how detrimental plastic is to the environment.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
The “Aha Moment” with Sanikind was after weeks and weeks of working to get sanitizer sourced, and being told constantly that there was a global spray bottle shortage. Everyone was focused on producing sanitizer, but no one was trying to make a beautifully designed dispenser that was eco-friendly, good looking and convenient. We saw the opportunity and jumped into action to launch our product on Kickstarter.
Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Because we wanted to bring Sanikind to market as quickly as possible, we decided to launch the project through Kickstarter, which allowed us to bring the product to market much faster than launching it in a more traditional manner.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The most interesting thing to happen since launching the business was dealing with all of the new issues and problems that were trickle down effects of the pandemic. When we launched Sanikind, we had been able to lock down a reliable source of aluminum bottles, but as time went on our suppliers were unable to get us what we needed due to a global aluminum shortage caused by almost every drink manufacturer needing to bottle their drinks in cans. We’ve been able to source aluminum bottles for our sanitizer refills- but it was definitely more difficult to do so when the whole world was in short supply of aluminum.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
The funniest mistake when starting Sanikind was during our product development I sent in some CAD files to a 3d printer so we could get prototypes in. I mistakenly sent in a part without checking the sizing, and ended up getting a tiny Sanikind Mini that was about the size of a penny!
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Having a few people who’ve got your back makes all the difference. For me, my family has always been really supportive of me. Most importantly, if you launch a business with a co-founder, it’s really important to have a partner who cheers you on, but also pushes you to do your best work. I’ve been extremely fortunate to start this business with my wonderful co-founder Martica who has helped push me, and push the business to it’s best.
Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
With Sanikind we’re trying to help people stay safe, clean, and keep the environment clean all at the same time. Community, society and politicians all have a really important role to play in keeping our environment clean, and our people safe.
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?
My past two businesses have always had a huge focus on sustainability. Something that’s stuck with me is how much people want to help support companies with such a focused mission.
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. You’re going to mess up, and probably a lot, but don’t let that slow you down.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes- but always try to learn from them and never repeat them. So far it’s working out pretty good.
2. You can’t make everyone happy every time.
Even though I’ve tried really hard, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that even though I might be trying my best, it’s inevitable that someone will get upset with me, my business, or product. While I try to keep everyone happy, I know I won’t be able to win them all, and that’s OK.
3. Everyone has an opinion.
I love sharing my work and getting comments and suggestions, but it’s important to learn when to listen to people’s opinions, and when to stick with your gut.
4. Keep it simple
It’s so easy to try and improve by making more- whether that’s adding more features, more products or complicating something by doing more more more. Something that I’ve really been focusing on recently is keeping everything as simple as possible, which in turn has allowed more time to truly find and focus on the most important aspects of the business.
5. Everything is going to take longer than you think it will
A rule of thumb that someone shared with me earlier this year which has really stuck with me is:
If you’ve done it before and know how it works, it will take 1.5x longer than you think it should
If you’re pretty sure you know how to do something, and have done something similar, expect it to take 2x as long as you think it should.
If you’re doing something for the first time, expect it to take about 3x as long as you think it should.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We’re at such a pivotal time right now, and the world needs intelligent young people to help bring solutions to problems that no one else is working on.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I walked by a car with a bumper sticker that read “Oh no! Not another learning experience!” and it absolutely cracked me up and rang so true. Nothing can truly prepare you to start a business, and that’s okay. Take everything one step at a time, learn from your mistakes, and improve. If you can repeat those three steps- you’ll get so far.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to meet Sarah Kauss, founder or S’well bottles. What she’s been able to accomplish with her product design, branding, marketing and sustainability is absolutely incredible. I’ve been really inspired by her story and mission and am sure we’d have a very interesting conversation!
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow us on Instagram at — @sanikindofficial