Blueland’s John Mascari on Single-Use Plastics, Carbon Emissions, and a Really Good Set of Khakis
John Mascari’s LinkedIn profile would be ruthlessly intimidating if he weren’t so damn friendly about it all. After graduating from Harvard Business School, Mascari co-founded and launched Bundle Organics, a first-of-its-kind juice company formulated specifically for pregnant and postpartum women. Now, he’s focusing his efforts on, you know, the usual — revolutionizing cleaning and eliminating single-use plastics, both of which he conveniently braided into the same venture, called Blueland.
Blueland, which offers eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaning supplies made from shatterproof spray bottles and nickel-sized refillable tablets, is only three months old. But Mascari and his co-founder, serial retail entrepreneur Sarah Paiji Yoo, are already betting big, really big, on the market — because what’s better for the planet is also better (and cheaper) for you at home. He spoke to me about all of it: keeping dressing streamlined and easy as a co-founder; designing for millennials, because we are, you know, the worst; and the kind of impact he hopes Blueland can make in your home.
Bonobos: You’re what the internet likes to call a “serial entrepreneur,” which is a term that’s also a direct quote about you from a press release I read in preparation for this conversation. What role do clothes have in what you do as a co-founder?
John Mascari: Versatility is definitely in mind, and comfort is also key. I’m on the operations side of the company, so I spend equal parts of my day out in the field — at our warehouse, for example — while also being in meetings back in New York and managing the team overall. A style like Bonobos’s is really good for me because it’s both casual and…I don’t know if “sophisticated” is the right word, but it’s also very professional; it could go both ways. That’s just so valuable for me when I’m needing to be versatile with the types of situations I’m in on any given day.
Given your background, do you feel like your “entrepreneurial style,” for lack of a better term, has evolved since you launched Bundle Organics back in 2014?
Yes. And Bundle was the same case [as Blueland], where I was in the founder position there. So it’s always been that I’ve had to be able to be both casual and professional. I’m certainly not showing up to our warehouse in a suit, but I’m also not showing up to meetings in a sweatshirt. It’s always been critical for me to find clothing that is really versatile and can stretch, just like my role.
So no hoodies, no suits? What are your daily staples?
I honestly like that Bonobos style. It really, truly is a good analog for how I dress every day. I’m always wearing a button-down, but a casual, comfortable button-down I can wear in all of those scenarios, and a good set of jeans. Sometimes a good set of khakis, but a very casual pair.
Pivoting to talk about Blueland, which just turned three months old: You co-founded it with Sarah [Paiji Yoo], who is something of a “serial entrepreneur” herself. How did you two link up to launch this thing?
She and I were actually business-school classmates. We were in the same section together at Harvard Business School, and when you’re in a section with somebody, that means you’re taking all of your classes with them, doing most of your socializing with them, so we really got to know each other through that. She actually ended up joining the board at my last company, which was a great way for us to start to work together outside of that educational environment.
For a while, we were talking about how we wanted to start something together. With Sarah and I both having gone through startups before, we knew the grind. We knew what it takes; it takes a lot personally. For those reasons, we were saying that we wanted to start something we both felt very committed to, that we would feel very passionate about, to the extent of it even becoming our life’s work.
So you decided to take on the single-use plastics and toxic cleaning industries!
The environment was always really, really key. Sarah was going through some things in her personal life that were alerting her to the plastics issue. I was paying close attention, too. As I’m sure you know, often when you see the stats, they become so alarming to the extent that any store you walk into automatically [triggers] this [moment of], oh my gosh, there’s so much waste in here. And as a supply chain person, I immediately saw an opportunity that there’s got to be a way to do these things differently.
But the real lightbulb went off when we started to look at the everyday products in our homes, and particularly that bottle of conventional glass and mirror cleaner that we’re all interacting with a couple of times a week. I learned that those were 95 to 97 percent water and only five to three percent active chemistry, and it’s the 95 to 97 percent water that requires it to be packaged in this big, bulky, one-time-use plastic packaging. The supply chain implications that come from that are both environmentally bad, but also I think worse for the customer, too.
What was the R&D process like at that point?
We really were driven by impact here, but we’re also practical, so we knew that in order to drive as big of an impact as possible, i.e. try to get into as many homes as we could, we really did have to focus on effectiveness, so real science to make sure that our products clean, and clean well. Luckily, all of our products in third-party testing outperformed the leading conventional competitors, which is pretty amazing.
We knew the price-point had to be good. We weren’t trying to appeal to just a certain kind of customer; we wanted it to be accessible to everyone. We were able to get our 20 ounces of liquid down to just a $2.00 price-point, versus the conventional equivalent which is $3.49.
It also doesn’t hurt that the physical Blueland product, the bottle and the tablets, are really beautiful, in addition to the science being there to back it up.
And then also making it convenient and making it beautiful. We wanted people to get excited about using it (in part because it was beautiful), and in turn contribute far less waste than conventional options. We wanted to make sure we leveraged design both to be attractive to the customer, but also to help bring awareness to these products you’re interacting with day-to-day, and often discarding.
By that standard, I think it’s working — the signature “Clean Up Kit” already has more than 200 reviews. How have you found the reception so far?
We just launched a few months ago, and that’s been the best part, just seeing how much people are responding across the board. People really do seem to care a lot about this issue. Leading up to the launch, we had our hypothesis that people cared, but you never really know until you put in on the market.
Since then, we’ve shipped to all 50 states every single week since we’ve been launched. It’s not just appealing to certain parts of the country, which is awesome. In the hundred days since our launch, we’ve eliminated more than 1.6 million plastic cleaning bottles from ending up in our landfills and oceans, and also helped to eliminate 114,000 pounds of CO2 emissions from shipping our tablets versus those conventional cleaning products.
These old ways of doing things are not only bad for the environment, but they’re also worse for the customer.
John Mascari is the co-founder and COO of Blueland. Learn more about Blueland at Blueland.com.
Maura Brannigan is a writer and editor in New York, and is also often covered in dog hair.