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Community Highlights: Meet Dr. Matt Keasey and Kay Baker

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Matt Keasey and Kay Baker.

Hi Dr. Keasey and Kay, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Kay and I (Matt) have somewhat unconventional backgrounds given that Kay is a fully trained and very talented Occupational Therapist while I am a neuroscientist. I gained my Ph.D. at the University of Bristol in the UK.

I believe that we are both good at what we do, but we both are passionate about the environment. We wanted to do something together about the monstrous volume of single-use throw-away plastic. We see it every time we walk down any cleaning aisle in every supermarket, it was under our sinks.

Aside from the plastic, cleaners and surface cleaners, in particular, are up to 95% water… Why are we shipping water??? Water is heavy and costs energy to move around, increasing carbon emissions in the shipping industry. Why not just get concentrated reagents and use your own water?

We wanted an alternative and so we came up with Green Llama to tackle these problems. We spent around a year, beginning July 2020, researching and developing the concept and funded our startup off the backs of our full-time jobs.

In the beginning, we experimented with formulas in our kitchen. Then, we converted our backyard garage into our “Llama Lab” (no Llamas were actually involved) to develop our formulas and test our ingredients. We launched Green Llama at our local farmer’s market in May 2021 and received overwhelmingly positive feedback.

We went online shortly after, continuing to iterate and improve as more feedback came in. We are very proud of what we have achieved so far and we are grateful for the support we have received.

In February 2022, we brought on Mike Peterknecht as our Chief Operating Officer. He has a background in business management and has taken Green Llama to the next level with organization and administration.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has been a fun road, but definitely not a smooth one. I believe that challenges are what make projects fun, otherwise it gets monotonous. The financial side of building a startup is always a challenge, especially when combined with time.

In order to have one, we lose the other. Being employed full time allowed us to divert funds from our salaries to Green Llama, which then needed our time. Balancing these two critical factors was a challenge, particularly in the early months.

Phase 1 was launching our offering of waste-free, eco-friendly surface cleaner refills.

Coming up with the formulas was a lot of fun, but involved a lot of testing. From the beginning, we wanted to incorporate essential oils as fragrances rather than the synthetic fragrances most of the other brands use. This was hard given that we use powder refills… but we came up with a very cool technique to implement this.

We are constantly problem solving; from making the best formulas, which product to launch next and how best use our limited funds. As a small startup, we were warned their would be ups and downs, which is absolutely true!

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Green Llama?
Our mission at Green Llama is to create sustainable home cleaning and hygiene products that don’t compromise our health or the environment by making plastic-free living convenient and attainable.

We referenced the EPA Safer Choice list as well as the Environmental Working Group’s database when choosing our ingredients, and we’ve created a unique way of getting essential oils into our powders for fragrance. Our packaging is compostable, and we have glass spray bottles screen printed for each cleaner.

We chose glass because it is infinitely recyclable, unlike plastic. Plastic, even if it makes it to the recycling facility (no more than 9% it actually does), it can only be recycled a finite number of times because of polymer chain shortening in the process, losing its integrity and effectiveness.

We are based in Johnson City, TN which is where make a lot of our products. We are trying to keep as local a profile as possible. As an example, we plan to launch a Green Llama Laundry powder and we are sourcing soap from a local maker.

We currently sell all-purpose, glass, and bathroom surface cleaner refills in small, lightweight fully dissolvable pods, weighing less than 2-3 grams. Simply drop the pod in a spray bottle, add water, let it dissolve (under 3 minutes), and you have a new cleaner (Drop it, Fill it, Shake it). By reusing and refilling, we eliminate the single-use plastic and reduce the energy needed for shipping water, thereby reducing carbon emissions.

Our products really work! Our glass cleaner, I believe, is the best across the entire cleaning industry, not just the low waste market. That opinion is educated by the number of reviews we’ve received saying just that. The all-purpose is excellent for breaking down grease and grime while the bathroom cleaner spray works so well on dried soap and stains in the bathroom. And they all smell fantastic whilst not being overpowering.

One of our strengths is certainly our ability to innovate and respond to feedback. Perhaps my training as a neuroscientist prepared me for receiving honest and critical feedback as an effective tool for iterating and improving. We have some very cool ideas in the pipeline which we hope to reveal in the coming months.

You can find our products on our website, www.greenllamaclean.com, and in Knoxville, Knoxfill is also carrying our products. We’d love to offer readers a 20% discount for Voyager readers by using the code VOYAGER.

What would you say has been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
Delegate.

It is impossible to be an expert in every field so we must rely on good people to support and help out. In the beginning, we tried to be product developers, marketers, administrators, etc. That being said, we must be knowledgeable about those fields in order to be effective problem solvers.

Seek out experts and people with experience. To build a company from scratch takes a massive effort and a lot of time. It can be done independently, but the knowledge and expertise is often only a conversation away, which can help with shortcuts, save time and money.

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