Emma Rose Cohen is the CEO and founder of Final, the company that created FinalStraw—the world’s first reusable, collapsible straw that raised nearly $2 million on Kickstarter. In light of the current global pandemic and the demand seen for household paper products, Emma recently took on the challenge and launched a new Kickstarter campaign for FinalWipe, a sustainable solution to single-use paper products and wipes. We caught up to Emma to discuss the new product, how it originally began as an April Fool’s joke, and more.
Kourtney and Khloé Kardashian are fans of FinalStraw. Did that give your company a boost?
The fact that Kourtney and Khloe could have called out any reusable straw option, and they chose FinalStraw, is very validating. They have done an incredible job using Poosh as a platform to promote the causes that they believe in, and we were delighted to be a part of their efforts to raise awareness about living more sustainably. It was a boost for our brand, and also for the work that we do at Final to spread our mission to reduce single-use waste. Gaining support from celebrities is amazing, but it’s also important to remember that whether an individual has one follower or a million, everyone has the power to use their voice to spread a message. Your friends are listening, speak up!
The FinalWipe video was originally created as a joke. Can you talk a bit about your aha moment in deciding to go forward with the FinalWipe now.
April Fool’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. I am constantly thinking of outlandish product ideas that we can feature as April Fool’s jokes. I began working on the idea for FinalWipe very early in the year. Then, almost overnight, the pandemic changed our lives and I realized that it would be distasteful to release the commercial we had created. A close friend watched the original video and suggested we actually consider creating FinalWipe. I took a long walk to process and consider his advice. Then, I called an emergency team meeting to discuss the idea behind FinalWipe. I wanted to get the team on board and needed to make sure that everyone understood the monumental effort that was going to be required to launch a campaign in less than 10 days. When it came down to it, the decision to pivot was unanimous. The entire team was excited to launch a new product that would help solve a relevant problem that people were facing in their daily lives. FinalWipe was inspired by unexpected circumstances, but it has quickly found its place in the reusable revolution.
Your FinalWipe campaign surpassed its $50,000 target the day it launched on Kickstarter. Did it surprise you to receive that outpouring of support during this time?
I was blown away by the outpouring of support we received within hours of the launch. I know that there are many people experiencing unexpected financial difficulties due to the pandemic, and the fact that they were willing to support our efforts to create innovative products that reduce waste means so much. Ultimately, one of the criteria we use at Final is that every product yields a cost-saving over time. FinalWipe replaces single-use items like paper towels, napkins, sanitizing wipes, and even toilet paper (only with #1 or a bidet), so after only a few uses, our customers will reach the break-even point and beyond that, they will be saving money. The Final community understands the concept that sustainable products sustain their wallets as well. It was exciting to see our customers, who have supported us for over two years with only one product to offer, validate our mission and our brand through their support of the FinalWipe Kickstarter campaign.
How do you stay productive/focused during these times of uncertainty?
Launching FinalWipe gave me an entirely new story to tell and has led to unexpected inspiration! I have been discussing the problem with single-use plastic for years, and now we are expanding the message to include single-use paper products as well. It’s a very natural extension of our mission, and it has helped tremendously to have a new direction to explore. I’ve also started to work on creative initiatives beyond products that will inspire people to use less, waste less, and talk to their friends about sustainability. I’m creating a podcast to share the ways that other company founders and CEOs are staying healthy and motivated during the pandemic. It’s really a way to crowdsource valuable information so that listeners can learn from those who have found ways to pivot and keep their companies moving forward, despite uncertainty. Ultimately, Final’s purpose is to spread awareness about single-use waste and sustainability, and there are a multitude of ways to do this that don’t necessarily involve the products.
We’ve featured “Elevator Pitch” judge Lindsay McCormick in the past. I know you were on the show and that she invested in FinalStraw. What makes it a successful collaboration (between you and Lindsay)?
Lindsay and I are currently working on the terms of the deal, but I’m excited to partner up with her! She has an incredible passion and puts tremendous effort into her work to ensure the success of those around her. Finding investment money is relatively easy, but finding an investor who values and understands the work you are doing is the real challenge. I make financial decisions based on environmental and social impact, and many investors would not support this approach because it does not drive as much short term revenue. The best collaborations are of yin and yang, where one individual complements the skills and the talents of another with their own unique gifts. In this sense, Lindsay is an ideal partner.
This generation is glued to their phones, do you have a trick to ensure you get outside every day?
Adopt a dog! My pup Burrita ensures that I have an outdoor adventure every single day! I love skiing, mountain biking, and horseback riding—and I make time for these activities every chance that I get. Quantifying everything I do helps keep me in check. I set social media time limits on my phone to prevent myself from getting stuck scrolling for hours.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was to always design products for a very specific individual. Develop the persona of your customer and really target that demographic. Attempting to create a product for “everyone” can ultimately result in the work becoming watered down and losing its authenticity. I also like to tell new entrepreneurs to be very careful who they hire. I had to learn the hard way, to hire slow and fire fast. Now we have quite a few steps people need to go through in order to join the team. It’s important to make sure you’re not just looking for skills when you hire someone, because ultimately, skills can be learned. Look for people with deep intrinsic drive and curiosity who are willing to push themselves, ask hard questions, and go above and beyond.
If you had a theme song what would it be?
I actually had to take an online quiz to answer this question [laughs]. The result was “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf. Seems legit.
The red Solo cup is still pretty popular. How do you get people to break their habits? What’s the first [simple] step to take?
The first step is to make people aware of why plastic pollution is a problem. I always think back to the way people connected to the video of the turtle with the straw stuck up its nose. They couldn’t forget what they saw after watching that video, and had no way to disassociate the plastic straws they used from the plastic straw that was stuck up the turtle’s nostril. Most people are smart and want to do the right thing, so as a company we use our social media channels to provide people with simple facts that enable them to make more sustainable choices and commit to lifestyles that reduce single-use waste. The second step is to do a trash audit—go look in your trash bin and see what you throw away. This small act inspires many people to search for sustainable alternatives to the items they commonly toss out. I like to challenge people to start with one thing. After you realize how easy it can be to replace one, a small single-use item with something reusable, the list grows very quickly.
To visit FinalWipe’s Kickstarter campaign, please visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/finalstraw/finalwipe.
For more information on Emma, please visit: final.co.
Originally posted at The Hype Magazine.