How Public Goods aims to create an iconic brand for all things sustainable
Public Goods is an e-commerce site founded in 2017 by Morgan Hirsh, CEO, with Michael Ferchak, Chief Solutions Officer. It’s a lead with us extraordinary brand not only because it specializes in sustainable, organic, climate-friendly and healthy personal care, household, grocery, vitamins, supplements and pet products. But because of his inordinate sense of responsibility for making the world a better place and his willingness to transparently report on his progress in doing so.
In 2003, co-founder Hirsch “ventured” to Shanghai, learned the language, and intended to launch Green Cab, a fleet of electric taxis featuring rooftop advertisements from exclusively eco-friendly companies with one foot in the avant-garde city. At a bar in Shanghai, he met Ferchak, an electrical engineer by training, and, sharing a passion for business, they quickly became friends.
Hirsh moved away from Shanghai when he took over Fullum & Holt, his family’s century-old manufacturing company, suddenly in decline in Montreal. Founded in 1897, F&H supplied premium leather goods to J. Crew, Barneys, Nordstrom and Walmart, among others. Despite herculean efforts, Hirsh was unable to stem the flow of customers and contracts to China and India, and the company dissolved in 2014.
So Hirsh moved to New York and together with his old friend Ferchak founded Public Goods. It stemmed from the same Green Cab momentum: “Many of the toughest problems we face are the result of the products we choose to consume.”
The company’s goal would be to help make healthier and more informed choices easy and accessible to more consumers.
After failing to inspire interest, not less money, through traditional pitches and warm investor pitches, Hirsh pitched the company in a two-minute Kickstarter video as “Amazon with a soul.”
“And within thirty-eight days,” Hirsh tells We First, “we had sold ten thousand subscriptions worth about seven hundred thousand dollars.” It was 30 times his target increase. Incoming interest with major investments followed. In 2018, raised a $3,000,000 seed round from Day One Ventures, Listen Ventures and Yes VC. Total funding to date is estimated at over $25 million. Consumer growth investor L. Catterton is now its largest outside investor.
Public Goods launched a small line of bathroom products. “Our bathroom looked like Amazon books,” says Hirsh. She then let her clients drive her development. Once you have a core of customers, “all you have to do is ask them what they want to see next,” says Hirsh. “And they tell you.” In 2021, it launched around 80 new products with the aim of becoming a one-stop-shop for healthy and sustainable products, and plans to far exceed that number this year. It has around 400 SKUs in its assortment.
His annual income has roughly doubled every year and currently stands at around $17 million.
Goods for good, for good
“You don’t have to be a superhero to save the planet,” goes a public goods company mantra. “We believe that together our small choices can have a big impact.”
Simply put, the company “doesn’t make products that aren’t good for people and the planet.” Sometimes this means existing white label products, but more often Public Goods with its manufacturing partners and a team of food scientists and chemists etc. creates custom product reformulations that meet its strict standards for sustainability, accessibility and affordability.
One of the main ways it achieves this is through its commitment to simple, minimalist packaging, “designed to look good in your space, rather than stand out on a drugstore shelf.” It uses the most eco-friendly innovations wherever possible, from sugarcane bottles to recycled shipping boxes to toxin-free ingredients.
Sometimes, like with its biodegradable bin bags, that means there’s no wrapper, just a sticker on the roll. Sometimes that means offering refills. Turns out, no one was selling shampoo refills when Public Goods launched this deal — and it quickly became a bestseller.
Public Goods also carefully reviews its supply chain partners, selecting only ethical suppliers. Better-made, more sustainable products with premium, ethically-sourced ingredients inherently produce less waste and pollution. “We also find them more pleasant to use.”
Following the model of Amazon’s Prime, Walmart’s Sam’s Club and Costco, three of the largest retailers in the world, Public Goods instituted a membership model. A fee of $79 per year allows the company to offer the public hundreds of healthy, sustainable products at direct-to-consumer prices, “taking the guesswork out of finding the best value” in the retail space. sustainable products. According to Hirsh, it’s about “building a place to give people peace of mind.”
Sustainability Transparency Increases Public Trust
Lately, Public Goods’ main mission is to communicate the progress made in climate-friendly, healthy and cruelty-free products – and their impact on the world – on its website, its blog and its possible quarterly CSR reports. It works with experts to define terms like “climate-friendly” and even “healthy” using rigorous, measurable science-based standards and targets.
It strives to improve its sustainability performance and market position by evaluating product impacts and engaging suppliers to drive positive change.
Public Goods aims to be able to certify all of its beauty, personal care and home care products as cruelty-free as soon as possible. In pursuit of this goal, one of its eight product developers works with a team on animal welfare sourcing standards.
In this sense, one of the company’s most ambitious goals is to become “Forest Positive”, which means that it will take direct and continuous action to promote responsible forest management and combat forest degradation and Deforestation. All this while preserving nature, biodiversity and local communities who benefit from forest landscapes.
Between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year. The area of primary forest worldwide has shrunk by more than 80 million hectares since 1990, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States.
This is alarming because deforestation is the second cause of climate change and the first cause of biodiversity loss. Much of this damage is due to the status quo led by businesses dependent on forest-related commodities such as palm oil, soybeans, beef, paper and pulp for products and/ or packaging.
Public Goods joins Forest Positive businesses that are already involving giants such as Sainsbury’s, Sodexo, Tesco, Walmart, Colgate-Palmolive, Danone, General Mills, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Reckitt and Procter and Gamble.
To further help counter this environmental catastrophe, Public Goods has planted hundreds of thousands of trees – one for every order placed. It sells “tree-free” toilet paper and paper towels. But Hirsh admits it’s not always so simple to execute, let alone communicate Forest Positive’s goals and decisions. The process of verifying, say, the relative sustainability of palm oil, is an “extremely intricate and very complex process that is really more of a journey than anything else” – as opposed to a destination.
Simplification is the essence of good
According to Hirsh, simplicity is at the heart of everything Public Goods does. It all started with his frustration with the sales and marketing practices of the entire CPG industry. Do we really need five different sub-brands of both Crest and Colgate whitening toothpaste, all masquerading as different, all packaged for maximum market attention?
Public goods do not spoil the choice of their consumers. It sticks to the basics and leaves out the frills.
“All that ugly design is pointless,” says Hirsh. So Public Goods said, “Let’s take it down. All this assortment of shampoos is superfluous. “We have a type of shampoo. Personal care is a huge category for us – hair care is a huge category for us – and we have two products.
The company decided to “get rid of all the unnecessary assortments, and then that trickles down to the brand philosophy: let’s get rid of all the unnecessary ingredients, let’s get rid of all the unnecessary packaging. And I think that spirit of removing the unnecessary is at the heart of the brand. We leave the essentials to you.
Hirsh sums up three key lessons he learned from his years in the useful commercial space:
- Build a healthy internal culture. Public Goods has doubled its workforce over the past year. The team has always come together on Mondays, whether in person or virtually, to share thoughts, feelings and experiences not just at work, but at home, with family and around the world. Sometimes that sharing is “mundane,” says Hirsh, and sometimes life-threatening, as with recent COVID-related trauma. All this sharing builds a “close-knit” internal culture.
- Set ambitious goals. Never rest on your laurels or worse, just fail. In 2022, Public Goods intends to “make [its] more valuable membership,” expanding product assortment and digital footprint with the goal of nothing less than “building an iconic brand.”
- Don’t rely on sustainability – it’s just every company’s job. It will not be sustainability that will build the emblematic status of public goods. “I don’t think anyone is going to create a brand today that doesn’t reflect today’s values. And that has always been true. He points out that the founding era of Amazon virtually set the company’s values in stone. But now, “it’s just that those cultural values have changed. Anyone who’s going to launch a brand now is going to try to make their products healthy for people and the planet, and that’s fine. It’s good. That is why, for us, the fact that one of our values is that we are sustainable does not make us different. What will really set us apart is that you can get everything you need at Public Goods.
If you want to learn more about more goal-oriented companies like Public Goods, check out the Lead with We podcast. hereso you too can build a business that transforms consumer behavior and our future.