Today we go back to environmentalist, Steve Savage’s roots (pun intended) as we explore the windows that were opened for Steve to form Eco-Products and 1908 Brands. Steve grew up with a lifelong passion for the environment that sprouted when recycling at a young age with his dad. That passion truly blossomed on a life-changing 14er hike (mountain peak exceeding 14,000 feet) where Steve realized the wondrous beauty of nature and vowed to protect it.
Even so, Steve’s path wasn’t always as clear as you’d think. It was a winding road of competitive tennis, international finance, and a couple of trips to Russia that finally brought Steve back to helping his dad with Eco-Products, a company that sold all kinds of environmental products from building materials to janitorial supplies. Join us as we discover how both Eco-Products and 1908 Brands identified their windows of opportunity and entered them head-on to find success in the wake of the 2008 recession and a pandemic, respectively. And afterward, let’s reflect. What does your window look like?
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- The story of 1908 Brands and its heritage of environmental responsibility, including Steve Savage’s great-great-uncle, William Kent’s donation of what was later known as the Muir Woods National Monument
- The environmental comparison of US homes to European homes and how 1908 Brands pledges to change that
- Steve’s move from Chicago to Boulder when he was 12 years old and why he loved it
- How Steve’s experience hiking the Chicago Basin 14ers at 14 years old transcended his appreciation for the outdoors and helped him realize his calling to become an environmentalist
- Steve’s change of heart from playing tennis for the University of Kansas to studying Russian for a corporate future in international finance
- There are three arrows in a recycling loop. In 1990, Steve and his dad sought to fulfill the third arrow with Eco-Products by taking remanufactured recycled products back into the market.
- The beginnings of Steve and his dad building Eco-products and its steady growth year by year through visits to schools, churches, and greek life
- Why a new resin on the market called polylactic acid in 2006 became a turning point for Eco-Products
- The proverbial rocketship path of how Eco-Products went from being “not-so-sexy” to financially booming during the 2008 recession
- Pactiv’s vicious strategy to knock out Eco-Products as a competitor and how that led to selling the company to Waddington North America in 2012
- Steve’s drive to keep Boulder Clean alive by having his hands in “another cookie jar”, aka 1908 Brands
- The “window” of the pandemic allowing for 1908 Brands to flourish through their plant-based disinfectant, which is EPA registered effective against SARS-CoV-2
[10:17] That is how I was brought up, is recycling. For me to put a can in a trash can is like, the strangest thing in the world. It just doesn’t go there.
[13:10] The sidewalk in the sky drops about 2000 feet on both sides, there’s a cross breeze…And really, the power of that situation is really what kind of changed my life. Ever since then, I’ve been an environmentalist.
[34:07] I was selling environmental products. I felt like I was making a difference. But from a personal and financial perspective, there was doubt, but I would have to say once that window opened, and we jumped through, I mean, it was crazy how that took off.
Steve Savage 0:02
We were a small not so sexy business for 16 years. I mean, there’s a lot, you know, I wasn’t paying myself a lot, you know, there’s a lot of doubt and, you know, where’s this going? And, you know, should I be doing this? Am I ever going to provide for my family like I want to? So yeah, I’ve been tell then there was a lot of doubt. And, you know, I liked what I was doing. I was selling environmental products. I was, you know, I felt like I was making a difference, but from a personal and financial perspective. Now, there was doubt, but I would have to say once that window open and we jumped through. I mean, it was crazy. How that took off.
Marc Gutman 0:46
Podcasting from Boulder, Colorado. This is the baby got backstory podcast. we dive into the story behind the story of today’s most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like big backstory. And I cannot lie. I am your host, Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman, today’s episode of Baby Got Back story. How a kid from Chicago moved to Boulder, Colorado, and built an eco Empire built on the backbone of compostable disposable cups. All right. All right. Now if you like and enjoy the show, please take a minute or two to rate and review us over iTunes. iTunes uses these as part of the algorithm that determines ratings on the apple charts. And ratings help us to build an audience, which then helps us continue to produce this show. Today’s episode, we’re talking to Steve Savage, cool name, right?
Well, Steve is the President and CEO of 1908 brands. And Steve is best known for his previous company eco products, which sees the window of opportunity when they saw that compostable cups made of corn resin You heard that right corner isn’t going to be a thing. Odds are if you travel or buy just about anything in a plastic cup cold coffee smoothies draught beer soda. Your lips have touched Steve’s cups. Well, that wasn’t supposed to sound as weird as it just did. But you get what I mean. Today Steve savage is the founder and CEO of 1908 brands, a family of brands that develops natural and trusted products for healthier home and planet. 90 no eight brands currently consists of six brands, Boulder Clean, Schultz’s Thrive Tribe, Three Bears, Pasta Jay’s, and Bundle Organics. I’m sure you’ve seen some of these on your local store shelves nationwide.
Steve is a committed conservationist and entrepreneur who is continually searching for new ways to offer effective innovative and affordable green products. in just a bit. We’ll hear his pivotal story about how he came to devote his life to building businesses based on preserving the environment. So enough of me, let’s get to it. This is his story.
So Steve, thank you for joining us here on the baby got backstory podcast. You are currently the president and CEO of 1908 brands. What is 1908 brands?
Steve Savage 3:29
Yeah, that’s a great question Marc. 1908 brands is a story that comes from my great uncle. And in 1908, he lived in the Bay Area and came across 300 acres of redwood trees that were about to be harvested or replacement of the city of San Francisco that had a fire in 1907. And William can’t my great great uncle didn’t want those bread. trees to be harvested. So he bought that land out from the lumber companies. And to save it, there was a new Antiquities Act by the US government where you could donate land under that Antiquities Act and save it from being harvested. And so he worked with Teddy Roosevelt.
There’s some great letters on our website between Teddy Roosevelt and William Kent, on this donation, and that happened in early 1908. And that 300 acres of redwood trees is now called the John Muir national woods. And if you read the letters, it’s just an amazing story about you know, Teddy Roosevelt wanting the name of the William Kent national woods and William Kent said no, I have five Husky boys all with the middle name can’t if they can’t keep the name alive. You know, so be it.
Please name it after my good friend and environmental environmentalist John Muir. So yeah, that’s how the John Muir national woods, still there today beautiful spot. I try to go there at least once a year. And we’re over 110 years, that’s just been a national treasure. And, you know, we felt like that story of environmental gifting. Environmental Stewardship was an amazing story to build a company and you know, our culture and principles around.
Marc Gutman 5:31
Well, that’s a pretty famous tract of land. I mean, you know, the John Muir Woods is well known, I had no idea that that started the 1908 brands. And so what does 1908 brands do as a business today?
Steve Savage 5:43
So 1908 brands is the parent company to what is going to be eventually, you know, a dozen, maybe two dozen brands and we really want to change the products that are in people’s homes can be you know, 1908 brands started with boulder clean, which is a lineup plant-based cleaners and detergents. We also created a product called the CompoKeeper, which is a fancy trash can for food storage that eliminates odor and fruit flies. That brand has sold to a company called rev-a-shelf.
Then we have also gotten into food brands. So we have five food brands right now and they’re all in, you know, natural food space. And, you know, we leverage our resources and our relationships to try to make these particular brands successful. So right now we have six brands, and they’re everything from non food to food brands.
Marc Gutman 6:42
When you say you want to change the products of people’s homes, what’s wrong with the products in people’s homes? Why do they need changing?
Steve Savage 6:49
Well, I’m, you know, in the US homes, you know, I like to compare to Europe, I mean, in Europe, products and the homes are just healthier. They’re warm. environmentally sustainable. They’ve been built with sustainability in mind, you can reuse the containers, you can reuse the packaging. Now, these are a lot of concepts that 19 white brands wants to bring into the US homes right now.
Us products are kind of throwaway items. Now the average us consumer goes through, I forget the status somewhere around 20 tons of trash per year. It’s just a ridiculous number products that they eat. The indoor air quality in our homes are three times more toxic than European home. So I mean, it’s just, there’s so many changes provide good solutions to make. make that easier. Yeah. And
Marc Gutman 7:44
you started off our conversation talking a bit about your uncle and his act to to preserve 300 acres of forest. You know, I know that you grew up in Boulder, Colorado, but what was young Steve like, you know, let’s go back to back where were you? Like when you’re eight, were you an environmentalist and into the protecting the environment at that time?
Steve Savage 8:05
Right. So a little bit, and I mostly grew up in Boulder. I actually lived in Chicago till I was 12. My two older sisters went out to the University of Colorado. And as my dad would visit them in Boulder, Colorado, he fell in love with Boulder. So, when I was 12, we moved to Boulder.
Marc Gutman 8:25
Well, wait a second. What was that? Like? Like, dad just comes home. And he’s like, we’re moving. I mean, what did you think at the time?
Steve Savage 8:32
Yeah. I remember being excited about it. Colorado. No, when you’re from Chicago, and you’re 12 years old. I mean, you know, the stereotype of Chicago. Colorado is pretty exciting. So I was excited about it. You know, when I first got here, you know, it was kind of tough and I missed my friends, but rapidly got into, you know, as already playing competitive tennis.
You know, my dad would flood our backyard in Chicago. So I grew up playing hockey. So I got into sports pretty quick. And I look back and you know, so excited he made that move. love Boulder. And now a lot of people from Chicago have moved to Boulder and Colorado. So it was a big move, especially for me and my sisters. I mean, our family uprooted their home, and you know all their friends back in Chicago and, you know, follow them to Boulder So, especially my sister, Lisa, I mean, she was a freshman when we moved.
She’s like, Hey, why are you following me? But anyways, it was a big move for the family. But my dad even in Chicago. I mean, he was a recycler
Marc Gutman 9:39
well then what did that look like then? Because like no one was a recycler then you know so yeah Chicago a recycler Tell me a little bit about him. What Where did what is his? I mean, it does sound and I don’t want to put words in your mouth that this. There’s like a legacy of environmentalism in your family but like so how does he become a recycler at that time and certainly in Chicago, it isn’t easy. I have to imagine
Steve Savage 10:00
Yeah, I mean, that was rare. I mean, I didn’t really know that as a kid. But looking back at it and knowing now, I mean, it was a rare thing. But we used to go to a place we lived in Hinsdale, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago. And we there is a recycling center. And that is how I was brought up is recycling.
I mean, for me to put a, you know, a can in a trash can, is like, the strangest thing in the world. It just doesn’t go there. And, you know, I’ve been brought up my entire life, thinking that way. And you know, when I really became an environmentalist, is a story when I was 14, so we had moved to Boulder, and he immediately got into climbing fourteeners.
So my dad and I and others and some of his friends, some of his friends from Chicago would come out and we would knock off fourteeners
Marc Gutman 10:53
really quickly you want to like describe what a 14 year is for those people that may be listening that don’t know.
Steve Savage 10:58
Okay, so um, fourteener there’s 53 fourteeners in the United States, I think of the 5343 or 45 are in Colorado, the rest are in California, Oregon and Washington. So most of the fourteeners you know, we were knocking out in Colorado. He also went out, and I didn’t go as right when I was 12. And I wasn’t old enough to go and did Mount Rainier. I think that’s technically in Washington. And, you know, he got me into climbing fourteeners there was one particular 14 or when I was 14, actually, it was a trip. We went to Durango, Colorado, and we took what’s called the Silverton railroad that goes from Durango to Silverton it’s one of the I think still is one of the original coal burning trains and halfway between Durango and Silverton a group have eight of us got off and stopped in the middle of nowhere.
And we hiked eight miles up to what’s called the ironically Chicago basin where the Twin Lakes are. And around. Twin Lakes are for fourteeners, Windham, sunlite, ulis and North ulis. And so we were knocking those off. its one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever been in my life. And, you know, kind of going back I’m telling you this, the story that pretty much changed my life and I tell this story when I have won environmental award and so far because it really did change my life and how I see the outside world. But here we are at the Twin Lakes in knockout sunlight, your knockout wind. In our last day we’re climbing ulis and we get to the top of ulis and between us and North ulis is there’s a ridge and it’s called sidewalk in the sky and going from ulis to North ulis across the sidewalk in the sky. I remember it’s probably five feet wide, like a sidewalk. And if you walk down the sidewalk, obviously you aren’t scared to death.
But on sidewalk in the sky drops about 2000 feet on both sides, there’s a cross breeze. So you’re kind of down on all fours. And it’s not really technical, but I mean, you got a maneuver up and down a few rocks. And really, that the power of that situation is really what kind of changed my life and ever since then, I mean, I’ve been an environmentalist. You know, my dad and I, you know, we started my first company go products, right when I was out of college. So I mean, really, from that time, I appreciated the outdoors. Right now I’ve climbed about 38 of the fourteeners continued climbing 14 years continue to get out into nature in any way I could. I’ve joined in a number of neat nature, nonprofits, protecting our natural resources. So that’s kind of the story, my childhood and basically how I became a environmentalist. Yeah, let’s
Marc Gutman 14:07
go back to that trip. I mean, it’s such an epic trip. I’ve known people to do it and ride the railroad, you hop off. And it’s just one of these, like, quitessential adventures that, that that really is, you know, there’s not a lot of those left and it’s a really amazing trip. What was it about that? So you say you’re at the side of the sky, you’re looking down, you’re on all fours, scurrying. Like, but But what about that made you say, like, hey, like, you know, because because a lot of us go out in the environment, myself included, we enjoy it.
But we don’t all come back saying, you know, what, we’re going to devote our life to protecting the environment, we’re going to devote our life to sustainability, we’re going to devote, you know, put our money where our mouth is and feed our family based on these principles, which is about like the biggest commitment you can make. So granted at that time, you may or may not have known that that was that was your path, but what really was it about that experience? Made you say, hey, like like this is worth protecting?
Steve Savage 15:03
Yeah, you know, it’s really the days that led to being on the sidewalk in the sky. It was in June, the wild flowers were just unbelievable. There was some old mining caves that we could explore. It really was, you know, the whole trip was probably seven days was really probably my first trip where now a lot of these four teeners are day trips, right are one or two days.
It was probably the first trip that I spent a full week up there at, you know, 12,000 feet, which was our base camp to hit those for 14 years. I mean, it really was giving away. Now obviously, we didn’t have cell phones then but it was really getting away from the city. And everything that you knew, is probably what changed my life. You know why that particular trip, did it? But it was just the beauty of the place. The Chicago basin is just an Gorgeous area surrounded by these four fourteeners with the wild flowers. And yeah, I mean, I think all that is, you know, the sunsets eating, you know, your freeze dried food. It just it was just an amazing week.
Marc Gutman 16:15
Yeah. And so you’re 14 I think I think you said at the time, is that right? Or you’re 12 or 14 at during that trip.
Steve Savage 16:21
I moved to Colorado when I was 12. I was 14 on that trip.
Marc Gutman 16:26
Cool. So you’re growing up in Boulder, Colorado, which is, you know, undergone massive change in the last 2030 years. You know, I think, you know, most people at least when I was growing up my whole reference of Boulder Colorado was from Mork and Mindy sleepyhead college town. I mean, what was boulder like, at that time? When when you were going to high school and spending your formative teen
Steve Savage 16:50
years? Yeah, I mean, it was much smaller. But and it was, you know, but it was always an outdoor athletic town. I mean, you had You know, the coors classic bicycle race, which was one of the biggest bicycle races. I mean, it was, you know, that was already happening the boulder boulder was already happening. So I mean, it was even back then known as kind of a mecca sports town. You know, even the 711 team, which included Eric Heiden, you know, stayed right down the street from us and my sisters got them to join us and join them and our hot tub, which was kind of entertaining but yeah, I mean, Boulder. It’s always been an outdoor town still is, always brings the best athletes. So I mean, a lot has changed, but a lot of stayed the same as well.
Marc Gutman 17:40
Yeah, and I imagine your dad at the very least had to be like, wow, like finally some people that like want to recycle and believe Yeah, same things I do. But like I you know, like, I know that you weren’t out there being a crusader it at 14 like you were a teenager, you know, and you’re growing up and you’re doing your thing and you go off to college, you grow up in a college town. But where did you go to college? Did you stay in stay in town and go to Boulder?
Steve Savage 18:04
I actually I went to the University of Kansas. I originally went there to play tennis I did in Chicago, I played pretty competitive tennis, actually played Andre Agassi in the Chicago open. When I was 11. He kicked my butt. But it was fun. I mean, I didn’t. He wasn’t Andre Agassi. At the time, he was just another player.
Marc Gutman 18:28
He wasn’t 11 with a full bleached mullet and tight shorts,
Steve Savage 18:33
right. And I don’t even really remember that closely. his haircut and so forth. I just know he was one of the best players in the country. But I do know that’s always been something I’ve remembered was playing him But yeah, I went to University of Kansas to play tennis. I played for four months. I was not getting a scholarship and I was kind of tired of tennis and ended up loving the University of Kansas. Great kids. Great Midwest kids. Got my one into the business school got an economics degree, you know, was in and out in four years I ended up actually, hockey’s my other love ended up playing club hockey there as well.
Marc Gutman 19:12
Yeah. And so what was your plan? So you go to Kansas, you know, you think tennis might be a path for you and then realizing, you know, I think a lot of people have that. Certainly I did where you’re like, Okay, you know, this is cool, but I want to go on to different things. I mean, you got a degree in Business and Economics and what would you think you were going to do with it at the time?
Steve Savage 19:32
You know, I went on Semester at Sea, my second semester, junior year and I fell in love with some Russian Russian culture. I met some kids from Russia in 1989. So I graduated college in 1990. The Soviet Union was falling apart. I actually thought I was going to kind of study Russian got into into international finance, get a you know, a corporate job. Speaking In Russian and getting them as us businesses, I thought at the time we’d be moving into Russia. So I took Russia in my senior year.
I still have these Russian friends actually meet up with them when we’re in Europe the last couple years. But yeah, that’s kind of why coming out of college I thought I was going to do got into Thunderbird, which is in Phoenix, which is kind of an international finance school. But it was really the June after college that my dad pitched this idea and have a business.
Marc Gutman 20:37
Take Take me there. So like, like, do you remember that day?
Steve Savage 20:40
Yeah. So he was following his environmental commitment. He was actually Chairman of the Board of eco cycle, which is our local recycling facility. And he had this business concept of starting a business is if you think of the recycle arrow There’s three loops, right? There’s three arrows, and they all kind of bend and they make a loop. And the first one is collection, which as we’ve talked about, you know, my family has always been doing forever. The second loop is manufacturing, but nobody was really doing the third loop, which is taking the remanufactured products and getting them back into the market.
So my dad and I started this company called eco products in 1990. And basically, the company mission was, you know, to buy everything from recycled copy paper, and at that time, fax paper and legal pads and even you know, toilet paper made from recycled materials and paper towels and trash bags and so forth. And so we started distributing all these recycled materials and starting a business that again called eco products and now I would go to fraternities or sororities or preschools or Small businesses or the University of Colorado, say, Hey, I got some recycled goods Do you want to buy them?
Marc Gutman 22:07
I’m not exciting at the time. Because it’s, you know, like, I mean, when you were coming out of college and you think you’re going to conquer the world and and I’d still love to hear like, I mean, does your dad sit you down? Is it like this like TV moment where you’re fishing? And he’s like, hey, son, you know, I’ve got this idea, like, like, how does that all go down?
Steve Savage 22:22
We were on the back porch of our house. We’re in a Hoa called Devil’s thumb. So we, you know, we backed up to the mountains to the trails, and it was on our back porch. I mean, I remember it vividly. My cousin, David McIntyre was in conversation as well. He was getting his MBA as CEO. So it was really my dad and I and David MacIntyre that started eco products. And were you stoked to read is kind
Marc Gutman 22:51
of like yeah, and my dad’s got an idea, but not ready to really have a plan and maybe I’ll maybe I’ll sling some recycled trash can liners.
Steve Savage 22:59
Yeah. I decided to put Thunderbird international finance degree on hold. I was actually going to went back to Russia that fall to travel with some of my friends and practice my Russian. I was still at the time probably thinking I was going to, you know, still be an international finance with a specialty in Russian. But I agreed. Yeah, I’ll start this concept with you. Yeah, I mean, at the time, I wasn’t thinking it would be that big of a company, but it was something to do. You know, it didn’t pay me. But it was something to do. And so we started with it. And now we we have success.
Marc Gutman 23:41
Like right away? I mean, like right away where people buying I have to imagine it was a hard, like, we all know startups are tough. Right. And I have to imagine it was a bit of a evangelical, kind of pushing the boulder uphill.
Steve Savage 23:52
Yeah, situation. You know, I remember my first 10 case order. I mean, I would get I would get it for tourney or get a sorority or a church or preschool eventually I mean, they would call and we’d place orders at first we had chicken scratch them on, you know carbonless paper and you know computers were just kind of getting started then. But I mean, it kept me busy and it was a job and you know, out of college you’re happy to have a job. You know, honestly for that summer was probably just buying time until I went back to Russia for two months. And then I was going to get my international finance but it grew and it kept us busy.
I did go to Russia but I came back and decided I would stay with eco products and continue to grow it I mean, we went from a couple hundred thousand in revenue, the first year then 400,000 revenue then 600,000 revenue, it always grew. I felt good about the products I was selling the environmental characteristics of them and you know, I’m the company ended up after a few years You know, a couple million in revenue, we had about five trucks that drive around town. We had drivers and I was a boss. And I mean, it just grew slowly. And, you know, in about 2006, you know, when we were about a $5 million company,
Marc Gutman 25:18
yeah, let me let me let me stop you there. And so as I understand it, so I mean, it was it was a long time, right. So yeah, I mean, if I’m, if I’m doing the math, you know, we don’t have to, like get into specifics and how long but I mean, the company was a nice little business, but it I mean, and please, you know, if I’m, if I’m speaking out of turn, but it was nothing super sexy. It was like a nice business. It was doing its thing. Not super exciting, but then in 2006, and I think this is where you’re going. You see an opportunity and what is that opportunity,
Steve Savage 25:50
right? So by that point, we were doing all kinds of environmental products. We had environmental building materials and environmental office supplies environmental janitorial supplies, we Had cleaners made from non toxic chemicals trash bags made from recycled or were biodegradable. But in around 2005 2006, there is a new resin that was man factored by nature works, who is owned by Cargill. And it was a resonant you could make just compostable food service items. And it was called plla, otherwise known for poly lactic acid. And we were having,
Marc Gutman 26:30
how is poly lactic acid created?
Steve Savage 26:33
Yeah, yeah, we’re having abnormal success in that part of our business. And the product was cool. As far as you know, you can make a plastic cup that you now see around the country, and you could brand it was made from plla, which was a derivative of corn. So it was from natural resources and also was compost So it would return to the earth and it took off we spent from oh six to 2008 working with various MIT us manufacturers you know, would you private label this for us because we weren’t the first ones to do so Fabrica was always make already making a corn cup International Paper was already making a PL a line hot cup active was making the sugarcane plates and so forth. So we first went to these North American manufacturers and said, Hey, can you private label for us? One by one? They said no.
Marc Gutman 27:35
And why do they say no?
Steve Savage 27:37
Well, they had their own brand so fabric cow and their own brand. Names escaping me International Paper had their own brand called ego Taner pack. They’ve had their own brand called Earth choice and they just they didn’t want to private label have some private label person competing against them in the market.
Marc Gutman 27:59
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Let’s take a step back real quickly though. So like you have other products and there’s this kind of new crazy thing, this corn cup. And if I remember the early versions of them, it wasn’t perfect that there was some downsides, right? Like if you left it in your car, it might melt. Right? The resume itself was often created by an actual insect if I remember, which would mutate and do weird things. So like it was, it wasn’t like this, like, like slam dunk or layup in terms of like, business opportunity, like how did you make that decision to see the market and say, You know what, like, I really think there’s something here.
Steve Savage 29:41
Right? Well, I mean, just, you know, I was at Hilton resorts and they said to same price, I can brand it environmental. And the quality is the same. I mean, where can I start so I mean, really, customer by customer University. By the way University distributor by distributor I mean they all sort of wanted it. And so you know, we fix those bugs by actually going to Asia and having a made in Asia and having them made in Asia we improved the heat tolerance of it. So they were actually much better at converting this PL a resin to be more heat resistant. So the, the heat tolerance went from about 105 degrees to about 135 degrees.
So we now could private label, our quality was better, and we could put everything under one brand. So Hilton resorts could buy their forks, they could buy their souffle container they could buy their to go container, they could buy their straws, they could buy their corn cup their hot cup from one manufacturer as opposed to piecemealing it to a bunch of manufacturers like we had done previously. They could buy it from one plus our quality was better and our pricing on average went down 20 5% from Asia.
So now the price was better in around 2008. If you remember, the price of oil went up to about $155 a barrel. So our resin was actually now cheaper. And so that was that was our big year when the economy was falling apart in 2008 eco-products went from about five to 45 million in revenue. And, you know, that was great. That was that was a crazy year.
Marc Gutman 31:26
Yeah. And was it that simple? I mean, were you you saw this opportunity to private label and then you just did just do it? Did you have to raise money? Like how did you actually make this bet and make it work? Because, you know, I, at least in my my thought like It Wasn’t that simple.
Steve Savage 31:42
Yeah, I mean, it was from like, cash perspective, it was very difficult. I did raise money through a private placement memorandum through friends and family in oh seven and oh eight. In 2008. We actually took our first private equity investment from Green Mountain Capital of 2 million. So that definitely helped. But still going from five to 45 million is tough. Plus the cash flow model is terrible because you got to wire money to Asia. And it’s a very slow boat coming over.
And then the product, you know, it didn’t sit in our warehouse very long, because actually no way, we’re on allocation of seven of our top 10 items. So I mean, they went out the minute they came in, but then it was another 30 days to get paid. So I mean, my cash flow model was, you know, about 80 days from when I first wired to Asia, when I got paid by the US distributors. And that was our strategy. We went to us foods, Cisco food service, so we didn’t go the direction of a few other. You know, there were a few other companies that were sort of doing this as well.
We were the first one to go into distributors. And that pretty much made us successful because that’s how we got into 10s of thousands of coffee shops and restaurants. And how Hospitals and universities and stadiums was through the US foods and Cisco food service.
Marc Gutman 33:06
Yeah. And to your point, I mean, you and I know each other well, and you know, during those kind of, I don’t know, if they’re their early years or sort of the mid years, my wife and I, we would travel, we’d be in Hawaii, we’d see your cups, we’d be at the ski resort, and we’d see your cups, you know, we’d be traveling, as you mentioned, at Hilton Hotels, and we take a picture and send it to you. And it was like, such an exciting time. But did you was there a moment ever when you thought, like, this might not work? Or was it always a rocket ship?
Steve Savage 33:33
It was always a rocket ship. I mean, yes, before we identified that opportunity and that window opened, There was a lot of times where as like, and as you touched on, I mean, we were a small not so sexy business for 16 years. I mean, there’s a lot of, you know, I wasn’t paying myself a lot. You know, there’s a lot of doubt and, you know, where’s this going and, you know, should I be doing this, am I ever going to provide for my family like I want to. So yeah, I’ve been tell then there was a lot of doubt.
And you know, I liked what I was doing. I was selling environmental products I was, you know, I felt like I was making a difference. But from a personal and financial perspective, now, there was doubt, but I would have to say once that window open, and we jumped through. I mean, it was crazy. How that took off. Well, that’s super Yeah,
Marc Gutman 34:25
it’s super awesome. But like, how did you have the confidence in convince, especially that friends and family round? You know, I think the private equity, they saw the success you’re like, well, private equity believes in me no big deal. But going to that, that friends and family round and saying trust me, and they’re looking at your existing business and being like, well, it’s okay.
But you know, yeah, like, like, how did you kind of go in there and have the confidence and as well as just the self belief that you were going to do right by what I have to believe are the people that you cared about the most, you know, certainly cared about your private equity investors. I don’t want to say that. Not to be the case. But when you go friends And family that’s like your kind of your your name, right, your family name your word that’s like the big, the biggest thing you can risk sometimes.
Steve Savage 35:07
Yeah, I mean, the good thing about those 16 years, though, is we were always growing, and we’re always profitable. So we were, we were building a good business. I mean, we weren’t super profitable. I mean, it’s not like I was making anywhere close to six digits and so forth. But I mean, it was enough to pay my mortgage. And, I mean, it was, it was a decent business.
So I, I, you know, I raised money, knowing that I could always pay it back because we weren’t losing money. So that’s kind of what gave me the confidence was, I knew I could always return the money, because at the end of the day, it was environmental products. But it was still products, right? It was still a commodity item. It was either paper towels or coffee paper or fax paper at the time. If any of you remember what fax paper or fax machines were, but I mean, it was Always, it was always a solid business. You know, we always had a good balance sheet. So I wasn’t that concerned when I had my palm out and no people were writing checks. I’ll tell you those early investors. I mean, they made out like bandits too. I mean, $40,000 investors made 1.6 million. I mean, it was that ended up paying off.
Marc Gutman 36:22
Yeah, I mean, you certainly did, right by all them, but like, at the time like to say, hey, if you give me 40, I’m gonna give you 1.6
Steve Savage 36:29
I don’t know you would have seen that coming. No, I didn’t see that coming, though.
Marc Gutman 36:33
Ya know, and it’s such a great success story, and really, really incredible. But I think sometimes we forget that and on the backside when everyone’s happy, just how hard it is to get there. And so you’re building this business? You go from five to 45 million a year, like what’s going on with you just as a leader with your company, like what’s happening at that time?
Steve Savage 36:55
So, yeah, I mean, we had to grow Fortunately, my wife is Human Resource specialists and she was huge as far as helping me develop the team, you know, the processes from a human resource perspective as far as benefits and so forth. So, she was a huge help also hired, you know, and I think most of it was luck. But he had an amazing team Luke, Luke Vernon was our CEO, you know, super fortunate to have him on board at the time, you know, as some of the Boulderites know, he runs Luke circle.
He’s now with a private equity group. I mean, super smart guy. I mean, really, Luke and I and then another older kind of legend, Jim lamma kusa, who now owns kusa tea He was my VP of sales and marketing. So it’s really Luke, Jim and I. So we had a great team, we had great chemistry, headed our sales, Luke spearheaded our operations and a lot of this manufacturing in Asia and I just pulse you know, I kind of ran the show inside the walls as far as building the infrastructure. And the good news is the infrastructure was sorted there when that window open. I mean, we were a $5 million company, we had 12 employees. Like I said, we were profitable. I mean, we we did have the infrastructure, which helped. It’s not like we were two people when this opportunity happened. I mean, we had an MRP system, and we had a lot of our invoicing and accounting processes in place.
Marc Gutman 38:30
Yeah, it was like almost like you were preparing for that moment. And just waiting and getting things ready and making sure that you’re prepared as soon as, as soon as you saw your window, and so grew the company. And again, I think like people just forget, there’s this moment where like the idea of a compostable cup and then silverware was kind of like, it’s kind of silly, like, you know, like, it was like early adopter kind of stuff didn’t always work. You were like, who like what’s going on here?
Is this even, like people were just really like, not One was super bullish on it. But then both the window of the product and just the trends of where people’s heads were in terms of environmentalism, warning things were compostable, reducing your carbon and environmental impact, like all these things, were coming to the forefront and so you’re having incredible success. And you grow the company, and you get an offer to sell the company. Tell me about that.
Steve Savage 39:24
Yeah. So, you know, another kind of big thing. In, you know, the next year, you know, I mentioned packed IV, you know, we were distributing their sugarcane plates and bowls and clam shells. In 2009. They came in, in a big way. They knocked us off on our hot cups, really, by design with each one was a different color. I mean, they were very suspicious the right word. I mean, they started writing huge checks to US foods and Cisco food service to bring in their in line called earth choice. They, they’re in a billion dollar company so our big competitor went after us in a big way in 2009 Were you scared? You know, a little bit because they were writing you know $300,000 checks to kick us out so we had to win we really had to fight where Oh a our fight was to get make enough product and get it from Asia fast enough.
But in 2009 Pact of a billion dollar company writing big checks to get kick us out of the distributors knocking us off it was you know, we we had a number of board meetings should we sue them because I mean, it was so obvious they knocked us off but you can’t trademark colors and you can’t trademark the, you know, the earth map, which was on our hot cups, so we couldn’t sue them. But anyways, yeah, we were scared in oh nine we still grew from 45 to 65. But we’re forecasting about 85 90 million that year. So it came in a little sooner and a lot more vicious than we anticipated. But to answer your question, I mean, it was a fight against pact.
And for a number of years, we did get an offer and 2012 or the business, we’re about 85 million in revenue. It kind of became obvious to me that, you know, could we take this as far as we could, because we didn’t own any equipment, we kind of get that last 15 20% Cost of Goods savings, to really compete against those North American manufacturers that actually did have the equipment. So did we take this as far as we could, and, you know, when someone offers you a big jack, and no, and you have to remember, at this point, this is 2012. I’ve been doing this for 22 years. And so we decided maybe we’ve taken this As far as we can, we need to be purchased by a strategic that has equipment that has machinery that can get us that last 15 20% that has the same environmental culture and mission that we do. So yeah, I mean, we’re we ran a small process, but we ended up selling to Waddington North America, otherwise known as w na in 2012.
Marc Gutman 42:26
And was that was that hard? I mean, I have to imagine that you, you know, and we see this all the time. I’ve built businesses, I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve built businesses, it’s a little bit like your child, it’s a baby, maybe even, you know, it’s like something you built from from nothing into something. I mean, was it hard to sell?
Steve Savage 42:43
Yeah, I mean, it was, it was hard. I mean, it’s everything I ever knew for 22 years. So yeah, it was tough. But, you know, by then 19 toy brands had already started so when eco products started getting rid of a lot of the stuff like the environmental building materials, the non toxic cleaners and so forth. I didn’t want boulder clean, which was the non toxic cleaners and detergents to die. So I had actually started 19 oil brands in 2010. And it absorbed the cleaners.
So I already kind of had my hands in another cookie jar when ego products sold. So unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a break. I just went from one business to the other. But I was sort of, you know, still in the game doing what eco products used to do so, so part of the business, but still had another business and that’s, you know, what I’m doing today.
Marc Gutman 43:43
And why is that? I mean, I think we all have this, this dream of being on that proverbial rocket ship, but finding our window, finding our corncob right, whatever that might be, having a great exit and then like why go back into to Kind of startup land again, or at least much smaller and less momentum than what you were experiencing? Why do that and why not just go hang out on the beach and kite board and, you know, play a lot of tennis and hockey?
Steve Savage 44:13
Yeah, I mean, I still ask myself that question. I mean, I was still young. I mean, I was 42 at the time. I wasn’t ready to retire. I thought boulder clean still had a great opportunity. I mean, it was, you know, only one or 2 million at the time, but I you know, my kids were in grade school or probably junior high, maybe grade school at the time. So it’s not like I could retire and pipe board forever, and play hockey and so forth. I know, I had my parents sponsibility So yeah, I mean, I just went from one company to another you know, I I have a lot of energy and passion and felt like I had one more no business to grow.
Marc Gutman 45:01
Yeah. And speaking of that energy and passion, I mean, what are you most excited about right now as it relates to 1908 brands and where you’re taking the company?
Steve Savage 45:09
Yeah, you know, what’s the craziest thing is this year as kind of, like eco products. I said, in a way when the economy was falling apart, that was our big year. Ironically, I mean, the years at 19, like brands, I mean, it’s been tough. This is a tough category. It’s a which is the natural foods channel natural products, dealing with grocery stores and distributors. I mean, it is a very tough industry. There’s a lot of marketing money that retailers and distributors Expect When You’re a smaller company. You know, you’re can’t leverage high volume, cost of goods. And so it’s been tough, but this is our window. Actually, during this pandemic.
We have a plant based EPA registered against the SARS-COV2 that causes COVID-19 we actually were in development of this right before the pandemic hit. And this is our five to 45 million year right and as the world is falling apart, so this is kind of like eco products 2.0 this is really being driven by this plant based EPA registered disinfectant. And you know, since the pandemic started, it’s gone nationwide with Whole Foods, all these Sam’s Club regionally with Costco, nationwide Kroger so I mean, it’s this is I’ve been working 10 hour days since the pandemic started just trying to get more chemical, more bottles, more triggers, you’ve probably heard, you know, spray triggers. You can’t even find them. You couldn’t for a while, but we’ve gotten lucky. Fortunately, our bottles a little shorter, fatter than most.
So the dip tube length of eight and a half inches is a lot easier to come by. So I’ve been able to get spray triggers. We’ve invested in more molds to make more bottles. But it’s funny, I mean, after slugging it out at 1908 brands for 10 years, you know, our window open and it kind of opened with this EPA registered disinfectant.
Marc Gutman 47:19
Now what’s hard about putting a plant based disinfectant out on the market? I mean, I imagine it can’t be easy. It’s probably the easy path is to do something that’s chemical based.
Steve Savage 47:31
Yeah, chemicals are a lot easier to make synthetically. But you know, this time all based disinfectant. I mean, it definitely works in there is supply of it. So the chemical actually hasn’t been the hard part in this. In this time.
All base technology has been around for a few years, seven generation and clean well also have a disinfectant with this technology that’s EPA registered so So the formula has been around a little bit, it’s really been the components, you know, the packaging, and because then this entire category, the cleaning and detergent category has been extremely stressed since this started, I bet.
Marc Gutman 48:14
Well, Steve, thank you so much for coming on the show. As we wind to a close, I have a final question for you. You know, if your great uncle William Ken, and your father who, you know, I understand, I know, is no longer with us. If they were able to see you today, what do you think they’d say?
Steve Savage 48:31
I hope that they would say they were proud of me. You know, I think they would say that just trying to kind of follow in their footsteps. I mean, they were huge role models, you know, something that, you know, I look up to and, you know, I’m just trying to follow in their footsteps and I hope that they will be proud and so yeah.
Marc Gutman 48:58
And that is Steve sax. From echo products in 1908 brands, what does your window look like? Would you even know it if it opened up right in front of you? Steve certainly does. He saw the window wants with corn cups. And it sounds like he’s seeing it again with plant based cleaners. Right on Steve. Thank you again to Steve and the team at 1908 brands. Keep saving the world, one eco product at a time.
Well, that’s the show.
Until next time, make sure to visit our website www dot wildstory comm where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS so you’ll never miss an episode. I like big backstories and I cannot lie. You other storytellers can’t deny.