At Waffle Wednesday 8.9. we had Mikko Siukosaari as our guest. Ville Ailio, a business consultant, visual storytelling professional and co-founder of Wonderland, interviewed Siukosaari about sustainability startups.
Siukosaari has previously worked in the marketing and communications field. A couple of years ago he decided that he wants to be a part of sustainable startups. He wanted to help companies grow, either by investing in them or helping them in other ways. The companies that Siukosaari wanted to support had to be in his own words ”super sustainable & fun”. Currently he is involved in 4 startups. They are Bun2bun, Ninyes, Ductor and Scarabtech. During the interview they delved especially into Bun2bun’s success story.
Why sustainability startups?
Siukosaari had been interested in sustainable development for a long time. He had been making conscious decisions to reduce his carbon footprint for about 10 years. He had for example slowly cut red meat out of his diet.
Five years ago he attended an advertising event in France. United Nation’s secretary-general at the time Ban Ki-moon held a speech at the event which stuck with Siukosaari. It was the first speech in which Siukosaari had heard someone talk about climate change in the way that people talk about it now. The speech was specifically about what effects climate change was going to cause in the future. Ban Ki-moon appealed to the marketing professionals in the room that they have to communicate the importance of sustainability to customers. After that speech Siukosaari began to think about sustainability even more. He realized that we have a problem that we have to do something about.
How Bun2bun became 100% vegan
Siukosaari has been a huge burger lover his entire life. When five or ten years ago vegetarian burgers started to become more common, Siukosaari of course wanted to try them. But all of the vegetarian burgers he tried tasted bad to him. This made him wonder why anybody would want to buy a vegetarian burger that tasted bad. Then he heard about a new innovation, Beyond meat. Beyond meat is a vegetarian patty that tastes like meat. Beyond meat was however at the time only available in the United States, and it took a couple more years before it reached the Finnish soil. This started Bun2bun’s journey to becoming vegan.
Bun2bun was originally a small gourmet hamburger company that made their burgers from organic meat. They had one vegetarian option that made up 10% of the entire sales. Siukosaari’s crew however had an idea; let’s make Bun2bun 100% vegan. They started the conversation and Bun2bun thought that the idea was interesting. But changing a company’s operations this drastically is always a risk. Finally Bun2bun accepted Siukosaari’s offer and they became business partners. Bun2bun’s new objectives were to be 100% vegan, 100% tasty and at some point double the sales.
Changing the whole selection to vegan brought them a lot of media coverage and increased the company value. Awareness of the company increased 600% and the company value increased 1400% in two years. As climate change became the topic of discussion more and more, vegan burgers started to interest a lot more people.
Bun2bun expanded their business from two restaurants to five and their burger was chosen as the best vegan hamburger in Europe.
Sustainability alone is not enough
Siukosaari highlighted in his speech how the product or service should always come first and sustainability should only come after that. The product or service should be great as it is and also be better than other similar products in some way. Sustainability alone is not enough. The point is not to create something that is good for the planet but an interesting product or service that would succeed even without the sustainability aspect.
It is also important that we are not only making good products, but also setting them at a price level that people can afford them. Pricing can be a problem for sustainable products since the production process can be so expensive that you can’t sell the product at a more affordable price. The goal should however be that products are sold at the most affordable price possible. Because the more people can buy sustainable products the better for the planet. Siukosaari thinks that sustainable products shouldn’t be ”luxury products” that only a small group can afford but products that are available to all regardless of their wealth.
What is a sustainable company?
Mikko’s perspective is that most companies are neither sustainable nor unsustainable. They are just companies. At the end of the day many small and mid-sized companies like barbers and electricians don’t have that much impact on climate change. The most important thing is that big companies become more sustainable.
It is easy for big companies to drive the narrative that they are sustainable even if in reality they are not. If a company produces more and more greenhouse gas emissions it is not a sustainable company. It is not a sustainable company even if they tried to save their unsustainable actions by giving money away to charity for the environment.
Sustainability is a clear trend at the moment. Many companies that have nothing to do with the environment try to benefit from this trend by advertising that they are environmentally friendly. This might make it difficult for customers to recognize which companies are really sustainable and which ones are not. Siukosaari believes that companies advertising their sustainability falsely or companies advertising sustainability when their company has nothing to do with it will soon turn against them.
How do you create a sustainable company?
Your company shouldn’t use non-renewable resources or speed up climate change. But if your company’s actions don’t harm nature or animals you should think if sustainability is really a part of your company or not. If sustainability has nothing to do with your company’s actions it is a little unnecessary to force it. Sustainability has to be a part of your company’s core and DNA and not only just a marketing ploy. If sustainability is not a part of your company’s core it is useless to communicate it to your customers. You should focus on what you’re doing and strive to be the best at it. Small climate actions are of course good but at the moment we need the actions of big companies.
What tips does Siukosaari have for new entrepreneurs or sustainability startups?
You can face a lot of negative feedback and opinions when you create something new or have a new idea. You may hear from others how they don’t see the value of the product or how they would never buy it. You have to forget all the negative opinions and trust in your own idea. People usually treat everything new with caution so don’t take it personally.
It usually takes time for people to see the value of a product. Even if you see immediately how revolutionary and superior the product is, it still takes time for most of the people to accept the product and see its value.