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Creating CLUBZERØ: How Safia is contributing to the Circular Economy in Partnership with the likes of Coca-Cola, Unilever, and Wimbledon

Sunday, December 10th, 2023

Safia Qureshi was an architect by trade before she became fed up with making developers even more wealthy. She always had a passion for the environment and was frustrated with single-use culture. She launched CLUBZERØ, one of the first players in the returnable packaging space. She navigated conversations in Davos, Switzerland with corporate CEOs from big brands like Coca-Cola and Unilever. From her grit and determination, she pioneered an award-winning system for takeout and delivery packaging using technology that ensures packaging can be used in perpetuity. She boasts a customer base of 30,000+ across cities in Europe and North America, including retail (restaurants and cafes), non-retail (offices and universities), and delivery (online food delivery platforms.) Her efforts so far have saved over 39 tonnes of CO2 and over 2.2 million items of single-use plastics. Read our case study below to see How Safia Started.

Our favorite quote

Start giving yourself credit to be able to reach certain things that you think are beyond your limits.

Financials

Initial cost: $100K

Funding: $1.6M- grants, government funding, investors

Case study

How She Started: What did the early days of CLUBZERØ look like?

Safia Qureshi: The first question that comes into your head is surely someone's already done this. They must have perfected it. There are actually a couple of people who tried something similar, but their execution was off. I thought, let me present this to serious people and see if it will fly. The feedback I got initially was “This isn't going to work here because people think recycling works and they won't understand why your solution needs to exist.” The first thing that you need to do is debunk that.

Most of the corporate world already knew this and it was just the consumers who needed a bit more education. This is back in 2015, and people just were not getting it.

  • Insight: Seek feedback for your ideas and continue to educate your prospects.
  • Insight: Identify a problem and conduct competitive research.


HSS: How did you end up getting the attention of these major players to launch CLUBZERØ?

SQ: In 2017, David Attenborough completely changed the perception of single-use plastics and brought the detrimental effects of single-use plastics to the forefront, sparking a shift in perception. His presence amplified our visibility, enabling us to secure grants and funding. With this momentum, we expanded into various sectors, including major sporting events and corporate offices, aspiring to make reuse the new norm for everyone. We’re still working hard to acquire and retain customers and a big win for us recently was getting Wimbledon Championships.

  • Insight: Recognize an opportunity when it presents itself because timing is crucial to success.


HSS: What would you say is your biggest challenge?

SQ: We were one of the first in the market, and I remember the rooms we would get into and the people that would be quite excited with us. For example, we'd be presenting to the entire exec team at Coca-Cola. Unfortunately, the pandemic came and wiped out that entire team, so we lost those relationships we built. I would say a substantial challenge is corporate restructuring. With those restructures you can lose your big supporters.

  • Insight: Navigating change is a valuable skill when working with larger customers.


HSS: What is your growth strategy?

SQ: We are focused on regional expansion, concentrating on existing verticals such as sporting and live events, commercial office spaces, and eventually retail. Our strategy prioritizes sustainability and a broader presence in our current sectors before venturing into retail.



HSS: What are your lessons learned as you look back on the business?

SQ: When you're setting up as an entrepreneur you think you're going to build this insanely large team and you're going to raise millions and sometimes that's the kind of dream that you're sold. Reality sets in and you then realize I'm a female founder, and not only that, but I’m also a colored female founder. That means I'm probably not going to raise billions.

Imposter syndrome can creep up through the process. You also realize that nothing is equal here. I’ve learned that sometimes you need to recalibrate what you believe success looks like. Is success raising a sh*t ton of money, getting a crazy valuation, and then exiting the business? Or is success solving a real problem, building a business that you really enjoy, that you’re growing at a sustainable pace, and getting a good exit?

Both get you to the same endpoint, but it's a different journey if you recalibrate. You start to enjoy every moment versus, putting yourself down because you think you're not adequate. That's a really toxic mindset that a lot of people fall into.

I've also recalibrated my management style. I used to be very difficult in terms of my expectations of everyone. Everything had to be absolutely perfect and then I realized over time it just has to get you to the next stage.

  • Insight: Recalibrate your expectations if you are not hitting your goals.
  • Insight: Determine the kind of journey you want your business to take.


HSS: Do you have any additional advice for female-founded businesses?

SQ: A lot of women may talk themselves out of doing things because they feel that are not good enough. There isn't this equal playing field, but you should push for the future you want to see for yourself and for the next generation. As women, we are 100% equal, if not better, at doing pretty much anything. Start giving yourself credit to be able to reach certain things that you think are beyond your limits.

  • Insight: You’re good enough and can push yourself beyond your preconceived limits.


Insights

  • Seek feedback for your ideas and continue to educate your prospects.
  • Identify a problem and conduct competitive research.
  • Recognize an opportunity when it presents itself because timing is crucial to success.
  • Navigating change is a valuable skill when working with larger customers.
  • Recalibrate your expectations if you are not hitting your goals.
  • Determine the kind of journey you want your business to take.
  • You’re good enough and can push yourself beyond your preconceived limits.


How We Met: Virtual Introduction

I formed a partnership with SHE Media. SHE Media is "A mission-driven media company that focuses on the extraordinary power of content to inform and inspire the world."