Talk about a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG for those of you who love biz acronyms): Alison Diamond, CEO of Jybe, wants to help solve the single-use plastic crisis by encouraging consumers to order from restaurants using eco-friendly packaging. Is this even a problem, you ask? Our single-use plastic addiction is literally burying us in harmful waste – like in the movie Wall*E. Each year, 11 million tons of plastic waste is dumped into our oceans. If you can imagine a trash truck filled with plastic dumping its full cargo into the ocean – every minute of every day of the year, that’s 11 million tons! By focusing on using eco-friendly materials, we can all be the change.
Meet Alison Diamond, Co-Founder, and CEO of Jybe, a Ratings Web App to Rank Eco-Friendly Takeout & Delivery Packaging at Restaurants
LAStartups interviewed Alison to learn more about what inspired this idea and how we can all be of service to the triple bottom line: profit, people, and the planet. Here’s what we learned about her journey.
LAStartups (LAS): What is Jybe and how did you come up with the idea?
Alison Diamond (AD): Jybe is a web-based app currently in Beta with a mission to end the use of single-use plastic in ‘’to-go’’ food packaging. We rank a restaurant’s materials based on user-supplied photos and questionnaires that convert to blended ratings. To help businesses ease the transition to eco-friendly materials, we work on the provider side with free consulting services for restaurants to do better.
I love telling the story of how Jybe originated. Two of our founders, Paul & Steve, started a company called CO2CYCLE in 2018. Steve, an accomplished and sought-after commercial producer, and Paul, an experienced writer, and corporate communications guru, were troubled by the amount of waste generated on film sets. From the pallets of plastic water bottles to the mismanagement of waste, they had the idea to start CO2CYCLE to make sets green.
The problem they encountered was that after spending 14+ hours a day creating green sets, they’d come home exhausted and open the Postmates app to order dinner. What would arrive was almost always a plastic bag full of plastic clamshells and utensils they didn’t need or want. They were exasperated that they’d spent all day extolling the virtues of a green set, then had a bag of plastic dropped off at their door. They wished they could know in advance what packaging a restaurant would use before they placed their order and started to think about a service that would help users make Earth-friendly choices — and Jybe was born.
LAS: What’s the problem you are trying to solve?
AD: Very simply, we want to eliminate the use of single-use plastic in restaurants that serve food ‘to-go’. This was a big problem a year and a half ago when we got started, but a gargantuan problem now that meal deliveries are skyrocketing due to Covid-19. By next year, the plastics industry will manufacture 400 million tons of single-use plastic annually – the same weight as all the people on earth. And by 2050, the weight of plastic trash in the seas will exceed that of all the creatures living in them. The stakes could not be any higher.
LAS: So how are you working with restaurants during this crazy time?
AD: We were all set to launch pre-COVID but hit the brakes to reset mid-March when things shut down and the world’s attention was understandably on one thing and one thing only. We re-grouped with our marketing company, Lupine Creative, in the spring to explore ways we could proactively support our restaurant friends in light of their many challenges. From this, we launched our ’Takeout Titleholder’ campaign which praises and promotes restaurants that use Earth-friendly packaging.
We realized that we had a lot of valuable data on packaging practices, and we wanted to start bolstering the restaurants prioritizing sustainable packaging despite the supply chain challenges and the industry financial and economic downturn caused by the pandemic. So we simply provided dinners for sustainability-focused influencers from ‘Takeout Titleholder’ restaurants that put a spotlight not only on Jybe’s mission but also on the restaurants that were prioritizing sustainability as they adapted post-COVID-19.
We are officially in Beta now and working on a new campaign called ‘Provider Playbook’ designed to provide restaurants with information, tools, and immediate access to Earth-friendly materials and eco-conscious best practices. These customized “day of service” takeout kits of sustainable packaging materials will allow restaurants to see first-hand how easy it is to make eco-conscious choices when it comes to ‘to-go’ food.
LAS: What were you up to before Jybe?
AD: I worked at Goldstar.com for about 6 years and was most recently their Director of Partner Success. I oversaw the team that serviced a portfolio of over four thousand live entertainment partners and spent most of my days focused on efficiency. My claim to fame though is my 2.5-year-old daughter, Norah. It was really hard to go back to work after having her and after about 6 months I decided to leave Goldstar and spend more time chasing her around. That lasted for about 5 minutes. Paul and Steve had the idea for Jybe and approached me to run it. It was a great balance for me because I could work from home and more importantly it was something that had a direct impact on Norah’s future. I mean, I spend so much time worrying about food being organic, the products that touch her skin being free and clear of harmful chemicals, all that. And yet there is plastic in the food she eats. Did you know Americans consume an average of 5 grams of plastic in their diet a week. That’s like eating a credit card. Gross. We need to turn this ship around and we need to do it quickly.
I recently posted a letter on our blog explaining more why this is important. Two years ago I would have said that my family lived a pretty sustainable lifestyle. I’d politely decline utensils when I didn’t need them, use my refillable water bottle as often as I could, and put anything that even kind of resembled plastic in the blue bin. I was very, very wrong though. It wasn’t until my deep dive shortly after starting Jybe that I realized just how little I knew about our waste stream, what can and cannot be recycled and what was happening to our oceans.
In a recent study, we discovered that 100% of sea turtles have microplastics in their guts? Plastic is everywhere. It’s even in our plants. We want to help change that.
LAS: Tell us a story about how you personally started – maybe one of your early struggles and how you overcame that challenge?
AD: I worked at TheTonight Show with Jay Leno briefly and hated every second of it. Most of the people were nice, Jay was very kind and I made some really great friends. But in general, the entertainment industry is not for me and the egos and pressures that stem from, let’s just say, certain personality types had me tripping over my own words and making lots of mistakes. It was 2008-ish and we were in the middle of a nasty recession. It was hard to find jobs especially for those just right out of college. So I stuck with it longer than I would have liked.
But the experience strengthened my ability to work with different types of personalities which helped a lot in my jobs to come.
LAS: What big problem kept you up last night? And what are you doing about it?
AD: Lately the concept of progress but not (yet) perfection has been jolting me from my sleep. Our current algorithm rates restaurant delivery materials based on a few questions we ask users. We wanted to keep the questions simple and brief to not lose anyone in the process. But is it foolproof? Nope. An example of this is fiber boxes. For most people, the Earthy colored box that appears to be made of paper would make you answer no to our questions about plastic and styrofoam. That’s great. But what about compostable? If something is marked compostable we dock the restaurant because in the city of LA we don’t even have access to industrial compost facilities and these materials cause harm wherever they end up. To the untrained eye, molded fiber boxes really do look like a sustainable option, but we know that isn’t the case.
At the end of the day, though, we have to start somewhere, fight hard to suggest options we know will break down in a reasonable amount of time no matter where they end up and continue to strive for perfection.
I should also mention that in the morning I get super excited to go into my office and check out progress made overnight in what we call “Jybe labs.” Greenwashing is alive and well, and so many products are marked as biodegradable but with no mention of how long it will take. So whenever we order takeout, I take a sample of the box/bag, soak it in water, and track how long it takes to degrade. The water test is based on our worst-case scenario of what could happen to waste – namely, it makes its way to the ocean and torments marine life. Plastic will endure for hundreds of years in the oceans, so Jybe Labs tries to simulate water exposure to assess what sort of threat these products pose.
LAS: How is Jybe financed?
AD: We are currently self-funded.
LAS: And is VC funding part of your plans?
AD: I hope a big part! At the moment though we are hyper-focused on proving out our concept and activating a huge network of users that will act as our leverage to impact real change. We look forward to chatting with VCs when the time is right.
LAS: What book or person has inspired you?
AD: This is a bit self-serving perhaps, but I find so much inspiration in our partners, Paul and Steve. They have made it their life’s mission to leave the planet healthier than how they found it, and nothing stops them from having a new idea and making it reality. In fact, Jybe is just one of the companies in their portfolio of sustainability businesses. They have Co2Cycle, which I mentioned, that works to make production sets green, and are about to launch Aerrem and manufacture a stunning tote meant to hold all of the things you need to carry with you to stay green on the go. There’s also Vote To Save Us which is a movement meant to activate voter turnout and shed light on crucial topics like the environment. They both never stop learning and pushing for a better tomorrow and I feel so grateful to be on the same team with them. And I swear there isn’t a reputable publication they don’t read. They often send me articles “hot off the press” with their summary before most people have even reached for their morning coffee or opened their eyes.
LAS: What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs who are looking to start their entrepreneurial journey?
AD: Jump in. Prior to Jybe, I had never done my own thing and was filled with anxiety about the things I didn’t know. I was so laser-focused on the answers I didn’t have that I didn’t lean into my ability to find the people who could help me. Companies like Lupine and Xivic for example. Learning from these people, and people like my husband, Kevin, who is our CTO and who runs global e-commerce for Forever 21. He was the CTO and co-founder of Hautelook.com, which Nordstrom eventually bought. He knows some things about tech and launching successful businesses.
Now when I have a question I lean on my experts and don’t waste any time worrying about needing to ask. It’s why they are there. I thought to be successful I needed all the answers but now know this is very much not the case.
If you have an idea that you feel passionate about, explore it. Talk about it. Write about it. Post about it. And understand that if you are able to make your idea a reality one day, it might look a little different than the way you thought about it originally. That isn’t because it wasn’t good enough in the beginning but because being able to evolve is part of being a good leader with a great idea. I’ll say it again: Jump in.
Also, check out our other interview with Suze Yalof Schwartz, CEO at Unplug