How we sold eco-friendly paper toothbrushes to Netflix and Marriott: Case of Effa startup

The Ukrainian startup Effa produces and sells sustainable products for everyday use, such as disposable paper toothbrushes. It has recently secured an investment of $3.5 million, and among its clients are Netflix, a video streaming service, and Marriott, the largest American hotel chain. The editor of AIN.UA talked to Daria Kichuk, the co-founder of the startup, about how the company managed to find large international clients.

Co-founders of Effa, photo courtesy of the company

Products and clients of the startup

The paper toothbrush is Effa’s most famous product; the team has won contests with it, and Reuters, DW, and other media outlets have written about it. According to Daria, Effa’s goal is to replace disposable products with environmentally friendly ones. The startup is prioritising the promotion of its toothbrushes: everyone brushes their teeth every day, and such a product is the easiest way to explain what the startup does and strives for.

The main clients of the startup are companies from the travel industry (hotels, airlines, cruise ships), but there are also clients from the corporate sector, such as Netflix, who need these toothbrushes for employees in offices.

“We also work with institutional or government procurement – for hospitals, refugee camps, and prisons. This segment will open for us in the future when production volumes allow us to reduce the product price, but we are already communicating with several social organizations (UNICEF and others),” says Daria.

The startup makes regular deliveries to its big clients every three months: to do this, Effa works with distributors in the regions where their clients are located. They pick up the product from the warehouses and distribute it themselves.

How it acquired Netflix as a client

According to Daria, the team managed to enter the market with the product at the right time. On the one hand, the coronavirus has caused an increase in the demand for single-use products. On the other hand, almost all the world’s industries are now switching to eco-products. The co-founder of the startup says that both the design and the product website are important. While studying in the Startup Wise Guys accelerator program, the team completed a module on lead generation and sales on Linkedin and now uses its lessons.

The fact that the startup participated in international projects like the eco-innovation competition Clim@ in Frankfurt, where it made the top five, the ClimateLaunchPad green business ideas competition, and so on, also helped it find clients. That, in turn, resulted in publications in the media.

“A separate sales tool is, of course, the media. As soon as a good article about us is published by a reputable media outlet, we are bombarded with letters,” says Daria.

That is how the startup got Netflix as a client. According to the co-founder of the startup, Netflix representatives were interested in the Effa product themselves: they were looking for an environmentally friendly solution for their offices, and the only alternatives available on the market were bamboo toothbrushes, which are not very environmentally friendly. They found articles about the Ukrainian startup and decided to get in touch with it.

Photo courtesy of Effa

As a result, Netflix bought the toothbrushes not only for the offices but also for actors on castings. It turned out that the company uses about 6,000 toothbrushes a month for these purposes. So after negotiations, the startup started supplying the brushes not only to offices but also to Netflix movie sets.

How Marriott became a client

As with Marriott, the startup tried to sell its product to hotels. Daria is responsible for sales, and it was she who negotiated with Marriott. In this case, LinkedIn worked well as a sales channel. As Daria says, to sell through this social media, you need to follow several basic steps:

  • The person who will be engaged in sales through LinkedIn has to develop their profile: a good photo, position in the company, the profile of which should also be active.
  • You need to be active on LinkedIn, read and understand the area of sales, subscribe to opinion shapers in this area, read specialized media, write posts, and like the posts of others. “This is the only way you will become an insider of a specific area. In a couple of weeks of working through a specific market segment on LinkedIn, you will realize that there are actually not so many key people there,” says Daria.
  • You need to subscribe to online events: according to Daria, this is one of the best sales pipelines: after all, people who actively use LinkedIn subscribe to online events and are ready to share their opinions and expertise. You can see the list of event visitors and add them to your friends list.
  • After researching the market, you need to find a person in the company who should write about sales. Writing to CEO is often a bad idea; such messages will just get lost. “It’s important to think about whose problematic aspects in the company you are solving,” says Daria. You shouldn’t become friends without a small intro message. And don’t try to sell your product straight away. You’d rather ask the person for their opinion about the product, ask a few questions.
  • You should not add many people at once if your profile isn’t properly built: the algorithms of LinkedIn are configured in such a way that if too many users don’t accept your request, your profile may be blocked.
  • First, it’s better to work with leads manually to understand how it all works. And after that, you can try lead generation software. “The main thing is to remember that after the first reply to your message, you need to proceed to correspondence via email or assign a call. The next thing is correct account management,” advises Daria.

In the case of Marriott, this was the approach that worked. Daria actively developed her LinkedIn and company profiles, made posts, and got likes. She also studied the market and those things that were important particularly to this company. And it turned out that sustainability (environmentally friendly and self-sufficient development) was one of the main goals of Marriott for the years 2021-2025, and the company started giving priority to microsuppliers of products. “This was a sign for us that we urgently needed to contact them,” states Daria.

She determined who might be responsible for purchasing products in the company and mailed outa number of letters referring to the post on microsuppliers. As soon as the manager of The Jaffa Hotel (part of the Marriott chain) in Israel responded, he was sent an email with a customized presentation, and then a call was made. After the call, we sent the client a PR package of 10 hotel-branded brushes. And we signed a contract with one of the Marriott hotels.

“When a client sees that their brand respected so much, the price is no longer so important to them,” says Daria.

The startup recently raised a round and plans to spend the funds to develop other eco-products.