When eating out, most people sip their ice-cold drinks through a plastic straw and think nothing of it. The founders of Sip PH felt differently. They saw the waste each straw represented and endeavored to bring more eco-friendly straws, which were already available abroad, to the Philippines.
But they had to start from square one.
“Our biggest challenge at the start was really how to start everything with no model to follow, since no one else was selling metal straws as an actual business rather than a one-off thing,” says Ma. Elena Villanueva, Sip PH’s chief operating officer.
As such, Sip PH had to determine on their own how to sell and package the metal straws, price them, and brand the company. Their target market is people who want to stop using plastic straws and would prefer a better alternative.
“To be more specific, we were originally just targeting students, since they are more aware about this issue, but our customers right now have become more diverse than just students since this is an issue that anyone can be on board with,” Villanueva says.
They are reaching this eco-conscious demographic through social media and partnerships with established organizations, such as WWF Philippines, that bring them greater visibility. “In the coming months, we’re planning to also approach school organizations, and establishments like restaurants, cafes, and hotels who want to share our cause with their customers as well,” she adds.
The general pitch across all these channels is pretty straightforward. If a social enterprise like TOMS promotes itself with a one-for-one model, where a pair of shoes is donated for every pair that is bought, Sip PH’s value proposition can be seen as kind of an analogue.
“Every time someone uses our metal straw, that’s one less plastic straw that could be going into the trash and ending up in a landfill or even the ocean for hundreds of years!” she says, noting that their goal is to prevent thousands of straws from being thrown away daily.
Reducing the carbon footprint
Despite this noble mission, some people still have valid concerns about metal straws.
“The most common objection or question we get from people who are skeptical is how you clean the straws. Since it is difficult to clean the inside of a straw with your usual dishwashing tools, it is natural to worry that using the straws may actually be unhygienic,” Villanueva says.
As a solution, each of Sip PH’s straws comes with a cleaning brush, as well as a canvas pouch to protect it when a user is on the go.
Sip PH also wants to reduce its own carbon footprint further. As of the moment, the company is trying to find ways to produce the metal straws locally, rather than importing them from abroad. This would also have a desirable social impact.
“This way, we don’t just further reduce our carbon footprint, but also are able to hopefully give livelihood to Filipinos that need it,” she says, adding that their ultimate goal is to offer a line of products that enable people to reduce their environmental impact.
For other entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in Southeast Asia, Villanueva offers two pieces of advice. Rather than focusing on just building a network, it’s important to focus on building the right network.
“It really helps to know people interested in or working towards the same cause as you. You can get a lot of useful advice sometimes and get connected to the people that can help you make a greater impact,” she says.
Second, she cautions against entrepreneurs overestimating the importance of passion above all else when recruiting other team members. First and foremost, you need people with complementary skill sets.
“There are some skills and roles that can be learned, but there are some that need a level of competence and the right set of traits on their own,” she says.