The Fund Founder Spotlight Interview: Ryan Lupberger of Cleancult
The Fund is a founder community and early stage fund, by founders for founders.
Welcome to The Founder Spotlight where we highlight the incredible people behind the companies we’ve backed at The Fund. This week the spotlight is on Ryan Lupberger, CEO and co-founder of Cleancult, a consumer brand redefining clean with sustainable packaging and better for the world ingredients.
The cleaning industry has a dirty little secret: it’s not so clean after all. Many leading brand cleaning products in the United States contain untested chemicals that are banned overseas. Even worse, they come in plastic packaging that ends up in landfills and oceans around the world. What can you do to contribute to a zero-waste society? Join the Cleancult! Co-founder and CEO Ryan Lupberger, along with co-founder Zachary Bedrosian, developed Cleancult to fix today’s cleaning model. They built a better cleaning system that’s easy, sustainable, and cost-effective. They have redesigned everything from ingredients, to packaging, to performance and shipping. They are redefining clean!
What’s the story behind the Cleancult brand?
I was born and raised in Colorado with an all around natural upbringing to the core, organic food, organic shampoo and the like, but never in cleaning products. When I went to business school on the East Coast I finally looked at the back of my bottle of laundry detergent and didn’t see any ingredients listed. This was in 2015 and if you check around, the ingredients aren’t listed. I did research as to why that was and it turns out there’s very limited regulation in the US on what goes into our cleaning products; the FDA, EPA, and USDA don’t heavily regulate or test house cleaning products. The US allows about 1,100 chemicals that are banned in the UK for example, so just a totally crazy industry. Then I looked for the natural products, but they all use plastic packaging right? I thought we could do this better and differently to make better products for the world, so we came up with Cleancult.
What’s Cleancult’s “Northstar”?
Our Northstar is sustainability without sacrifice. Our vision is to change behavior without changing behavior. We want to bring this zero-waste solution by delivering a way to be imperfect environmentalists; you don’t have to change everything you do, but you can make better consumer choices to help reduce the waste in the world. I think a lot of better-for-the-world founders get tripped up in thinking the world is going to change for their solution, but it’s difficult to change people’s behavior. Our solution is just pour and refill your cleaning products into beautiful, permanent, refillable vessels that are forever refillable. We’re on shelves nationwide: CVS, Bed Bath & Beyond, Meijer, and we’re going to be in Walgreens and some other big name stores this year.
What sets you apart from other cleaning companies and competitors?
Our number one differentiator is our packaging; we have 3 issued patents and another 12 patents pending. We're the only company in the world to put a house of cleaning products in milk cartons, which reduces about 95% of plastic in the category. The number two differentiator is our ingredients, which are derived from coconuts, so we are hyper effective, and also biodegradable. And then the third thing is efficacy. It's been a long journey to get to this point, but today we are ranking as good or better than the leading natural cleaners and we believe we're competing with some of the best conventional cleaners on the market.
What were some of the greatest challenges founding Cleancult?
Leakage! We literally spilled almost a million gallons of soap over the last four years. It's been such a challenge because you're putting a product that's meant to attack grime and clean dirt inside paper based packaging. When we ran it in machines, it foamed, exploded, and bubbled over, so it’s years and years of learning and getting to the point where we are now. In 2017 we had 100% leakage and couldn’t figure it out. In 2018 we had 80% leakage and still couldn't figure it out. In 2019, 30% leakage and it was literally gunking down the shelves, just frightening and kept me up at night. By 2020, we had under 5% leakage and last year we mitigated the entire problem. We succeeded in putting soap products in a new form of packaging that everyone said could not be done.
Tell us about a recent milestone Cleancult crushed.
We just closed our Series B, led by some great investors in New York City. It was a $26M raise, so that was really exciting. The funding is for retail distribution expansion, so we’re going to be in 10,000 US and Canadian retail stores by Q4 of this year. We also just launched our 2022 campaign -the Cult of Clean.
Any favorite books you can recommend to other founders?
My favorite is by Scott Belsky. It's a 40 minute YouTube video that he's built into a book called The Messy Middle. There's just so many features on the beginning and the end of startups and then there’s just 6-8 years of messy, messy middle. He talks about his journey, the challenges, the improvements and it comes down to two things that my team and I live by: endurance and optimization.