I started Zero to make zero-waste grocery shopping effortless and empower people to protect the planet while shopping conveniently.
It hasn’t been easy — we’re the first online zero-waste grocery store in the US, and being the first to do anything is often tough. But it’s been exciting, we are thriving, and people believe in what we are building. I’m excited to share that we recently closed a $3M Seed, taking our capital raised to $4.7M.
To get Zero off the ground in early 2019, I pitched 250+ times before finding our first investor. My belief in the business never wavered from pitch 1 to pitch 250. In fact, as time went on, I only felt more driven to bring Zero to life. This energy set the tone for our company.
Today, in addition to exponential growth, we have an incredible team with a scrappy, underdog mentality and a singular focus on building something that makes us, our planet, and our customers deeply proud.
Inspired by other founders’ stories, I thought I’d share our story of building Zero brick by brick.
🧱 A founder, a vision, a plan. First brick: $500k.
In 2018, the sustainability and on-demand economies were on the rise. There were lots of options for ordering food and groceries to your home, yet, surprisingly, none focused on reducing plastic. What I thought would be an easier pitch to investors ended up being quite an arduous process. As I mentioned above, it took more than 250 investor meetings for us to get our first ‘brick’ with which we began to build Zero. It came largely from Precursor Ventures. Charles Hudson, Managing Partner, understood the Zero vision and connected with me as a founder from the get-go. With that initial pre-seed investment, which also included SGH and a bunch of angel investors, Zero was up-and-running in January 2019.
🧱 A successful private beta & strong public launch. Second brick: $500k.
The funds from Precursor allowed us to launch a beta in the Bay Area to figure out sustainable grocery e-commerce. Originally, Zero was an exclusive, à la carte, in-home service. The early model was totally un-scalable — we took a big cart of product into apartment buildings and literally went into customers’ homes and filled their jars with items. But it was important. It enabled us to understand grocery delivery on a granular level and architect a better way forward.
Within the first six months, we had built a solid cohort of customers who were shopping on Zero frequently and sharing valuable feedback. We embarked on a two-week sprint where we completely reconfigured the service to be able to do next-day, door-to-door delivery of 100+ zero-waste products. With this approach, we were delivering product already packaged into jars to customers’ doors and not entering their homes.
In November 2019, we publicly launched across the entire Bay Area with our new offering. We had laid the foundation for Zero as it is today, and it began to grow quickly. Thanks to this traction, we were able to close our second $500K brick. Existing investors doubled down, and we welcomed Chingona Ventures and Cleo Capital, as well as a number of incredible angels, to the Zero fam.
Then, in March 2020, COVID-19 took hold.
🧱 Traction, COVID, 3x growth. Third brick: $700k.
When COVID-19 hit the US, our team was among the first companies to go into lockdown. By late February, only essential personnel were on the warehouse floor for order preparation and delivery in head-to-toe PPE. Soon after that, the Bay Area went into full shelter-in-place.
Much like other companies in the grocery delivery space, our demand skyrocketed. To keep up, we grew our team in half the time we anticipated and launched features that were half-baked. Customer experience is tantamount, and our underdog team fought tooth-and-nail to preserve that despite long hours, little sleep, and no time for planning. We abandoned our notions of roles and split up the responsibilities of customer service, order packing, feature development, and more.
While our metrics soared, we needed funding to be able to tool up and maintain growth. Confident in what we were building, we began conversations with existing investors about getting us the capital we needed.
By the end of March, we hit two milestones: (1) we tripled revenue and members, and (2) we got our third ‘brick’. This one was $700k from Incite.org, Gaingels, Arlan Hamilton and MaC Ventures, plus some more awesome angels. They believed in our vision and could see that we were delivering on promises we made to early investors in January 2019.
🧱 Operating in the new-normal, strong retention, 20x growth. Fourth brick: $3M.
Over the subsequent six months, we leveraged these funds to hire additional team members and increase our order delivery capacity. We built better tools for our team and up-leveled our tech to give our customers an optimized shopping experience. However, we saw that COVID was a true test of our supply chain and model.
We are not the typical grocery delivery service. By sourcing products at wholesale sizes and prices to avoid materials waste, we are disrupting the grocery supply chain. As other grocery stores faced out-of-stocks due to a mutual reliance on the same distributors and sources for their products, we were able to avoid out-of-stocks and maintain a consistent customer experience. We had put our model to the test and succeeded, and it allowed us to serve customers in the best way we possibly could.
Our revenue has grown more than 20x since the beginning of February. Our tools, website, product selection, and team have all grown a tremendous amount. Most importantly, customers have shown loyalty, trust, and love for us as a growing brand and we are forever grateful to those who have relied on us to be their grocery store during these trying times and to give us the honor of feeding them and their families.
This leads us to our fourth and final (to date ) brick. We are thrilled and proud to announce that we have closed a $3M seed round. The funds come from this group of incredible investors who believe in our company — the largest check came from our friends at 1984. I am thrilled to share this journey with all of these folks.
🧱 Arlan Hamilton
🧱 AVG Basecamp Fund
🧱 Bluestein Ventures
🧱 Chingona Ventures
🧱 City Light
🧱 Cleo Capital
🧱 Concrete Rose Capital
🧱 Forward Venture Capital
🧱 Gingerbread Capital
🧱 Kapor Capital
🧱 Luma Launch
🧱 MaC Venture Capital
🧱 Precursor Ventures
🧱 SGH Capital
🧱 Vitalize Venture Group
🧱 WOCstar Fund
🧱 The many Angels & Scouts who believed in us
P.S. Please feel free to reach out on Twitter, my DMs are open: @zuleykastrasner