Marina is the Founder & CEO of EQUO, a sustainable brand providing 100% plastic-free and compostable solutions for single-use plastics, starting with drinking straws and utensils. Prior to starting her business, Marina worked for over 10 years in brand management and marketing for companies including Unilever, Bacardi, LG Electronics and Spin Master. Recently, EQUO won the SME100 Fast Moving Companies award, was the first Vietnam-based company admitted in to and backed by Techstars, and Marina was named Flik’s 21 Women Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2021.
Where did the idea for EQUO come from?
My journey really started when I first moved to Vietnam to help my parents. It was a big change from what I was used to, being born and raised in Canada and living there my entire life. I came to Vietnam without any friends, and so I visited a lot of coffee shops (which the country is known for due to being one of the largest exporters of coffee in the world). That’s where I discovered for the first time, this green item in my drink, and it turned out to be a grass straw. I was surprised, delighted, but moreso than anything, curious. My curiosity led to research about the natural resources in abundance in Vietnam, and that is really what opened me up to this whole world of sustainable alternatives that I never knew existed.
From there it was as simple as applying my background in brand and product innovation, and launching a Kickstarter campaign to test out the market and appetite from consumers for sustainable drinking straws. You can say that was the fuel for the jet that has become EQUO.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Since I work on both Vietnam and international (US & Canada) time zones, I usually start off with a call in the morning, followed by an hour or so of checking emails before hopping in to a day of meetings. With periodic breaks in between for emails and work, I usually hop back in to meetings in to the late evening.
In order to be productive I try to slot all meetings on a certain day or in chunks. That way when I am able to get some downtime, I can work through, uninterrupted.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Bringing an idea to life is all about ensuring you understand what your big vision is and then planning out the steps you need to get you there. Without execution, and idea just stays an idea, so it is important to lay out how you are going to turn your idea in to reality.
What’s one trend that excites you?
A trend that really excites me is the focus on beautiful packaging and presentation. Beautiful packaging is like seamless communication – if you’re able to deliver something in a smooth, crisp way, it makes the actual words being delivered that much more acceptable and digestible, no matter what they are.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Always archiving my email. Trying to make sure you action and sort your email everyday will make your list of tasks for that day seem less daunting. It also helps you prioritize. A clean inbox is the most satisfying thing in the whole world.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Believe in yourself. If you don’t, no one else will, and that is the FIRST step to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Thinking you can when everyone else thinks you can’t.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think one that is true, as it pertains to the sustainability category, is that people, despite their good intentions, need something more than just ‘being better for the environment’ to get them to support a green product. If you think about reusable bags and what has really driven their growing adoption, its not the fact that they are better for the environment, but it is their trendy designs.\
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I read motivational quotes. It sounds weird, but when you’re an entrepreneur and everyone, everyday is giving you advice from a million directions and there seems to be a never ending mountain of work, sometimes you need to read from the experiences of those who went through the exact same thing, in order to remind yourself to keep going because it will be worth it in the end.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Being seen everywhere – Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, Clubhouse. Telling everyone that will listen and showing anyone that sees anything on the internet or social media. The first part of selling your product is getting people to know it even exists. The more times you bombard them, the more curious they will be about what it is all about. Also, telling your story is key to your success. There are millions of brands out there, and telling your story can do wonders to setting you apart.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One of my biggest failures was trusting resumes. What I learned was someone’s resume is not indicative of their ability to adapt or work well, especially in an unstructured environment like a startup, or during a pandemic where you have to work from home, instead of being in the office all day. My best hires were those who were less experienced but willing to put in the work, had the energy to learn and the ability to adapt quickly. Some of my worst hires were those who had amazing credentials, but ultimately had been so far removed from daily, menial tasks and the high demands of a startup. Now I look at motivation and self-drive as key indicators of future performance.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would love to create an app that pairs you with people with different wardrobes/styles and allows you to easily coordinate a closet swap of items. Its sustainable and a great way to update your wardrobe without having to resort to buying new clothes.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I spent recently was on this all-in-one portable power bank that plugged in to the wall. No more scrambling around for cables or adapters. Charge your power bank while you charge your phone, without fidgeting with tangled wires.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Calendly. I know it sounds easy, but the task of having to go back and forth and figure out time zones is all simplified by the simple use of Calendly. It has literally saved me HOURS in meeting coordiation.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One of my favorite books and one that I go back and read multiple times a year is Paul Arden’s “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be“. He was a former Creative Director at Saatchi and Saatchi during the height of their advertising might. It is such a simple read, but so powerful, because it reinforces the principles behind a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the most important takeaways – talent can only get you so far, you need to want it enough. Ambition and drive will take you further than any skill set you have.
What is your favorite quote?
“Better an oops than a what if”. We only live on this Earth for a small speck in time. Be bold, be brave, make mistakes, but NEVER be left wondering ‘what if’?
- Believe in yourself, or no one else will
- Better an oops than a what if
- Efficiency is the king of productivity
- Ambition and drive will take you farther than talent and skill
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.