Yasmin Grigaliunas On Human Connection & Accelerating Your Impact As An Entrepreneur
Yas Grigaliunas is the CEO and cofounder of World’s Biggest Garage Sale (WBGS). She is doing her part to activate communities across Australia to declutter, clean out their homes and donate their dormant goods to WBGS events where the items can receive second and third life cycles.
WBGS make donations from the profits of the sale of donated items to Australian charity benefactors making a positive impact in the community through local charities. Yasmin is passionate about activating the circular economy at a local level to create major global impact which aligns to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To date Yas' work at WBGS has diverted 3.3 million kilograms of goods from potential landfill, contributed $1.7 million worth of social value to the global economy, and created a passionate community around the circular principles of reuse, recycle, repurpose and recommerce.
Yas has been described as a “one-percenter” one of those people with a natural capacity and passion only matched by her energy for entrepreneurship. She loves to create purposeful impact with a focus on ‘doing’ and executing to create meaningful outcomes for people and planet.
Yasmin shares insights about leading a profit for purpose organisation, with an emphasis on the importance of human connection and putting people first, which then sees profits follow.
Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)
[Tom Allen] - To start things off, could you please share a bit about your background and what led you to setting up an annual charity event?
[Yasmin Grigaliunas] - So my background's really... I guess if you stripped it back, it would be sales and very much customer experience, customer service. And just serving the needs of people in business, and so my background's really B2B and I come from that business-to-business background, where I was really fortunate to work under leadership where they taught me how to be an intrapreneur, back before it was even cool to be an intrapreneur. So for the leap into being an entrepreneur wasn't so difficult. I guess it transitioned really well. And the Garage Sale happened quite by accident, it was back in 2013 that I thought, "Ah, we need to solve a problem."
We called it donor fatigue, we knew all of our friends and family were really wanting to support great charitable causes, but everyone in our network was trying to raise money for all different various causes. And it was really hard to pick who and what to give your money to. I thought, "Well, let's have a garage sale. Let's sell all the dormant goods around our house, that we've been holding onto for the last seven years since our kids were born." And before I knew it, my friends and family had jumped on the bandwagon, started donating their dormant goods, and the garage filled up so much at home that we could no longer hold the Garage Sale in our garage.
As you do, when your background is sales and business development, you pick up the phone, you get a removals truck, you fill it up and you take it down to the local hall and you put together, overnight, a World's Biggest Garage Sale, where 50 volunteers helped build it, and we did $15,000 in revenue.
So it's come a long way since the beginning. Tell us about this year's event. And also, where do you see the Garage Sale going in five or so years time?
Well look, the first two years of the event it was really a hobby. I would take a month off my job, donate my time, build a project, and go back to my really awesome job. And every year I'd be challenged by the fact that I loved the passion project so much, but I knew that it could never support a team of employees, because we always gave all our money away.
It was only when someone challenged me to go all in and take a risk and actually build a sustainable business out of this, that we decided to really focus on bringing live scale events to the community, so that communities anywhere in the world could raise funds for their own charitable cause through that circular economy. If you look at it this year, we're hoping to increase on last year's results, which was 20,000 people through the doors in a single day, and revenues of well in excess of $150,000. This year we hope to have 20,000 plus people coming through the doors again, in Brisbane. But what we're trying to do this time, Tom, is we're really systemising the processes, bringing technology into the mix, and creating a platform so that anybody in any community wanting to raise funds for a great cause, can work with us to be able to bring this impact for organisation and concept to their own region. For us, the ultimate dream is we want to be a bit like Parkrun. We don't want to be every single weekend, but we want to be able to bring communities together to be able to have an impact in their own regions where they can actually have that people, planet, and profit-for-purpose goals met, within their own regions and raise lots of funds doing something that's really awesome for the environment too.
You're working hard to make that a reality. I certainly would consider you someone who shows up. You're active in a lot of the events in Brisbane, and we run into each other a lot, which is great. Being an active member of the Brisbane start up community, what are some of the pros and cons that you believe there are, being based here?
Certainly, selfishly for someone in the profit for purpose eco-system, it's definitely a con to be in Brisbane when it comes to being, next to, beside, and on the radar of the true impact investors across our country. Although I find that that distance actually creates this, I like to call it, friction, but good positive friction in that, we have to work harder to really activate and prove our model. It certainly doesn't come easy to be able to convince people in the start-up and scale-up land, that profit for purpose is truly an investible organisation, and that's probably one of the biggest challenges. In terms of pros, I am a big fan that you should show up.
If you want to achieve anything in life, I think you've got to get on the field and actually play the game.
For me showing up at events is as much about learning, as it is about giving, and some of my most favourite moments and collisions is being at events where someone needs something that I can help with. It might just be my time, it might be a connection I know, it might just be something that I've learned along the way, but for me, going to these events and being in the start-up eco-system in Brisbane is all about giving back. And I think that goes for anywhere, whether you're Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, or somewhere else in the globe.
If you go to these events with a view to give, then the world will always take good care of people like that.
Absolutely. It's a great attitude to have and you're certainly giving by jumping on board the Elevate+ Accelerator Program as a mentor, so thanks so much for that, Yasmin.
Since beginning the Garage Sale, what changes have you seen in the circular economy in Australia? How do you believe governments worldwide can do more to facilitate the development of the circular economy movement that you talk about quite a lot?
What I love about the circular economy is that it really is the buzz word of the buzz words right now, and there's lots of people across the entire country and really the globe, using the word circular economy.
It definitely has different meanings to different organisations, but what I love is this is not just conversation, but there's so much doing, around the circular economy. It hasn't just started now, this has been going on for a decade or more. Where people have been passionately pursuing an impact or cause in order to stop things going to landfill, and I think, certainly Craig Reucassel with the War on Waste series, have bought this whole repurpose/recycle conversation to the forefront. It's almost like, not he's given permission, but I feel like he's just shone the light on the need, and the requirement for people to get active in this space, and to start seeing waste as a resource, not as a piece of junk that we bury in a piece of landfill somewhere.
What I love is that people are emerging with passion and that's the common thread that I'm seeing in every single person involved in the circular economy.
This passion really does ignite new opportunity, and I truly believe, and certainly statistics prove it, this is a trillion dollar industry. So the next 10 to 12 years there is a lot of impact and yes, there's money, but most importantly there's impact that we can make in this circular economy and we're affectively reshaping the way we see things in this world.
For our audience listening who may be beginning a new initiative, it's obviously a very challenging task to build up something like you have, so do you have any particular tools or strategies, which help you to stay focused and tackle the issues that arise when dealing with the creation of such a big project?
There's definitely some tools, and I mean in our organisation we use things like, Atlassian's Jira product, which I used back when I was an employee at the organisation I used to work at. But for me I think that it's all about connectedness. You know, connecting through Trello or Jira, or whatever your favourite program might be around project management, is really handy in terms of staying focused, and not being distracted. Because there is so much noise in this space, definitely if you're passionate about the circular economy, jump onto the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website and start there, and literally just spend some time reading through the projects available, the projects that are both utopian and real in this space.
What I think the circular economy needs, and any big project of this scale and size, is for people with passion to come together and to almost find their own niche.
I'm a big believer in what I call coopetition, and there's lots of people out there involved in this circular economy space, and there's lots of room for everybody that's out there.
Find people who are passionate about the same things as you, or similar things, and bind together to have a greater impact.
And that multiplier effect, is just so possible when it comes to tapping into the circular economy opportunities globally.
So building community is obviously a big one for you, Yas. So are there any other big tips that you'd give to social entrepreneurs, to help them to measure and communicate their impact to consumers?
Oh definitely, I mean I think first of all, really get into and tap into the community groups, not just in your area, but there's lots of meet-ups that happen around social entrepreneurship, certainly your [Elevate+] program for one, Tom, is one of the best I've seen. I think it's about talking to people. One thing I think I've realised over the time that even we've known each other, Tom, and we do collide and come across each other a lot at events, but what I'm seeing is these beautiful pockets of passionate people who want to do things together.
While there's lots of tools and technology out there, I actually think that's the one ingredient that has the biggest impact for social entrepreneurs, is that true connectedness with other humans who are passionate about that cause.
Definitely. So you think that's a matter of getting out there and building those authentic relationships, to a point where you can essentially grow the collaborations and create opportunities together?
Yeah, definitely. I think that if we all just tried to do our own thing and had our blinkers on, then we would certainly achieve a lot, but it can get very lonely out there in the entrepreneurial world, and I think that, that's quite a common thread, whether you're in the profit for purpose social-end private space, or if you're in that true tech acceleration place.
I think coming together for shared experiences is really an important ingredient for entrepreneurs to stay connected, and to not hide away and think that you're the only person that might have thought of it.
The amount of opportunity that I've had present itself to us over the last 12 months, especially, has all come from opening my eyes, listening probably twice as much as I speak, even though I tend to speak a lot, I do listen even more. But really then hearing what are the problems other people are trying to solve, and instead of selfishly looking at what I can do, actually think about what we can do all together, what can be achieved?
I just feel like there's more value in that human connection, than there is necessarily in finding tools to accelerate impact.
You come across a lot of organisations on a daily basis yourself, Yas, so what inspiring organisations or projects are you coming across that really exemplify the balance of planet, people, and profit?
Oh, my goodness, I could probably spend a whole hour just talking about organisations that do this. In our own local region it would be remiss of me to not mention organisations, especially in the food space. You've got Foodbank and Food Connect, and OzHarvest, all just doing this beautiful work around rescuing food out there in the community and ensuring it, via their own specialty areas, is going to the right places. What I love about those organisations is that, again, they were created to solve a problem, and in solving that problem they've created this beautiful opportunity of collaboration and I just love to see that. And I see that not just in the food space, but I see it in the things space. Certainly, again, if I'm looking at locally, you look at Brisbane Tool Library, you look at Substation33, you look at Share Shed, and these wonderful places that are tapping into opportunities to really bring communities together for a greater good, around things.
And whether that's sharing and sharing economy, or like Substation33, taking a, what would traditionally be, a waste product, and actually not just turning it into a valuable commodity for resale, but most importantly between that rescuing of the product and the actual creation of a new product, there's this beautiful community connectedness and life-changing relationship growth that goes on, again with that human. I think in all of these organisations, if I were to go and speak to any of them, it all comes down to people. I used, I won't say argue, but back when I was in the corporate world, I used to always say you put your people first, and profit last, back in the corporate world. My boss is probably, he'll listen to this and he'll be shaking his head, going, "Oh, my God, Yas." I remember those conversations, you know, people first, profit second, but…
I think if you look after your people first, then the profit will always come.
And there's plenty of people out there that will argue that point with me, but I think, make a difference first, and you'll always make money if you've got, obviously some business acumen and proof of concept, and you've done all the necessarily steps to ensure that you're creating something of impact, but you have to make money, there's no doubt about that. Or you don't survive, and then you can't then make that difference. I feel like when it comes from the heart, (and our logo's a heart, and I think it happened by accident, but now I like to claim it was all on purpose), but if you've got the heart at the core, then everything else just connects together. It all comes back to those people, like all of those organisations I just named, any one of them, I would bend over backwards for tomorrow, if they needed something.
They are certainly a bunch of legends in those different organisations. There's a really great list there. So to finish off then Yasmin, what are some great books that you'd recommend to listeners? Do you even have time to read books?
I do read books. I usually listen to them on audio though, I will say that I cheat a little. Probably I will be a bit old fashioned and give you a couple of my all time favourite books that I'd give to my children, even at their young age of 11 and 12. My all time favourite book, that everyone absolutely must read, is called The Little Engine That Could, it is a children's book, but it's all about believing in yourself, and that little engine that climbed the mountain, that really, in theory, she shouldn't have been able to climb, because she wasn't the strongest or the fastest, or the best built engine. So for me it's about belief in yourself, and it's a very profound important book to read. My two other favourites would definitely be Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and there's actually 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families as well, which I really love for our kids. That's an all time favourite, and I just can't go past it.
It's such a ... It's life-changing. I'm just trying to think of one of my other all time favourites, I mean Good to Great by Jim Collins is exceptional, again getting the right people on the bus, in the right seat on the bus, it's a really awesome concept book about building great teams. Probably now, for me, I read it years ago, back when I was an intrapreneur, and definitely now, more important than ever for me as an entrepreneur, is E-Myth and all of the other E-Myth volumes that come after it. But that working in your business versus on your business, and getting that balance right so that you start to empower other people to help you grow the cause that you're really, ultimately trying to grow and have impact.
Letting go and empowering others is a really big thing in this entrepreneurial world, and a lot of us can be guilty of not doing that, but I think it's something that we need to be reminded of quite regularly.
Some really great insights there Yasmin. Thank you so much for sharing your generous insights and time today. We very much appreciate it, and we'll certainly follow your journey. Yasmin, could you tell us, when is your next event and how can we get to it?
Our next event is Saturday, the 17th of November, in Brisbane. We are yet to announce the location, but if you jump onto our website, or onto any or our social media pages, we're very easy to find, you just need to google Google World's Biggest Garage Sale, and you'll be able to stay in touch and get all the latest details about where we're going to be. But definitely in the Brisbane region, and we look forward to people jumping on board to either donate the products between now and then, be a volunteer or shop on the day.