Welcome to ‘Female Founders’, the Information Age series profiling 12 women who have grabbed the entrepreneurial reins and ridden into the unpredictability of start-up life.
We talk to the women about their business, entrepreneurship journey and advice they’d give to other women considering starting their own business.
Information Age interviewed all 12 women on the Start-up Catalyst Mission to London this year. Start-up Catalyst runs regular missions for start-ups, investors, and other leaders to some of the world’s top tech hotspots, such as Silicon Valley, Israel, Hong Kong and London. The goal? To transform both the individual and innovation landscape in Australia.
Today we speak with Yasmin Grigaliunas, co-founder of World’s Biggest Garage Sale.
Name: Yasmin Grigaliunas
Business: World’s Biggest Garage Sale
Established: 2017 in Brisbane
No. of employees: 4
No. of customers: 30+ partners and host locations
Information Age: What’s your business all about?
Yasmin: The World's Biggest Garage Sale is a profit-for-purpose business that activates dormant goods in the community to have positive impact for the people, planet, and profit for purpose in the circular economy.
IA: How did you come up with the idea?
Yasmin: Actually, we are an accidental start-up!
In 2013 I wanted to solve donor fatigue and we weren't a company. I just decided to have a garage sale and tell all my friends that I was going to donate all my dormant goods, all the good stuff I wasn't giving to anybody or selling, to a garage sale I created and we did $15,000 in a single day.
I thought, "Oh, that's pretty impressive. Maybe if we did it properly and I put a plan in place, next year we could raise more money."
My husband and I actually did that for three years in a row, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars at each of our events, collectively generating not just money but positive impact for the planet.
It was probably in year four of running this as a hobby once a year that I thought, "I actually probably need to go and create a business." We didn't know the business model.
We didn't understand how we were going to make money. We'd given all of our money away! We did some research and found this opportunity was valued at many billions and trillions of dollars globally.
IA: How does it work?
Yasmin: People donate goods to a charity. Then with our system, we bring together basically a pop-up shop. We're like a Westfield for a day. We create department stores, we provide all the pricing methodology, we provide the system and back-end, so that all the stuff that comes in with a volunteer community, we build over somewhere between 10 to 12 days once a year.
We build an entire shopping precinct and volunteers staff each of the departments, the community comes to shop, and our revenue model is that we take a percentage of the sales – that's why we're vested the entire time.
For our business, it's like a quite a big commitment to support the community. Because we've got such an operational system now, we've been able to develop almost like a system of execution that takes all the thinking out of it for the charity.
They don't need to strategise. They don't need to plan, they don't need to do any modeling. We do all of that for them so that they just have to go, "Okay, we're holding a garage sale.
When 20,000 shoppers come to a warehouse, which is what has happened for us in the past, millions of kilograms of product is donated.
It's irresponsible of us to not scale this. If we can do that in one city, imagine the impact if we could do it in 10 cities, 20 cities, a hundred cities, a thousand cities.
IA: What happens to all the leftover goods?
Yasmin: Because everything's been curated and put into a department store, priced, and ready to sell, it's all really good quality stuff so we donate that to op shops, charities, school fetes, anybody looking for inventory that's saleable.
Most of the time charities are looking to come in, hold an event, close the event, leave, make the money, put the money into the community, and make their impact.
Pre-event, we've already arranged for Lifeline, Vinnies, Salvos, RSPCA stores, or anyone who wants to have stock – high-quality goods that is not junk – put into their ecosystem.
We donate all of those products back into the system.
IA: Who is your ideal customer?
Yasmin: Our ideal customers are local communities or charities who are struggling to raise money, or are looking for a new fundraising model, or event.
Instead of having a charity dinner, and putting all the energy and time into a dinner, getting people to come in and participate in the dinner, and then raise a bit of money from it, we're really looking for charities to have a more positive effect on the circular economy by working with us so that we can help them activate all the dormant resources in their local communities and bring them together.
We bring the platform, the system, the marketing, the brand. Basically, the entire dashboard and toolkit.
They bring their people. We then help get more people. Together, we create this beautiful partnership. We raise a lot of money and that's awesome but it's actually not what our passion is.
Our passion as a business is to actually capture the invisible data that's in the circular economy. We can actually utilise our resources more than what we're currently utilising.
We have multiple customers but ultimately, we're looking for charities who want to raise a lot of money and work with us collectively to do so. We want lifetime customers. We don't want to chop and change. We come into a community, we are there and vested in that community to not just hold it for one year or two years, but we're looking for 10-year customers.
IA: What’s been the biggest challenge you've faced along this journey so far?
Yasmin: That we are a freaking business model like no other and that people keep trying to fit us into a box that we don't fit into. We're not like anything else. We're not a software-as-a-service, monthly recurring revenue, blah, blah, blah. We're puzzling.
We are a business model of the future. We're innovating around impact.
IA: Have you ever wanted to throw in the towel?
Yasmin: Yes. My God, yes. Do you know how hard it is to do this? It's a lot of hard work, there’s been tears along the way. I don't love – in some ways – that we don't fit into a business model that makes sense to people, and that we have to spend so much time and energy convincing people that this is really a freaking great business.
I wish I didn't have to do that. I got offered a shitload of money recently to be a sales director of a company and it was very tempting – hundreds of thousands of dollars of income a year, superannuation and all the perks and wonderful things. And probably less hours and less time and all the things on paper that people typically aspire to.
Yes, I want to have this great position, great title. Have cars and houses and all the fancy things that people think that they work for all their lives.
I've never had less in my life in terms of possessions, but I've never felt richer in terms of my love for what I do. Because it's actually not just about – and I'm going to cry. [Pause.]
I'm not going to cry. It's not actually about what I can make out of this. It's actually about the difference that I can make in other people's lives.
Every time I think of the impact, the stories, the well-being, the staff, I can't walk away. I can't walk away until I’ve literally run out of our very last dollar and pretty much living on the streets. That's when I’ll know when I’ve hit rock bottom.
IA: What is the vision for your business?
Yasmin: We want to activate 1,000 events globally in the next five years and really have an impact around the circular economy at a significantly epic execution level.
I want to create a fun culture and I feel like we do. I want to run a business that doesn't count hours and doesn't measure how much annual leave you have.
It doesn't matter if you stay at home with your kids one day or go and work at the top of the mountain. I've always worked like that and I want to ensure my team can work like that.
For me, I want to get that energy out there. I want to change people's lives and uplift their communities and have more positivity. That's my passion.
IA: How have you funded your business to date?
Yasmin: Bootstrapped. We don't own cars, I don't own a house anymore and pretty much live off very little.
We were really fortunate to get into the River City Labs Accelerator program, which gave us $100,000 investment, and we now have investors which is a brilliant thing. We've met some of the most amazing investors, some who are really passionate about sustainability.
For me, the money was awesome, but the actual value beyond that hundred grand was better. Then, I was really fortunate to be named as one of the five ventures in Australia under the SheEO program, which is incredible. It was a loan, so it's non-equity, but it's an interest-free loan payable back over five years.
And that's effectively given us enough funding to be able to employ a couple of people in our company, to give us more runway so that we can get to our seed round.
IA: How much are you seeking to raise?
Yasmin: We want to raise $1.6 million to execute the next 18 months. We’re going to use that money to employ staff. We have to create jobs. We've relied a lot of volunteers for a long, long, time.
We've got a pipeline full of customers ready to go and we actually cannot execute on that pipeline. A cool problem to have!
Selling is not our problem. [laughs] We’ve just got to get some money in so we can get out there and deliver.
IA: With the benefit of hindsight, what do you think you might have done differently along this start-up journey?
Yasmin: I actually wish I'd quit my full-time job sooner. [Former Chief Entrepreneur of Queensland] Mark Sowerby is the reason that I quit my job. I have a lot of love for him as a human, as a founder, as a mentor.
He challenged me. He said, "Yasmin, you've built a business, why are you doing your job?" I'm like, "Man, I don't make any money from this business." He's like, "Well, there's a challenge. Quit your job and go work out how to make money."
He said, "Can you survive? And have you got enough buffer in your life to not earn an income for the first 12 to 18 months of your start-up?"
Who asks that sort of question? That's a freaking hard question.
Part of me wishes I did it sooner, but I don't know. I don't have any regrets. I'm not one of those people. I'm like, "It happened at exactly the right time that it was meant to happen for us."
IA: What advice do you have for female founders looking to embark on the start-up journey?
Yasmin: Watch [Chief Entrepreneur of Queensland] Leanne Kemp pitch and other strong, confident women – and believe that you are exactly as good as they are and stop telling yourself that you're small. Don't play small.
And it's funny because I always have an out of body experience. I have imposter syndrome like everyone, but I put that little imposter somewhere in my head in a little room and I shut the door and I don't let them come out.
Because every time I do, it slows down the velocity of my business and execution, it makes me start to question who I am and am I really doing the right thing? Every single second of time I spend thinking about that, it is actually minimising my capacity to deliver.
Women can be ballsy and brave and bold and all the freaking things that a man can be. We can be whatever we want to be. We’ve just got to stop telling ourselves we can't.
Roulla Yiacoumi travelled on the 2019 Startup Catalyst Mission to London with the Female Founders.