Stroodles in the Making - Our Journey So Far From Idea to Product

I think it’s time to shed some light on the birth of Stroodles. I guess the decision to follow through with the initial idea and actually create a company was a combination of many factors, be it my past experiences and career, and just being in the right place, at the right time with the right mindset.

My background and motivations

Just to set the scene, as some of you may already know, I have a strategy consulting background. Having worked across many different industries from agriculture to cars, fashion, diapers for the elderly and retail. Contracting with companies for the likes of Volkswagen, Mastercard and other multinationals as well as smaller niche - players, so called Hidden Champions (by the way, a great concept). And most recently, since moving to London 7 years ago, I was heavily involved in the London tech - scene across various businesses. Having left my last startup in Feb 2018, I remember being struck with the thought that I was tired of the corporate world, and the final purpose and objective of each company, and the lack thereof a bigger meaning and picture and impact. I was thereby always in some form jealous (white jealous) of my wife, who was always involved in not - for - profit projects with a real purpose and the true meaning of the word impact. I therefore also wanted to do something that would have an impact - as cliche as it sounds! Thanks to my wife, this word over the years has become filled with purpose and not just a buzzword. In the various ventures I had been involved with before Stroodles, I had always tried to push some of the values, however I never had a chance to follow it through fully, and there were always other people (with the usual commercially minded objectives) involved.

And so, having left a startup in February 2018, I decided to get back into consultancy, so that I could also use the time to figure out what I wanted to do next. During this time I was in a mindset that was open to receive and explore new ideas, while being fortunate to have had a stable income coming in from some consulting gigs but also allowed me to have the flexibility of managing my own time. Doing consultancy work allowed me to have a few days a week to dedicate to me, to really have a think about what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be, and what’s actually important to me. At that time I already hit 30, was freshly married, and at a stage in life where you start to see things differently, and reflect on your life as well as put decisions into context.

 

The idea

 

And so it was with this open mindset, that when I came across pasta tubes being used for fun by Italians, that it all started to click in my head. And no joke, it was like in one of those sci - fi movies, where puzzle pieces and flashbacks started coming together and it all started making sense. I remember the simplicity of this idea, and it's apparent ability to solve the huge plastic problem had really struck me. Being a very fond diver and traveller across South - East Asia over many years, I remember becoming aware and started caring about plastic pollution myself, as I would always see a plastic glove or bag floating across the divine waters of Malaysia or Vietnam. And so while not being an eco - warrior at all, I would say I was potentially slightly more sensitive than others, but was still living my life of convenience first, like 99.9% of the world.

And so, it was exactly that, which allowed me to see and understand the impact this can have, because I understood that to make a real change I needed to make a product that would convince and “convert” that 99.9% of people, who are all in a mindset of not wanting any intrusion in their life - no compromises - and maybe then they will try. And seeing how wowed this idea left me and how much additional awareness and thoughts about the plastic problem came with it, I felt that a pasta drinking straw can achieve this goal. Drinking out of a pasta straw means that one can still go about their normal daily routine, while doing good, and even go get drunk and do good naturally - so no excuses! If it worked on me, why wouldnt it work on others? It seemed like such an easy formula to help solve such a compelling problem.



 

The Icing on the cake


Now, putting my “consulting/ analytical hat” on again, it was exactly that “simplicity” that had me question why it hadn’t been done before, and so over the next few weeks I kept pondering over the idea of a pasta straw. I think the final turning point for me was at Burning Man - the big festival in the desert - where you are literally “deserted” from civilization and are one - on - one with nature, yourself and some very captivating experiences. This naturally leads to awareness of a lot of things -  realization, reflections and above all the awareness for nature, and its vulnerability. One of the festival's main principles is leave no trace - literally meaning “take your trash with you and leave the place as we found it”. Maybe this is when I really started caring for our environment, seeing the collective power of the group in cleaning up gave me confidence. Looking back on it, I am extremely grateful for this trip as I guess this experience, awareness and closeness to nature is what was the icing on the cake that made me decide to want to follow through with the idea of helping people realise, how easy it can be to make small sustainable decisions and changes - if i can do it (and could do it at an extreme for a week), why can’t everyone else? 

 

Credit: Burning Man Instagram


I am only providing the sustainable alternative for a plastic straw, but it only a fraction of the 7.8bn people on this planet switch their habits, it'll be a huge win. And I guess I wanted more than that, because what the awareness of the “idea of the pasta straw” (maybe coupled with Burning man) did, it created a deeper understanding, an awareness and appreciation for becoming more conscious and taking more small steps. So in some form it became a gateway for change and awareness for me. With all this in mind, the final idea of the company, later to be known as Stroodles, was born. Although I didn’t know it at the time, and I’m partly actually only realising the full extent of it by writing this blog post, as it is really the first time, I have had a chance to fully reflect on my journey, that many, if not all of the values that have manifested in the Stroodle mission actually do have its roots in those experiences. I guess what I wanted is to bring this “knowledge” to the world, but I knew it had to be in an easy, fun, digestible and most of all uncompromising fashion. In line with my nature as a person, I wanted to make people happy and smile, and if on the back I can teach and inspire them, even better :-)


The birth of the Stroodle




And so upon my return in September 2018, after doing some high - level calculations, (on literally a napkin) I decided to just go ahead and do it as something just felt right. It was from that point onwards that my Stroodles journey began, and now, almost 2 years since actual “idea birth”, it all seems like a fast -forwarded movie.

So let me just run you through some of the most memorable steps along the way.

As with every company, I needed a name and a logo first. I knew that at the end of the day, the company would be an extension of me, and so my main objective was to make it fun and happy and crazy, so that I would naturally be able to do my best to share my message with the world. It was clear to me that I wanted a mascot as I always loved mascots, and all the brands that I remember fondly always had some kind of character. So, to cut the story short, I remember the brief to the designer of my logo read “I want a pasta - man with googly eyes” - don’t ask me why I wanted googly eyes! I wanted the name of my company to be self -explanatory for what I do, but again fun - my most important maxime - so just “Pasta Straws” wouldn’t do. And so after much consideration, and after continuously playing around with lots of words, and how to combine them, when seeing straw and noodle written in one line, the name Stroodle was born. It was such a satisfying feeling to register the company name at companies house. A few weeks later, the idea of Mr. Stroodles came along. I owe a huge big thank you to Martin, the creative “birth - father” of Mr. Stroodles, who then slowly but surely became to look more and more like me. And for those who know me, the fact that Mr. Stroodles eyes look like my glasses, wasn't intended, and we actually didn't realise until people started pointing it out.

After weeks and weeks of trial and error with finding factories, ordering samples, sending them back, going over to Italy, arguing, negotiating (so the usual stuff), I finally found a factory, and thus actually a Stroodle to sell :-) And with my first few pallets ordered, I was finally ready to go in November 2018, armed with a product and a name. The Stroodle journey began!


Stroodles Milestones


In the next few paragraphs I will share some of the milestones along the journey, but please note that I am consciously only focusing on the fun and happy moments, as that is the intent of this post, but believe me, the entrepreneur journey is a tough and lonely one and to get to the milestones I’m going to talk to you about below, takes a lot of stress, nerves and anxiety, but with everyone of those milestones - no matter how small, it's totally worth it. So please don’t be blinded by me only highlighting the positives, as the true journey has a lot of downs as well, that are just part of the game and you gradually learn to understand to prioritise the things “to give a f*ck about” (as per the famous https://www.amazon.co.uk/Subtle-Art-Not-Giving-Counterintuitive/dp/0062457713 book). But I guess, I will cover those points in a seperate post.


The First Trade Customer

 


So back to it. I guess the first big milestone was the first customer - Laki Kane. How it all started was when a friend of mine suggested that I attend The Spirits Show in London. And so I went, armed with hand packed sample packs of 4 Stroodles per pack and a business card attached to it. Halfway through the show I met Timmy from Laki Kane, who had a stand there, and who immediately loved the idea, and then Georgi - one of the owners popped by - looked at me, looked at the straw and confirmed, yes cool let's take them. I couldn't believe it, and to this day, I am extremely grateful to the guys and at this point a huge shout out to Georgi, Sam and Timmy, who believed in me, in Stroodles and the bigger picture in form of the Stroodles Movement from Day 1. They are all now great friends and are still very happily stroodling, and are still my biggest Stroodles Ambassadors. It felt so amazing and satisfying to make this first Stroodles delivery,and it is always that first customer that then gives you more drive and more motivation to continue - I was on a roll! The Spirits Show was amazing, as I also met Kieran from Lanique (an amaaaazing Rose Liquor) there, who since has become a dear friend and from the early days has supported the Stroodles Journey, through advice, an open ear, teaching me the ropes of the industry and even allowing me to exhibit Stroodles as part of his stand at the next show enabling his visitors to stroodle some Lanique.


The Launch of the Website and E - commerce


So, that was one of my biggest first milestones in terms of a trade customer, but then there was also obviously the Direct - to - consumer website (which was a story in itself to set up!) but when finally launched in December 2018, I remember I couldn't believe it, when the first order came out of nowhere (only 2 days after launch!). I don’t know what magic Google did, but it was just unbelievable and put a big smile on my face. It was actually the same with Amazon, as once launched on there, within 24 hours 2 orders had come in. It is definitely those “first” moments that keep you going. As I go through this amazing Stroodles journey, it is always the uncertainty and serendipity feeling, that while you are writing an email, speaking on the phone or are even sleeping, something amazing could happen, and a new opportunity could open up.


Our Partners


On this note, I wanted to also briefly mention our partners, who shared our vision and passion and who helped us spread our message through either joint events, competitions or other activities. This enabled us to successfully enhance the magnitude of our message and reach even more people, and what I value is the fact that our partners realised that we are all just fighting the same fight and thus together we are so much stronger and can make an even bigger difference. Our partnerships with some amazing brands and companies, such as Pasta Evangelists, Little Cooks, Mount Gay Rum, London & Partners, Aloha 65, Lanique, Flawsome, British Embassy and Urban Food Fest have really helped shape our journey, and we wouldn't have been here without all of them. It is so amazing to see how much can be achieved together.


The Queen’s Birthday Party


But probably the one that will forever be remembered is Stroodles being a sponsor of the (British) Queen’s Birthday Party at the British Embassy in The Hague - seeing highly decorated generals, ambassadors, etc. stroodling was amazing (especially, as it was again (tada) one of the “first” events we took part in).




So Much Great PR


The next big thing in the Stroodles journey was the first article and piece of PR. I remember the first ever article and “serious PR” beyond social media, was an article published by Starling Bank - my business bank. I remember how grateful and honoured I felt to have even been considered in the first place, and how proud I was when I finally had a link to share (and I remember sharing the shit out of it :-) !) My excitement was then taken to the next level, when we got an article and small mention by BBC Good Food - I remember I couldn't believe it - it was the BBC Good Food!!! BBC Good Food is an institution, and I knew how much a “review” from them meant for Stroodles, and it was to become a strong sign of credibility for us, but above all, it enabled us to spread our message and set out what we want do - create awareness and fight the plastic problem. I might be old - school with this, but it’s one thing to see an online article, but to hold a physical magazine in your hands is just something that fills you with lots of joy and goosebumps. I will cherish that magazine till the end of my days and will make sure to inherit it to my grand kids - or should I say grand - stroodlers.

But the PR - ride and our ability to create even more awareness, was about to continue, as I was soon to learn that, a few weeks later, our first ever PR outreach had resulted in amazing traction from big name media publications that I wouldn't have dreamt of being published in, and I have read all my life! Huffington Post, Metro, Fast Company, The Guardian, you name it! And then the American’s kicked in with Food&Wine - which is again an institution, you normally only hear about on TV from Chefs, etc :-) It was so overwhelming and both - Sam from our Kibbo Kift PR agency (at this point a big shoutout) nor me could believe it, and couldn’t imagine the amazing effect the news of us wanting to get the world stroodling would have. Also, I remember when I first saw a picture of myself - before it was mainly Mr. Stroodles or the Stroodles themselves - which was such a weird, but extremely gratifying feeling and still puts a smile on my face thinking about it now.

But again, little did I know at that time, that we would go viral. I remember waking up one day and doing my usual check on all our social media accounts, and seeing we had a tag from Unilad - the Unilad - the one I read articles from multiple times a day. I couldn't believe my eyes and it felt so surreal that they had published an article about Stroodles. Within days, we had multiple news platforms with millions and millions unique visitors writing about Stroodles as the next big trend, and so on and so on. Bored Panda, LADBIBLE, Economist - they all wrote about us. And then it went viral internationally, suddenly we had mentions in the media from all corners of the world from Costa Rica to Korea to Indonesia to Brazil, and it all still continues. It was just unbelievable, but made me so extremely happy as I understood that this enabled the Stroodles message and thus awareness of the plastic problem to now spread globally. With the help of the media, I was able to spread the message, spread the awareness and hopefully make people think, make them question or at least put a smile on their face. We were finally being able to get through to people and to spread the Stroodles Movement and create awareness across all corners of the world - as we set out to do!

The next big thing in the Stroodles journey was the first article and piece of PR. I remember the first ever article and “serious PR” beyond social media, was an article published by Starling Bank - my business bank. I remember  how grateful and honoured I felt to have even been considered in the first place, and how proud I was when I finally had a link to share (and I remember sharing the shit out of it :-) !) My excitement was then taken to the next level, when we got an article and small mention by BBC Good Food - I remember I couldn't believe it - it was the BBC Good Food!!!  BBC Good Food is an institution, and I knew how much a “review” from them meant for Stroodles, and it was to become a strong sign of credibility for us, but above all, it enabled us to spread our message and set out what we want do - create awareness and fight the plastic problem. I might be old -school with this, but it’s one thing to see an online article, but to hold a physical magazine in your hands is just something that fills you with lots of joy and goosebumps. I will cherish that magazine till the end of my days and will make sure to inherit it to my grand kids - or should I say grand - stroodlers.



 

But the PR - ride and our ability to create even more awareness, was about to continue, as I was soon to learn that, a few weeks later, our first ever PR outreach had resulted in amazing traction from big name media publications that I wouldnt have dreamt of being published in, and I have read all my life! Huffington Post, Metro, Fast Company, The Guardian, you name it! And then the American’s kicked in with Food&Wine - which is again an institution, you normally only hear about on TV from Chefs, etc :-) It was so overwhelming and both - Sam from our Kibbo Kift PR agency (at this point a big shoutout) nor me could believe it, and couldn’t imagine the amazing effect the news of us wanting to get the world stroodling would have. Also,  I remember when I first saw a picture of myself - before it was mainly Mr. Stroodles or the Stroodles themselves - which was such a weird, but extremely gratifying feeling and still puts a smile on my face thinking about it now.

But again, little did I know at that time, that we would go viral. I remember waking up one day and doing my usual check on all our social media accounts, and seeing we had a tag from Unilad - the Unilad - the one I read articles from multiple times a day. I couldn't believe my eyes and it felt so surreal that they had published an article about Stroodles. Within days, we had multiple news platforms with millions and millions unique visitors writing about Stroodles as the next big trend, and so on and so on. Bored Panda, LADBIBLE, Economist - they all wrote about us. And then it went viral internationally, suddenly we had mentions in the media from all corners of the world from Costa Rica to Korea to Indonesia to Brazil, and it all still continues. It was just unbelievable, but made me so extremely happy as I understood that this enabled the Stroodles message and thus awareness of the plastic problem to now spread globally. With the help of the media, I was able to spread the message, spread the awareness and hopefully make people think, make them question or at least put a smile on their face. We were finally being able to get through to people and to spread the Stroodles Movement and create awareness across all corners of the world - as we set out to do!


Our Customer’s Feedback


The next ongoing milestone that I’d like to talk about is our ongoing customer feedback. What keeps all of us going and gets all of us out of bed is the constant amazing feedback from customers all over the world: their images, their comments and their positive encouragement and drive. It is amazing to see how the message resonates, how we make people smile, make people talk about Stroodles and about the wider pollution problem, and just make people have fun stroodling their drinks. To me, the most amazing thing about this is that this is how the message spreads - through fun - people enjoy stroodling their drinks, so then tell their friends, which then gets their friends talking about Stroodles, and so between all the fun and smiles hopefully subconsciously something clicks, something sticks. And if we are able to do that, then we have clearly achieved what we wanted - to make small changes ‘one stroodle at a time’. All you Stroodlers’ pictures every day helps with this and it certainly does create a domino effect, and naturally people become ambassadors and tell others about Stroodles, which allows us all together to make a positive change. And again, my old schoolness kicks in, when I say that while I love online comments, hearing feedback and passion and gratefulness in person at events, in bars, etc. confirms that the movement lives, and that I am definitely making a change!


My First Employee - Kiki Stroodles




Another big milestone, again associated with “First something” was employee number 1 - Kiki Stroodle. 7 months into the business, the business was growing quite quickly and I was outsourcing some tasks, I knew that I was reaching the point where I couldn't do it on my own anymore. And so the search for a Junior Stroodler began. And believe it or not, Kiki’s interview was on a Friday, and she began working the following Monday, with her first day at Stroodles was to support me with Stroodles’ first ever trade - show at Imbibe 2019. I remember Kiki had just got back from travelling, and therefore hadn’t expected to start working so quickly. Hiring Kiki was the best decision ever and I was so grateful to finally have support from someone who shares mine and the company's vision, is passionate, can support with the daily running of the business, another pair of eyes, another set of ideas and just someone to bounce things off and share the ups and downs with and celebrate the wins together. As mentioned earlier on a lonely entrepreneur journey, this means a lot. And it was the necessary boost for the business, to help take it to the next level. Having such a passionate Junior Stroodler, who is hungry to learn and shared the mission to get the world stroodling, enabled me to finally focus more on developing the business and spreading the news :) And fast forward a few months later, I was so relieved, when Andrew, Senior - Stroodle, finally joined and was able to take over the task of sales and business development, and again enhance the team with his passion and drive. Seeing the team grow even further by bringing Social Media in - house with Diamante joining, and finally helping us to get our message heard even more across all the social media platforms, especially as our following grows, again is clearly a big milestone and every such growth of the company brings us closer to our goal.


My Dragon’s Den Experience

The next memorable milestone is Dragon’s Den, and my first ever TV appearance, but I won’t dwell on this here, as for this I would like to refer you to the blog post dedicated solely to my experience there. However, I just want to mention that this experience was something very, very special and important to not only Stroodles as a company, but also to my personal growth journey. Please do have a read of my previous blog post to find out all about my Dragons’ Den experience! 

 

 

Crowdfunding 215k!

Another clear milestone and life changer for Stroodles, came at the turn of 2019/2020 with a successful crowdfunding campaign via Crowdcube, where we raised £215k from across 540 global investors. Having self - funded Stroodles for over a year by that point, I had very clear plans for growth and what was required to achieve our mission to become the go - to straw alternative and spread the Stroodles Movement message. And so I knew that unfortunately, as it always is, this growth can only be facilitated through a cash injection into the business. Again, we were completely overwhelmed by the support we received from the investment community and the belief and trust people have in Stroodles and the movement we were trying to create. 540 investors - that is still an unbelievable number which still to this day is difficult to sink in. Again, while obviously enabling the further growth of the company, it was as much also a needed psychological validation (back to my lonely entrepreneur journey :-)  or moreso need of support that we have the ability to scale the business up, and turn it into a business that will make a difference to the world and people’s lives. I remember being so incredibly grateful when the round closed, as support in this form from so many people and all the positive words associated with it, confirms me in the ability that we can actually make a change indeed. The gratefulness for the trust and belief that people have shown in Stroodles and in me, is hard to put into words.  It was so amazing to see that I am not alone, and that all these people had belief in me, and in what Stroodles was set out to do. The fundraising also enabled us to form an amazing board, to whom I am extremely grateful, as it again is a great opportunity to get advice and bounce off ideas with serial entrepreneurs and industry veterans. Again as a sole founder, having those points of exchange (especially with regards to an industry I am new to) is so valuable and indispensable - so again a big shoutout to all of them.

 

 

The Stroodle 2.0

And the last milestone I am going to talk about is actually only a few months old. It is   the birth of Stroodles 2.0, in the form of a new website and newly designed retail packs. Post crowdfunding, I knew that Stroodles had come a long way since November 2018, and so a bit of a rebrand was needed, and we needed to redefine our messaging to reach even more people. We therefore used the lockdown during COVID to give Mr. Stroodles a new look. Seeing the new packaging, and our new website for the first time was just unbelievable, and it is just what the business needed at this stage to facilitate the next growth step,i.e to get even more of the trade stroodling and reach more customers directly through supermarkets, gas stations, and any other Point - of sale outlet globally! It is the necessary next step to enable Stroodles to gain a (physical) retail presence and thus the packaging is extremely bold, fun and noticeable at a very attractive price point, thereby enabling even more people to start stroodling and start making small sustainable changes. 

We are extremely excited for what the future of the Stroodles journey will bring, as we are now greatly equipped to welcome even more amazing milestones and continue adding to this post. But again, we really couldn't have done this without all our amazing partners, customers and of course all you Stroodlers. Thank you so much to everyone for the support and helping us make a difference ‘one Stroodle at a time’.

Maxim, Stroodles Founder