Emma Rose Cohen is the founder and CEO of Final.
In honor of Earth Day, we wanted to highlight a founder that has been a fierce sustainability advocate, someone who’s teaching all of us how to better sustainability allies.
Emma Rose Cohen is the founder and CEO of Final, the company that created FinalStraw—the world’s first reusable, collapsible straw.
Emma discovered her passion for sustainability as an undergraduate student at University of California Santa Barbara. She saw the devastating effects single-use culture had, and began organizing beach cleanups. She got together with a group of friends and, determined to make an impact, they attended city council meetings dressed as mermaids and offered the council members plastic-filled sandwiches.
In January of 2009 the same group of friends started the organization Save the Mermaids, with the mission of engaging the Santa Barbara community in the movement away from disposable plastics and teaching children about the environmental consequences of single-use plastics.
After graduating from UCSB, Emma earned a master’s degree in environmental management and sustainability from Harvard and spent the following four years working in waste minimization at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Emma with the original FinalStraw.
Did you know that in the US alone they use 182,5 BILLION straws a year? This means that consumers use as many as 500 million plastic straws every day. In October of 2017, while living in LA, Emma had the idea for the collapsible straw to push back against the single-use plastic straws. Her first steps were to find a designer that could mock up the CAD design for the case. Then, as she explains, “we used standardized metal tubing and found a lathing shop in LA to create the tentpole-like structure of the straw.”
Less than six months after having the idea, Emma launched FinalStraw on Kickstarter with a goal of raising $12,500. The campaign surpassed all of Emma’s expectations when it raised $1.89 million. Shortly after the Kickstarter, Shark Tank producers reached out to Emma to invite her to apply to pitch at Shark Tank.
The FinalStraw team pitching at Shark Tank.
Emma went to Shark Tank with her colleague Miles Pepper, and they pitched FinalStraw to the sharks (with the help of a mermaid). To illustrate their point, the founders had 5,700 plastic straws rain down from the ceiling to represent the number of straws used every second in the US. Emma actually received two offers—both of which she declined. As she rightly told Marc Cuban “The valuation you gave us is $2 million, and we’ve already done more than that in sales in two months.”
By Final’s first year in business, they did over $5 million in revenue. To this day, FinalStraw has prevented approximately 300 million single-use straws from entering the environment.
I had the honor of asking a few questions to Emma about how she started Final.
When and how did you know you were going to make FinalStraw a reality?
I didn't know FinalStraw was going to be a reality until the Kickstarter went viral. I believed in the idea, but I had no idea how the public was going to react to it. The first obstacle I had to overcome was hiring. When we launched the Kickstarter my inbox exploded overnight and I immediately had to hire people. Hiring is one of the most difficult aspects of running a business and also the most crucial.
Although not all founders have the same experience, women founders get less than 3% of VC funding what was your experience pitching/seeking investment, if any?
Two weeks into the Kickstarter, Shark Tank reached out. I had never pitched an investor in my life, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. I got two offers, one from Kevin and one from Mark, but they were not great offers so I passed.
Our favorite foreverables! Check out more here.
Did the exposure from Kickstarter and shark tank help?
At first no one responded to my emails. After the Kickstarter went viral, those same people who had ignored me started replying real fast.
What is something you wish you would've known when you were starting your business?
I wish I would've know the importance of prioritizing my own health and friendships.
What is some advice you can pass along to other founders?
Slow down to speed up!