Alex Garden and the solution to a plastic free world

What does it mean to make a contribution as an executive and a leader?

At what point in your career do the skills you’ve accumulated need to be leveraged for the well-being of the people around you?

Today I speak with Alex Garden. Alex is a dear friend of mine, an extremely successful entrepreneur, executive, inventor, and scientist.

And these were the questions he started to ask himself, which lead him to his current role as Chairman and CEO of Zume Inc, which is on a quest to be the most powerful source of health and well-being on the planet.

In this episode, Alex talks about the simple exercise that his friend David Krane of Google Ventures asked him to do. This exercise, as Alex says, was by far the most powerful thing he’s ever done.

And was the catalyst to this next chapter.

We talk about food. The solution to eliminating plastic. And how Alex and Zume Inc are leading that charge for change.

You’ll learn some scary stats in this episode, but you’ll also be left feeling excited and hopeful for the future. Alex will leave you inspired, and reflecting on your own potential for creating real impact.

I’m so excited to share this information with you all.

So sit back. Relax. And grab that favorite beverage. Or throw on those running shoes. And enjoy this glimpse into the future.

Please don’t forget to let us know what you think of this episode, leave a review, rating, and subscribe.

And if you would like to get involved with TIE, do get in touch at philippa@theinternationalexchange.co.uk. I’d love to hear from you.

00:00:01:06 – 00:00:25:14
Philippa White
This is the show where we unearth new ways of looking at ever evolving life around the world. Seen from a number of different industries, cultures and backgrounds. But there’s one thing that unites everyone I speak to. They all want to do their part to make the world better in their own unique ways. It’s a uniting passion, whether they’re from the commercial world, third sector or public sector from the Global North or the global south.

00:00:25:23 – 00:00:30:04
Philippa White
My name is Philippa White and this is TIE Unearthed.

00:00:34:01 – 00:00:59:07
Philippa White
Welcome to episode 27 of TIE Unearthed. Today I’m talking with a very dear friend of mine, Alex Garden. We talk about the power of food to save the planet and the solution to a plastic free world. Alex and I have known each other since we were children, and when we were growing up and he was other house, he would drive my dad crazy, playing with and reformatting our family computer.

00:00:59:19 – 00:01:24:09
Philippa White
But then he went on to create Relic Entertainment, a gaming company that he sold and that Seaga now owns. Since then, he’s been a serial, very successful entrepreneur. He’s an inventor, scientist, entrepreneur and executive in his current role is chairman and CEO of Zoom Inc., which is on a quest to be the most powerful source of health and well-being on the planet.

00:01:24:21 – 00:01:52:05
Philippa White
To quote Alex, we’ve always believed that our imagination and skills as technologists and inventors can make the world a better, safer and more sustainable place. Leonardo da Vinci was known to have said it had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely step back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things and this beautiful illustrates Alex and what we’re going to cover up in this conversation.

00:01:52:16 – 00:02:08:10
Philippa White
What he has done and is doing is extraordinary. To grab your favorite beverage or throw in those running shoes and enjoy this fascinating chat with Alex. Hi, Alex. So great to have you here with us.

00:02:08:10 – 00:02:09:12
Alex Garden
Yeah, it’s great to see you.

00:02:09:20 – 00:02:29:23
Philippa White
Now tell me I have so many questions for you and there’s so many things that I want to talk about. But first, let’s kick off. I think it must be really great for the listeners to just understand more about your incredible background. I know you don’t really like to talk about it too much, but it’s incredible and I think it’d be really great for people just to understand the context.

00:02:29:23 – 00:02:37:22
Philippa White
You haven’t just been doing Zoom forever. You’ve had a huge history. So, yeah, can you can you tell us what you’ve what you did before, Zoom?

00:02:38:16 – 00:03:22:19
Alex Garden
Yeah, sure. So I love to learn new things. And I pretty early on, I decided that I wasn’t learning new things quickly enough in school. So I left school when I was pretty young and started working full time first testing video games for Electronic Arts. When I was really young, I think I was 15 when I started there, and then when my first company, which focused on a whole bunch of random stuff, and then the thing that we actually did well with was making control systems for industrial fabrication robots, which is kind of a funny thing for for a young person to be doing, but we kind of stumbled into it and got enough notoriety

00:03:22:20 – 00:03:45:20
Alex Garden
that we ended up selling that company for just a just a very small amount of money. But it seemed like a lot at the time and I really got the entrepreneurial bug. So after I sold that business, I spent about eight years as a software engineer working for different companies, you know, journeyman engineering stuff and then a bunch of video games, objects, 3D rendering engines, that kind of thing.

00:03:46:08 – 00:03:55:23
Alex Garden
And then I started a company in 97 called Relic Entertainment that actually went on to be very successful still around today, 30 years or 25 years later. It’s pretty amazing.

00:03:57:03 – 00:03:57:18
Philippa White
Amazing.

00:03:58:04 – 00:03:58:18
Alex Garden
Yeah, really.

00:03:58:18 – 00:04:02:12
Philippa White
That was the big one that I mean, that was that was a big deal.

00:04:03:03 – 00:04:19:05
Alex Garden
Yeah. Relic was great. It’s an amazing company. We sold out in 2004. It was one of the largest independent game developers in the world. And it’s great for me because a lot of the leadership that we hired in that business is still involved with Relic today. So I’m just really proud of the culture and.

00:04:19:05 – 00:04:22:12
Philippa White
I really was extraordinary. It’s amazing.

00:04:22:24 – 00:04:24:14
Alex Garden
Yeah, it’s amazing.

00:04:25:03 – 00:04:35:06
Philippa White
So great for you. Were you because you said 24, but when you did you when you sold that, you left when you sold it. So you were involved with Relic until 2004.

00:04:36:03 – 00:04:59:22
Alex Garden
Well, when I’m not quite. So when I sold it the company that bought us was called THQ and they’re based in Los Angeles. So I stepped up from running the studio to running mobile publishing for THQ and I moved down to Los Angeles to do that. Anyway, I didn’t stay at THQ very long because it was weird after we sold the business they had been a decent publisher for us, but they were.

00:04:59:23 – 00:05:16:15
Alex Garden
I just wasn’t impressed with the culture at the corporate office, so I finished the work that they asked me to do after the acquisition, and I decided to leave and try and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. So I took some time off and then I started a person company that built.

00:05:16:24 – 00:05:19:02
Philippa White
Yes, of course, the target company, I figure.

00:05:19:09 – 00:05:45:11
Alex Garden
Yeah. So so we made guild management systems for a couple of parking garages. So hardware, software services. It was a really interesting business, actually, and all the just as we were going to market, I got offered a job and the company that offered me the job was interested in me taking that. They actually effectively paid me to put the company on ice.

00:05:45:11 – 00:06:09:17
Alex Garden
And, you know, it was okay. I had self-financed it at that point. So it was it was a I was the only investor affected by the decision. So that was that was fine. And then I went to work for this company that I had been with as an advisor at this point for six years. I joined as the co-CEO and as a company called Nexon, which was at the time the largest online game company in the world, still one of the largest.

00:06:09:17 – 00:06:42:06
Alex Garden
And I was I took responsibility for building the other North American studio infrastructure. And so I was with Nexon for about two years and actually was very sad because due to the financial crisis and some internal challenges at Nexon, they made the decision to shutter the North American operation almost overnight and managing that process and the impact it had on the employees in North America was a very difficult and very sad outcome.

00:06:43:24 – 00:07:08:15
Alex Garden
Yeah, it was. It could feel a whole different podcast on that episode of my life, but, you know, you learn a lot from the ups and you learn a lot from the downs. So anyway, after next on, I took some time off, learned how to weld, learned how to be a pretty decent machinist, and focused on just really rounding up my mechanical engineering and fabrication skills.

00:07:09:02 – 00:07:32:10
Alex Garden
And then I went to work at Microsoft. A mentor of mine was one of the presidents there and asked me to come down and it was an interesting thesis. So they said, look, you know, we’re getting beaten even though we have the smartest people and the fastest computers and all of the enterprise account access and every resource a company could ever hope to have.

00:07:32:10 – 00:07:51:18
Alex Garden
And we’re getting beaten and we think it’s a culture problem. So why don’t you come down and be an entrepreneur and hack the culture and see what you can make happen? And that was a you know, it’s an interesting challenge. So, you know, that first day I started at Microsoft, I have a boss, a work visa, an access card, a computer or a charter.

00:07:52:03 – 00:07:55:14
Alex Garden
They just said, go to work here now. Yeah, go do.

00:07:55:19 – 00:07:59:05
Philippa White
Your thing. And that’s too.

00:07:59:12 – 00:08:20:18
Alex Garden
You know, I sort of got involved in the business and got more and more responsibility and was given more and more opportunities. And I ended up running the whole global media business for them. So music, video and reading and all of Xbox Live. And at the time I was one of only three leaders in the business that ran engineering and the piano.

00:08:20:18 – 00:08:51:03
Alex Garden
So yeah, so specifically RPM engineering and the global piano and I really enjoyed that work actually. I think back to my time at Microsoft really fondly. I learned a ton. The people who work there are amazing. We accomplished some really great things and I kind of knew that my time with Microsoft was coming to a close when I was invited to speak on stage at the company meeting in the last year, I was there and minutes seemed like a big deal if you’re not at Microsoft.

00:08:51:03 – 00:09:01:13
Alex Garden
But you have to understand they have 145,000 employees. It’s a it’s a big company. And so speaking on stage at the company meeting is addressing with 120,000 people.

00:09:02:03 – 00:09:02:17
Philippa White
While.

00:09:03:01 – 00:09:28:05
Alex Garden
Simultaneously. And so it’s in a huge stadium in Seattle. And there’s probably, I don’t know, 30,000 people in the audience, like physically attending, and then the rest are on simulcast around the world. And I spoke for 7 minutes about music and culture at the same time. That was really the same year that Steve Ballmer did his tearful goodbye.

00:09:28:05 – 00:09:51:00
Alex Garden
And we actually got the second highest ratings after Steve’s tearful goodbye. And, you know, I started thinking, you know, maybe maybe I’ve accomplished what I came here to do. And if I had stayed there, which I could have stayed there, no problem. I was there. Things were going well for me, but I kind of decided that I didn’t one day I didn’t aspire to be the CEO of Microsoft.

00:09:51:00 – 00:10:07:15
Alex Garden
And so I’m just the kind of person I am. If I’m working somewhere, I want to constantly improve my skills and and advance and and so for on the track that I was on, if I had accomplished if I had reached the apex of that track, then that would have been the job for me. And I don’t think that’s what I want to do.

00:10:07:15 – 00:10:28:05
Alex Garden
So I left on really, really good terms and I still I’m close to the folks who who work there, but I was looking for my next mission and I went to work at Zynga for a year as a favor to the CEO and it was fine. It wasn’t a good fit between the culture there and what I was trying to do.

00:10:28:05 – 00:11:03:01
Alex Garden
And of course, as far as I know now, and I should have known then, whenever there isn’t a good overlap between, you know, your values, what you’re trying to accomplish and the culture and and the alignment between the expectations and the way you like to work, you should just always say no, even when it’s a favor. So anyway, that was a challenging year for me, but in a lot of ways it was a crucible because when I left things I really started thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my my career, not through the lens of a email.

00:11:03:09 – 00:11:31:08
Alex Garden
What’s my not what’s my next job or my company. I’m going to start up. But, you know, what does that even mean to make a contribution as an executive and a leader? And at what point in your career do the skills that you’ve accumulated need to be leveraged for the well-being of the people around you? And what’s your social responsibility in the bigger mission and what can you do with the things you’ve learned and how can you help?

00:11:31:08 – 00:11:36:13
Alex Garden
So that’s that’s what informed what I did next. And it’s what I spent the last seven years working on.

00:11:36:17 – 00:12:03:08
Philippa White
Wow. Well, let’s talk about it, because obviously this is a really exciting next chapter that is, in my words, just in my view, it’s history in the making. I think it’s really, really exciting. So let’s talk about Zoom. It’s it’s an incredible story done together. An incredible story. I feel like there’s going to be a five hour podcast, but it’s a journey and as you say, seven years.

00:12:03:08 – 00:12:17:04
Philippa White
So let’s start let’s start with the first part of that journey, because the second part I think is, is another part of this podcast. Let’s let’s just start with the robots and the pizza and. Yeah, right.

00:12:18:02 – 00:12:41:20
Alex Garden
Yeah. So when I, when I, when I was first on this journey, you know, what do I do next? I got a chance to speak to a good friend of mine. His name is David Crane, and he runs Google Ventures. And I’ve always admired David. He’s just an incredibly dynamic, bombastic, enthusiastic lover of life, you know, and very smart.

00:12:42:12 – 00:12:56:09
Alex Garden
And he was one of the first employees at Google, and he has a unique perspective on things. So I talked to David and I said, you know, I’m really trying to figure out what I’m going to do next. And I don’t even know the process to figure out what I’m going to do next. How do you explore that?

00:12:56:09 – 00:13:13:19
Alex Garden
And he said, Well, what makes you happy? And I said, Well, you know, David, you know, I like this and that. And the other thing he said, well, those all sound like financers, but have you ever written it down? And I said, No, I’ve never done that. So his suggestion was to go home and write it down. So I did.

00:13:13:22 – 00:13:34:07
Alex Garden
I went home, I bought a glass of wine and I sat down on the couch with my laptop and I said, okay, well, this is probably going to take a few hours. Took me about 20 minutes is still 100% true. Today I go back and I read it all the time and wouldn’t change a word and it was by far the most powerful thing I’ve ever done.

00:13:35:01 – 00:13:54:12
Alex Garden
So it’s a it’s a it fits on one piece of paper and it’s called What Makes Me Very Happy. And I put three columns, what makes me very happy, what sounds my energy and characteristics of my dream job. And I just it was free association and just fill them in and it was amazing. So I finished this and I said, wow, that feels it feels really accurate.

00:13:54:15 – 00:13:54:24
Philippa White
Yeah.

00:13:55:11 – 00:14:15:12
Alex Garden
Yeah. So I sent it to David and he just said, My mind is blown. Come on back. That’s awesome about it. So we did. And, and he said, look, you know, to what extent would you say this represents your life today? I said, 60% for sure. And his observation was, you know, for for somebody who can accomplish what they put their mind to, why isn’t it 99%?

00:14:15:18 – 00:14:16:09
Philippa White
Nice question.

00:14:16:09 – 00:14:28:18
Alex Garden
And that was yeah, it was like a thunderclap, you know, I was I just couldn’t it was such a profoundly good question. And I said, yeah, that’s that’s a great point. So I took the next three months and I started making changes in my life every day. I tried to.

00:14:28:18 – 00:14:30:22
Philippa White
Change. When was this? So this was seven years ago.

00:14:31:13 – 00:14:54:06
Alex Garden
Yeah, this would have been to late 2014 or early 2015 and change something every day. And it was an amazing transformation. It was it was as if for the first time I was able to see where I wanted to go with my my life. It was crazy. And, you know, it hasn’t been perfect. There’s times when I drift off of it and I need to go back and read it again and make changes.

00:14:54:06 – 00:15:20:23
Alex Garden
But by and large, I’ve continued to live my life that way. The decision I made was to look at the world not through the lens of my PNL, but to look at it through the lens of my son and his generation. And the question was, what kind of world are they going to grow up in? You know, I spent, you know, my adult years listening to all this hyperbole about, you know, the environment and geopolitical conflict and melting polar ice caps and the impact of this trend or that trend.

00:15:21:08 – 00:15:40:10
Alex Garden
And it’s hard to know what’s real because there’s there’s so much hyperbole and there’s so much partizan discussion. But I’m a scientist. And so I decided to look at it as a research project. And I wanted to understand what’s really going on in the world. And I took a few months to do this research, and what I found was appalling.

00:15:41:08 – 00:16:03:19
Alex Garden
Things were, in fact not as bad as people said they were. They were worse. And when you’re as you look at it systemically, any one of these issues is independently bad. But when you take them collectively, we’re barreling towards a not just a crisis, but we’re barreling towards an end, which was a huge surprise. I just couldn’t believe it.

00:16:03:19 – 00:16:25:16
Alex Garden
So there’s almost too many issues to count. So I started putting them into buckets, and the four big buckets were food security, water security, climate security, and then ultimately geopolitical security, which is inevitable when there isn’t enough to go around. Yeah, that’s that’s the result. To my huge surprise as a technologist, the highest point of leverage in all four of those areas was the global food supply chain.

00:16:25:21 – 00:16:51:07
Alex Garden
And I thought, okay, well, I don’t I don’t know anything about food, but if if one were to invest in a way that was successful enough that these issues could be solved, not not just chipped away and not just improved on, but actually solved. What would that look like? You know what if a child born in 2030 would look at those issues as if they were some kind of anachronism of the 20th century, like it’s like a rotary telephone, you know?

00:16:52:01 – 00:17:08:12
Alex Garden
Oh, what? What do you mean? There was a time when people didn’t have enough food to eat. What? That’s crazy, you know? Or what do you mean? You used to drink water from a water bottle once, and then plastic bottle and throw it away went crazy it away.

00:17:08:12 – 00:17:09:21
Philippa White
That would never bite it. Like.

00:17:10:06 – 00:17:25:17
Alex Garden
Why would you do that? That’s that’s crazy. So now so what if these issues could be solved? And then, you know, people will often say to me, well, that’s just that’s just ridiculous. That’s too it’s too ambitious. And I’ll say, well, you know, it’s less ambitious than colonizing Mars, and that’s fully funded.

00:17:26:20 – 00:17:27:11
Philippa White
Right? So.

00:17:27:22 – 00:17:48:14
Alex Garden
You know, maybe we live in a time where there’s room for that kind of ambition. So off we went. So having sold technology into enterprise before, I know how difficult it is when you show up with unproven technology and say, Hey, I’m here to solve your problems, it’s virtually impossible. So rather than going down that road, I decided to start a small food company and set about solving these problems.

00:17:48:14 – 00:18:05:01
Alex Garden
So we started doing pizza. And to be clear, I mean, there was some really innovative thinking behind that, but it was our testbed, it was our reference customer. And, you know, so we said, okay, well, we have a delivery pizza company. What are what are the problems? And this let us down.

00:18:05:01 – 00:18:27:08
Philippa White
The chain for you. Sorry for our for our listeners just because I’d been or I went to because it’s not going anywhere. But I went to zoom pizza just for everyone to understand. It was a robotic pizza company and Alex, he created those robots. So you invented robots that make you all?

00:18:27:23 – 00:18:55:14
Alex Garden
I mean, not exactly. So the robots themselves came from a company called AB, which is a huge multinational that makes industrial robotics, among other things. And what we did is we took the robots that they make and we applied them to perform tasks in kitchens with, you know, very advanced material handling solutions and effectors and sensors. And yes.

00:18:56:14 – 00:19:13:05
Philippa White
You create. Yes, exactly. But you did that, right? Not we did that. Correct. Yeah. Thinking yes. Okay. So and it was an incredible setup. And also, you paid your employees more, if I’m not mistaken. So they were told there wasn’t just sort of a robotic. Well.

00:19:13:23 – 00:19:35:03
Alex Garden
I mean, the robots, again, just that the robots were were to serve a purpose. So originally the first problem we said is, hey, look, you know, we want to be able to pay people who work in kitchens a living wage. How do we do that? Well, if you look at the work that’s done in kitchens, some of it is creative human work that requires care and attention and thinking.

00:19:35:13 – 00:20:21:01
Alex Garden
Some of it is just routine, you know, assembly line stuff. So we said, well, if we automate the boring, dangerous, repetitive tasks, we can free people up to do things that are more valuable people skills and we can pay them more. So that was actually the genesis for the robots. And then we got into advanced material handling and industrial Internet of Things and predictive analytics and inside out logistics with moving kitchens and appliance manufacturing and, you know, to balance supply and demand, to reduce waste and positioning systems and all like unbelievable and packaging, unbelievable amounts of invention.

00:20:21:09 – 00:20:32:01
Alex Garden
And, you know, each one of those things had its own path and its own arc, but all of them are in use today in Zoom and what we’re currently up to.

00:20:32:07 – 00:21:00:22
Philippa White
So let’s talk about what you’re currently up to. So this was sort of the the journey to where you are essentially up to now. You mentioned the packaging. We talked when I introduced to about plastic, the horrendous stats and this next phase. So perhaps you can now bring all of this to life and yeah, where you’re at, which I find so exciting and yeah.

00:21:01:02 – 00:21:01:18
Philippa White
Talk to us.

00:21:01:18 – 00:21:21:13
Alex Garden
Well so, you know, if you remember the origin of the whole thing was, you know, save the world, the food. And I have to be honest, if you told me in the beginning that you’re going to do it with packaging, I would have scratch my head and said, I don’t really understand how that’s the case, but but it is and it’s it’s quite amazing.

00:21:21:13 – 00:21:39:20
Alex Garden
So for us, the origin of packaging was was pizza related. We, we had this beautiful Neapolitan pizza and we didn’t pump it full of nitrates to stabilize it during the delivery process. So what would happen is it would leave our kitchen as beautiful and then we put it in the bloodstream.

00:21:40:00 – 00:21:41:14
Philippa White
And it was it was really.

00:21:41:16 – 00:22:00:03
Alex Garden
Yeah, I think you put it in a traditional pizza box and in about 5 minutes it hit declining quality to the point where we didn’t want to serve it to a customer. And, you know, that was weird. But as as scientists and physicists, we approached that problem not from I wonder why it happens but more from let’s define might happens.

00:22:00:20 – 00:22:27:02
Alex Garden
And there’s really two things there’s you know all that heat energy that we pay to put into the pizza started escaping from the pizza since we put it in the box and as the pizza evaporated, all of this moisture and it cooled and began to be absorbing the moisture, it started to get soggy. And then when you cut it, grease runs down between the two slices and it wicks underneath the box and it was absorbed into the crust.

00:22:27:02 – 00:22:45:00
Alex Garden
And so you end up with a soggy cold pizza. So and there’s a lot of other things that are going on in there, but at a high level, that’s it. So we said, okay, well, if, if you put it on a a raised baking tray, that doesn’t happen. So why don’t we just design a box that has that feature like a, you know, or find a box that has a feature.

00:22:45:08 – 00:23:00:03
Alex Garden
And we looked all over the planet we couldn’t find one without, which was, that was weird. So we just took out a whiteboard and we designed one who said, Well, why don’t we just make a feature on the bottom? Looks like this. And while we’re at it, why are pizza boxes square? Why are they around? It’s crazy. It’s a lot of wasted material.

00:23:00:20 – 00:23:14:10
Alex Garden
Why don’t we put in channels to manage the grease so that it doesn’t get absorbed into the pizza? And why don’t we make it stackable so you can carry five of them with one hand? And why don’t we make it so you could fold it up and put it in the garbage because you can throw a pizza box away?

00:23:14:10 – 00:23:36:20
Alex Garden
It’s crazy, right? And then why don’t we make it compostable? Why do we throw it away at all? And why don’t we put different climate zones in it so that the crust is crispy and the toppings steam moist and dozens of other little innovations. And so we designed this thing and we we found a Chinese manufacturer who was willing to make it very expensive to meet, though.

00:23:36:20 – 00:23:59:17
Alex Garden
And to our surprise, we won DuPont’s package of the year. We were a Diamond finalist. Yeah, and as I understand it, no company that was not a packaging company had ever won that before. So we went to the award show in Las Vegas and got our award and and everybody of these packaging leaders were kind of fawning over this box and saying, no, it’s amazing.

00:24:00:10 – 00:24:15:18
Alex Garden
So I started to think we were really onto something. So I took the box to all of these major global leading packaging companies and said, You know, you should license this from us and you should make it because people really like it. And they all told me the same thing, which was it’s a great product, but no customers ever asked us for this.

00:24:16:07 – 00:24:18:06
Alex Garden
And after being an entrepreneur for my whole life.

00:24:19:17 – 00:24:20:19
Philippa White
We were going to ask for that.

00:24:21:07 – 00:24:41:11
Alex Garden
Well, that’s what Henry Ford said. If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, there was a faster horse. So I think I think, okay, well, that’s really interesting. So I told I actually said in these meetings to these executives, I said, listen, I hear you. I don’t agree with you, but I want you to know that I’m going to be back in the business.

00:24:41:11 – 00:25:01:14
Alex Garden
I don’t want you to feel like that’s a disingenuous thing. So expect to see me back here. So off we went. We started investing in value, engineering the box, trying to make it less expensive, and we were able to do that, but we still had a floor where we just couldn’t make it less expensive than the floor. And I wanted to know why.

00:25:01:14 – 00:25:27:03
Alex Garden
So it turns out it’s because the box was very big and it was very complicated. The shape was very complicated. And at the time, state of the art in a package, manufacturing equipment was serial and meaning. It did one thing and the next thing, the next thing, and it was finished. And when you’re making a complex shape in molded fiber, when you get to the pressing step, if you press for a really long time.

00:25:27:04 – 00:25:45:04
Alex Garden
So a long press results in the rest of the machine being idle, it waits for its opportunity to advance pieces to the next step. And an idle machine is a slot machine, and the slot machine is an expensive machine. And the other thing is the machines weren’t very big because they were designed to do to make smaller products.

00:25:45:20 – 00:26:06:24
Alex Garden
And our box was so big that for each iteration of the machine, we only got a small number of parts off. And so ultimately we were making parts very slowly and that made them very expensive. Now fortunately, having a mechanical engineering background, when we looked at the machines, we said, well, you know, is that a monolith or is that a collection of subcomponents?

00:26:06:24 – 00:26:24:03
Alex Garden
And it was a collection of subcomponents. And so we said, well, can we parallel lines there? And the answer is yes. But the problem is, in order to do so, you need very advanced material handling and you need some sort of flexible solution at the center to move things around so that we know how to do that. We’re great with robots.

00:26:24:12 – 00:26:59:22
Alex Garden
Have robots. So we we that’s that’s was the genesis of this parallel thermoforming process. Now, to be clear, it’s taken years and an enormous amount of R&D and it’s been very expensive to perfect that technology. But today we have engineered a whole suite of hardware, software and services and a very unique business model where we zoom, sit in the middle between, on one hand, the largest brands in the world who have a desperate, deafening need to move beyond plastic.

00:26:59:22 – 00:27:34:10
Alex Garden
And the largest industrial companies in the world, agriculture or power manufacturing, who want to build infrastructure to service the needs of these brands. The problem is, no one company has all the technology to connect the to, you know, all of the machine equipment, factory solutions, you know, ERP, planning, scheduling, logistics, supply chain design, tooling, materials, science. No, no one has all of that to build a bridge, but Zoom does.

00:27:34:24 – 00:27:45:09
Alex Garden
And so that’s what we do today. So we connect the largest brands in the world with fully qualified solutions that run on factories run by the largest industrials in the world, all powered by the technology.

00:27:45:15 – 00:28:17:15
Philippa White
So let’s just back up a little bit for the listeners to kind of understand what does this mean? What does this look like for us? And perhaps you can some of these steps that you have are terrifying when it comes to plastic. And also when we just sort of think about when I go to the grocery store and I want to buy a bag of sugar or I want to buy anything, it’s sitting in a bag, plastic.

00:28:17:15 – 00:28:37:02
Philippa White
And it would be one great to understand this plastic situation and then it would be really great to understand so what is it that you’re talking about? As in what, what, what? What are you creating? What is that? And then also, where is it coming from? That’s that’s that would just be great to just paint that picture.

00:28:37:07 – 00:29:23:09
Alex Garden
Yeah, for sure. So first of all, I just a disclaimer. I mean, packaging the plastic is plastics amazing. And I don’t want anyone to think it’s not. I mean, a significant amount of the convenience that we enjoy today is because of plastic. It’s an incredible material. And the people who have designed it and advanced it are heroes. But as it is with so many things, the law of unintended consequences, the same things that make plastic amazing, also mean that it has a really inefficient and insufficient end of life story, and that has catastrophic consequences and where it comes from and the raw materials that we use to make it have catastrophic consequences.

00:29:23:12 – 00:29:45:07
Alex Garden
So without realizing it, we have created a monster. So packaging, right, which everything that moves if you start paying attention, everything that moves is in packaging. You’re putting them at the supermarket so good when just walk through there some time and don’t look at the products, look at the packaging, it’s mind blowing. So packaging is $1,000,000,000,000 a year business.

00:29:45:07 – 00:30:06:09
Alex Garden
It’s a big number. I feel like Dr. Evil whenever I say that single use consumer plastic packaging is that $340 billion a year business we produce 190 million tons of single use consumer plastic packaging a year. And the U.N. says now that by 2050 they’ll be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight.

00:30:07:02 – 00:30:08:14
Philippa White
And that’s terrifying.

00:30:09:00 – 00:30:29:07
Alex Garden
I think everyone should just take a knee and close their eyes and just visualize what that what that would be like. Right. Just like trying to imagine that. And plastic and microplastics are so prevalent in our ecosystem now that every human on earth ingests about it. Credit cards worth of we buy plastic a week and that number is going up.

00:30:29:12 – 00:30:46:21
Alex Garden
And as you can expect, like we weren’t intended to eat plastics, not we’re not supposed to be eating hydrocarbons. So, you know, it’s not good for you has a lot of health consequences. So whether we like it or not, we have to do something about this. Now, it’s interesting because I really think that we’re at peak plastic now.

00:30:47:19 – 00:31:21:22
Alex Garden
For anyone who’s been watching last week, there was a decision from the Dutch government against Royal Dutch Shell that said that by 2030 they have to reduce emissions by 45%, which is an astonishing decision. And the same week, actually, ExxonMobil, against the wishes of their management team, their shareholders, elected two new board members whose sole focus is the environmental consequence of Shell’s activities are presently Exxon’s activities, which that’s amazing.

00:31:21:22 – 00:31:51:09
Alex Garden
Several oil CEOs have said that they’re no longer that they’re reducing their investment levels and exploration. And if you look at bond yields for oil and gas projects, they’re dropping, which means that investors are moving away from oil and gas as a preferred asset class and overall, we’re going to see oil exploration and oil prices start to oil prices start to rise.

00:31:51:09 – 00:32:12:12
Alex Garden
And it’s interesting, right, because the price of plastic is pegged to the price of oil. So as as oil prices rise, positive prices rise. So that’s good at the same time that’s happening, every major global government is either considering or has enacted bans against single use plastic packaging that’s phasing it out. Every major global brand has made a commitment to reduce their plastic waste stream.

00:32:12:24 – 00:32:35:20
Alex Garden
Consumers are asking for alternatives. Retailers are insisting on it. And yet the change isn’t happening, which is really weird, right? Why is that? And it’s a simple reason. It’s because no one’s giving brands relief at the PM level. They’re not saying, okay, it’s okay for you to make less money. No consumer is sitting there saying, I’m willing to accept lower or I’ll pay more or I’m willing to accept lower performance.

00:32:36:03 – 00:33:00:00
Alex Garden
So because we’ve all become very accustomed to the convenience of plastic, so we’re saying, look, I expect brands to give me high performance and I’m not going to pay more, but I demand change. And so this is why we’re stuck here. And there’s so much energy and enthusiasm on the part of major global brands. I know because I talk to them every day to make a change.

00:33:00:00 – 00:33:49:07
Alex Garden
They just don’t have the technology or the solutions to do it. So what we do is we take various forms of plant based agricultural waste. Remember, this is Save the World with food. We take the byproduct of food production. And today, around the world, by and large, what’s left over right the husks from corn or the pigs from sugar production or the leaves from palm oil or that the byproducts of marijuana growing or the chaff from wheat, etc. We take that agricultural waste and we process it and we turn it into products that perform as well as plastic that are very near at or in some cases below the price of plastic.

00:33:49:23 – 00:34:10:15
Alex Garden
And these are products have beautiful smooth finishes on them. They’re very strong. They hold water and grease as well as plastic does. They’re leakproof. So you can literally put the lid on them, shake them upside down like Tupperware with boiling water inside of them and the lids won’t come off. They put them in the fridge, in the oven, in the microwave, in the freezer, no problem.

00:34:10:18 – 00:34:13:09
Alex Garden
But if you bury them in the ground, they’re gone in 90 days.

00:34:13:15 – 00:34:14:10
Philippa White
90 days.

00:34:15:05 – 00:34:34:02
Alex Garden
Well, that’s the standard for the highest standard for compost ability is estimate 68, 68 in the US, everywhere in the world has different standards and the actual test they do is there is there’s a lab where they actually bury it in the ground. They wait 90 days, they dig up that plot and put it through a sifter. And if anything’s left, that doesn’t pass, it’s after you fail.

00:34:34:16 – 00:34:58:08
Alex Garden
So we’re still 60 or 68 compostable. So, you know, that’s it’s not magic, it’s just science. And all of the technology to do this exists today just hasn’t been applied this way. So and it’s not just the material science, it’s also the machine manufacturing technology and the tooling and how it all works together. So that’s what Zoom does.

00:34:58:08 – 00:35:17:15
Alex Garden
So we have a whole is this an end to end solution that that takes agricultural waste and turns it into not plastic. And because of the disposal of this waste, right. You think about it, it’s burnt or buried for disposal. So what does that do? Bury it decomposes. It creates methane emissions burning. It creates carbon emissions. And plastic comes from hydrocarbons.

00:35:17:19 – 00:35:43:10
Alex Garden
So what I’d like to say is we’ve created a system that converts methane and carbon emissions, sequesters those and convert that into not hydrocarbons. So not only are we getting rid of plastic, but we’re also sequestering a significant amount of methane and carbon emissions or greenhouse gas emissions. So it’s it’s just a classic example, as if if human science can create this engine that moves in the wrong direction, that’s where we are with plastics.

00:35:43:10 – 00:35:51:07
Alex Garden
Now, why can’t human science create an engine which solves the same problem and moves in the right direction, which is a byproduct of food production sequester into not plastic?

00:35:51:08 – 00:36:12:15
Philippa White
Alex I hope everybody that is listening to this is just sitting there with their mouths is like, what? Just amazing. I mean, a huge it’s just it is. It really is. I mean, I’ve always been super proud of you. We’ve known each other forever and every single step. Wow, it’s super cool. You’re doing something, you know, your brain is just unbelievable.

00:36:13:08 – 00:36:16:22
Alex Garden
Well, that’s what I’ve always thought about you. So it’s a mutual admiration society.

00:36:17:04 – 00:36:29:01
Philippa White
Well, that’s very kind, but It is just amazing because you true. This is this is what the world needs. The world needs an inventor and a scientist and an entrepreneur like you and. The world.

00:36:29:01 – 00:36:29:22
Alex Garden
Has. Well, they’re they’re.

00:36:30:02 – 00:36:31:05
Philippa White
They’re are so proud.

00:36:31:08 – 00:36:35:07
Alex Garden
Well, thank you. That’s very kind. Well.

00:36:36:03 – 00:36:38:13
Philippa White
I hope you feel it, but I mostly.

00:36:38:13 – 00:36:39:05
Alex Garden
I just feel tired.

00:36:39:19 – 00:36:41:15
Philippa White
Yeah. Yeah. Feelings, hopefully.

00:36:42:06 – 00:37:03:10
Alex Garden
You know, when you’re in it, I don’t really take a lot of time to sit back and think about the editorial aspect of this. You know, it’s the days are really busy and and, you know, there’s every day there’s there’s, you know, major challenges that we need to overcome. And I think I have a little bit of a fear that if I sit back and spend too much time thinking about, oh, think about how far we’ve come, that I’ll start to miss something.

00:37:03:10 – 00:37:20:16
Alex Garden
Yeah, yeah. So I’ll have lots of time to reflect on, on, on this with luck later. But right now we’re just we’re heads down. But but, you know, I will say one thing about about invention. So there are other people today who are who are doing things like this. I mean, the one that everyone talks about is Elon Musk.

00:37:20:16 – 00:37:44:01
Alex Garden
And and I’m not trying to compare myself to Elon Musk, but I’m saying, you know, his goal I mean, ultimately his goal is to colonize Mars. And if you look at everything that all of his companies do, whether it’s tunnel boring energy systems, batteries, solar, aerospace, rocket systems and, you know, electric vehicles, etc., all of that is Mars Tech.

00:37:44:04 – 00:38:07:02
Alex Garden
And one of his really brilliant insights was that financing a company to colonize Mars would have not have been a good bet. So breaking it up into multiple little companies that can be independently financed by pursuing missions here on Earth as well as was very clever. But it’s his company is in better company called colonize Mars to save humanity from the singularity.

00:38:07:02 – 00:38:20:24
Alex Garden
And I like to think that while he’s busy trying to save us from ourselves by getting out to another planet, I’m trying to save us from ourselves. By making life on this planet better. But in a lot of ways I think it’s complementary because the longer I can delay the inevitable, the better chance he has of being successful.

00:38:21:12 – 00:39:04:16
Alex Garden
But. But his goal with Tesla was advance the agenda for electrification. And if people if they’re sort of paying attention in a casual level will say that Tesla is a car company, but that’s not really true. And Tesla is an electrification company and they’ve advanced state of the art batteries and control systems and and yeah, of course vehicles and they make they make great vehicles, but they’ve done so many other things with, you know, automate it with manufacturing systems and and and more and so what I love about them is in a lot of ways, they’re an inspiration because, you know, we, we people look at us and say, you’re a packaging company.

00:39:04:16 – 00:39:23:19
Alex Garden
We’re not actually, we’re an industrial automation and sustainability solutions company. We make the majority of our money from machine equipment and professional sales and professional services, a small portion from packaging. But the packaging is the vanguard. It’s what people see.

00:39:23:19 – 00:39:24:21
Philippa White
Yes. Yeah.

00:39:25:13 – 00:39:52:24
Alex Garden
Now we create a lot of revenue in our ecosystem through the sale of packaging, but that primarily is earned by our partners and our customers. So we have that same sort of, you know, Tesla makes cars, but they really make a lot of other things that makes packaging. But we really make a lot of other things. Yeah, I think the reason I bring it up is that we’re now I believe we’re now at a point where the grand ambitions in life are.

00:39:52:24 – 00:40:17:22
Alex Garden
We’re past the point where those grand ambitions are pursued by governments. It used to be that only governments had the scale to tackle hugely grand ambitions, like landing people on the moon. Right. But we’re past that point now. And governments playing a different role is the role of a custodian, which is great. But now we’re at a point where our industry and business leaders can pursue grand ambition.

00:40:17:22 – 00:40:46:15
Alex Garden
We operate across borders and every country we have access to unlimited, literally unlimited capital for the right ideas. Public markets and the private markets are open to the idea of grand ambition and huge high beta outcomes. We have democratic access now to education through the Internet, and so anywhere in the world that a great mind exists, that great mind can find fertile ground.

00:40:47:19 – 00:41:11:17
Alex Garden
We have democratic access to consumers through Amazon and through digital tools. And virtually everything that you could ever dream of using to take a product to market is now available as a SAS product for a small fee, and so you don’t even need a garage to start a company anymore. You can just open your laptop sitting anywhere literally and a.

00:41:11:19 – 00:41:13:08
Philippa White
Laptop with a few connections.

00:41:13:16 – 00:41:36:01
Alex Garden
And an Internet connection. That’s right. So to be fair, not everyone has an Internet connection. But but by and large, with some work, you can get access to those things in most parts of the world now. And that’s becoming even more common with things like StarLink and democratic, you know, global Internet. So it’s sort of a halcyon time for invention.

00:41:36:12 – 00:42:12:03
Alex Garden
And I’m sort of going through this whole big speech here because if there’s anything that people take away from this, I hope it’s permission to start to give your own moonshot speech yourself. You know, ask not what your country can do for you. What what would you do if you had permission to pursue unlimited ambition? I humans have such an amazing potential for great and terrible in this we seem to we never really need permission to pursue the terrible heresy to wait for permission to pursue the great.

00:42:12:11 – 00:42:36:20
Philippa White
And I, I couldn’t agree more, Alex And I think that’s actually just a very quickly because we’re running out of time a bit, but I just wanted to sort of bring it to tie even because this is where we I mean, we think alike in a lot of ways, but I feel so many people feel perhaps stuck in a role that they’re in or stuck in an industry or or stuck in something.

00:42:36:20 – 00:43:04:14
Philippa White
And they feel, oh, you know, it’s not changing. So I need to quit or it’s not I’m not I’m not getting enough from whatever it is. And again, it’s giving people permission. Ty is all about providing people with that inspiration, those insights, the confidence to then see within themselves what they’re capable of, how the world works. And then you know what?

00:43:05:03 – 00:43:27:03
Philippa White
Don’t change companies don’t change industries. Don’t wait until you get the perfect break. Don’t wait until your boss does something. Do it. Change things, be an intra preneur within a company or an entrepreneur to make change. Because the change makers out there, they’re not waiting for things to happen. They’re doing two things. And I think that’s what people need to realize that.

00:43:27:03 – 00:43:49:12
Philippa White
Yeah, exactly. And I’m so happy you ended with that because that’s exactly how I feel. Don’t wait for somebody to give you permission. You know, find those opportunities to be inspired, be constantly curious, push yourself out of your comfort zone. You know, unlock that potential because everybody has it. You just need to find it. And I think your advice right at the beginning of this as well is just so beautiful.

00:43:50:01 – 00:44:09:07
Philippa White
David, I think you said from Google, just sit down and think about, you know, what is it? What is your purpose? What do you want? What do you want and what don’t you want? What do you want and how do you get there and put it on a one piece of paper and then put it on your wall and then look at it every day because you’ll start to make change.

00:44:09:07 – 00:44:24:14
Philippa White
I think that’s really great advice, Alex, just as we’re wrapping up, tell me, what haven’t I asked you that you’d like to tell our listeners? What would you I mean, you the less advice is beautiful, but just is there anything that you’d like to leave people with over and above what I’ve already talked about.

00:44:24:21 – 00:44:56:04
Alex Garden
If we’re talking about, you know, giving yourself permission to be a, you know, a creative innovator, the one thing I’d say is almost any question you have can be answered with Google. I talked to people that while I don’t know the answer to this, I have you literally typed that into Google. I mean, surprised yourself. So if you’re waiting because you think there’s some problem that you need to solve to start unpacking your grand ambition, just sit down in front of a browser and type it into the search bar.

00:44:56:12 – 00:45:18:24
Alex Garden
You might surprise yourself and follow that breadcrumb right? That will give you new questions. Write them down, type those in to Google and you would be amazed at how quickly you can learn something. Just doing that, read everything. Don’t, don’t be intimidated. Absorb it all. Sit back, close your eyes. Think about how how it all fits together. Write a thesis, share it with people.

00:45:18:24 – 00:45:24:01
Alex Garden
Don’t be afraid. And you, you, you. You may surprise yourself.

00:45:24:13 – 00:45:33:17
Philippa White
Alex, it has been such a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you so much that you’ve got I know you’ve got a crazy day. Alex got up at 630 in the morning for us to have this conversation. So I appreciate.

00:45:33:21 – 00:45:34:13
Alex Garden
A lot of it and.

00:45:35:10 – 00:45:44:21
Philippa White
A so thank you for the time and for connecting with me and for sharing all of this with our listeners. This is such an exciting episode. I can’t wait to get it out. Thank you.

00:45:45:05 – 00:45:45:24
Alex Garden
Thanks for having me.

00:45:45:24 – 00:46:07:00
Philippa White
Take care. Thank You.

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