With Christmas fast approaching, most parents and relatives are in the throes of swallowing a wish list containing the latest toys and gadgets, scratching their heads at just what a L.O.L Surprise! Glamper Playset for £99.99 is.
But this year has seen a green movement in which more Britons are concerned about the environment meaning those plastic throwaway toys might be on the naughty list.
Founders of YoungPlanet, Jason and Emma Ash, say that children only end up playing with a handful of toys and that something more sustainable needs to be done to stop items ending up in landfill.
They point to data that claims the average British 10 year-old has around 238 toys but uses just 12 daily.
Wasteful: Data shows that children have hundreds of toys but only play with a handful
It means that millions of toys are left unused around the country, destined for landfill or collecting dust in the loft.
The toy industry is worth nearly half-a-billion pounds in Britain creating a money pit for parents and relatives.
Jason and Emma believe they have created an eco-friendly, money saving solution to the waste and expense of kids toys through the launch of the YoungPlanet app a year ago.
The ‘cashless platform’, which has been piloted in Hackney, now has more than 2,000 users that have launched the app 50,000 times to exchange hundreds of unwanted products – all for free.
It’s not just toys that can be exchanged. With kids aged 0-4 years old costing more than £14,000-a-year to raise, other items such as buggies and bottles can also be listed.
Helping parents who want to save the planet
Emma and Jason Ash are the founders of the YoungPlanet app, which encourages families to exchange unwanted goods for free. This is all in an effort to save money and ensure that fewer unwanted kids stuff lands up in landfill
Jason, 45, says: ‘As parents, we all strive for the best for our kids, but the impact on the planet’s resources is huge and growing.
‘We wanted to create a solution for parents to be able to provide a rich experience for their kids by enabling them to have access to a variety of toys and products, while saving on costs and reducing our depletion of the earth’s resources.
‘We all are becoming aware of the impact our own living has on the planet, so we wanted to create a way to give parents a solution to a life with fast-growing children accumulating a house full of unused stuff.’
Jason says the concept evolved after they attended garage sales in the suburbs of New York in America.
‘Freddy, our youngest, was so enamoured with this tin truck that instead of charging us the seller gave it to us for free. He said it was nice to see someone else enjoying it.’
He adds: ‘In its simplest form YoungPlanet is a hub for children’s stuff that’s looking for a new home.
‘The main driver is around exchanging free stuff but with a cloak of doing it for environmental reasons.’
Jason admits that YoungPlanet’s mission has also been catapulted by an increased awareness following Blue Planet’s showcase on plastic pollution in the world’s oceans as well Greta Thurnburg’s activisim.
He says: ‘Waste is not cool and people feel like a super hero when they’re doing something about it through our app.’
The YoungPlanet up went through a pilot in Hackney, London with families exchanging goods for free
Re-inventing the wheel?
Jason’s aware that they are not the only ones to come up with such a concept.
Families can, after all, exchange goods for free or sell their second hand items through online marketplaces like Freecycle, Facebook marketplace and Gumtree.
But this hasn’t stopped him creating his own version, which he believes does it better.
He says: ‘We are not the first to do this and we won’t be the last but nor was the Model T car the first and last car.
‘When it comes to Freecycle we’ve used it extensively and we like it.
‘But it’s difficult to use and it’s also not specific.
‘The key thing for YoungPlanet is that we are hyper-focused on waste and raising children and this changes the whole interface of the app and how we market it.’
Jason adds that an element of gamification has also been added to the app to incentivise users to commit to being environmentally conscious.
‘What we did and within each of the profiles every item you place on the platform you get a point. If you are bidding with other… the highest point gets higher up to the top.
‘So the more you give, the more you get. It’s not a hard rule, but when choosing who to pass it on to, we encourage givers to look at who has given the most and who is closer to you so that you don’t need to pay for postage and packaging.’
YoungPlanet allows parents to give away a variety of items which includes anything from clothes, to toys to some ‘big stuff’ items like cribs.
The founders of YoungPlanet are now looking to expand the app’s range and have raised their initial £325,000 target through crowdfunding platform, Crowdcube.
The funds raised are to be used to expand into London and Bristol in 2020, with ambitions of reaching one million households in the next three years.
Jason explains: ‘Following London and Bristol we’ll launch in Bath, Oxford, Cardiff and get cities linking with one another, national with North and South.
‘Then we’ll probably move onto cities like Stockholm and Vancouver.
‘We look at how open cities are to tech and being green – that’s how we choose them.’
Jason says revenue will be derived largely from native advertising on the app and subscription services as the YoungPlanet community grows.
He assures that he won’t charge parents to use the platform: ‘It will always be free to exchange goods.
‘There are two revenue streams. We are hoping in next two to three years we’ll have a million [users] on the platform.
‘Average usage is sky high but within that once you have the people we’ll have contextual advertising to monetise.
‘We want to do that cautiously though as we want it to be high quality.
‘Another way is through a business to consumer and business to business subscription model. We would look at an Amazon Prime type subscription that offers free postage.’
He adds that the B2B model would help corporates in getting their employees that aren’t working in central locations or working from home to get involved in the community.
Jason explains: ‘We’ve seen remarkable interest in that. It would deliver big tranches of users to the platform.
‘If a manufacturing company has an agenda around waste and employees that are decentralised you can combine those things to create a corporate community.’
Loyalty to the platform may be rewarded as well in the future.
Jason adds: ‘This would involve compounding the “more you give the more you get” concept, where super users benefit more.
‘They may get a monthly stipend to get a weeks’ window on a new listing for example.’
There is a week left of the crowdfunding which you can look at here. Investing in a start-up via this method can be risky.
Crowdcube says raises like this are targeted exclusively at ‘investors who are sufficiently sophisticated to understand these risks and make their own investment decisions.’
Using powers for good
Prior to launching YoungPlanet, Jason’s wife Emma enjoyed a career in PR and marketing having worked at LVMH and been a director of Stella & Dot UK.
It’s not the first time that Jason has dabbled with entrepreneurship. He has a private equity background and was managing director of cidermaker Orchard Pig before it was sold to international drinks business C&C for an undisclosed sum.
He also worked in marketing roles at Unilever, Mars and Cadbury.
Founders Jason and Emma Ash pose on holiday with their young sons who helped inspire a business based on the free exchange of goods and saving the planet
In spite this varied and colourful career history it’s only with this business that Jason feels like he’s contributing something back to society.
‘If I am really honest, I wanted to use my powers for good.
‘You get to a certain point in your life when you’re financially solvent and you want to see what social impact you can make.
‘It’s something the world needs. There doesn’t need to be as much waste as there is.
‘There doesn’t need to be a conflict between business and social good.
‘Selling soft drinks and sugar is great but what good have you done?’
While the company has achieved its crowdfunding goal, Jason admits its there’s still a lot of challenges to managing this business.
He says: ‘Raising money is always difficult. The tech side of it and building it has been difficult too. I’m used to making chocolate and apple juice.
‘The business is not recession-proof but one thing in our favour is that the free stuff element becomes more appealing as people become financially challenged.’
His advice to other entrepreneurs looking to do something similar is to surround yourself with the best people.
He says: ‘This is so you can easily ask for advice – but you don’t always have to take it.
‘Plus you really have to believe in what you do. What we’re doing at YoungPlanet is new and interesting and provides solutions to a problem.
‘It provides a social platform compounded with the “why” of why people should do it while also making it fun and simple to do.’