Interview: Milkcrate

Interview with Morgan Berman and Jason Cox of MilkCrate.

Sustainability is a big movement and trend that is sweeping America. However, finding sustainable businesses, markets and opportunities are hard to come by. Fortunately, MilkCrate is solving this by merging information and technology to provide people information and resources to live sustainably easier.

We caught up with Morgan Berman and Jason Cox, CEO and CTO of MilkCrate, respectively, to talk about what’s being termed as the “Yelp of Sustainability” to learn about MilkCrate’s growth and development in Philadelphia.

What is MilkCrate?

MilkCrate is an app that simplifies living more sustainably by making it fun and easy for users to connect with the local, sustainable businesses and resources in their community.

What problems are you trying to solve?

One problem we are addressing is the gap in user knowledge about sustainable living. People want to live their values, but there is no tool that is easily accessible to help them do that.

Another problem is business owners who run their companies in responsible, sustainable ways and want to be able to promote their business to consumers who care, but, there is no place for these two groups to get together.

Lastly, the third problem we are solving are municipalities, who do not necessarily have the freedom, expertise, or ability to promote them in an impactful way to a targeted audience.

How did you become interested in this problem?

It came from my own experience living in Philadelphia and wanting to live more sustainably. Working with a magazine company promoting sustainability efforts, I got excited, but also frustrated at the monthly issues and paper quality in which information was provided. I kept wanting to be able to draw upon this information while I was out living my life.

When it came time to design a project that had a meaningful impact, I designed a tool that tailored to the demographic I fit in, bringing together the municipalities, organizations, business owners, and consumers I knew where a part of the community, but just didn’t have a place to come together to interact and talk to each other.

Who are your customers?

We have a couple of different customer bases. First are the small business owners who are running sustainably-oriented companies. Another major customer is municipalities and civic organizations like the Philadelphia Water Department and Streets Department. Our third customer is large sustainable brands and companies such as Zipcar.

What is MilkCrate’s growth since your app launched last summer?

We are about to launch the next version. We have had tremendous growth in terms of the and the development of the product, building new partnerships, and raising money. The real growth has been building a strong startup company and building the replicable model for other cities.

How have you been able to connect with local businesses in Philadelphia?

I started with a small group of organizations and as we got them on board, they made introductions to other organization and businesses.

Local businesses and restaurants came through our partner organizations. We identify an aligned non-profit like Sustainable Business Network or B-Corp, who have membership directories with businesses that have met their criteria and we bring all those lists into one place.

What are some challenges you have faced?

Finding technical support that does not cost a lot of money has been a real challenge. We’ve had to fundraise to build enough reserve to be able to hire engineers. The only thing holding us back is the development of our technology.

What was the biggest milestone or accomplishment your team has achieved so far?

There are a couple. We raised 103% of our crowdfunding campaign. We were the 5 finalist of Forbes’ 30 under 30, which brought a lot of attention. I received a letter from Girl Scouts of America to talk at their annual convention as well.

How have the response been for your app and startup from your users?

We ran a survey after we launched the app and the feedback we got was exactly what we expected. They wanted to know more about the business and transparency of how they got into the MilkCrate system.

How does MilkCrate plan to scale and expand into other cities?

Do what we basically did in Philly, which is partnering with organizations to build our databases and do outreach for us. By partnering with national companies like Zipcar, we hope that will help us grow in new areas. We have a team member already in Colorado, building out our West Coast efforts. We are also working with graduate students at Wharton to help build our replicable business model.

What other resources have you found that are particularly useful for social entrepreneurs?

We are a mission-based company and people have been so willing to participate and lend a hand without any expectation of return, because they just believe in what we are doing. That is really how we got so far in many ways, because people have lent services, money, and time to help us grow.

What are you most looking forward to in the Sustainable Business Plan Competition?

We are excited to have the opportunity to prove the business model, proving that you can do well by doing good and having a self-sustaining business with a triple bottom line. We are excited to get that message out there and receive affirmation that we are on the right track.