Talent Show

Andy Ruben: Breaking out of the big-box

Prior to co-founding yerdle, a startup launching today, Andy Ruben held several roles over a decade at Walmart, including serving as its first head of sustainability, from 2004 to 2007. I am fascinated with Ruben’s transformation from corporate giant to entrepreneur. His strategic focus has shifted from selling more stuff to sharing more stuff. Here’s his story.

Ellen Weinreb: Please touch on three impressionable turning points in your career.

Andy Ruben:  My first real job was interning at Procter & Gamble. I came there with an engineering degree. I found my work to be more based on people and behavior than the equations that I learned in college. I remember a shift in my aspirations that not only did I want a career in engineering and design but I also wanted to work with change and people.

There is a second point, at Walmart, where I had been running global strategy and the CEO, Lee Scott, asked me to spearhead sustainability for Walmart.  At first I resisted, but I soon became really passionate about the subject. I realized how important it was for me to do deeply rewarding work. And even though I’m very proud of what we achieved at Walmart, I knew that one day I’d leave to start a business with sustainability as its founding principle. 

The third point is now as co-founder of yerdle. I am so passionate about this company and its mission to reduce our need to buy new things, thereby creating the next generation retailer. I believe sharing will replace 20 percent of existing retail. It’s rewarding to start something from the ground up to achieve this type of change in the way we live.

Weinreb: What inspired you to start yerdle?

Ruben:  The moment I got the ah-ha was at the first soccer game of the season for my five-year old daughter. We looked around the field and saw 100 five-year-olds with shiny new shin guards.  We also saw, on the field next to ours, the six-year olds-with their 100 new shin guards. I thought it was insane that the five-year-olds needed new shin guards.  There must be a better way. Why can’t perfectly good shin guards be handed down to the younger kids? That’s why we started yerdle; to make it as easy to share something as it is to buy something new.

Weinreb: What does your job as co-founder entail?

Ruben: My role inside yerdle is Head of Product. It is my job to understand the needs of the members and translate those into a meaningful experience. We’re constantly listening to our members and learning how we can be better. Every Thursday, for example, we bring in members to our office and have them tell us how we can improve. It is a phenomenal role and I love it.

Weinreb: Can you share how your experience at Walmart supports your role at yerdle?

Ruben:  The culture at Walmart includes the folklore about the early days when Walmart was just a concept or just a single store. Think about it: There was a time in history when Walmart was as big as yerdle is today. I have heard many stories about the founders of the company in their early days. I am drawing upon those stories more now than I did during my ten years there. They are resonating and a source of inspiration.

Second, I have drawn so much inspiration from the phenomenal leadership at Walmart. They have taught me how to execute well.  The idea of sharing isn’t new; our job is to make it easy. And that’s all about execution.

Weinreb:  Can you share a Walmart story that has inspired you?

Ruben:   Sustainability started in 2004 at Walmart. Prior to that, the concept was either unknown at worst or foreign at best. Within three years, sustainability was embraced by all within the company.  In retrospect, this was a massive undertaking with huge impacts.  However, when I was in the thick of it, it felt like it was not moving fast enough. The timing of such an undertaking is relative.

The same is true in a start-up like yerdle. It’s been roughly three and half months for us. In the moment I have the same feelings that we’re not moving fast enough. With perspective, we are moving at a very rapid rate. yerdle is creating a different type of social connection. We are providing a valuable use for items that could have otherwise ended up collecting dust in someone’s closet or even worse, could have made its way to a landfill.

Weinreb: What advice do you have to corporate professionals who might be inspired to take the leap and join a startup?

Ruben: My career advice is to never go too long without finding something that inspires you, something you are passionate about. When I get a feeling over a period of several months that I am going into the office just to show up, I know it is time to consider a change. Finding the right fit for you creates more personal growth, makes you a better part of any team, and it’s simply more engaging.

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