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.

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