Rubicon’s mission is to end waste. This has been true since our company’s founding, and in addition, our commitment has always been to ensure that we foster our employees’ creativity and innovation while at Rubicon®, and even further out as they move forward in their careers.
We like to keep in touch with our Rubicon alumni, and we recently spoke with former Rubicon team member, Sarah Sanders. During her time at Rubicon, Sarah worked as Executive Assistant to Rubicon’s Chairman and CEO, Nate Morris, as well as in the company’s Human Resources department. Currently, Sarah is Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Native, an always-on market intelligence platform that helps brands and organizations track, manage, optimize, and innovate.
Please find a video of our conversation below, followed by a transcript of Sarah’s remarks.
What triggered your interest in the intersection of technology and sustainability?
Sarah Sanders: I grew up with a very non-technical background. A family business, which I worked for from the time I was old enough to work until just before I went to grad school, was the restaurant business. That’s a very non-technical space, traditionally especially, the time I was working in. A lot of delivery platform companies didn’t exist. You really had basic and very antiquated, at the time, point of sale systems. And that’s pretty much what there was, with a server in the back, like really old school. I didn’t have much exposure, always had an interest, but wasn’t a developer. Didn’t really know how to get into it. And [I] was interested in pivoting my career out of the restaurant business, at least temporarily, and decided to go to grad school. I guess not the reason most people go to grad school. But I went there and focused on as many different industries as I could. Learned as much as I could. Studied international business and was able in that program to go to Israel for two weeks and to China for two weeks. What we did was visit all different types of companies, from all different industries, and we went to places like Alibaba in China, pre-IPO, and we got to go into their data room and [it] had real-time metrics pinging from all over the world. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. We went to venture capital funds. We went to biotech companies in Israel. Everything you can imagine. We went to a kibbutz, a community farm over in Israel, and there was a huge focus on sustainability, waste mitigation, and finding ways to use less water, use fewer resources. There was a company called Netafim. It’s a slow drip irrigation system. You can see it in any country all over the world and it’s really cool and I just thought that aspect… So I did a follow up project, focusing on sustainability and resource management and fell in love with both applications, technology, sustainability.
What did working at Rubicon teach you about this important intersection?
SS: I think the most important thing that it taught me is you can’t have true sustainability without technology. That’s the basis for measuring achievements. A lot of companies, a lot of organizations, nonprofits have set goals for achieving sustainability, waste diversion, climate change prevention. We can’t do that without really advanced technology systems to collect from the most basic information, to using the highest levels of data science, to aggregate that and measure that and predict that. “Are we on track? Are we not?” So I think early on thinking about that those two things have to go together in order to be a market leader and to truly drive and create impact – industry by industry, business by business, individual household by individual household. We don’t get there without really good tech. That’s definitely what Rubicon’s focus is.
How did you first hear about Rubicon?
SS: About halfway through grad school, I was taking a trip that landed in… many, many delays that day due to weather… But I ended up sitting next to this man that happens to be the CEO of Rubicon, Nate Morris. He asked me what I wanted to do. I had a University of Kentucky vest on. For those that know him, he’s on the board of the business school where I went for undergrad and we started talking about what was next for me in my career when I graduated. He told me a little story about the company he had, and I thought it was perfect. It was the perfect marriage of technology, sustainability, and that’s really where I wanted to be. It was a no brainer for me. We ended up finding a role that made a lot of sense for me right out of school and I haven’t looked back since.
What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who is looking to start their own business?
SS: I would say that you need to leverage your network. Your network can always grow and improve, but I think that the point that you start the business, the people that either advise you, are your mentors, or invest in you, are going to be your greatest assets moving forward. Most often those are the people that encourage you to start the business in the first place if you have a good idea, or they just know that you’re pretty capable of doing something profound from the business side of things. Often when you are in the world of tech, you have to raise a ‘friends and family’ round to get the business off the ground before you can go out and raise institutional capital. Friends and family have been some of our greatest cheerleaders through a pandemic as a really early business, and potentially a recession. I think those are the greatest cheerleaders that you have and some of our earliest backers, our earliest co-visionaries, if you will. Leveraging people that you’ve known your whole life and in different industries, and don’t be afraid to reach out. There’s people that I knew when I was growing up that I hadn’t seen in 10 years that I knew that they knew a lot about the industry we were getting into and it can be nerve wracking as a young entrepreneur, but be confident. I think people are always willing to help you, especially if you’ve known them a long time or they know what you’re capable of. Reach out and it’s crazy where some of the conversations can go. It’s been really helpful to us to leverage our network. That’s truly how we got started and got the business off the ground.
Can you tell us about Native, and what is coming up for your company?
SS: Native is an artificial intelligence platform that services the consumer package goods and consumer brands industry. Essentially what we do is solve a problem that’s really challenging for brand managers, marketing managers, and R&D managers of these companies today. Consumers become pickier and pickier, expect more of their brands and rightfully so in terms of sustainability being one of the biggest items there, and there’s chatter all over the web. More and more reviews are prevalent. The more sales channels you sell through on the eCommerce side of things, there’s information everywhere. In those roles, it’s really hard to aggregate that information, so what we do is first aggregate information into a centralized, easy to use dashboard. We can collect things like their UPC codes, Amazon IDs, pull all the reviews per product. And then we organize that accordingly to make it make sense in how they want to run reporting. How are we performing at Target with this group of consumers with this product category versus the Walmart consumer? Because those are very different types of consumers for us. That’s something that’s not easy to do today. You can manage sales data [but] we really focus on qualitative, and that’s never really been easy to do before. We use a specific form of artificial intelligence called natural language processing (NLP). Once the information is organized, we run it through our NLP engine and it draws insights in fractions of the second. hat do people think about freshness, flavor, packaging, value for money, – texture if we’re talking about fashion products? We can do everything like cosmetics. We can measure brand metrics, making it easy for these guys to funnel back into R&D. People don’t like this about our product, they love this. Well, that also relates to how we should manage SEO for our products on Amazon, Walmart, Whole Foods, any of the retailers that we’re in. Then finally what kind of language should we be using on our website? How should we relay the messaging to consumers, loyal consumers, first time consumers? What language do they associate with our product and our brand as a whole? Ultimately what we do is tighten that feedback loop between brands, consumers, and leverage technology to do it in a pretty cool way.