Do One Better with Maitri Shah '20 & Gibson Chu '20



Brandon: Thanks so much for hopping on. This is our iteration at a call in radio kind of show. I think we were doing intros with our last guest, but the one rule is that you don’t phrase it in a way you would do it in like a coffee chat at Berkeley. I’m not trying to like get the 500+ from you on LinkedIn. So just like, introduce yourself!

Maitri: I can go first. Hi, I’m Maitri. I’m a recent grad from Berkeley, I work at NerdWallet now as a full stack engineer, but outside of that I’m really interested in design, sustainability, education, and entrepreneurship so right now, during COVID, I’m working on this project doing better with Gibson. I’m hoping to empower people – empower consumers – about making the right decisions, and providing transparency on products that are more sustainable and ethical and better for consumers.

Gibson: Yeah, yeah. Thanks, Maitri. I’m Gibson, I’m a PM, I only recently graduated as well. I think both me and Maitri really found some solace in building this project together during this past year to kind of build on a lot of things that we’ve been talking about in our spare time already, and just actually start to do something that’s more actionable toward it. So pretty excited to create this free resource to help get people to learn more about what goods actually go behind the scenes, especially I think in the supply chain, and make it actually something that’s affordable. Because, I mean, that’s one of the biggest problems with a lot of these alternatives today, right? They’re fairly pricey, both either for the material, or because you do have to pay workers fairly. So their – the cost is going to come somewhere.

Brandon: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think I have willingness to add you both on LinkedIn after that so I don’t know how much we succeeded at the no professional bio. But no, thanks so much, I think I’m super excited about Do One Better. I think it reminds me a lot about the early days of Side Hustle Stack, which is why I think I have affinity for it.

Divyansh: Yeah. Okay, so, we’re gonna, we’re gonna get right in. We do have a couple of questions prepared for you guys. I’m gonna start. The first one – I imagine this is the most heavy hitting ‘thinker’ sort of question – at what point does the need for sustainability really interrupt your supply chain operations? So what I’m getting at is: at what point do you stop outsourcing to the emerging market in the hopes of bettering their local economies because of the terrible practices that go on there?

Gibson: To my understanding, your question is kind of asking “how?” considering that we want to balance this realm of sustainable material or sustainable approaches but then also want to assure that there are ethical practices by the companies in these different regions. I think it’s hard to say that there’s a definitive answer for both of those, because, I mean, sustainability in itself is like a variety of different ways and I think we talked about it a little bit in the newsletter – it kind of varies per product. You know, there are materials that give you better – you could either be better at reducing the water or electricity that you’re using in the consumption, it could just be you treating animals more fairly during the process, it could just be even just doing better packaging. Amazon changing their packaging in of itself is something that’s more sustainable. So I think trying to think of it as like you can only give and take in some areas versus trying to be more ethical in these different markets I would say is maybe not the right way to approach it because there are different methods and it’s hard to compare. I think that’s what we’re trying to do: is to show that you have to look at each individual product as fairly as you can.

Vedika: So like social entrepreneurship was something I was super interested in coming into Berkeley and I remember getting here and being really disappointed that for a school that’s so big on activism, a lot of the things that people are building are very tech focused – like pure tech, not social tech, that kind of thing. I think immediately that was pretty discouraging for me and I didn’t get super involved in things right away. So being that you guys are now building something in the social entrepreneurship realm, how did you find the scene at Berkeley? Do you think that that connects to why you guys started this after you graduated rather than while still in school?

Maitri: Okay, that’s a really loaded question. I can start off with that one. So I have to say that I really aligned with what you said. When I came to Berkeley and I was studying CS and Econ, I felt that everything I had to do had to be related to my major and tech in general and that as a person in tech, I couldn’t be interested in these, like, “do good, feel good” projects. It felt like I should use my time to learn new coding languages or build a side project that’s very technical. So I think after COVID, everything that happened, and going home and just kind of being away from Berkeley a little bity I was able to look inwards and think about what I really wanted to do – I think that all roots from helping people. Yeah, I think about it all the time, I’m like “Oh my god, I’m tech, I’m pretty much ‘tech trash’ but on the side, I’m doing this sustainability project.” There’s two sides of me. I feel like I have these different identities that just make me who I am as a person and it’s just honestly really refreshing after graduating, you realize that you have unlimited free time, and think “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” This is something that I’m interested and passionate about right now so I’m going to do it. And to give you a little bit of context, it started off as an Instagram page – actually, before that, I grew up in a household where my parents were really interested in living sustainably, ethically, just having as least impact on people’s lives and animals and stuff like that as possible. So I was learning about all the different terrible ingredients that companies put and the unethical practices that they have and I was pretty surprised because I want to support companies doing good. I was learning so much so I started off as an Instagram page, realized that it wasn’t the right platform for me after a couple months, and I reached out to Gibson, because I was like “This would be a lot more fun to do with another person” So then we pivoted to a newsletter. But yeah, I guess that’s kind of how it started. It’s been kind of refreshing to do this after college. I don’t think I would have done something like this if I was still in school, to be quite honest.

Gibson: I think I agree with you 100% there Maitri. I think that everyone that I knew and the places that I have been a part of at Berkeley were heavily driven by trying to, you know, learn something different or try something in a different field. I actually went into college wanting to do something in polysci and journalism – I pivoted very drastically in college; I switched and did a lot of different things. That kind of made me learn about what I want to do and why I wanted to do it and I think I agree with Maitri that I probably wouldn’t have done this in college. This is partially because I think, at the time, I was really heavily thinking about the communities and people that I was with in college. I wouldn’t miss out on that after college and I think like you, you three will probably notice this the moment you graduate – those groups that you could be a part of very easily, it’s just not the same. There’s nobody like that out in the world, you have to kind of build that yourself. I think with me and Maitri that’s kind of why we started this and I think the connections that we’re starting to build and people we’re trying to reach out to, we’re trying to create our own community in itself there. I think that’s how I would like to imagine we start to build something that’s maybe more socially good-focused that’s, you know, after college. I don’t know, Vedika, if there’s something like that that could happen in UC Berkeley that would be the same – I know that me and Maitri would be more than happy to want to be a part of that as well. I think that it’s hard for me to say that I would’ve done, again, something like this in college, because the ones that exist, exist because they do really well in the college scene. This is something that’s a very different mindset, I think. I do hope that social good and social good entrepreneurship changes and pivots how it appears in college but I don’t think this same type of mindset can grow given that you don’t really learn a lot in this space because it’s just not that advanced in society outside of college in and of itself, right. Tech does really well, because, I mean, tech is so developed outside so it’s very easy to pivot that into a college setting but that doesn’t exist [for social good] today.

Brandon: That’s really, really good. I was going to pivot this into more of a conversation around why y’all didn’t become founders when you were in Berkeley. What do you think Berkeley would have had to have done such that you would? You kind of touched on the topic of we’re kind of funding things that are like profitable, like tech, etc. I’d love to get your perspective on that – in terms of accelerating this need to be a founder, even if it’s not making the next billion dollar company.

Gibson: I think that’s actually a question I’ve been thinking about for quite a while when I was in college too. It was even more so apparent to me when I joined and met a few friends that were in the social good space at Blueprint. I just thought a lot about the reason as to why this doesn’t exist. You can boil it down to like three big ones:

Financial – there is really no money in this. To find money in this you have to – I don’t know what systemic system has to change there – someone somewhere has to start finding and making money in this area.

The second comes a lot with the brand. There’s no strong brand or a strong network that I think you can really say does anything in this area.

That kind of brings me to the third point, which is safety and security in working in this space. If you were to do anything else in tech, oh, you can leverage your technical skills. You can always work at some company like Google or Facebook. That just doesn’t exist [for social good]. So, in my head, those three things. If you could somehow bring that to real life and then show and teach people that through mentorship of some kind – maybe that’s the fourth thing – at Berkeley, then you could possibly change that mindset.

Maitri: I think another thing to add is like interest and time. So I know at Berkeley, there’s like the club fair? I already forgot what you guys call it.

Divyansh: I think it’s called Calapalooza.

Brandon: Or like, you know, Sproul every day. You just walk down collecting Pokemon cards, you know?

Maitri: Yeah! I never found anything that was kind of similar to what we talk about today. I don’t even know if there were that many sustainability groups on campus. I know that it was kind of an initiative – you would see those posters like “Haas is trying to reduce consumption by 2020,” or something – that happened like last year. But it didn’t strike me – the importance of the problem at hand didn’t strike me because I was a busy college student. Like, I didn’t care about what shampoo I used, what all these different products I was using the house. I just needed something to get the job done. I didn’t have time to look into it, I needed things to be convenient. And yeah, I was broke – I didn’t have money. There’s all these factors that occurred and so for me personally, and I think for a lot of other people, it just kind of went over your head, these kind of issues. It does take a lot of time to find sustainable, ethical products and to learn about the ingredients and to know how to pronounce the ingredients on the back of the label – I didn’t have time for that. I don’t know any college student who would have 10 hours a week to do the in depth research. I think it just met, like, a combination of what the factors I mentioned and what Gibson mentioned. Those could be some of the reasons why this doesn’t exist right now, right?

Gibson: Oh, small little tidbit, by the way: you know how at Berkeley there’s like the compost, the recycling and the trash – you know that all of it still goes to the landfill, right?

Divyansh: Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Brandon: All the Bigbellys, right, the trash cans? They just go to the same – it just makes you feel good.

Gibson: Yeah, because people don’t recycle and compost correctly so it’s less money to have to figure out sorting that than just to dump it into the landfill.

Vedika: You really just destroyed all my dreams, but it’s okay, that happens.

Brandon: I’m not gonna lie, as like a Cal freshman, I thought I’d get like chased down Sproul or something. So I learned which are like, number three plastics, number two plastics. I feel like I’m good at it!

Maitri: I actually didn’t know that because Berkeley is one of those places where like, people will look at you funny if you don’t recycle

Brandon: Exactly! I don’t know, if it was a joke, but people in my dorm used to flame me. “That’s not a number one plastic, bro, that’s a number two plastic. You should know this!”

Divyansh: Yeah, I had a quick follow up on that. So, I was wondering if Do One Better is gonna release a guide for, you know, a typical college student on what’s the best things to use? Like, now, I’m gonna be super conscious on everything I’m using. Because, like, I go to, Trader Joe’s like every two weeks – I don’t know what’s good, what’s bad, I’m broke. I was hoping what your take is on that, right? How do as college students, we, not only do we try to actively promote sustainable practices, ethical consumption, but also how do we do that on our budget? Are there things that you would have done differently looking back now?

Maitri: I think that’s a really interesting idea that you brought up. I have to say that it’s not something that we’ve discussed. Were a team of two, we have a lot going on right now, so we barely are trying to hold up with what we are trying to do right now. But I think that’s a really fair point. What we do try to do is that – we want to show that living sustainably and ethically doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’ve read our newsletter – – for each product that we do a deep dive into we have alternatives. We say like “this isn’t that much more expensive than if you bought like the product that wasn’t as good.” So, for example, shampoo – there’s, like, 20 brands that are pretty bad for you – let’s say they cost an average of $8 to $10. We’ll give you a list of alternative brands that are also in the same price range, maybe a couple of dollars more. That’s a big thing, too, because price is really important for people, right? We can’t recommend products that are five times as expensive in order to convince people to buy into that. That is something that we actively think about and talk about, but yeah, I think a guide would be really interesting – thanks for that suggestion.

Gibson: I guess one thing – and I know this because I think I lean a lot towards that with clothing I think it’s a lot harder to come about this, in the sense that like, most things that are gonna be better materials would be about maybe three or four times more expensive. I know that we just did an article on T-shirts. Ones that are supposedly more sustainable cost at least $50 at the minimum. I think that type of difference, versus like your $10 shirt you can get at Target, is just going to not be affordable or not be approachable for someone that would want to shift that mindset. I think that that’s where some of the approaches might be to look at not just the material, but the specific company and the kind of ethical practices they’re doing or maybe looking at it where it’s the process in itself, or how they’re delivering it to you. I think it’s just maybe a different approach of not just looking at what the material the item is made of, but coming at it and thinking of it slightly differently there. It’s just hard, I think, with clothing to not just start and find another way to go about it versus toilet paper or like shampoo where it’s much more approachable to be like “it’s just $1 more.”

Divyansh: So I really liked your article about NFTs – I thought that was super interesting. So, Brandon calls me a crypto hardo, but this is something that even I didn’t know about – I thought that was super interesting. I was wondering where the thought process came from? Both of you are in tech, right, so it obviously makes sense to cover the ecological footprint of tech. How do you think people can better educate themselves on all these emerging technologies and how much they actually impact, you know, the stuff around us?

Gibson: I think maybe in this realm – in the NFTs – this is interesting in the sense that the reason it does well is because of the technology being inefficient in of itself. That’s the whole appeal of it. I think that’s the reason why people want to, you know, believe it’s more secure. I think maybe it’s finding the right balance – and this is where I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to fully answer regarding emerging technologies other than just keeping up with and being clear and transparent about what the costs are. I think the real question, I guess, when people brought up NFTs was “we don’t know how much electricity and how much carbon dioxide is actually being produced if I were to sell one piece of artwork.” Whereas with planes or cars or anything else, most things you can look up what would the cost really be. It would take a lot of time, but you could find it. I think that’s where I would imagine and I would hope: that companies that are participating and being part of this new drive for whatever the next stage of technology will be are transparent and clear about why and how they’re getting it.

Maitri: Yeah, I 100% agree with what Gibson said. I really enjoyed working on the NFT article. I think one of the goals that we have is to be relevant – writing about relevant topics that are really hot right now. So when NFTs were blowing up – they still are – I think we just randomly stumbled on the cost of it and I was like “wow.” You can find 100 articles on Beeple’s art being sold for $69 million but you can barely find anything about the environmental costs. When you buy into something, I think it’s a human responsibility to know what goes into it, and what goes into making it. I think that’s really important: to be responsible. What strikes me is that a lot of people in tech are really like interested – they talk about climate and how it’s going to be a huge thing in the next 10 years and what is society going to do because at this rate it’s not sustainable – but they’re really into crypto and all these things. A lot of these crypto artists don’t know the impact of their work. There’s so many things that happen behind the scene that seem like a black box and so we’re just trying to uncover what is in the black box, like what isn’t actually happening. There’s a lot of things that we don’t know, like Gibson mentioned electricity and water – where does it come from? It’s so easy to just turn the tap on and get water and not think about where it comes from. So yeah, I think our goal is to just be transparent and, you know, there will be a cost to everything. I think the important thing is just to know what it is.

Gibson: I think this feels very similar to thinking about algorithms or ethical AI, right, in this realm where it’s like just trying to understand how some of these things are being done so that you can make the best performing decision and decide, oh, is the company approaching it from the right mindset? Are they really being accountable? Are they really considering all different types of people from different backgrounds? I think that’s just part of the same movement that we’d want to be a part of which is just being transparent about everything that we do.

Divyansh: Absolutely, yeah. For instance, there’s a lot of emerging blockchain tech coming out about managing your natural resources better and, you know, things like that. Now, it really makes me wonder whether they’re actually doing more harm than good, you know? I think that’s a super interesting question that you guys have brought up and that’s definitely something that’s worth doing more research on for me, especially as someone who’s into these emerging technologies. So yeah, that was super interesting.

Maitri: Yeah. At the end of the day, it’s people’s lives at stake, right? As we’ve dug into our own research, it’s really unfortunate that the US and all these really big countries emit a lot of carbon emissions. That impacts the whole world – that impacts people in Africa and Asia who maybe aren’t emitting as much, and like “is that fair?” This whole topic and subject is really complicated and there’s just so much to dig into. Sorry, I was just gonna say I think it’s important to be mindful. Corporations and companies are just so interested in profit, but what is the cost of the profit that you’re making? Is it worth like another person’s life?

Vedika: I also looked into the NFTs and how they’re unsustainable very recently. I noticed that there’s this kind of fatigue associated with trying to trace back everything that you’re consuming and the ethical kind of footprint of the products that you’re consuming. I definitely had this one part of my life where I was obsessively tracking everything and the result of that is that I I was just really burned out and felt guilty about everything. I think that, especially for college students, that’s a very real reality: people try to deny the realities of their consumption in order to combat the fact that they believe in activism but they can’t go through the fatigue of tracking down everything. How do you guys think about combating that fatigue and living an ethical life at the same time?

Gibson: That’s a hard one. That’s a good question. This is why I think both me Maitri really like to make our newsletter funny. So it’s not as only depressing, you don’t want it to just be downhill all the way. But I think that this is one of those things where you got to be sure to balance mindfulness and other approaches that you have in your life both for work or for school. There are ways to approach how to think about what you’re doing and why it’s coming about this way. Not to always believe that it’s just on yourself to fix this problem – I think like, for me, I come at it thinking that I learn more every day, and I’m trying to do better and I’m making these smaller changes. We want to make it very approachable for someone that doesn’t know why these things exist or set up the way that they are that they can still make a difference in it. I know that both me and Maitri’s goal with where we’re taking Do One Better, hopefully, is to play a bigger impact outside of only the consumer, but with the corporations. I think just trying to make sure that that’s more digestible to somebody is the best that you can do. When you’re trying to learn about the news, when you read the news you should not keep on it all the time; you should have feel good news as well, you should have other things that you distract yourself with, but that doesn’t mean you shouln’t stay informed. I think you just have to be sure that every day it gets better, but you have to do it every day.

Maitri: I think that everyone has their part to play. While some people might argue that “it’s the corporations who are selling these things, it’s their fault,” it’s our dollars that fund these corporations – your dollars go a long way. I think that’s one thing that I’m really trying to educate my friends on and have conversations with my family about. Gibson and I talk about it all the time. We try to speak to our subscribers like they’re our friends and we’re having a conversation about something. In my own life, I’m trying to do better by consuming less. I think that’s one of the best things that anyone can do – is like “do I really need this extra pair of shoes or like this new bag that came out, etc.” There also are a lot of benefits to having less stuff. I’m sure you guys have read like Marie Kondo’s books or[watched] the show on Netflix about cleaning out your house – who knew that was going to be a thing. There’s benefits to owning less. Now, as a fun thing that I’m doing, when I gift things, I’m very intentional about what I give. I literally will just give like reusable soap for someone’s birthday – I try to be really mindful and in the note or the card I say like “hey, happy birthday, here’s a cute little thing for you. Here’s why I gifted it to you – this is important – I hope that you enjoy it”. So, yeah, like when I give and talk to people I try to just be super mindful and just spread the conversation. Those are some things that I’m trying to do personally.

Brandon: No, yeah, absolutely. I think I did like a huge newsletter purge because I get too much email of things that I don’t even read. I had to keep Do One Better because one of the ledes was like – I think the [edition] on the T-shirt was like “we need to give more of a shi(r)t” or something like that. If you continue to write like that, I’ll never purge y’all.

Gibson: That article was so much fun, you don’t know.

Brandon: No, it was great read! I learned a lot. I wish I took notes.

Divyansh: I can guarantee we’re gonna Twitter DM you to ask you more questions for sure.

Brandon: Sweet! Quick plug, I think it’s just and – new website.

Gibson: Wow, what a great website. Yeah, thanks, of course. I know that both me and Maitri are really happy to be on here to talk a little bit about this. We’re in of itself still a small community and we’re trying to grow it ourselves, so hopefully you get a chance to check out, give us a subscribe if you enjoy it, and you stay up to date with us.

Maitri: Thanks for having us!

Gibson: Thank you.