For Week 6 of Female Founders Weekly, we interviewed Taylor Zehren. Taylor is an outdoor/travel enthusiast that is passionate about environmental advocacy, scientific communication, content creation, and experiential education. Following a B.S. in Biology/Spanish from the University of Portland Honors Program, an independent research trip down the Pan-American Highway, and a Fulbright Scholarship in Argentina she was able to blend her passions with Do Good Shit - a nonprofit dedicated to addressing waste management issues in outdoor recreation areas and their surrounding communities. She now works as the DGS Executive Director, managing projects both domestically and in Chile, Nepal, Argentina, and more!
1) What inspired you to start Do Good Shit?
The most formative experiences in my life have been rooted in outdoor recreation and travel, from driving the Pan-American Highway to completing a Fulbright scholarship in Argentina. As I have moved through those spaces, I have grown a deep desire to leave them better than I found them. Do Good Shit gave me an opportunity to apply a blend of my passions and experiences in the outdoors, cultural exchange, science, education, and environmentalism. It has allowed me to continue to chase down adventure with a fulfilling purpose behind it.
2) Tell us a little bit more about what Do Good Shit is.
Do Good Shit is a 501(c)3 nonprofit on a mission to implement and maintain waste management systems that preserve outdoor recreation areas and improve the livelihood of their surrounding communities. Our work is currently focused on human waste management, and our vision is to expand to organics and plastics. We envision our organization becoming a symbol of good in the world, inspiring acts ranging from picking up a piece of garbage, to implementing large-scale conservation efforts around the world.
3) How did you get started?
In November 2018, two of our co-founders traveled to Mount Everest on a film project. There, they got their first glimpse of the severe waste management issues plaguing the tallest mountain on Earth. As they sent field reports back to the rest of the team describing what they saw, they signed off with “Do Good Shit.” Their message rang in our heads as we began seeing this issue in recreation sites around the globe. There are currently over 4 billion people on Earth living without access to properly managed sanitation. In many underdeveloped regions, more than 50% of human waste is released into the environment untreated. This leads to documented environmental and public health concerns, from water contamination to diarrheal disease (the second leading cause of death in children under five). After recognizing the breadth of this issue, we decided to try to do something to help and incorporated DGS in July 2019.
4) Did you rely on any previous business expertise to help you get going?
My own, no. I really didn’t have any. But to compensate for that, I have leaned heavily into the business expertise around me. Our team has sought mentorship at every turn, and read a lot of literature about business, startups, and nonprofits. Ongoing self education has been essential in our journey. We also worked with Favour Consulting to coach us through the nitty gritty of the founding process, IRS compliance, accounting, etc.
5) Did you get investment or have you been bootstrapping your business?
As we told family, friends, and colleagues about our idea for Do Good Shit, we got a few small initial investments that gave us the confidence and funds to proceed with founding the business, getting a branding package, and completing our first project. We prioritized brand development and proof of concept while behind the curtain, our team was in full-on dirtbag startup mode.
6) What have been your biggest challenges? What motivates you to keep pushing forward?
In the wake of COVID-19, we have had trips and installations canceled in Peru, Argentina, Chile, Nepal, California, and Oregon. It has been a huge set back in terms of building a foundation of successful projects to point to and begin to measure impact on. That said, I think it is an extreme example of what the overall greatest challenge has been: learning to pivot without getting discouraged. We have had several moments, global pandemic especially, where we have had to pause, rethink things, and be agile. Seeing the unexpected rewards of this flexibility is what keeps us pushing through the unexpected setbacks.
7) Who do you lean on the most for support?
My significant other/Co-founder/Co-executive/best friend/adventure buddy, Thor Retzlaff (he wears a lot of different hats in my life). We balance each other really well. He is a relentless optimist whereas I am a stubborn pragmatist; he is very excitable about new ideas while I edit the drafts; he puts in early-morning hours when I put in late-night hours. He can take one look at me at the end of a long day and know that it’s time to pack the backpacks and hit the trail for a night. He gives me the power, platform, and space to run the organization while also pouring his heart into every bit of work he does for DGS.
8) How do you manage work-life balance? How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
I’m not going to lie, work-life balance has been a struggle. My co-founder is my significant other. We live together and work from home together. Even our travels now usually revolve around DGS. We’ve had times when we finally look up at each other at 9 pm and realize that we just put in a 14 hour day, have barely eaten, and we have to pry ourselves away from work. Other times, we will be doing leisure activities (skiing, climbing, hiking, etc) and call each other out for not being able to stop discussing work ideas. That being said, we’ve gotten better about structuring our work days and drawing lines of separation. In our relationship, we’ve always done a good job of prefacing when something is a professional frustration vs a personal one, which helps prevent work struggles from being misplaced. One thing that we have learned: making time to be in the mountains is a cure-all.
9) What has been your proudest achievement so far?
There have been a lot of fulfilling moments with DGS, both big and small, from completing our first project in Torres Del Paine to putting on our first Do Good Shit branded sweatshirt. One journey that I am especially proud of, however, is what we fondly call the Toilet Tour 2k19. We spent more than two months traveling up the West Coast, visiting over 20 different waste management units, taking apart systems and talking with land managers. All mixed in with adventures like ski mountaineering Mt. Shasta, rock climbing at Smith Rock, soaking in Terwilliger Hot Springs, and summiting Mount Rainier. This research in the field not only brought us tremendous relevance in the industry, but also proved to us how truly cohesive the passion and the project are.
10) What’s your best piece of advice to other women starting a business?
Carry yourself with confidence. This requires the poise, body language, and assertiveness to interject when needed with repeated calm, clear communication. There are two words that I constantly keep in the back of my mind to help with this: authenticity and intention. If you are absolutely and unapologetically authentic to your self and your vision, and if you walk always in good intention, people will see you and you will earn their respect.
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