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Three Years of Green Llama: A Journey of Innovation, Challenges, and Triumphs

by Matt Keasey on May 01, 2024

Three Years of Green Llama: A Journey of Innovation, Challenges, and Triumphs

As we celebrate the third anniversary of Green Llama this May 1st, we, Matt and Kay, find ourselves deeply reflective and grateful. From our humble beginnings to becoming a beacon in the eco-friendly cleaning space, every step has been a learning experience, filled with both challenges and victories.

About Kay and Matt

Kay hails from Louisiana and brings a rich background in occupational therapy to Green Llama. A graduate of LSU, Kay has spent significant time working with children with special needs. Her experience in healthcare deeply influenced her understanding of the impact of environmental factors on health, which fueled her passion for creating non-toxic, safe cleaning products that are effective and environmentally friendly.

Matt earned his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Bristol, UK, and has an extensive background in research. Having worked in top labs across the world, including the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville and the University of Recife in Brazil, Matt has published over 30 peer-reviewed manuscripts and received prestigious grants from Brazil's CNPq and the USA's NIH. His scientific expertise and commitment to research excellence brought a rigorous, evidence-based approach to product development at Green Llama. After settling in Johnson City as an assistant professor, Matt’s drive to apply his research skills for practical, societal benefits led him to co-found Green Llama.

The Inspiration

Our journey began with a shared passion for sustainability and health, spurred by our backgrounds in neuroscience and occupational therapy. Observing the scarcity of genuinely eco-friendly cleaning options in the market, we saw a significant need for products that were safe for both the environment and our families. This gap drove us to create Green Llama, with the aim of providing non-toxic, effective, and sustainably sourced cleaning solutions that consumers could trust and feel good about using.

The inspiration for our brand name and ethos came from the llama, an animal that embodies the principles we admire. Llamas, with their soft padded feet, literally tread lightly on the Earth, causing minimal impact on their terrain. We saw this as a powerful metaphor for our approach to the environment—providing cleaning solutions that help consumers reduce their ecological footprints.

Moreover, llamas are known for their instincts as protectors of their herd, a trait we saw as a metaphor for our mission to protect homes and families from the harsh chemicals found in conventional cleaners. Just as llamas safeguard their group, Green Llama aims to shield your living spaces from toxins.

Lastly, known as beasts of burden, llamas are capable of carrying heavy loads across long distances without complaint. We drew a parallel here to our products, which are designed to do the heavy lifting in your cleaning routine, effectively tackling grime and dirt while being gentle on the planet.

Early Days and Challenges

Launching Green Llama was filled with challenges, from formulation to market entry. One of the initial challenges we faced was creating a product line that met our stringent standards for sustainability while also appealing to consumers. Sourcing materials that were both sustainable and effective required navigating a complex supply chain, often compromising and innovating to maintain our green standards.

One significant early milestone was our launch at the Johnson City Farmers Market. This venue provided us with a direct channel to interact with our local community, gather real-time feedback, and fine-tune our offerings based on customer interactions. The farmers market not only helped us build a grassroots following but also validated our business concept in a real-world setting, providing invaluable insights that shaped our subsequent strategies.

An enlightening anecdote from those formative days involved a pitch we made to an experienced business person. After hearing about our products and our mission, he commented that we had "done the hard part" by creating the product. All that was left, he said, was to "just sell it." In retrospect, this advice seems almost naively simplistic. Selling a product—especially one that introduces a new concept and is part of an unknown brand—is anything but simple. Asking people to spend their hard-earned money on a product they've never heard of requires not just persistence but a deep understanding of market dynamics, customer education, and brand loyalty building.

Building brand awareness was another significant hurdle. As a new name in a competitive market, we needed to convince environmentally conscious consumers that our products were worth trying.This is something that continues to challenge us today. 

Founders Forge and "The Pitch"

Our journey was significantly influenced by our involvement with Founders Forge, a Johnson City-based startup support network that provided us with crucial mentorship and resources. Through Founders Forge, we were introduced to a community of entrepreneurs and experts who shared invaluable advice and insights, helping to accelerate our growth.

A pivotal moment in our early days came when we participated in "The Pitch," a competition organized by Founders Forge. Winning this competition not only gave us a financial boost of $10,000 but also reinforced our confidence in the viability of our business model. The exposure and validation we received through "The Pitch" were instrumental in attracting early investors and additional media attention.

People Behind the Progress

We’ve been fortunate to have some incredible people join us on this journey. Mike Peterknecht, our early business analyst, transformed Green Llama from a passion project into a fully-fledged business. His strategic vision laid the foundations for our current operations. Lonny Schwartz, our marketing guru, brought a spark of creativity and huge experience to our branding efforts. We are still a startup and remain in the trenches, but with the new team additions, we've never felt more confident.

Achieving Woman-Owned Certification

Earning the Woman-Owned Business Certification was a proud milestone for us. It not only highlighted our commitment to diversity and empowerment but also aligned us with broader markets and communities that support and promote gender diversity in business.

Spark Accelerator Experience

Participating in the Spark Accelerator enriched us immensely. Under the guidance of mentors like Sally Kay, we deepened our understanding of product life cycles and market strategies. The program also introduced us to vital business concepts like organizational structuring and investor relations, which have been integral to our growth.

Looking to the Future

The future looks bright and bustling with possibilities. We recently launched our PVA and plastic-free dishwasher tablets, and we’re not stopping there. We’re committed to continuously improving our products, like enhancing our unique trigger spray made from upcycled wind turbine blades. We're excited to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in eco-friendly product design.


None of this would have been possible without our amazing team, mentors like Sally Kay, and you—our supportive customers. Your feedback, enthusiasm, and commitment to a healthier planet have fueled our journey every step of the way.

A special thank you to Bob Mallet, whose guidance and expertise helped us navigate some of our toughest challenges. His role in our story cannot be overstated.

As we celebrate three years of Green Llama, we’re more inspired than ever to continue this beautiful journey. Here’s to more years of innovation, sustainability, and community. Thank you for being part of our adventure.

With all our gratitude,

Matt and Kay


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