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Mermaid Straw started with a dream.
It was 2017, and Lisa Harrington had just been diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, aka POTS. For those who’ve never experienced POTS, imagine this: Your alarm goes off in the morning. You pop out of bed. You shower, maybe, or just brush your teeth. You’re on your way to the kitchen for coffee or a snack when the dizziness hits. Suddenly you’re short of breath. Your vision tunnels. Your heart rabbits in your chest.
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Then you wake up on the floor.
This is the kind of situation Harrington was finding herself in more and more frequently. Her POTS was incredibly severe–to the point where she was confined to bed because if she was upright for more than a few moments, the “tachycardia” part of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome would set in and she was in severe danger of losing consciousness.
“She’s incredibly strong-willed,” Lisa’s husband, Adam, tells Tubefilter. But she was also struggling. She was used to being active, used to being out and about, and the inexplicable, incurable onset of POTS had taken all that from her.
One night, after months of being bedridden following her diagnosis, she had a dream.
“She woke up and kind of looked over at me and was like, ‘I’ve got an idea for this company. It just hit me in a dream. Just go with me on this,” Adam says.
He went with it, and together, they founded Mermaid Straw.
Both Lisa and Adam hail from Australia and are fiercely protective of its coral reefs. They, like many other people, knew the reefs and the rest of the ocean were impacted by waste, particularly plastic waste. And, like many other people, they saw an increase in individual people and businesses trying to cut down on single-use plastics like straws and cutlery.
Lisa’s vision for Mermaid Straw was a company that focused on producing typical reusable items like metal straws and bottles, but (a) in enviable colors, and (b) with add-ons like silicone tips that people with disabilities–including people with POTS–can safely use.
In the five years since Lisa’s dream, she and Adam have grown their company not only into a sustainable business, but also into somewhat of a social media sensation. They originally launched YouTube and TikTok accounts on the advice of an employee, and to their surprise viewers really dug videos showing the day-to-day behind the scenes of running Mermaid Straw. Now, with 800,000 subscribers on YouTube and 2.1 million followers on TikTok, their social media presence has become a main driver of their sales–and a driving force for their mission.
Check out our chat with them below.
Tubefilter: Tell me a little about Mermaid Straw and how it came to be.
Adam Harrington: So my wife, she’s the co-founder of Mermaid Straw. She actually wanted to be on this call, but she’s in an MRI right now getting some tests done. That’s kind of how the whole company started. About four or five years ago—she has a condition called POTS. It’s postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it.
Tubefilter: I have, yeah. It’s rough.
AH: Yeah. It’s actually affecting a lot of people after COVID, which is very interesting. But yep, she’s had that, and unfortunately hers was to the point where she was bedridden for about a year and a half. We were actually both doing real estate together when this kind of hit her really hard after her grandpa passed away. For about a year and a half, she was completely bedridden and she’s really incredibly strong-minded and strong-willed, so she came up with Mermaid Straw.
She had a dream one night about it and she woke up and she kind of looked over at me and she’s like, “Hey, I’ve got an idea for this company. It kind of just hit me in a dream. Just go with me on this.”
I’m like, “Heck yeah, let’s do it!” So within five days she had created the website, created the logo, built the website, sourced products. And within five days of having that dream, we had our first sale on mermaidstraw.com.
It just started blowing up from there. Three months later, I put my real estate license in referral and started working full-time for Mermaid Straw as well. We started the company out of our spare bedroom closet. Again, it was something that Lisa was just gonna do to kind of keep her mind busy and have a purpose and have a mission behind what she’s doing that’s bigger than herself in regards to doing something about the single-use plastic waste. That’s such a huge issue. She was able to focus on that while not being able to actually move her body and do much physically.
From there, I think three months after I came on full-time, we ended up hiring an employee, getting a little office, and we’ve just kind of scaled up as we’ve grown in popularity. I guess the rest is the rest is history.
Tubefilter: What makes the two of you so passionate about single-use plastic in particular?
AH: Both me and Lisa have always had a passion for the environment. I grew up in a coastal town over in Sydney, Australia. So growing up surfing and being outdoors and being in the bush and kind of just living in outdoor lifestyle, you have to have a respect for nature. My family, my parents and my brothers, definitely instilled that in me from a young age.
And Lisa’s very similar. She’s got a very high passion for the environment. Her family’s used reusable straws for pretty much as long as she can remember. So obviously we didn’t invent the straw or reusable products, but I think one of the things that we realized is that you could definitely make it a lot more fun.
So in her dream, she had the dream about the colors and just the really vibrant colors that our products have come to be known by. So making reusable items stylish and fun makes you want to use them. It’s not just like a boring silver straw. It’s something that when you go out, people are gonna notice it. You get comments while you’re sitting at a table at a restaurant or something, and people are asking what store it is. It just creates that elevated kind of style accessory that is also doing good for the planet.
I think having something that is just a simple switch brings a problem that is so gigantic and seems so overwhelming down to a personal level. And that’s kind of been our mantra this whole time is like, you can have such a daunting thing in front of you like plastic solution and that’s a huge issue, but when you bring it down to a personal level and what you can do, it makes it a little bit easier to follow and just be like, “Okay, well, if I just say no to plastic straws, I’ll use my Mermaid Straw.”
Then you can say, “Oh, they’ve got cups, they’ve got utensils.” Things like that. It’s just doing one thing at a time, obviously. No one’s perfect. And we don’t expect everyone to just, you know, ditch single-use plastic right off the bat, but it’s just taking those wins and, and making those small changes that add up to a massive difference in the long run.
Tubefilter: One thing I noticed about your product lineup is that you make silicone tips for your straws. I have a lot of friends who are disabled and a lot of friends who just generally can’t use stainless steel or any kind of metal straws because they might bite down by accident and it’s dangerous. So you have silicone tips as an accessibility product. What’s it like to be focused on both environmental and health advocacy?
AH: We’re so passionate about both of them that it just shines through. We can’t really have one without the other, you know what I mean? So when we go live on TikTok, I think that’s part of our authenticity. There’s been times where Lisa’s like broken down and cried and been extremely open and honest about what she’s going through, if she’s having a hard day.
We go live on TikTok at 12 p.m. Central every single Tuesday. And that’s whether Lisa’s feeling like crap, whether she’s having a horrible day, whether she’s having a great day. Whatever she’s going through, we go live at at 12. So some days are worse than others. And I think our audience and our followers have grown to really know that we are not just a straw company and we’re not just a company that’s trying to do something for the environment, but we’re also a place where they can come and kind of see somebody who’s going through something that a lot of people don’t realize there are lots of people going through.
I feel like a lot of people just post the highlights on social media, but for us, it’s really important to just be authentic, and if we’re having a crappy day, our followers are gonna know that. They follow how Lisa’s doing and they ask how she’s doing. And the amount of people that have reached out online and been like, “Hey, I’m going through similar things…” The amount of people we’ve been able to connect with and kind of give advice to and get information from…Some people may have gone through something that could help Lisa.
So it’s a two-way street of just connecting with people about this issue and finding that connection and that passion about self-advocating and raising awareness for POTS. But then also doing better for the environment, focusing on healing ourselves and trying to heal people that have POTS, but also healing our environment at the same time, it just goes hand in hand.
Tubefilter: How did the social media and YouTube component of things come along?
AH: It was actually really crazy. When we first started the company, we were on Facebook, doing Facebook ads, Instagram, and stuff like that. And we started getting really good traction with the ads that we were putting out. And then we had an employee that brought up TikTok to us and we’re just like, “We don’t really know what that it…”
This was a couple of years ago. We didn’t know what TikTok was. It just seemed like there’s, you know, people go on there and they post videos of themselves dancing to different songs and different trends and things like that. We didn’t really know what it was. So one of our employees started posting videos. We made a channel, they started posting videos, and it was more of like the trendy stuff. We were getting like maybe 50 views, 100 views.
Then one day Lisa was like, “All right, I’m gonna try and figure out what this thing is.” So she went on TikTok and she gravitated toward the more authentic brands, and she was connecting with different small business owners. I think that authenticity really inspired her.
So one day she just decided to post a video about…I believe it was our morning prep routine, where we like posted a video about us coming to the office, what we do to get everything ready to print orders and start packaging orders. And it just went nuts. It went crazy viral, got a bunch of views.
That’s kind of how we’ve done things from there on out, on TikTok, at least. We just posted videos of things that we do every day. And Lisa is absolutely obsessed with ASMR. Literally while she’s making our packaging videos, she falls asleep. There’s so many times where she’s editing a video and I walk in the room and she’s sitting there completely passed out, asleep, with half a video playing on her phone.
Tubefilter: It is very relaxing!
AH: It totally is. It’s crazy how many people resonate with the ASMR thing. That was, I guess, an accidental scene that we got into. From there we just posted packaging videos, stuff about our office, shared our story about when we’re expanding different product lines, all that kind of stuff.
Then one of our employees who’s been with us for a really long time, she loved YouTube, so she was like, “Hey, like, have you guys noticed that there’s like a bunch of people posting our TikTok videos on YouTube?” And we were like, “Wait, what?”
So people were actually taking our videos from TikTok and posting them on YouTube. And, well, we should probably be the one who’s doing that. So we started posting videos and it was just a whole nother community that we were able to get exposure to and connect with.
Ever since we did that, we’ve been posting not just packaging videos, but we post about our cleanups. We post about when we go to schools and talk to kids, we try and post as much stuff as we can, but also just keeping the packaging as, as kind of like a baseline of what we do, because we know so many people love that.
Tubefilter: I’ve profiled several other small businesses for this same column, and it’s so interesting to me that people are able to build online platforms and drive traffic to their companies just by recording and posting what they do as part of normal daily operation.
AH: Yeah, it’s funny, I was just on the phone to another small business owner. He actually helped us—we built out a van for our cleanups and we had a couple people help us. they donated some stuff in regards to electrical components and things like that for the van. I was on the phone to the owner of a company who sponsored the van and he was like, “Yeah, I have no idea about TikTok. We’ve been getting some really good organic growth just from different message boards, but I don’t even know what TikTok is. Do I just use my phone?” It was so cool to connect to people and just kind of pass on some information and some advice to help his business.
Tubefilter: That is very cool. How are things working for you now? Do you make the same content for TikTok and YouTube, or do you do separate videos…?
AH: Most of the time we’re just cross-posting. There are some things we post on YouTube as opposed to TikTok. I think the biggest thing that’s helped us grow on YouTube has been our packaging videos. I think that’s due to TikTok being banned in some places around the world, and there’s a community that can’t get on TikTok where there’s a huge amount of them on YouTube.
It is just crazy, when we started going viral on TikTok and we started posting these videos to YouTube, people were like, “Oh, I love these videos. I can’t get TikTok in my area.” So we’ve established global reach with different communities on different platforms using similar content, but always just sticking to what’s authentic. And, as you said, just kind of the day-to-day.
Jellysmack is the global creator company that powers multi-platform social media growth for video creators, media companies, brands, celebrities, and its own online communities (Beauty Studio, Oh My Goal, Gamology, House of Bounce and more). The company’s proprietary technology optimizes, distributes, and promotes video content, resulting in meaningful audience growth and increased revenue in record time. Jellysmack is currently partnered with hundreds of talented creators including MrBeast, PewDiePie, Like Nastya, and Bailey Sarian. Looking to Go Bigger on social? Visit jellysmack.com.