Anwar Khan – Cycle Technology, Inc. Co-founder and TLP Consultant
Website – www.cycletechnology.com
Instagram – @recyclesmarter
Jumping off the cliff
Building a venture is most accurately characterized by LinkedIn co-founder, Reid Hoffman, “An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.” Finding the energy and want-to to take that first step into oblivion is oftentimes the action that requires the most courage. During my freshman year at the University of Miami, my friends and I took that step and decided that we wanted to solve a problem on campus, recycling. Knowing that Miami-Dade County had a plastic bottle recycling rate of only 1% in 2019, we knew that there had to be room in our community for growth.
On the ninth floor of Stanford Residential Hall, we started with the question, and said, “Well why can’t we just pay someone to recycle this plastic bottle?” After throwing together a pitch deck (which is hilarious to look back at now) and spending a couple of hours outside of the Richter Library, we had a platform by which we could present our initial thesis. At the Hult Business Competition in Fall of 2018, we placed third and that type of initial validation gave our jaded selves enough confidence to keep iterating. From there we spent the next year traveling to startup competitions, from San Diego to Boston, pitching ourselves as the recycling solution for college campuses. Much of the time leading up to the pitches were spent throwing each other curveballs and grilling on presentation style and content. Eventually, our efforts paid off when we won a couple of Miami pitch competitions, and with a little bit of cash, we formed our company, Cycle.
Building a plane
We set the baseline and asked ourselves, “Where has recycling worked?” We looked at states like Oregon and Michigan, which have legislation that requires a 10-cent payback to consumers for recycling their beverage containers and that utilized an intuitive piece of technology called a Reverse Vending Machine (RVM). Florida had neither of these. We did not have time to wait for legislators to make up their mind, so we decided to go for it. We took a technology that has raised recycling rates and tried to develop business models around an issue for no other reason than to solve a socially responsible issue.
We raised enough money to build our first MVP mobile application and finance our custom-tailored RVM. Users could insert their empty beverage containers into our RVM, scan the QR code on the screen, and the value of the recycling would be donated to a charity of their choice via a mobile app. Right before launch in spring of 2020, the pandemic hit. We had to wait until September of 2020, to deploy our technology out in the wild.
Flight plan – Intentional action and deep learning
Hurricanes students and faculty enjoyed their ability to donate the value of their bottle or can to a charity, but we soon realized we needed to implement higher incentives to raise recycling activity. We spent hours with our “Super Users,” through one-on-one interviews, understanding their likes, dislikes, wants, and needs. We looked again at the baseline. Consumers love consumer platforms that hook them on a social belonging or repeatable action. We brought that thesis to our own mobile app, with the goal of providing an activity that has high financial, social, and ecological upside.
We began to offer product giveaways and sponsored consumer experiences (naturally, night club tickets) in exchange for recycling, and saw increases of 31% in bottle return rates and 219% in app downloads. With a deeper understanding of our users, we began to throw ideas at the board, and we landed on event activations and sports stadiums. To make the circular economy a reality, we want to convince people who may typically not be seen recycling.
While there is still much work to be done in gathering data and showing the financial and ecological efficacy of our systems, our team feels confident that we have found our spot in this recycling technology space with repeatable business. While Malcom Gladwell’s belief that it takes 10,000 hours to master something, performing 10,000 iterations seems to be the more widely accepted rule. The point here is that continuous pivoting and learning will eventually lead entrepreneurs to a clear path.
Reaching critical velocity
To modernize Reid Hoffman’s airplane analogy, I utilized a more contemporary analogy. When a satellite reaches critical velocity, it has reached a velocity to keep it revolving around the earth’s orbit. That speed differs for every individual and organization, and if you have the energy and willpower to do so, keep firing that rocket into space until you reach a sustainable orbit.