How EcoATM Became San Diego’s Hottest Startup Deal, If I Say So Myself
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nearly a dozen companies, raised several hundred million in venture capital, and had been through some huge financial exits (and a few not so great). Even though the capital markets were in a full-scale meltdown, we were all still committed start-up junkies—entrepreneurs—the most honorable profession in the world. We all craved the excitement and adrenaline rush of creating jobs and wealth for ourselves, and for other folks. But most of all, we were addicted to the process of conceiving and building products that other people would want and pay money for.
I vividly remember the moment when Librizzi mentioned a Nokia survey he had come across—out of 6,500 households surveyed, only 3 percent had ever recycled a handset. Wait a minute! There are a billion mobile phones shipped every year! What’s happening with the other 97 percent? This could be it! How do we solve the problem of collecting and recycling these devices? Of getting the working ones back into the hands of folks who want them? We all instantly liked this problem and wanted to solve it. It was fresh and contemporary. We had spent our careers building the technology that had created this accumulating mass of cell phones and other electronic devices. Now we had a chance to help solve it in an environmentally responsible way. We could do well, and do good at the same time!
Our initial research indicated that there is an average of six used phones per household in the U.S., and we discussed many ideas for getting them recycled. What about charity groups collecting them door to door? What about having the post office pick them up when they drop off your mail? What about a better approach to the so-called “charity boxes” in wireless retail stores? What about a specialized web buy-back engine dedicated to used phones?
We spent the next month scouring the web and contacting folks in the industry. As we refined our thinking, we used Survey Monkey to test a few ideas on about 1,000 folks from our own address books. A clear picture began to emerge; consumers would participate in a mass recycling program if they had three things: a financial incentive (immediate, if at all possible); convenience; and personal data security. Whatever solution we came up with had to provide an answer to all three concerns, or we weren’t going to solve this problem.
Then one day at Starbuck’s, van Rooyen sat down and said, “Hey, I saw some people using a Coinstar machine yesterday; what about an approach like that”? That was it! We could address … Next Page »