Venture Voice – interviews with entrepreneurs

Entertaining Entrepreneurship

VV Show #16 – Tom Szaky of TerraCycle

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Dropping out of college to start a technology company is almost a cliché. But is technology the only industry that can seduce an ambitious student into entrepreneurship? Tom Szaky dropped out of Princeton because he saw an opportunity in trash. At 19, he started developing an alternative to Miracle-Gro by using the excrement of worms that eat compost. To keep costs down, he reused soda bottles to package his product and located his business in Trenton, New Jersey. He’s now got seven-figure funding and is pushing six-figure revenues by selling TerraCycle in select locations of Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Home Depot. TerraCycle is planning on a full national rollout over the next three months. For this show we ventured into the heart of New Jersey to bring you on a tour of the TerraCycle factory. We talk with several TerraCycle employees and have an in-depth discussion with Tom about trash and cash.

Show notes:

1:40 Tom Szaky‘s description of TerraCycle

2:40 Tour of the factory with Abraham Diez

6:35 TerraCycle size

  • 12 exectutives
  • 10 laborers
  • 30-40 interns
  • ‘The average pay cut that our executives took to be here is like 80%.’

7:50 How Abraham got involved

9:05 How VP of Human Resources Elaine Gaughran got involved

10:20 How Bryan Chen got involved

11:45 Thoughts on Tom

  • ‘What I first met him, the man hardly slept.’

13:34 How Tom got into this business

  • Started the business at age 19, now is 23.
  • ‘We ended up coming up with the type of machinery where we could make worm poop in a very large way.’
  • ‘We found ourselves the summer of freshman year at Princeton shoveling shit, literally.’

16:45 Initial funding through business plan competitions

18:15 Venture funding

  • ‘For any entrepreneur, that’s what you really need, a simple, clear idea ‘ that’s bankable. Within four months we’d raised $1.2 million from private investors and institutional investors.’
    Now raising a second round.

21:15 The trick of winning business plan competitions

  • ‘When we give a PowerPoint, people standup and start smiling. Any they’re like ‘shit, finally I’m taking up.”

23:10 Interns

  • ‘I think we’re a pretty damn sexy manufacturing company.’

26:15 Trenton, NJ

  • ‘Everyone’s pulling for us here.’

29:30 Where you can buyTerraCycle

32:15 Working with investors

33:15 College drop out

36:45 Schedule for today

  • Meeting with Pepsi.

38:30 Watching TerraCycle grow

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