CEO of TerraCycle, Tom Szaky provided Mike and I with great insights, memories, and experiences of running a rapidly growing enterprise. Tom shared his exciting story, which began with him in a blue ocean only to pave the way in the new market he exposed. I found Tom’s story very inspirational. Tom grew TerraCycle with great determination and intuitive innovations. He managed one of the fasted growing companies in the world and managed to give back to the community the whole way. Tom is a trend-setting social entrepreneur. While visiting friends in Montreal, Tom Szaky noticed his Canadian friends feeding their table scraps to red wiggler worms. They were utilizing the worms’ droppings as fertilizer for their indoor plants. Tom, a freshman from Princeton University, was only nineteen years old at the time. However, he was so impressed by the results of his friend’s composting bin that he decided to submit it as his business idea for the Princeton Business Plan Contest. Knowing that he could feed worms organic waste, and produce a high quality fertilizer from the worms’ excrement. Tom finished fourth in the Business Plan Contest, He realized the potential to create a competitive product while addressing a major environmental issue at the time, and so he decided to pursue his idea any way. Tom borrowed money from family and friends, emptied his savings accounts, and maxed out his credit cards. The high-spirited college student was able to afford a worm poop conversion unit. The next few months consisted of Tom spending most of his time shoveling rotting food from behind the Princeton Cafeteria. Tom recalled, “like any entrepreneur, I found my biggest challenges to be limited funds and limited man-power.” Tom believes that the two most important characteristics an entrepreneur should have are, persistence and intuitiveness. These two characteristics undeniably assisted Tom in turning his idea into a reality. A persistent and intuitive entrepreneur might be more likely to pursue a business plan, but I don’t think these qualities greatly increase the chance of success past the survival stage. Even with a poor business plan, a determined entrepreneur might be able to create a workable entity that can generate enough cash flow to cover the cost of capital depreciation. In order to foster true growth, the owner will inevitably have to disengage to some degree. Not only does the entrepreneur need to ensure the basic business remains profitable, but they should also have management and leadership skills in order too delegate work to managers who will keep the company’s future in mind. I believe that if an entrepreneur can recognize his or her own flaws ahead of time, a partnership can be one practical way to compensate for one’s shortcomings. Rite-Solutions is prime example of such a partnership. Jim Lavoie a creative, visionary thinker teamed up with Joe Marino. Joe was more detailed oriented and a strong operational manager. They were able to identify their limitations and value the other’s strengths. Suman Sinha, a venture capitalist took interest in TerraCycle. Impressed by Tom’s ideas and his young entrepreneurial spirit, Suman wrote Tom a check. Tom used the newly invested money to rent TerraCycle’s first office space. By 2003, Tom decided to take a leave of absence from Princeton. Tom had made a fulltime commitment to TerraCycle. Later that year, Tom entered TerraCycle into the Carrot Capital Business Plan Challenge. TerraCycle took first place and the grand prize, a one million dollar investment. Unfortunately, the investors did not see eye-to-eye with Tom’s social mission. When the Carrot investors insisted on TerraCycle abandoning the eco-friendly mission in order to focus entirely on plant food, Tom turned down the investment. Rejecting a one million dollar offer with only five hundred dollars in the company account clearly displayed Tom’s confidence in TerraCycle. I was surprised to learn that a...
Cited: TerraCycle.com TerraCycle. 12/12/12. <http://www.terracycle.com/en-US/>
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