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Interview with Reuben Kaine, Co- Founder & Business Lead of Trashcycler

Congratulations Trashcycler The Recircular Ecnomy Project!

StartupXs ChangeMakers Seed Funding 2024 Winner

Trashcycler is a solution that integrates technology with recycling to assist both individuals and businesses. It leverages a digital infrastructure to enhance the recovery of sorted waste, aiming to boost efficiency and profitability.

Here is an interview with Reuben Kaine Co-Founder & Business Lead of Trashcycler bringing forward his experience as an entrepreneur. 

Can you tell us how the idea of Trashcycler came about?

In 2022, our team participated in a hackathon program with the goal to present innovative ideas. Among the six individuals in our group, four of us opted to collaborate on a re-circular economy project, while one member remained undecided, and another had a different idea in mind.

During the day, it became evident that I was the sole individual truly passionate about the re-circular economy concept. Recognizing this misalignment, I decided to leave the group. It was at this juncture that the spark for “Trashcycler” ignited.

Our focus shifted towards developing concepts that facilitate easy recycling for individuals. The core idea involved creating a system that connects waste producers, often referred to as processors, with those who can efficiently process the waste. This pivotal moment marked the inception of “Trashcycler”, and we began innovating solutions to materialize this vision.

Through persistent efforts, we were able to fully grasp and refine the concepts, establishing a solid foundation for our journey.

How did you come up with the name Trashcycler for your venture?

Well, we considered the commonly used term for waste, which is “trash,” and looked at alternative solutions like recycling or upcycling. We decided to incorporate the term “cycler” into the name to create a seamless blend. So, that’s how we arrived at the name “Trashcycler.” Whether you’re recycling or upcycling, the process just seemingly works the same.

How did this idea of Trashcycler come into being? Is it a company or a social enterprise? Can you tell me more about that?

Yeah, it started as just an idea, like every other startup. In the initial stages, we examined key areas that needed attention. We observed that many recycling companies lacked valuable data to support their collections. Additionally, we identified limiting factors for recycling processing plants, particularly the challenge of efficiently acquiring materials. 

Our focus became clear: we aimed to be the bridge that connects these entities to waste producers, the individuals generating the waste through daily activities like disposal in households, landfills, sewage, and environments, causing more issues.

To address this gap, we innovated the Max DFX, where “DFX” stands for Digital Flow Scale. This product enables companies to record their collections directly into a web app, offering them a dashboard. When they purchase materials, the transactions are seamlessly recorded in their dashboard, making the process transparent and efficient. If they have multiple collection points, managing transactions becomes hassle-free. This is the central idea behind Trashcycler.

How do you tell people to use the Trashcycler app? Because not everyone is familiar with this technology. Not everyone knows how to use this. So how do you facilitate people to use the Trashcycler app?

If you’re familiar with Nigeria, you understand that we have several people who use social media. So, we send targeted adverts to these individuals. When they see the advert, they can inquire, “I have materials in my house that I want to dispose of. Can you come and pick up these items?” By responding to these messages, we’re able to galvanize them. However, our main focus isn’t solely on waste producers. We’ve observed a need among large and small-medium companies that also require services like ours to effectively recycle their products, right?

So, what we do is also reach out to these companies and connect them with our third-party logistics and recyclers. These individuals pick up the waste for us. We utilize various communication channels, whether it’s social media, phone calls, or emails, to engage with them and encourage them to recycle with us. This outreach serves as a crucial part of our operations, ensuring a consistent flow. We not only focus on collection but also provide necessary information for those who need to build sustainability reports. This enables them to position their companies positively by showcasing their commitment to environmental friendliness in waste management. Essentially, that’s the core of what we do.

When you were starting the TrashCycler, how did you raise funds to make it into what it is today?

Yeah, just like every other startup, we faced challenges at the beginning. We had our share of failures and moments where we had to reevaluate and find alternative sources of support. We searched for organizations to partner with and leverage to propel us to where we are today. Fortunately, we connected with individuals who saw the potential and vision behind our idea. They were willing to collaborate, support our organization, and contribute to its growth. That marked the point where we overcame our initial financial struggles, leveraging networks and partnerships, and setting the stage for our gradual team growth.

As you said, you were struggling at first. What is the driving force that keeps you moving forward to become who you are today?

Yeah, from the get-go, we were determined. As I mentioned earlier, we could have followed the other four members who chose a different idea for the hackathon, but we insisted on pursuing our concept. That initial resolute decision and passion paid off when we started receiving recognitions, such as winning the changemaker seed funding. This recognition fueled our passion, leading us to where we are today.

We also considered the needs of the consumers. Many individuals approached us, expressing a desire for us to collect their waste directly and offer better prices than what they were currently getting. Recognizing this consumer need to be validated that we were on the right path. The high demand for our service became a significant factor that propelled us forward. So, it’s a combination of our passion, the recognition we received, and the evident consumer need that has led us to this point.

You are the winner of changemaker seed funding, and you won the innovator award and you’re the finalist for the startup award as well. So what is your long-term goal? Where do you see yourself with Trashcycler in five years? 

We aim for Trashcycler to become a household name, meaning that when people think about recycling, our name should naturally come to mind without the need for an introduction. We envision this recognition not only within Nigeria but also across West Africa, with plans to extend our projects to southern Africa. Additionally, we are exploring opportunities for partnership and expansion in some parts of Asia.

Looking ahead, we see ourselves selling our technology to a significant number of recycling companies. Our plug-and-play model aims to help them improve productivity, enhance efficiency, and streamline their reporting systems. This is our primary focus.

Over the next five years, we aspire to have at least 50 million active users on our platform, actively contributing their waste. Simultaneously, we plan to onboard a minimum of 1,000 recycling partners to collaborate with us, both within Nigeria and across Africa. Our ongoing efforts are aligned with these goals, and we have set organizational targets for the year, with a keen eye on what we aim to achieve by the end of 2024.

In essence, our vision is to make our product accessible to everyone in Nigeria, outside Nigeria, and across Africa as a whole in the first five years. That’s our goal — to elevate our impact throughout the continent.

As you said, you want to be recognized by Nigeria and Africa, and to be able to be recognized by them, what are the challenges you will face or have you been facing to be in that label?

Yeah, we are aware that we will face challenges, not just in Nigeria but also in other countries across Africa with diverse languages, including anglophone and francophone nations. Language barriers are a potential hurdle. However, just as we overcame initial challenges when starting the idea, building it from scratch to its current state, we believe we can break new barriers and navigate through any obstacles.

Expanding to new grounds, collaborating with new organizations, and addressing the challenges that come with growth are all part of our journey. We acknowledge that we’ve already encountered some of these challenges, but we are not deterred. If one approach doesn’t work, we are confident in our ability to find alternative solutions. Facing these challenges head-on, we believe that with hard work and an increased effort beyond our current levels, we can achieve our goal of recognition in Nigeria and across Africa.

I hope you will overcome all those challenges. What is the most satisfying thing about being an innovator and being able to do what you believe and your idea, your vision became a reality? What is the most satisfying thing?

The most satisfying thing is the recognition when you get recognized for your work. It’s very easy to innovate, design, and develop solutions. The real reward comes when your idea is acknowledged by others, and you reach a point where people recognize your work without needing much introduction.

While it’s fulfilling to see our solution being recognized, it doesn’t mean we’ve reached our final destination. Currently, we are still in the innovation phase, constantly assessing what we can improve and where we may be falling short. We acknowledge the presence of competitors who are perceived as having gone ahead of us, and we are determined to climb that ladder as well.

As we receive recognition, it serves as motivation for us to push further, do more, and surpass our current status quo. We are actively working on personal, team, and organizational development, seeking ways to innovate further and create additional solutions.

Despite being satisfied with what you are doing, does it affect your personal life?

Of course, there’s always a price to pay because if you must attain success, there’s always a price to pay. You must go the extra mile to reach your desired destination. Success is not for lazy people; it’s for those who are hardworking. So, to get there, you must be hardworking, ready to wake up at night when an idea pops into your head, and start working on your laptop. You have to go beyond the extra to get what you desire. If it means waking up at night when an idea strikes, it’s worth it.

You won’t be able to sleep all day, and your work hours may not align with those of someone with a regular job, as you may have meetings at unconventional hours. However, your vision, passion, and pursuit of your drive become the driving force. At the end of the day, the recognition, awards, and accolades you receive bring a satisfying feeling for your efforts. Certainly, it affects your personal space and life because, at times, you’ll feel the need to rest or take a vacation. When that time comes, you can do so. During the inception phase, it’s tedious, but you need to give it your best shot, your all, leaving no stone unturned. It’s crucial to stay focused to ensure no overlooked aspects might affect the business in the future. In essence, it affects both work and personal life, but maintaining focus is key.

Having a startup is satisfying. It’s challenging and affects your personal life. So what do you want to say to a new startup who wants to start a new business or a piece of advice?

Yeah, be sure of what you’re getting into. Because if you don’t have passion for it, the vision will just die out. Be sure that this is what you can stick your neck for, go the extra mile for, and pursue wholeheartedly. Confirm within yourself that this is what you want. Once that conviction is within you, it’s the essential foundation to start in the first instance. With this conviction, you’re resolute on what you want, making it easier to face challenges head-on.

This initial conviction is crucial in building the confidence you need to go out and pursue your goals. If that conviction is absent, you might find yourself questioning your path in a few weeks or months. However, with that strong conviction, even in challenging times, you can remind yourself that you’re on the right course. You may not be getting it right now, but with determination and hard work, you can propel yourself to the next stage.

If that conviction is lacking, take the time to search for it. Research more about the idea or business you want to pursue to ensure that it aligns with your goals. Once that conviction is firmly established, the subsequent steps become a step-by-step guide towards achieving your objectives.

Can you recommend some ideas, tips, and tricks for new startups?

Yeah, I would recommend what worked for me, and that was building a roadmap for myself and the company. You must have a roadmap outlining what you intend to achieve in the short term and the long term. Break it down into different routines for daily, weekly, and monthly activities. This helps keep you on track and in check, enabling you to assess what you’ve achieved and what is yet to be accomplished. By doing so, even if immediate results are not apparent, you’ve planted a seed that can be revisited in the future for potential success.

Creating a plan tailored to your organizational and personal goals is crucial. Operating as an individual and a brand simultaneously requires alignment to avoid conflicts of interest. Personal aspirations should complement the organizational focus. Build an itinerary, set goals, and establish a vision, breaking it down into months, weeks, and days to attain the desired results. That’s my advice for young startups or anyone transitioning from a 9-to-5 job to becoming a business owner. I believe it’s a practical approach to success.

Can you walk us through your typical day at Trashcycler?

Sure. My typical day doesn’t have a fixed starting time, as it can begin at any moment. I rely on a calendar attached to my Google Calendar, which outlines the tasks for the day by 7 AM. I have recurring activities that need attention daily, so those are already on my radar. For any new tasks or activities, I integrate them into my schedule as needed.

Activities that occur regularly require consistent attention every day. However, for new tasks or engagements, I make sure to incorporate them into my daily routine. For instance, I might start the day by visiting a recycling company working with us to check their progress in processing materials. Alternatively, I could initiate a conversation with a team member, especially those working remotely, such as the engineering team. Another option is to engage with an organization that requires our services, discussing potential collaboration and addressing any specific needs. While some aspects of my day follow a routine, others can change based on various factors. This flexibility allows me to adapt to the dynamic nature of the business and its requirements. So, that’s essentially how I begin and navigate through my day.

This changemaker grant, how will it help you achieve your long-term goal.

Okay, that’s a very good question. The changemaker grant will be tailored to address our current financial needs. It will be developed to support key areas where we require short-term funding to make significant progress. Once we allocate the funds to these areas and accomplish our short-term goals, we’ve already begun the process of building a pathway for scaling to the next level.

We’re actively working on this scaling process, and we aim to have one or two crucial elements in place by mid-year. This includes expanding to two or three more locations from where we currently operate. However, we are mindful of the new challenges that come with growth, such as securing suitable workspaces for additional team members.

In essence, the changemaker grant will serve as a preparation ground for us. It will provide the financial support necessary for us to achieve our short-term goals, especially in terms of scaling and addressing immediate financial needs. That’s how we plan to utilize the funds.

About Trashcycler

Trashcycler is a practical waste solution designed for both individuals and businesses to easily manage their waste disposal. The focus is on enhancing the lives of community entrepreneurs and enabling members of host communities to dispose of their waste correctly, earning money for each kilogram recovered. Trashcycler utilizes smart technology to drive the recovery of sorted waste, employing a community entrepreneurship network that encourages individuals to recycle. In return, they receive rewards such as cash, as well as impactful products like solar solutions and clean cook stoves. Click here to learn more about their work.

Click here to see the wining application entry.

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