My book, Revolution in a Bottle, hit the streets this week. It is a quick read that is meant to flow more like a novel, less like a business book. It follows the story of TerraCycle from our beginnings in my dorm room, shoveling maggot filled organic waste, to creating products we sold to Wal-Mart and other major big box retailers, getting sued by Scotts, and creating "sponsored waste" programs to upcycle branded waste. It also offers insights on how we approach media and pursue new opportunities. Here's are two excerpts from the introduction:
TerraCycle would never have succeeded if we had started it in another country. America is a land of unique opportunity, and it happens to produce disproportionate amounts of waste. A maverick with a big idea can go further in America than in any other country, and in our case, we were able to tap into the profound desire of millions of Americans to do good, if given the right vehicles and incentives'¦. The good will we have received from the press, both local and national, speaks as much about the journalists and publishers in the U.S. as it does about our positive story. With its many sizeable challenges, America offers unique hope and possibility. As someone not born here, I am grateful to America for allowing me to incubate TerraCycle in its uniquely fertile soil.
I almost lost control of TerraCycle several times. In each case, friends and angels have shown up at what appeared to be the darkest of moments. Luck and epiphanies were important to TerraCycle's early survival and over time, to our success. I truly believe that the company, like the ideas that inspire and guide it, has a life of its own.
TerraCycle's story is one of getting people interested and involved. One of the lessons I have learned over the years, is people have to care about your business to support your efforts. The more you can get people personally involved in the story, the product, and the program, the more likely they are to become your biggest fan. It has helped differentiate TerraCycle from many other companies over the years. After all, how many other companies pay 15,00 schools to recycle? You can believe every one of the those students, teachers, and parents is a TerraCycle supporter.
To get people more involved in my book, to make them not just passive readers, but an active participant in my revolution, I worked with a favorite partner of mine, Bear Naked, which makes incredible organic granola, to create a consumer involvement program. We decided to print prepaid postage on the inside cover of my book and instruct people to remove the cover, fill with used granola bags and return to TerraCycle, free of charge! For every cover returned, Bear Naked is donating 1 dollar to the Arbor Day Foundation to a plant a tree. Since my book is printed on 100% post-consumer paper, our hope is that with enough returns, we can confidently say that my book help plant more trees than it helped cut down!
I'm curious. Do you agree that America as a uniquely favorable place to incubate and grow a business? Will that diminish or improve in the current economic environment and President Obama's restructuring. (I'm hopeful that it will open up huge opportunities for companies responding to social and environmental needs). Also, do you find that businesses have a life of their own, and that they consistently attract sharks and angels who become part of the drama?
And if you do read my book, I hope you enjoy it. I'll be interested in your reactions, which you can post here.
Last updated: Mar 31, 2009
TOM SZAKY is the founder of TerraCycle, a New Jersey based company that makes fertilizer using worms and produces retail products from recycled goods. The firm was started while he was a student at Princeton University. Tom was named "The No. 1 CEO Under Thirty" by Inc. magazine in its July 2006 issue.