Ridwell’s father-son origin story is fascinating. Ryan Metzger and his then-six-year-old son, Owen, turned the weekend project around in 2018 to find a home for used batteries with more than 75,000 customers who pay $15 a month for service. Since then, Ridwell has recycled more than 11 million pounds of hard-to-recycle materials. Their initial efforts made good sense, but it was Ryan Metzger’s discovery that the recycling industry was in turmoil that inspired him to start a business. Metzger and his co-founders met at the time.
Some Startup Stories “Why Now?” They commit themselves to a narrative built around that question. Why hasn’t this solution been created yet? What factors align to make it the right time to introduce this service? Every startup story should be logical. It should make sense. A good “why now” can be the logical basis for your story. Here’s how Ridwell’s story began, why it’s the right time to set up the business, and how it’s doing today.
“How did it begin?”
Ryan and his wife Erin grew up on the West Coast where recycling was an important family value. When they had their own house, they tried to throw as little outside as possible. The Metzgers had a place in their home to collect batteries, plastic bags, old clothes and Styrofoam because they hated the idea of sending the stuff to the ocean or landfill. They either didn’t know what to do with the stuff or didn’t have time to get rid of it all.
In the year One weekend in 2018, Ryan started looking for a place to recycle his old batteries. Once he found a destination, Ryan and Owen thought they’d check with neighbors to see if they had any batteries to use. Some neighbors are interested, so Owen goes door-to-door collecting batteries (Ryan got the idea from the old paper route, but the other way around). After a while, Ryan and Owen started collecting other items. Ryan built a website called “Owen’s List” to help organize elections, and soon 4500 Seattle neighbors were on the site.
Ryan realized that this business had innovations. His environmentally conscious neighbors in Seattle had to find an easy way to dispose of hard-to-recycle items. But it was the timing that increased his chances. China has announced that it will not accept Western goods for recycling. Based on this news, both journalists and citizens began to wonder if the recycling brought to the region is actually being recycled or is it just ending up in landfills. There was a huge lack of trust in the system. It was crucial for Ryan and Owen to be clear about where everything went. They list each of their partners and show photos of disposable items. This is something that Ridwell continues to this day.
Some of the best creative stories happen because of timing. When the novice storyteller becomes aware of what people are thinking at the time, jump on it. On Ridwell’s website, transparency is front and center. Customers want to know where things are recycled and how; So Ridwell is saying, “We’ll tell you, we’ll show you.” Their overall value proposition is “waste less, made easier”. But one of the main benefits is, “get a good feel for where your stuff is going.”
“How is it going”
Owen is now 11 years old, but he’s not the only character in this story who has grown up since 2018. Ridwell raised capital and expanded to several cities: Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin, and the San Francisco Bay Area. His team of 200 is now finding homes for new items to keep them out of landfills, including: multi-layered plastic, eyeglasses, cork, political yard signs, linens and more. Ridwell pays for some items, donates others, and even has to pay for a few items to be properly disposed of.
As Ridwell moves into new communities, residents comment on what they pick up. Often people are aware of the “plastics in the ocean” problem and choose plastic film. After a one-time offer to take it for free, Ridwell tells the story clearly front and center. Once the story is connected to a customer, Ridwell offers several pricing plans to test the service. There are other ways to get rid of these hard-to-recycle items, but Ridwell argues that no one else is taking more stuff, making it easier to do so, or telling what happens to everything.
The business is currently growing at more than 50% per year; And those with high retention rates, can invest a fair amount in advertising, curating social media content, and a referral program to attract new customers. As Ridwell grows, new organizations come forward in search of items for Ridwell to collect. In times of low supply, food banks and Ridwell stock up on canned goods. In Denver, a refugee support group looked for old coats. The wildlife center accepted old blankets and pillows for the animals to crawl on.
The best part for Ryan is hearing from customers. “I can’t throw this away,” one customer told Ryan. With Ridwell, you shouldn’t feel bad doing it. Most hard-to-dispose items stay out of the ground and find a new home. And because of the lessons from 2018, Ridwell tells you where that home is.
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