“We already failed once”: Why the time is finally right for Antler graduate RecycleSmart


RecycleSmart co-founders Marco Prayer and Giorgio Barracchi (right) with a RecycleSmart customer. Source: supplied.

Having already founded, funded and closed the door on one startup, and built an app for another, the co-founders of RecycleSmart are arguably the odd ones out in the inaugural Antler startup generator cohort.

But, with the confluence of public sentiment, solid experience, and the right tech pivot, this is a startup setting out to change the way we recycle.

Co-founders Giorgio Baracchi and Marco Prayer have been working on the product for three-and-a-half years already. Their app provides information about which items can be recycled in the home, as well as maps showing where people can take other ‘non-bin’ items, such as batteries, clothing or electronics.

The app is the top-rated recycling app in the Apple App Store, and has reached about 95,000 downloads in Australia, and has 6,000 active users each month.

Joining the Antler program, however, has given the co-founders the opportunity to work on the startup full time, and to develop their new ‘pick-up’ feature, which Baracchi calls “the solution for all your non-bin items”.

Now, RecycleSmart users can request a bag, which they fill with any and all of their problematic trash. That bag will be collected by an independent contractor (“think Deliveroo, but the other way around,” Baracchi says, sorted and dropped off to the appropriate processing centre.

The team launched the new product in Randwick City Council four weeks ago, and it’s already collected a tonne of rubbish, Baracchi says. It also now has a string of “very keen councils” in the pipeline, he adds.

Passion project

For both of these co-founders, this is a passion project that has been a long time in the works.

Chief executive Baracchi comes from a management consulting and corporate strategy background, “but I always had a passion to sort waste out”, he says.

“I started recycling when I was a kid, and I always wanted to find a solution.”

In fact, this isn’t the pair’s first rodeo. They previously founded another startup that gave people feedback on how well they were recycling.

They raised some funding for the business, but ultimately, it didn’t work out.

Even the existing iteration of RecycleSmart, while successful in terms of downloads, hasn’t quite been a business success story.

“Nobody wants to pay for the app,” Baracchi says.

Now, they hope the pick-up feature will allow them to monetise the product.

“We already failed once,” Prayer says.

“It’s important to acknowledge it — it’s part of the story.”

What’s important to him is they learnt from that failure, and came away with valuable insights.

“The problem is huge, super interesting and very tough to solve,” he says.

“That’s why we think our experience can be an advantage.”

The pair also came away with valuable contacts in the space they want to revolutionise.

“We branched out, knowing that on the consumer side, the app would have been a valuable asset,” Baracchi says.

“And we kept our connection with councils through the app, which was probably the most important thing.”

Being able to talk directly with councils can be something that takes a lot of time. But, having been in this space for a good while now, Prayer and Baracchi know it inside and out.

“We go to every conference … we really understand the industry by now,” Baracchi says.

In two months, they were able to launch a pilot program, collect a tonne of waste and get approved by a council, he points out.

“If you don’t know the industry … I don’t think you would be able to do this.”

The right environment, the right time

Of course, this is arguably the opportune time for a startup like this to thrive. Recycling and protecting the environment has never been a hotter topic.

In fact, Prayer theorises that one of the reasons the founders’ original idea didn’t work was because “there was not enough attention on the problem”.

While there was awareness, now climate strikes around the world — especially school strikes — are bringing more and more media attention.

“We think, at the end of the day, that will be the gamechanger.”

There was always a need for a product like this, but now there is demand too.

“There’s an urgency, to some extent,” Prayer says.

The idea, here, is to make responsible recycling as easy as possible, and to tap into the mainstream consciousness, as well as that of the people who are already super-engaged.

“This idea is not about talking to the 5% who already want to do something,” Baracchi says.

“This idea is about talking to the other 80% or 90% that really wants to change — they want to, but they don’t know how to.”

It’s not going to be easy

Having seen failure and slow growth, and now having moved swiftly through the Antler program, Prayer suggests other founders — depending on the space they’re in — shouldn’t necessarily be in too much of a rush to get results.

Your idea, even if you’re working on it in your garage for years, “is something that you’re fostering, and that has value even though it might not seem to”, he says.

“If you’re flexible enough, adaptable enough to pull the trigger when it’s the right time from the market perspective and the user perspective, the effort and dedication you have put into those previous five years won’t be wasted,” he adds.

“There is knowledge.”

In addition, Baracchi notes the importance of understanding your industry well. And that knowledge can take years to cultivate.

But also, he says you need to have a real passion for your product.

“Honestly, if you do this for money, it will never happen.”

He is working on this project because he cares deeply about the waste problem, and wants to fix it. He came to Antler specifically to find new ways to tackle this.

“We’ve been taking ‘no’s for the past five years.”, Baracchi says.

“You need to have an internal passion for whatever problem you’re trying to solve, because it’s not going to be easy.”

StartupSmart was invited to Antler HQ as the official media partner of Antler Demo Day 2019.

NOW READ: The world is leaving coal behind, and it’s up to startups to pick up the economic slack


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