Notes by Narsi
I have been observing the Indian solid waste management sector for over a decade - first as a consulting firm trying to help entrepreneurs keen on investing in this field, and then as someone who was pretty much trying to demarket solid waste management as an opportunity domain to aspiring entrepreneurs.
During the 2011-2015 period, our consulting team at EAI, like many other firms new to the waste management sector, was quite idealistic and excited about the opportunities in solid waste to value. After all, what could be more satisfying than to convert an environmental problem to be something of value!
But once we entered deep into the sector, we realized how misleading the term Waste to Wealth could be for most entrepreneurs.
Waste indeed contains wealth, but to get the latter from the former is a devilishliy difficult talk that involves a company to wade through an intricate maze comprising social habits, rag pickers, local mafia, ministers, bureaucrats and other assorted types of folks before you actually get the waste in your hands - and all along, one would have thought this was something people just wanted to get rid of.
We had witnessed how, except for a few large players such as Ramky Enviro, most startups and small entrepreneurs entering the segment had a pretty torrid time trying to add value and scale.
It is thus with a sense of satisfaction that I see a startup somehow cracking the code and scaling.
Recyckal, founded in 2015, has quickly scaled from sustainably managing 10,000 tons in 2019 to almost 200,000 tons in 2021, a a 20 fold growth in two years.
Today, Recykal is pretty much the poster boy for Indian waste management startups.
What has made Recyckal succeed where most other startups failed?
A review of their work, process and strategies reveal that the success has been hard earned and well deserved. Some highlights on why I think Recykal has managed to cme this far
Founder capability - the Recykal team comprises about 5 founders, each bringing complementary skills to the table. So this is not a one man show where someone did some cool codiing overnight and got it to the market next day
Investment into learning - their web site mentions how the founding team spend almost two years learning the waste management ecosystem in great detail, from visiting landfills to interacting with diverse stakeholders
Focus on specific segments - while the startup collects waste from multiple sources, I see significant focus on the corporate and industrial sectors, where they leverage the more professional and organized corporate sustainability departments and the PRO need of many large consumer brands. A smart move to rake in early gains in bulk, something critical for startup success
Use of digital - a large part of the startup's success is the fact that they are able to use digital to both enhance efficiencies in the value chain as well as provide transparency to all key stakeholders. While the use of digital is an important element, I still include it in the last spot because this is something many other startups have also tried but not been able to scale the way Recykal has. Digital might form a core part of their offering, but their success has really been owing to their other strengths and assets, in my opinion.