Home Business Ridwell wins more than 75,000 customers by meeting the moment

Ridwell wins more than 75,000 customers by meeting the moment

by Ana Lopez
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Ridwell’s father-son origin story is as compelling as it is cute. Ryan Metzger and his then six-year-old son Owen turned a weekend project in 2018 to find a home for used batteries into a fast-growing business with more than 75,000 customers paying about $15/month for the service. Ridwell has since recycled or reused more than 11 million pounds of hard-to-recycle items. Their initial efforts were well-intentioned, but it was Ryan Metzger’s discovery that the recycling industry was in turmoil that was a catalyst for starting a business. Metzger and his co-founders met the moment.

Certain startup stories lend themselves to a narrative built around the question “why now?” Why hasn’t this fix been made yet? What factors converge to make this the perfect time to introduce this service? Every startup story should make sense. It must make sense. A good “why now” can form the basis of your story logic. Here’s how the Ridwell story began, why it was the perfect time to set up the company and how it’s doing today.

“How it started”

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 away as little as possible. The Metzgers had a place in their basement where they collected batteries, plastic bags, old clothes, and styrofoam, because they hated the idea of ​​sending the stuff to the sea or to landfills. They just didn’t know what to do with the stuff or didn’t have time to get rid of everything.

One weekend in 2018, Ryan went looking for a place to recycle the old batteries. Once he found a destination, Ryan and Owen thought they’d check with some neighbors to see if they had any used batteries of their own. Some neighbors were interested, so Owen went door-to-door collecting batteries (Ryan said the idea was inspired by an old-fashioned newspaper route, but in reverse). After a while, Ryan and Owen started collecting other items. Ryan built a website called “Owen’s List” to help organize the pickups and before long 4,500 Seattle neighbors were on the site.

Ryan realized this had the makings of a business. His eco-conscious Seattle neighbors had to find an easy way to dispose of hard-to-recycle items; but it was the timing that increased the odds. China had just announced it that it would no longer accept the West’s items for recycling. Based on this news, journalists and citizens alike began to question whether the recycling they brought to the curb was actually recycled or if it simply ended up in landfills. There was a huge lack of confidence in the system. It was critical for Ryan and Owen to clearly explain where everything was going. They listed all their partners and showed pictures of items being delivered. This is something that Ridwell has continued to this day.

Some of the best innovation stories happen because of timing. Once the budding storyteller realizes what people care about right now, they jump in. Transparency is key on the Ridwell site. Their customers want to know where things are recycled and how; so Ridwell says “we’ll tell you and show you.” Their overall value proposition is “Waste less, made easy;” but one of the main advantages is, “Feel good about where your stuff is going.”

“How are you”

Owen is now 11, but he’s not the only character in this story who’s grown since 2018. Ridwell has raised capital and expanded into several cities including: Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin and the San Francisco Bay Area. Their team of 200 people is now sheltering new items from landfills, including: multi-layer plastic, glasses, corks, political garden signs, linens and more. Ridwell gets paid for some items, donates others, and even has to pay for a few things to be properly disposed of.

As Ridwell moves into new communities, they’re giving residents a say in what they pick up. Often people are most aware of the “plastics in the ocean” problem and choose plastic wrap. After a one-time offer to collect for free, Ridwell tells his story with transparency front and center. Once the story appeals to a customer, Ridwell offers different pricing plans to try out the service. There are other ways to get rid of these hard-to-recycle items, but Ridwell claims no one else is taking stuff anymore, making it so easy to do so, or telling you what happens to everything.

The company is currently growing at over 50% per year; and with high retention rates, they can invest a decent amount of money in advertising, social media content management, and a referral program to attract new customers. As Ridwell grows, new organizations emerge looking for the items Ridwell collects. Food banks get in touch when they’re running low on supplies, and Ridwell collects canned goods. In Denver, a refugee support group was looking for old coats. An animal center welcomed old blankets and pillows for the animals to snuggle in.

The best part for Ryan is hearing from customers. A customer told Ryan, “I can’t bear to throw this away.” With Ridwell, you no longer have to feel bad about that. Most of your hard-to-dispose items stay out of the ground and find a new home. And because of lessons from 2018, Ridwell will tell you where that house is.

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