On a clear, brisk Wednesday morning thirty-five years ago, every resident of Lincoln Park Drive awoke to find a brown paper bag on their doorstep with the words “CAN-DO RECYCLING” stamped in bright blue letters on the side with instructions to: “FILL THE BAG WITH NEWSPAPERS, ALUMINUM AND GLASS. LEAVE OUTSIDE ON SATURDAY MORNINGS.”
Today we take recycling for granted. But in 1986 there were no recycling bins or recycling pick-ups and scrap prices were high. There was, however, a motivated ten-year-old who spied a new market and opportunity to build a successful business and help the planet at the same time.
That first Saturday there were only a handful of bags. I was discouraged, but the following Wednesday, the new paper bags that materialized on doorsteps had a copied note that added: “Recycling is good for the environment and CAN-DO will donate one-third of proceeds to the Wesselman Park Nature Center.”
Voila! On Saturday almost everyone in the neighborhood left a full bag in front of their door. We quickly scaled up—to Oak Street, Gum Street, and Cherry Street.
But homes weren’t the only source of recyclables in Evansville. The motherlode of aluminum cans was the type of house that didn’t respond to a stamped paper bag and a note—fraternity houses, at the University of Evansville. I learned that sifting through their dumpsters, although lucrative, was perilous and time-consuming. With a couple of knocks on back doors, I negotiated with the fraternities, and now we were making two trips to the recycling center every Sunday instead of one.
Sometimes, great start-ups are victimized by their own success. Everyone loved the idea—including our state government, which orchestrated a hostile takeover of my recycling business by providing everyone in Evansville with a recycling bin and free weekly pick-up service. I never stood a chance.
I lost my “Can-Do Recycling” business, but the spirit of Can-Do infuses my approach here at byWiT with every new opportunity. I work to build companies that create new markets through digitalization. My years of working in investment banking means I approach every challenge in a structured and quantitative manner, but I love getting my hands dirty to build durable businesses that can live on.