Blue Earth Compost provides compost collection services for residents in Connecticut and municipalities and businesses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. The startup launched in 2013 and has been innovating and evolving since. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price checked in with Guru of Marketing & Business Expansion Samuel King for a company update.
NAN PRICE: What types of challenges did your business face due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Any silver linings?
SAMUEL KING: The beginning of the pandemic was really difficult. We had to navigate an unprecedented situation with information that was evolving daily. In addition to keeping our operations afloat, we needed to ensure the safety of our team and our customers.
Many of our commercial customers closed or suspended service. We had to apply for PPP and other emergency funding and that was very stressful. The silver lining was that, throughout the pandemic, the residential side of our business grew at a rate we hadn’t really seen before. The momentum has, for the most part, stuck around, which has helped our business to come out of the pandemic in a good place.
Now the commercial businesses are starting to bounce back. Somewhere around 80% to 90% of the businesses that had stopped using our service have returned, so we’re starting to grow that as well.
We can thank a number of people in our community and our industry for helping us maintain and grow through a difficult period. It’s really great to see how these people came together to help each other.
NAN: In terms of the residential increase, do you think there was an uptick with more people being home and being more aware of their surroundings?
SAMUEL: During the quarantine people started to become more aware of their daily habits and they were spending so much time in their homes. I think a lot of people were also thinking more about activities that had to do with landscaping and gardening. Compost is a natural conversation that leads from those activities.
NAN: With regard to marketing, how are you spreading the message about what you do and getting it onto people’s radar that there are opportunities to collaborate?
SAMUEL: During the pandemic, it had to all be social media. We went really hard in that world. We were posting constantly and focusing to ensure we were getting the right kind of content out there. We also worked to get exposure through print and other media outlets when possible.
As things have gotten back to “normal,” we’re able to be present at events and things like that again. Being out in the community is great. It’s a big part of what we do.
Also, we had a salesperson for a little while who was doing cold calls and stuff like that. We’re going to be hiring another one soon to continue that work.
NAN: How large is your company?
SAMUEL: The most people we’ve ever had on the team is 10. We’re at eight right now and we’re going to be back up to 10 by the end of March. By the end of the year, we’ll probably be somewhere around 11 or 12 people.
NAN: Tell us a little about the overall business evolution. Did you have any formal training before you became involved with Blue Earth Compost?
SAMUEL: No, neither myself nor Owner and Operator Alex Williams come from the business world. We didn’t study it in school and we weren’t small business owners prior to this. It’s all been learning on the fly, which is great. I love it.
I have a proclivity toward it because of the skills I learned from previous jobs and my passion for the environment has provided the right kind of foundation. I’ve learned so much being a small business owner. Honestly, I think I learned more in one year of being an entrepreneur than I did in four years of college.
In terms of the business evolution, I think we’re kind of the tip of the spear in our industry. We identified an issue about eight and a half years ago that wasn’t on a lot of people’s radar. It was something we cared about a lot and we thought that maybe others felt the same.
We knew there was some kind of framework for what we wanted to do because similar businesses a couple of years older than us existed in other parts of the country and they’d been successful. So, there was a template that we kind of took and ran with in our own way.
But now there’s a lot more consciousness around the concept of composting. More people are aware of the ill detriments of climate change and soil erosion and industrial agriculture. We’re running out of capacity for waste here in Connecticut and the way we’re handling things is polluting and harming people, often those who have been marginalized. So, there are a lot of reasons for people to be thinking about the future of waste and sustainability.
A business like ours is ready to provide solutions. We’re seeing people reach out to us with those kinds of questions. We’re also working our way toward municipal partnerships. We want to work with towns and cities to implement food diversion programs so we’re able to mitigate the problems with capacity and prices and, obviously, at the end of the day, the environment.
NAN: As a business owner, can you share any significant learning lessons?
SAMUEL: With my role in the company, I’m constantly thinking about ways we can do what we do better. And I’m thinking about ways we can expand what we do. I’m also trying to get a better understanding of business practices and our industry practices.
So, I constantly have to be learning. I constantly have to be the dumbest guy in the room to get, as I like to say, smart enough to be dangerous.
As far as a-ha moments, one I had recently is that there are no silver bullets as much as I’ve looked for them. Nothing is an easy path. Everything takes time, money, and human capital. You just have to be willing to take risks.
Honestly, from its inception, this whole business has been a risk. You start to get to a point where you think: Okay, things are going to be free and clear. We’ve got this model. It’s going to work. It’s going to work in perpetuity. We’re all good. I don’t know that that’s true for any business, whether you’re a startup or you’re Google or Microsoft. You always have to be taking risks.
NAN: Tell us about your involvement with Hartford.
SAMUEL: We’re based in Hartford. We moved into our current operation space in April 2016. We’re moving to a new headquarters soon that’s about three times as big, but we’re staying within Hartford.
We wanted to stay in the city of Hartford. We received some help from the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. Right now, the commercial warehousing market is in high demand. It’s a terrible time to move, but we’re fortunate. We found a good landlord and we’re excited about the new space and glad to be staying in Hartford.
NAN: What’s next?
SAMUEL: We’ll be announcing an equity crowdfunding campaign round soon. We want to raise equity capital to expand our operations and help us continue to do what we do—do it better, do it bigger, and do more different things.