Like Bill Martin and Rusty Szerek, the CEO of Terracycle, Tom Szaky,
dropped out of a prestigious college (Princeton) at age 19 (U.S. 1,
November 10, 2004). Like Martin and Szerek, Szaky is a media darling.
His latest cover story was in July for Inc. magazine with the title
"The Coolest Little Start-Up in America."
Unlike Martin and Szerek, the 24-year-old Szaky is still at the helm
of his first firm, and his company has nothing to do with the
Terracycle is a brick and mortar firm that manufactures "worm tea"
fertilizer from worm castings (affectionately known as worm poop) and
packages it in used plastic bottles to sell in stores like Home Depot,
CVS, and WalMart. All parts of its product are made from garbage, and
it has no adverse environmental impact.
The Inc. magazine story spurred a new round of calls to Szaky from
excited reporters eager for a "good news," ecologically sound business
story. Most recently he was interviewed on CNN on August 20.
Szaky confirmed the vow he made on CNN, that his goal is "to make a
$100 million business that’s based on eco-capitalism, where you can
make lots of money and save the world at the same time. And to do it
in a really big way."
With $4.5 million invested in the company since 2001, Szaky points to
the first quarter of this year as his first profitable quarter. In the
second and third quarters, Terracycle ran in the red again.
Nevertheless, Szaky expects 2007 to be a $5 million or $6 million
year, up from a projected $1.5 million this year and $500,000 last
He has moved from just one product, plant fertilizer, to four, and now
has nearly 15, with 80 percent of them confirmed for national
distribution. They include a formula for African violets, a
concentrated lawn fertilizer, formulas for cactus, tropicals, roses,
and tomatoes, a line of potting mixes (packaged in recycled milk
jugs), and a seed starter made from 100 percent recycled paper and 100
percent worm poop.
He has added a third full-time salesperson and a second PhD scientist.
The Trenton office has 15 to 20 workers, and the manufacturing area
staff ranges from 10 to 50 people, depending on the production season.
His "worm gin" (an incubator for worms from which the castings are
collected) is still operating, but because the company grew more
rapidly, he had to look elsewhere for worm castings. And just in time,
new suppliers emerged. "There was a pyramid scheme in the worm
industry that collapsed," explains Szaky. Owners were left holding
their bags of worm castings. "We acquired their products and gave them
contracts. All the worm farmers who got scammed are thankful we are
helping them," says Szaky.
Schoolchildren are still helping to collect the used bottles, and from
50 to 100 of the school-based "Bottle Brigade" locations are added per
month, but this effort is still mostly a marketing and public
relations strategy. The 1,355 Bottle Brigades around the nation
provide just 20 percent of the bottles needed, with the rest coming
from end-runs or manufacturing surpluses.
Like the other young entrepreneurs, Szaky is not anxious to return to
academe. Asked if he could consider re-enrolling at Princeton, Szaky
replies, "Not in a very long time."
TerraCycle, 121 New York Avenue, Trenton 08638; 609-393-4252; fax,
609-393-4259. Tom Szaky, CEO. Home page: www.terracycle.net