Summer Entrepreneurial Experiences

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The End of The Road

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 6:25 pm

As my time draws to a close at Alpha Waste I have begun to process what I have accomplished here in the past 2+ months. I have placed over 3000 phone calls to businesses all over the Triad that havegenerated nearly $11,000 (monthly!)in quotes for Luke to attempt to sell. I was shocked to see that dollar figure because there have been many days where I have come up with only one or two quotes and a handful from which I walked away empty-handed. Each quote can be as small as $50 (still, monthly), so it was really tough to fathom just exactly how much I have been helping around here. With a few days left I am still hoping to grow that number as much as possible.

This has been a tedious process to say the least, but I have learned so much as y’all have read about and this week my hard work has been rewarded. Tina will be out of the office for a couple days this week and I have been groomed and chosen to assume her duties while she is gone. I recently had a lengthy meeting with her to learn how to keep the money coming in in her absence. This Thursday and Friday I will be solely responsible for collecting payments and billing our roll-off customers. I tried to learn how to do thiscompletelyearlier in the summer but did not really understand enough about the business and services rendered to be able to do it correctly and efficiently. The numbers are obviously not the issue since they are few (being a Math major doesn’t hurt), but the process is tricky at first. I am very proud of being left to manage such an importantpart of the business that Idid not understand all too wellonly a few short weeks ago.

With this new added responsibility, I can’t help but think what else there is that I could do for this company. I first thought that the accounting could take me some time to master, but after a couple hours I really got it down so what else could I learn? Unfortunately in their infant state, Alpha Waste does not offer as many opportunities for employment as larger companies, especially part-time jobs that would be worth their time and money for me to perform during the school year. Mike has reiterated time and time again though that if I ever want to be a part of Alpha Waste down the road to call him without hesitation. It is an offer I honestly did not think much about at first but have more and more in the past few days with my expanded responsibilities. I really have made great personal connections with everyone here and feel like they both respect my work and enjoy having me around. Maybe I’ll be back someday. Who knows what the future has in store?

Come check out the Summer Fellow Presentations to hear more about my time at Alpha Waste and my final experiences running the show! Monday August 26 at 2:00 in 230 Reynolda Hall

 

 

 

Looking Inward

Thursday, July 25, 2013 1:05 pm

This blog prompt actually could not have come at a better time. This week at Alpha Waste, I have been frequently leaving the office with Mike to go make collections from people who have long overdue bills for whatever reason. Most of these were contractors who used our rental roll-off service and then simply did not pay for the final removal and dumping. Additionally, since these are shorter-term jobs, we expand our coverage area for this service to as far as Raleigh and Charlotte. In our drives all across the state I got to know a little bit more about Mike, Alpha Waste, and how he keeps everything running.

The biggest thing I learned about entrepreneurial leadership is that you will be getting your hands dirty, withouta question. I started thinking to myself “Why is the owner of this company the one driving hours on end to collect a couple hundred dollars if we’re lucky?” The answer came to me quickly: Who else could he ask to do it? With so few employees, the person in charge must create a strong independent culture. IfMike were to pass responsibilities on simply because he does not believe that is in his job description, then why would each subsequent employee down the chain of command not assume that is okay? As I have touched on before, everyone here wears many hats for Alpha Waste so if you see something that needs to be done, you simply make it happen.

I believe that I have what it takes to become a similar entrepreneur as far as the management aspect goes. I have always taken issue with delegating tasks to others that I know I can do better than they, even if I have more pressing issues at hand. Whenever I have been the leader of a group project, I always tweak and improve things turned into me by other members before final submission. This is something I do not particularly enjoy, especially since it would be too easy to simply forward the assignment along, but it is just in my nature I guess. There are obviously some parts of running acompany that I am not sure how wellI would be able to do, yet many others such as this make me think long and hard about starting my own businesssomeday.

The Competition

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 12:33 pm

Getting into the waste disposal business is not extremely difficult. All you really need is a couple dump trucks, some drivers, some logistics people, and the accounting, finance, etc that comes with any business. Once you have that, you can just take people’s trash and recyclables to any local landfill and pay their fees to dump it there. Because of these low barriers to entry, there are many competitors around the Triad all competing within a very similar customer base. In order to be a sustainable business however, you must firstgrow your own client list and then be able to protect yourself from others swooping in and stealing them away with a lower price. This leads to a fair amount of deception on the part of some of the larger companies.

To begin with, some of Alpha Waste’s biggest competitors in the area are: Waste Management, Waste Industries, Republic, Best Disposal, and Yates Disposal. These are the five other largest businesses but there are even more. These companies, will give a, say, $50/month quote to a local business for their dumpster service, a price lower than what we can offer. However, this is because these larger firms will add all kinds of surcharges (fuel, insurance, you name it) on top of your bill and will even raise the flat rate during the contract period. Since many people do not take the time to read every word of their trash disposal contract, there is wording in them allowing the waste company to do so.

We at Alpha Waste acquire and keep our customers by keeping the cost constant over the life of the contract, and even once it expires, do our best to keep the price steady, barring a leap in gas prices or something of that nature. We also have absolutely no surcharges on top of our fee. The quotes we deliver fully disclose the entire cost of the service and is the honorable way to do business in my opinion.

Daily Environment

Thursday, July 11, 2013 2:28 pm

I think the general attitude in a start-up office has to be a little bit more laid-back and flexible than some of the larger corporations you think of when you talk about a 9 to 5 job. There are so many challenges on a day to day basis, many of which come up at a moment’s notice, that you almost don’t have a choice in your flexibility – the nature of a start-up dictates that people must wear all different hats as an employee. Additionally, I say laid-back because if you have a very Type A controlling person in this field, they would not deal well with curveballs being thrown at them without a clear solution to the problem.

Since much of my time in the office has been spent with just Tina and myself, I have not been around much of the decision-making processes. My understanding however is Mike has the final say on any business decisions, while his partner Eric, the largest and possibly sole investor in Alpha Waste, will also have a say in financial decisions. Logistical decisions are left to Rob, the truck drivers’ manager, as well as Tina in the front office.

I would say that Alpha Waste as a whole handles both successes and failures in a very level-headed manner. Landing a particularly big client with several locations will always put a smile on your face, but after a few minutes or even seconds it is back to full steam ahead.Whether it is dealing with a current customer or searching for new ones, there is literally always something to be done here – even if you have just a minute of free time.It’s alsonot like we are trying to buy other companies or are on the verge of bankruptcy, so any success or failure isgenerally arelatively small one.

I believe I have touched on the team makeup in earlier posts, but in any event, I really love the way we work. Each employee has a very clearly defined role and set of tasks (other than, sort of, random or off-the-cuff tasks, which of course whoever can do it the fastest/easiest/etc will take care of) and it is very straightforward to see how each person contributes to the company at large. There is little supervision over each person’s role however, since there are simply not enough employees in the office to require a direct supervisor or manager position. This allows for a stress-free environment where everyone understands that as long as they are doing what is expected of them, there will be no problems.

Halfway to Home

Thursday, June 27, 2013 2:28 pm

As I surpass one month of working at Alpha Waste, my first thought is that the time has flown by. It feels like last week I was just finishing up finals, yet some of my friends have already left town after finishing Summer Session I. Crazy. Anyway, I continue to be cold calling around Winston and High Point, although the past couple days we have taken our proverbial foot off the gas a little, since it is the end of the month. We have just about finished our June call list, and are currently preparing our July mailing list to send postcards announcing our potential savings to local businesses. This also assists in the cold calling process because people are more likely to have recently seen this mailing, giving us a jumping-off point for the conversation. Thus, this week has been light on calling, but heavy on administrative business. I expect the exact opposite out of next week, since our mailing will be going out and calling right around that time is obviously ideal.

To this point, I would have to say I am most proud about the consistency with which I have been able to get appointments to deliver quotes. The result of many calls has been decided before I even pick up the phone, since some people want nothing to do with telemarketers in general, much less one calling about a service that they may not even use. Nevertheless, I have been able to set up a handful of quotes each and every day, and have totaled over 60 since I have started. Seeing as each of these meetings could result in hundreds of dollars for Alpha Waste per month, it is not hard to see my contribution to the business, which is the most important thing for me this summer I believe.

When I am not making phone calls, Tina has been teaching me about the billing and payroll systems. Every now and then, we will get a call from someone trying to make a payment or alter their service in some way, and Tina will be on the other line with a different customer. So I need to be able to assist these customers. Alpha Waste uses an operating system called Encore, which may be a big software I’m not sure, but is nevertheless significantly customized to fit this business best. A lot of it is fairly self-explanatory, but it does take a good amount of practice to know where to look for things, the order in which to perform them, etc. I have really started to get a good handle on it and will take a couple hours most afternoons to run through more checks or invoices or wages. Hopefully in the next couple weeks I will be able to do some of Tina’s work. She wears so many hats in this office and could always use some help,and I would rather play with numbers all day than make phone calls any day of the week. I am a Math major, after all.

Anyway, each and every day people around here are realizing small ways that I can be utilized outside of my call list. Most of my co-workers realize the value of a Wake education and realize that were never fortunate enough to go to as good a school as we do. They obviously have an immeasureable edge in industry experience over me but do realize that a great education certainly can be a tool. Sometimes, that means playing with spreadsheets for three days, but I have no complaints. Hopefully Mike, Tina, and Luke can continue to find more diverse ways to use me in the office as the weeks go by.

 

Til next time…

 

Back to the Beginning

Thursday, June 20, 2013 1:57 pm

The onus for the inception of Alpha Waste was quite simple really. Mike Thomson, a sales rep and manager at Yates Disposal, decided that he could run his own similarcompany at a lower cost. Mike founded Alpha Waste Industries in July 2011, nearly two years ago. He did so by negotiating a contract with North Davidson Garbage Service, in which they formed a partnership, yet remained separate entities. This was crucial because North Davidson Garbage has the largest recycling separator in the state of North Carolina – one which we are privy to use free of charge, giving us an enormous leg up on the competition for recyclable waste. Additionally, we can lower costs across the board due to those savings, resulting in our guarantee of beatingany competition’s quoted service by 15%.

Most of the growing pains that I have experienced in my first month are just that: growing pains. With only 8 employees, there are many areas of running a business that are simply not accounted for off the bat. This is not to say that critical things are getting ignored, but there is a lack of efficiency in many areas. Things such as IT and truck maintenance specifically cause larger problems than they would with a larger company with a more diverse range of employees. For us, fixing these things takes timeaway fromour usual job description, and is likely not fixed in the fastest way possible since we have no, for example, IT professionals on staff.

Another problem I have come across is a lack of proper due diligence for some small yet important aspects of the business. The best example that comes to mind comes from a meeting I sat in on earlier this week with commercial insurance representatives from BB&T, with whom Mikehad just recently set up payment collection software. Unfortunately, he had also recently added commercial insurance (things such as worker’s compensation and injury protection) through a different company. Had Alpha Waste been aware that BB&T is the largest commercial insurance provider in North Carolina, we almost certainly would have used them for both insurance and banking. The current set-up is not a bad or inherently wrong one, yet using BB&T would definitely have saved time, likely saved money, and probably saved headaches of dealing with people in an unnecessary manner. Small things like this are of critical importance to start-ups since the margin for error between becoming a sustainable firm and dying out after a few years can be so thin.

Office Makeup

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 1:12 pm

Since Alpha Waste is such a young company with only a handful of employees, this will likely be a shorter yet more thorough blog than most. Starting at the top, Mike Thomson is the founder and president of Alpha Waste. He had several years experience managing commercial garbage services at other companies, and ultimately decided that he could makea cheaper and more efficient service on his own. However, starting a business requires much more than knowledge of the industry. He oversees everything from accounting to finding more efficient routes for the drivers to take, and even dropping off dumpsters from time to time.

Of course, Mike can not always be in the office or handle every bill that we receive, which is why we have Tina. Tina runs the office in a sort of manager/accountant/receptionist hybrid. Almost every afternoon leaves only her and I in the office, and I am far from qualified or knowledgeable enough to be able to answer any kind of question that may come in. However,Tina has been here almost since the beginning of Alpha Waste so she understands how every single thing works and how to get it done. She performs way too many tasks every day even for me to begin to list them.

Luke is Alpha Waste’s only sales representative currently, although it absolutely looks like another will need to be added in the very near future. Luke is also my supervisor and thus the man for whom I set up face to face meetings to deliver our quotes. He used to work in insurance sales and has taught me a good amount about both cold calling and these in-person appointments. For example, he used to use a good trick to try to get someone’s interest that would otherwise be about to hang up – the 3 F’s. Tell the person you are speaking to that “I understand how you Feel, other customers have Felt the same way, but they Found that they truly did save a good bit of money.” This is no surefire magic trick of course, but cold calling is difficult if you go through it robotically and do not try to make connections with the people you are speaking to.

Finally, we have Jo who does the same things that I do but in a part-time capacity. While I am mostly calling Winston-Salem businesses since I am more familiar with that area of course, Jo is making calls to High Point. She is also setting up appointments for Luke so we must communicate and ensure that his schedule stays organized and does not get double-booked. Of course, we also have several drivers who must pick up and deliver the dumpsters – Rob the driver supervisor, Cedric, Daniel, and Jonathan. They all worked for other similar companies before making the switch with Mike and are all great characters.

I have been enjoying working in such a small office because its easy to see where and how each individual is contributing. We have people driving sales and driving dumpsters, and others collecting payments, dealing with customer needs, etc. These aren’t huge departments of people that you may never meet in a more corporate setting, but people that I have been interacting with every hour at least. It gives the whole business a way more personal feel making work much more enjoyable and relativelystress-free.

 

Starting at a Start-Up

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 5:23 pm
 

My name is Charlie Garner and I am a rising senior majoring in Mathematics and minoring in Entrepreneurship & Social Enterprise, through whom I was lucky enough to find my internship for the summer. I am interning for a commercial waste management start-up company called Alpha Waste Industries. They are based in Lexington, NC, approximately 20 miles south of Winston-Salem, and have been in business for nearly two years – since July 2011. It is still a very small company with only ten employees but they seem to be doing very well.

My main responsibility to this point has been to set up appointments for our sales representative to deliver quotes for our service to businesses of all shapes and sizes in Winston-Salem and the immediate surrounding area. I do so by making at least one hundred cold calls per day, aided by another woman in our office doing the same for the High Point area. The goal is to sell permanent on-site dumpsters to places such as restaurants, apartment complexes, shopping centers, or anyone else who can use a dumpster. We offer several different sizes and pickup frequencies to cater to each client. Additionally, I contact construction companies in order to rent
them larger roll-off dumpsters at their job sites. It can be a tedious job at times, yet rewarding to see how my efforts directly drive our sales. There are a limited number of businesses in the area of course, and in such a small office I have been used in many ways – creating driver routes, mailing marketing materials, even jumping the dump trucks when necessary – and expect to be more diversely utilized in the coming weeks.

Over the course of the summer, I believe I will learn a lot about how a startup operates. Mike Thomson, the President of Alpha Waste, has explained to me that while my duties may seem somewhat trivial at first, that I will gain valuable insight as to how he runs the business. He knows that I am here first and foremost for the learning experience and not just to work as free labor for the summer. For example, I will be learning how to use the internal management system to generate quotes and invoices later this week and am excited for my duties to expand.

I am looking forward to my first full summer experiencing a real office environment. I had a five-week internship after taking classes for the beginning of last summer, but felt that there was a lot more valuable experience that I left on the table. I am excited to see what kind of impact I can have at Alpha Waste as well as watching myself grow along with the company.

 

 


Charles E. Garner III

Wake Forest University ’14

BA: Mathematics
Entrepreneurship & Social Enterprise Minor
garnce0@wfu.edu

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