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Episode 6: Managing Operational Complexity and Reducing Waste by Thinking Inside the Box

April 18, 2023

"Very few people start businesses, fail, and then try the same business again. So I did and — knock on wood — it worked the second time around," says Marty Metro, Founder and CEO of UsedCardboardBoxes and UCBZeroWaste, in our newest podcast episode. It was a simple problem he was trying to solve: he didn't want to spend money on new boxes to move. As Metro drove around to find used, free boxes discarded by stores, he realized there was a business model there: gather used boxes and get them to companies who need them.

The first business he started that did this was a "colossal failure." But Metro tried again, this time launching UsedCardboardBoxes differently, with "funding and technology, and a focus and a management team and infrastructure." Today, they are the largest processor of used boxes in North America and their clients include Dole, General Mills, Kellogg's, McCormick Spice, Walmart, and Walgreens.

But how do you manage the operations of a company with such high complexity and intricacy that involves sourcing a box with a specific dimension in one location and getting it to a customer across the country? Metro tells us in our newest podcast episode.

Finding Solutions to Operational Complexity and Reducing Waste

In order to build the company correctly on the second try, Metro knew UsedCardboardBoxes needed to solve their operational problems with technology. But where would they find a software solution that could do the real-time matches they required, and manage the pickup, inventory, and delivery of those specific boxes? They didn't search for one, but built it in-house instead. "We built the technology around our business model, which was expensive, complicated," explains Metro in the podcast. "The amount of money we spent building our software, we could have been a software company and we could have sold it to other companies. But instead, we built it for us. And it's allowed us to create this entire marketplace."

Metro also needed to solve the challenge of keeping employees communicating and working towards the same goal in a growing company. Again, they turned to technology, this time implementing an EOS system that categorizes everything in the company into either a "to do" or an "issue" to be discussed. They also had to solve the challenge of shifting their culture to think in terms of ROI for any decision, not just if it would be cool to build.

Finally, Metro and his business partners realized that they could take the technology and operational knowledge they had and broaden their scope to help companies solve their waste problems and make them more efficient. "We started looking at how much money these big Fortune 500 companies are spending, to 'get rid of waste.' And we were so appalled," Metro says, describing UCBZeroWaste, a branch of UsedCardboardBoxes. "We could take the foundation of our software, which is designed for boxes, and we could back up and look at how we can design software for all waste."

In This Episode …

Not only has UsedCardboardBoxes solved a waste problem for a number of companies, they've also created ways to handle internal complexities and reduce costs by building custom software — which is now being used to solve bigger sustainability challenges. Listen to our conversation with Marty Metro to learn more about how to solve operational challenges, and how an entrepreneur did it right the second time around.

Topics Discussed:

  • Marty's journey from founding a business, failing at that business, and then relaunching the same business with a new vision, management, infrastructure, and operational plan.
  • The operational process of how UsedCarboardBoxes acquires its boxes, sorts them, inventories them, and ships them to customers who need them.
  • How UsedCarboardBoxes designed and built its own robust in-house software to track boxes, run matches "twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week," and connect boxes to the right people. 
  • The importance of viewing business decisions through the lens of ROI, and how to change a culture from "building cool stuff" to making decisions that will have an impact on revenue and cash flow.
  • The technology UsedCarboardBoxes implements to keep their team on the same page when it comes to projects and decision-making, and why everything is either a "to do" or an "issue."
  • Advice for business managers and entrepreneurs about what is most critical to measure in order to benchmark success.
  • How UCBZeroWaste is transforming waste management with its tracking software, allowing companies to see how much they're spending on waste so they can better manage their sustainability efforts and carbon footprint.

Resources Mentioned: 

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