This month, Matthew Hollis’s company, Elytus, celebrated its ninth anniversary. In the beginning, the Columbus, Ohio-based company set out to develop software for large hauling companies to manage subcontractor relationships.
But several years ago, at WasteExpo, they were approached by a representative from a large national retail chain who wanted to buy the software, teach her staff to run it and manage the waste and recycling in house rather than by using a broker.
Suddenly, says Elytus president Matthew Hollis, the company and its software were headed in a new direction. Drawing a line in the sand, the company decided the market was headed toward going to the end customer, so in time, it phased out those hauling company and broker customers and retooled the software for large chain operators.
Today, whether working to reduce waste and recycling costs for a large chain retail store, or measuring the food waste at a national restaurant chain like Bob Evans, Elytus’ software compiles a long list of local vendors for handling different areas of waste management and determines the best vendors to meet the client’s needs. That software platform handles businesses’ waste management needs from procurement to payment, saving clients time and money, while giving them options, transparency and reporting all along the process.
Waste360: What does Elytus do and when did you get started?
Matthew Hollis: We were founded on Jan. 7, 2007. We just celebrated our ninth birthday, so we are pretty excited about that. Essentially, what we do is, we have developed a web-based software platform that we sell to our customers on a software-as-a-service model.
Waste360: What exactly is a software-as-a-service model?
Matthew Hollis: A software-as-a-service model is when a company has a piece of web-based software, which is what we have, that’s hosted on the internet. What happens is that clients can buy that software essentially on a monthly subscription basis. So they pay a monthly access fee and then they get access to the software.
We developed a web-based software platform and decided to use it as a software-as-a-service model, which is the way that a lot of software companies are going. It used to be that you would buy the package and you would pay them to maintain it on a periodic basis. But a lot more companies are saying hey, let’s have everything in the cloud and just access it.
Waste360: How does it work for a large chain operator?
Matthew Hollis: Cinemark Theaters, for example, is a customer of ours. They have 300 theaters across the United States. What our software does is, it manages everything from procurement to payment. We have a module inside the software where they would load all of their services, whether it be compactors and front loads, open-tops, bailers etc. whatever services they need. Then we have a database that we are constantly working on, building over 5,000 service vendors from the small mom-and-pop haulers with one or two trucks, all the way up to the Waste Managements of the world. And we invite everybody to bid—or put in their pricing. The software then will make a recommendation based on the needs of the client.
So the client would load all of their waste scenarios into the software, and (the software) would make recommendations based on what the client’s goals are. The big difference is then they get to make the decision. So the client may say, “We’ve been with this very small local hauler for a very long time and they’ve done a great job servicing us, even though they may not be the cheapest, we’d rather stay with them, if we could.” So they can override the system recommendations and assemble the waste portfolio that they want for their company.
Then our goal is to put together a direct contract relationship between that end customer and that hauler—small, regional or midsized, or whatever size. And generally what our customers do is they have a boiler plate master services agreement that essentially says if you want to do business with Cinemark here are the terms and conditions that we want to do business on. We ask the vendor to sign that agreement as is, without modification, and we don’t have a problem with that at all. In fact, the smaller contractors are just happy that they have a contract with a large, national chain.
Waste360: How do you reach out to your customers?
Matthew Hollis: We do a lot of our sales prospecting through Linked In. We also are a member of a number of facilities organizations like Restaurant Facility Management Association or the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association and the Edison Electric Institute—different areas where we find that customers and sustainability leaders inside these organizations are a part of.
Waste360: What about the vendors, do they pay to be included on your list?
Matthew Hollis: The biggest thing from a hauler standpoint is that we are not a broker. We are not a management company. We are not expecting any compensation from them. We don’t make any money on the vendors. We don’t mark up any services. We have no fees to them. At the end of the day, our job is to make theirs easier. We’re going to do whatever we can to get their information into the software so that they can work on these larger accounts. We aren’t hiding anything from the customer. Everything they submit to us is visible to the actual end customer. We aren’t sitting there picking preferred vendors and different haulers that only we want to do business with because that’s not our policy.
Waste360: What is the advantage for Cinemark, for example, or another retailer, to use your software versus calling up Republic Services or Waste Management or Joe’s Local Haulers and signing a contract?
Matthew Hollis: I think the advantage is that we also add professional services, where we’ll manage it as an extension of them. What we find is that a lot of large retail chains don’t have the staff to appropriately manage a waste and recycling program. So they can bring us on board for a nominal, per-location, per-month cost of the software and the same for the management of it. Our software connects directly with their accounting package and we use expert-type accounts in order to do all of the payments on their behalf and so it comes with a significant amount of transparency, control and then ultimately it is reporting.
Some of our clients get a daily dump of all of their attendance numbers from all of their theaters, and they know exactly how many pounds of trash per person they’re generating throughout the portfolio, which helps them to optimize their compactors to make sure that they’re not getting pulled light. So because of that, they’re able to adjust their costs, and do their sustainability projections from the reporting. Nobody else in the country is able to give them that level of sophistication inside of the waste program because they just don’t have the technology that we have.
We also do that with a lot of restaurant chains, we get dumps of guest counts so we can give them the cost per guest for waste services. We also manage the grease trap, fry oil, exhaust hoods and any of those categories we can give that intelligence to it as well.
It’s the age-old adage, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. And when you go with a master contract, like a large national account, you only get the information that they want you to see or that they’re willing and able to share with you. With our type of platform model, you get information into everything. They can pull up images of bills. They can view audit records. They can see payment records. They can see contracts. When you decide as a company that you’re going to claim LEED status or get to zero waste, the EPA doesn’t say well all you have to do is declare, ‘I’ve made zero waste.’ You have to have all of the documentation to prove you’ve made it to zero waste. So our software is assisting a lot of customers in working toward that goal and keeping that paper and audit trail as time moves on.
Waste360: Do you find end users for things like the used fryer grease your restaurant customers are getting rid of?
Matthew Hollis: We handle Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy and I like to brag about them because of their sustainability. We have diversion reporting for their waste to show them how much cardboard and recyclables and glass and compost that you took out of the waste stream. But then, on the grease trap side, we are able to source it and say here’s what percentage of the collected grease went to biodiesel versus animal feed versus some other type of end of life thing. They are able to pull reports in real time, saying to date, this is how many gallons of waste oil or this is how many gallons of grease trap pump you’ve had. And this is the percentages of where it’s going. Then, in the RFP process, they’re also able to give preference or selection to vendors who are turning it to biodiesel or some other less-sustainable model.
Waste360: Talk about your motto, “Waste Nothing.”
Matthew Hollis: We truly believe that everybody should waste nothing. I think that extends into three milestones, so to speak and the first is to not waste the talent of your people. When we come in to a customer, a lot of times what I find is that they are frustrated with their waste categories because it is like herding cats to manage something like that. There’s a lot of overhead admin that needs to be done. There’s a lot of moving vendors. There’s small vendors that go out of business. There’s regulatory compliance—that’s probably the number one nightmare that our customers are trying to work through. So you shouldn’t be wasting the talent of your people. What we find is that a lot of times the people who are solving the missed pickups and things like that are also the people who have been tapped with executing the sustainability strategy. Every hour that they spend on the phone trying to get a missed pickup resolved is one more hour that they’re not spending trying to get the company closer to something that is more sustainable.
Waste360: What’s the second one?
Matthew Hollis: We don’t think you should waste natural resources. It’s our environment. We only have one earth. You don’t get to just replace that. Throwing away your recyclable material—the low-hanging fruit—the single-stream, the cardboard, the grease. It’s really all about helping customers get educated and understanding that there are other ways to dispose of it. It does not have to be cradle to grave. It can be cradle to cradle.
I think, it’s educating the customer through the software. When we bring in a customer, we’re going to save them money—statistically 10 to 30 percent off every account we bring in. So the question is—OK you’re going to save money on the category, if you can save 1 to 2 percent less but be more sustainable, is it worth it? And a lot of times the customer will say yes. But they never knew the cost was that similar because they don’t get to see that data on a regular basis. So we’re really working to help them reduce the resources.
Cinemark is great example of that. They weren’t doing any recycling when we came on board with them four or five years ago. We were able to implement recycling at every single theater and it was cost neutral—they didn’t actually have to spend any more money.
Waste360: What’s left?
Matthew Hollis: You don’t want to waste the dollars of your budget. At the end of the day, what we are finding is that these small haulers are out there kicking butt, trying to do the best they can trying to earn a living for their family and when they move through a broker model—that broker is beating them up to get the absolute best price. Then they’re adding a margin for themselves and then it’s going to the customer. With our model, we can come in and eliminate that margin, and go direct to that small hauler. We can pay that small hauler more, so that they’re making more margin, so they can grow their business, so they can reinvest and continue operations and the customer ultimately ends up paying less.