Meet Ryan Begin, CEO of Divert, which was founded on the goal of creating innovative and efficient solutions toward eliminating food waste from the retail industry. In this episode of NothingWasted!, we spoke with Ryan about using data to reduce food waste, the key inflection points in a growing business, and more.
Here is a glimpse into what we discussed:
Waste360: Would you tell us about your journey?
Begin: It probably goes back to coming out of undergraduate, knowing I wanted to be within renewable energy. Growing up in a small town in Maine, I’d had exposure to things like building a solar car from the ground up. After graduating, I went into Proton Energy Systems. In the early 2000s, the premise was the hydrogen economy; it was a really exciting time. I later went on to Raytheon and met some folks who introduced me to the concept of food waste.
The fact that grocery stores were throwing wasted food away had never occurred to me. Now, looking at the statistics, $40,000 per month per store, of food going to waste, is incredible. So, we looked at ‘what do you do with food waste?’ with a distributed network idea: anaerobic digestion on a small scale behind the grocery store, which was really unique. We built our first system and had a great experience, which led us into our first project with Kroger.
Waste360: Can you share any client stories?
Begin: We’ve been on a journey with our customers. It used to be ‘zero waste,’ and retail partners were coming to us saying, ‘we need to get our food waste out of landfills.’ That was in the early 2010s. Now, the perspective is that we need to be more responsible and value food differently—to reduce, not just divert it.
Waste360: Can you talk about your recent influx of private equity support?
Begin: We’ve scaled faster and moved into new markets; it’s growing our technology team; it’s growing our executive leadership; making investments on the plant side, additional innovations that we’ve been thinking about for years.
Waste360: I’m sure you’re planning for even more now.
Begin: We are. Because of our success, we have never lost a customer in 15 years. We value the relationships and always approach things with the solution mindset. I think we’re starting to get recognized for that now within the industry. Our customers are asking us to go faster, and that begets more capital.
Waste360: What are some of the challenges you’ve had in scaling?
Begin: There are definitely some inflection points. That first million in revenue—very difficult to achieve. And you start to learn more about yourself, your industry, your business model and solutions. The next inflection point is ten million, and everything sort of breaks—your accounting system, customer service, things that were working and you could communicate easily. It’s hard to do. You have to think about scaling the team and the scaling of the business at that point. Now we’re growing every single day, and communication processes are very important. You have to have trust—and the way to achieve that is to have a very clear vision within the business.
Listen to the full episode above.