Trash for cash
All products go through the different lifecycle stages of introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. As such, companies need to learn about the lifecycle stage to set performance goals, such as sales and profit growth targets, and make resource allocation decisions, such as strategic and human resource planning. A product lifecycle can last for several days or even continue for years.
When a product is introduced onto the market, if successful, demand will increase, and so will its popularity. Naturally, these newer products end up pushing older ones out of the market, effectively replacing them. The stage of a product's lifecycle impacts the way in which it is marketed to consumers.
However, product manufacturers often don’t know what happens to their product once it’s sold. This is a critical moment in the lifecycle of a product as it’s the time when it’s being used by the customer.
AI startup, founded by serial entrepreneur Al Costa, TeknTrash, aims to change this with its solution that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to locate products at recycling centres and match them to the shops where they were originally sold, as well as obtaining valuable consumer data.
The idea is that companies register their products with TeknTrash so that they can monitor them. TeknTrash understands that there is a huge recycling problem across the globe, and in order to recognise this the company encourages recycling with an incentive. Costa explained: “We urge our users to take pictures of their products before throwing them in the bin. We offer points for good recycling and enter users in our competitions. The users will also get kudos from the community, recognising their efforts to be good recyclers. Our plan for the future is to award people financially - so the more pictures they take then the more money they can earn!”
The technology used can identify registered products as they pass on the belt of carrying waste at recycling centres and matches the origin all the way to the shop where it was first sold. Machine learning allows for the training of any product in the system. Big Data allows users to match the history to the information provided by the company. TeknTrash also uses blockchain technology to ensure the credibility of the entire supply chain.
The idea behind TeknTrash is to allow consumer product companies to understand their consumers better, avoid stock piling, change the packaging, use alternative materials, focus on sales and encourage people to recycle.
AI in the current landscape
When talking about the importance of AI in the current tech landscape, Costa said: “We are living in the third wave of technology. The first was the internet, which effectively created the pathways for information, the second was Big Data, which created the data for those pathways, and the third is AI, which effectively created meaning to that data.
“In that sense, given the massive amount of data we are collecting, if we had to process it by hand, I don't think the entire human population would be enough to complete the task. So, this is also a very important benefit of the technology.”
Although AI has received plenty of negative press in the past, Costa believes that this criticism is nothing new. He explained further: “It only reminds me of the meaning of the word ‘sabotage’, which originates from ‘sabot’, which is a kind of wooden shoe farmers used to keep their feet dry. During the Industrial Revolution they thought that machines were destroying jobs, so they would throw those in the works in order to destroy them.”
Sometimes funding can be the biggest hurdle to overcome in a startups journey. When asked about TeknTrash’s funding process, Costa explained: “Fundraising is never easy but there’s always the danger of giving too much focus to fundraising because you’ll then loose your main focus. For us, our first focus is getting people to our website to sign up their products and then fundraising comes second. We believe it should be like this for all companies.”
Since its launch in 2018, TeknTrash has grown to a team of five with half of its staff based in London and the rest based in Barcelona, Spain. But it wasn’t the easiest journey to find the right people for the job, and Costa explained that he really struggled to find qualified people. The company interviewed some great professionals with great degrees from universities, but they just weren’t the right fit for TeknTrash. Costa stressed the importance of overcoming the technical and personal part before hiring the right people.
Looking towards the future
Although coronavirus has thrown a spanner in the works for many businesses, big or small, TeknTrash looks towards the future with hope and a big focus on growth. When asked if the company might incorporate any new technologies into their product in the future, Costa explained: “Sony started making rice cookers, Nokia started selling toilet paper... even our model differs wildly to what we originally started with. Having said that, ours is an evolving model, so we plan to incorporate any new technology we can think of, in order to capture every single bit of data from any trash. It is said that data is money: if that is indeed true, then losing data means losing money, and that's not something any company can afford.”