Sure, more and more companies in the so-called sharing economy are attaching the Uber label to themselves as they promise the same industry shakeup as the controversial ride-sharing service. But only one of them, Dunwoody’s Rubicon Global, has actually hired away Uber’s former CFO, CTO and its top advisor as it tries to bring the on-demand business model to the trash pickup industry.
Oh, and Rubicon may also the only sharing economy company that can claim a freshly-minted Academy Award winner as an investor.
Last fall, Leonardo DiCaprio – who won an Oscar last Sunday for his work in “The Revenant” – joined Goldman Sachs, Henry Kravis of KKR fame and Tudor Investment Corporation for a $50 million funding round of Rubicon. No doubt Rubicon’s goal of fewer overstuffed landfills appealed to the actor’s activism in climate change and sustainability, something DiCaprio made clear in his acceptance speech.
Rubicon was already generating a lot of attention for its business model, rapid growth, and its $500 million valuation. During the week before the Oscars, Rubicon was named one of theMost Innovative Companies of 2016 by Fast Company.
But inquiring minds want to know: Has there been a “Leo effect” resulting in even more press and funding?
All COO Phil Rodoni will say, with a laugh, is that “our fellow Rubiconites are quite happy.” That may have more to do with any future marketing initiatives that might necessitate a trip to company headquarters for the movie star.
“Our partnership with Leonardo DiCaprio is to showcase the opportunity there is for investors to align with companies that are trying to make a change, and be an option for people regarding their impact on the environment,” added Brian Simms, Vice President of Rubicon’s small/midsize business division. “He’s very active in that space and we wanted to show there’s an opportunity to work with a company that can help accomplish that.”
Rubicon says its technology encourages its business customers and its network of independent trash haulers to find more efficient ways of getting rid of garbage while making more use of recycling. Cloud-based software and an app allow customers to call upon trash haulers only when they need it, and Rubicon shares data with its customers as they search for efficiency. All that can reduce customer costs by 20-40 percent, said Simms.
“This is a purpose-driven company,” Rodoni said. “You have to think about how I can be more efficient than the other guy. How can I bring large networks of customers as well as haulers and providers together? And in this day and age, there really is no other way to do that than technology.”
Rubicon started that mission in 2008, but has seen a doubling of its size in each of the last two years; it now has more than 200 employees. The company has 60,000 garbage/recycling pickup locations throughout North America. Rubicon plays matchmaker for its independent haulers and business customers in a wide variety of industries including healthcare, construction, retailers, food/hospitality and government. Brands dealing with Rubicon include 7-Eleven, Wegman’s and Dollar General.
Yet, it was people, not technology, that came first in the Rubicon story. “We started with customer acquisition,” Simms said. “If you’re a guy who owns ten trucks in north Georgia, you can’t gain access to the Dollar Generals of the world, so we gave them access to customer types that they historically didn’t have access to. So when we introduced technology, there was already strength in the relationships.”
Rubicon’s road may be smoother than that of Uber’s, thanks to the lessons learned by its former executives who are now working for the startup. Relations with its hauler community network are not adversarial. “Those are our partners,” Rodoni said. “This is a case of helping the industry out rather than hurting it. These are people who were competing on an unequal field with Waste Management and Republic, and all of a sudden we’re giving them a chance to compete with these larger clients.”
But those A-list trash companies may fight back by using the same tactics that Uber faced in New York and other cities. They could put regulatory targets on Rubicon while raising questions about the vetting of its trash hauling vendors. Certain industries like healthcare, construction and government have special needs when it comes to getting rid of their garbage.
“Our hauler onboarding process puts them through vetting and quality assurance, so we’re only partnering with a certain standard or caliber of local haulers,” Simms added. “That’s what we do to protect ourselves.”
That network should grow in 2016, along with Simms’ SMB sales team within Rubicon. The company will use its funding from DiCaprio and others to add 18 countries to its area of operations, validating the “Global” in its name. Rubicon will eventually add residential services to its offerings.
Simms is thrilled that Rubicon can build a startup worthy of so much attention in Atlanta. “When you’re building an organization like this, talent is such a critical ingredient,” Simms said. “A lot of that talent is clamoring to have the type of opportunity that gets them excited within their home turf so they don’t have to go to New York or Silicon Valley or Seattle.”