Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Crunching Numbers, Curbing Trash

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Crunching Numbers, Curbing Trash

Article excerpt

For Sequoia Waste Solutions, there is opportunity in sorting out the deceptive complexity of throwing stuff away.

You see a trash bin at the back of an apartment building or pizza shop. Sequoia sees a target for data-driven innovation.

The young O'Hara company's mission is to make waste handling less confusing so that efficiencies -- and cost-savings -- are easier to spot. It has developed analytical tools to better manage businesses' waste.

The idea for the 6-year-old startup came to CEO Charlie Dolan during an internship at a private equity office in Pittsburgh, when he met a colleague who had worked at a traditional waste brokerage.

The normal practice of renegotiating waste contracts, he learned, involves a one-time service with a long-term benefit, but it "really doesn't increase efficiency in the industry and is very price focused," he said.

He saw an opportunity to use information to offer clients better service, not just during a contract negotiation, but during the life of a waste-hauling agreement. Sensors for waste bins were getting cheaper, smart phones were making it easier to document problems, and there was an opening to develop software to improve efficiency and customer care.

The company was founded in 2011 when Mr. Dolan, now just 25, was an undergraduate at Villanova University. He won a regional student entrepreneur competition for his venture two years later.

Sequoia's 15 employees operate out of RIDC Park in O'Hara. Company officials say Sequoia now serves hundreds of customers in Western Pennsylvania and across the country, with local clients including Echo Realty and Oxford Development Co. Mr. Dolan's older brother, Brian, 34, is the company's president.

Those sloping floors

Without getting too specific about the kinds of technologies they use -- Brian Dolan called it their "secret sauce" -- the brothers offered as an example of their ability to extract and analyze otherwise opaque information from invoices to ensure their clients are being billed according to their contract terms for the actual service they receive.

Did a hauler miss a pickup and then bill the client for having too much garbage outside the bin during the next round?

"If you can track these things, like we can, that's something that you might dispute," Charlie Dolan said.

Sequoia is also working with clients that are developing new properties to incorporate smart waste management into their buildings' design. The company calculates how much and what kinds of trash will be generated by tenants at different times, then weighs the best options for servicing all of it.

Sequoia can help identify, and eliminate, obstacles before they are built, like threshold bumps or sloping floors where a worker will be pushing a 300-pound garbage bin.

"At a basic level, it is using data to tell a story that you project upon the plans," Brian Dolan said. …

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