Jason Gates, CEO and Co-Founder of Compology, is a subject matter expert in the industrial application of sensors, data collection and analysis, and waste collection. Compology’s web-based software, powered by image-based sensors, makes container and waste production data easily accessible and useful for haulers, generators, regulators and processors. Gates is a Waste360 40 under 40 winner and holds a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Maryland.
John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. It is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity focused hardware destruction company in the United States, and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business, properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit ERIdirect.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian and I’m so honored that with me, a good friend, Jason Gates. He’s the CEO and founder of Compology. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Jason.
Jason Gates: Thanks for having me, John. Glad to be here.
John: Hey, you have such a great brand and you’re doing so many wonderful things. In fact, you have a great story from yesterday to tell us today. But before we get talking about Compology and all you’re doing there. Can you share a little bit about the Jason Gates background. Where you grow up? Where you get educated and what really inspired you to get to where you are today?
Jason: I grew up in Westchester County, New York and I thought that I wanted to work in construction. I went to school to be a civil engineer and build infrastructure projects, like bridges, and tunnels, and roads. I thought that stuff was really interesting. When I took my first job out of undergrad, I was working for a construction management firm. Building the Second Avenue Subway line in Manhattan, which was incredible. As the lowest man on the totem pole, my job or part of it was managing the waste coming off of our construction project.
John: Oh, kidding.
Jason: What was supposed to be a part part of my responsibility ended up becoming a full-time time commitment, because the tools that I had available to me we’re pretty limited. It was an excel spreadsheet, footboard, or cell phone. We had construction project that was 60 blocks long. We had shifts running 24 hours a day, producing waste. We had different material streams that needed to be disposed of in different places, and of course, different vendors that we needed to coordinate with coordinate service, coordinate payment, get manifest and wait tickets from the waste that they were removing the site, and keep that all organized. When I live that experience of how painful that job was, it shouldn’t have been my full-time responsibility.
Jason: That was what really inspired me to say, there’s gotta be some technology that we can bring to the waste and recycling industry that can make it operate more efficiently.
John: You know, being a native New Yorkers. Well, I grew up on the queen side, you grew up on the Westchester side of New York was recycling or waste, or waste disposal prior to your Second Avenue Subway experience, part of your growing up was Westchester a green community ‘cause I’m not that familiar with Westchester except doing business up there and things of that such for growing up. Where there extra bins at your house or not really as part of your culture and family life growing up?
Jason: Growing up, we always had a blue bin for commingled recycling. We always had separate paper stream that got collected. I think my parents because they were very diligent about rinsing every jar and every container before putting it in the bin. The way I earned some allowance growing up was taking out that recycling in the trash once a week.
John: You already had a little experience for mom and dad and where you were growing up, and then it became a bigger experience as a rookie on the Second Avenue Subway line. Got it.
Jason: That’s right.
John: So where do things go from there? So now you have a little bit of aha moment, having to get rid of this very diverse waste stream all the debris [?]. When did you start walking towards becoming an entrepreneur then?
Jason: I was having a conversation with a very close friend of mine, Ben Jabar, who he and I went to high school together. We remained close friends. When we went to undergrad and into our professional careers. Ben is as far more technical than I am. He’s into the nitty-gritty of the actual technology. It was really his idea when I started sharing some of the frustrations out of having in my day-to-day job to say, if we put a sensor on some of these dumpsters, and tracked where they’re located, and how full they are, and things like that, we can totally change the way that you would have to do your job.
John: So then that discussion starts and you’re trying to figure out how to make waste disposal more efficient. When if you both sit down and how did you sit down? Was it over the phone, over a beer and say, “Let’s just do this. Let’s just jump off the cliff together and figure out how to build the airplane on the way down.”
Jason: Yeah. I credit my co-founder Ben a lot for being the catalyst here. He was actually interested in changing jobs. He was the one to say, “Hey, can we take this idea that we’ve been working on and can we make it a full-time thing? He was the one who convinced me to leave the corporate job, and the salary, and take the plunge, and we actually ended up both moving back in with our parents in Westchester.
John: What year is it?
Jason: This is in 2012.
John: That’s great. Then you started, where was the office in your garage, his garage, your home, his home, or how did that work?
Jason: Whoever’s refrigerator had leftover food in it, that’s where we work.
John: I love that. I love it. That’s wonderful. So, I’m on your site now, Compology, www.compology.com. Compology.com. For our listeners and viewers to find Ben, to find Jason and all the great work they’re doing. So, when did you put the business a real business together? I knew you had something and launched Compology and the mission that you have today.
Jason: The first couple of years that we were established as a business were actually trying to find what was the right product market fit. We knew there was something there in terms of introducing technology into the waste and recycling industry. But, it wasn’t really until about 2015 that we recognized the power of putting a camera inside a dumpster. What we do today is build a waste metering system. This is what we install in commercial and industrial dumpsters. The camera that you can see it fits right here in the palm of my hand.
Jason: We’re now on the 13th generation of this camera. Fourteenth generation is going into production later this year.
Jason: What this camera does is it’s taking pictures several times a day as a dumpster fills up. We send those images up through the cell network to the cloud where we use our artificial intelligence to automatically determine how full the dumpsters are, when they’re being serviced, and a content analysis of the types of material that are going inside the container. So, the idea is we can use these data points to meter waste similar to other utilities just like you might meter your water consumption. Your electricity consumption, your natural gas consumption. For businesses and cities to help them save money and reduce their carbon footprint.
John: Love it. From ‘12 to ‘15, when you guys were sitting in each other’s kitchens working on this idea together. How many iterations did it take and to get you to that aha moment with the camera that you just held up in ‘15 to realize, this is the way you wanna go, and this can be commercially scalable in a real business?
Jason: We started by actually thinking that we were going to build a full dumpster that was outfitted with different kinds of technology and focus specifically on collecting food waste. We thought we had some nifty ideas on how we could extend the time between collection events for food waste. So, it could be picked up less often, save money on collection costs. That involved an ultrasonic sensor to measure how for [?] the smart dumpster was gonna be. It was in late 2014 early 2015, that we started to think about, hey, could we take that sensor out of this smart dumpster and just retrofit into any commercial dumpster. Any dumpster that was larger than two cubic yards used for landfill garbage, recycling, compost, scrap metal, textiles, right? Doesn’t matter what the actual material stream is. Once we had that moment of clarity to say that the sensor was actually kind of the core value of what we were developing, we realized that ultrasonic sensors had a pretty limited data stream that they would provide us. It was just a distance measurement, how far from the sensor to whatever’s closest.
Jason: It was Ben who said, cameras are coming down and cost rapidly.
Jason: The technology around image processing is scaling every year. Why don’t we put a camera in the dumpster and take pictures. Analyze those pictures to determine the fullness, the service, and be able to do things like a content analysis. It took us seven iterations of the camera before we got to the– or seven iterations of our sensor.
Jason: Before we got to the camera idea, and then…
John: So, now you have the camera idea, you believe you have a business. Now, let’s talk about the necessary evil of capital.
John: How did you guys start? How did that start happening in terms of raising capital? So you guys can actually move out of mom and dad’s house, homes and have a business. Have a real business.
Jason: Our first capital raised, I joke around with Ben on time. I sold my 2006 Mazda for $9,000 and that was our…
John: That’s good.
Jason: I got a good deal on it.
John: That’s awesome.
Jason: That was our seed capital. We really started by putting everything on personal credit cards. We applied to a couple business plan competitions, and we’re fortunate enough to win small amount of money from those competitions. That really helped fund the early development. But once we found out the power of putting a camera in a dumpster, we went out to go sell a couple of contracts before we even had a product that was finished.
John: So smart.
Jason: It was companies like Google, which they were one of our first customers and they’re still a customer today. They took a bet on us and and signed contracts with us for a product that we hadn’t even built yet. We took those contracts and went to Angel Investors and some small seed stage venture capital funds and said, we’ve got something real here and that became the kind of true seed capital for Compology.
John: How many no’s you get before the yes is started coming in?
Jason: I think it’s in the order of magnitude of maybe 90 or 100 different people that we pitch to. I think what was really interesting was that most of those individuals and firms were interested in the idea. They knew something was there also.
Jason: But they didn’t have the expertise to really determine where we onto the right thing.
Jason: We brought on some additional partners, some advisors, and kind of continued building our team and as we did that and continued picking up momentum more and more people get caught their attention.
John: This was the ‘15 and ‘16 and those 2015 and ’16 we’re talking about these years?
Jason: Yeah. So in 2016, August Capital, which is a Silicon Valley. One of the historical Silicon Valley venture funds, they let our series A and that is what really became kind of the first transformational point for the business.
John: You know, raising capital in the space that you chose as opposed to strict SAS technology or other disruptive technologies that have done very well. You were trying to disrupt a legacy industry that had a lot of bodies, no pun intended, and it’s way. The waste industry is tried to been disrupted many, many, many times with a lot of, lot of victims that have been left behind. If both technology and non-technology with well-meaning people, with great ideas. So I even think you were climbing a higher mountain than most entrepreneurs because you’re, it was waste but also technology in waste. Never an easy journey, never an easy journey.
Jason: Yeah. I think it’s really interesting that you use the word disrupt. That’s such a common term used by my peers here in San Francisco and in technology, and we really took the approach that we’re partnering with the waste industry to help advance everybody. I think that mentality has served us really well to build trust.
Jason: To be viewed as a subject matter expert.
John: A friend, not a fault.
Jason: That’s right.
John: Yeah. I agree.
Jason: If you’re open to it and you wanna use the technology, we’ll show you how to use it and prove your own business.
John: I love it. I love it. For those who just joined us, we’ve got Jason Gates today. He’s a CEO and co-founder of Compology. To find Jason, and Ben, and they’re great partners in technology, please go to www.compology.com. Compology.com. I’m on your website. It’s a great website. You have videos. You have lots of great information here. Now, talk a little bit about the journey from ’16 to where we are today. How did you prove that out with Google? What other collaborations gave you the traction you needed to take this venture forward?
Jason: Yeah, 2016 and today we went from having hundreds of cameras deployed to now close to 200,000.
John: 200,000. All in the United States right now still. Is this all United states-based?
Jason: United States, Canada and Mexico.
John: Wonderful. Okay, great. Got it. That’s a big [inaudible].
Jason: The offering has certainly evolved over time in terms of the core value that we’re providing. I think what has been particularly interesting, we started seeing it in 2020, came through really strongly in 2021, and into this year in the future and what we’re really excited about is the focus on sustainability. It’s no longer waste metering because I need to save money. It’s waste metering because I need these business critical metrics on how much waste time producing and my carbon footprint related to waste. It happens to be a good financial decision also. I think that’s been one of the key shifts at the macro level that has been an inflection point for us.
John: The transparency and trackability that you give to your client base, is actually two of the key pillars of goodies she-behavior and the shift from the linear to circular economy that everyone’s looking for. So you now have a product that really helps each brand meet goals that they’ve been tasked with meeting that we’re never exist in 4, 5 years ago. He and she in circular economy goals are just really the last two or three years, a new and big thing for the brands that you’re pitching.
Jason: Right. Historically for waste metrics specifically, those had to be aggregated manually. They were typically requested from different regions of the company and each region might report differently. There was no check and balance as to where those metrics were even coming from. So, we’re a third party vendor. We have no financial benefit whether you do well or you don’t do well on hitting your ESG goals. We’re just here to help you improve, no matter where you are. We automate the measurement, the aggregation, and a lot of the reporting to the point where metrics that would be collected once every two or three years are now looked at on a weekly or monthly basis. Are used to drive real business decisions.
John: Jason, I was honored. I had the real pleasure and honor to meet you and your wife last year at Goldman Sachs. Great event where you were honored as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs in business models that they were following in the whole world, which is a huge honor for Compology, for you. When we first met, when I was asking you for specifics and examples, one of the great relationships you brought up is your relationship with the city of Miami, what you’ve done there. Can you share with our listeners and viewers what you did with Miami and why that’s such a compelling story?
Jason: Miami really is and we’re excited about that. One of the city commissioners reached out to Compology because Mayor Suarez had set some pretty impressive carbon emissions reduction goals for the city. Miami is particularly vulnerable to climate change, and rising sea levels, and bigger storm events. They wanted to show and actually make tangible progress towards defending themselves on that. So, one of the city commissioners reached out and said, we have this new initiative, would love to understand more about waste metering. That led to a pilot program where we installed at city buildings. This is police stations, fire stations, city hall, Marlins Park, and found that 63% of their containers could have service level reductions that would result in a cost savings of 40% just by sending the truck less often.
John: Wow. So when did you launch in City of Miami and how has it evolved since launch? Has that been the paradigm you’ve used when you talk to other cities across United States?
Jason: We launched in right at the end of September of this year. So when we saw each other in October that was still relatively fresh.
John: [inaudible] up but I asked for example, okay, great.
Jason: It was top of mind, yeah. Now we’re working with the city on changing the city code to require all businesses that generate two cubic yards of waste or more to meter their waste. That’s gonna be pretty game-changing for in carbon emissions of the city. But it’s also gonna give it the city, the view as to where waste is coming from, and how they’re doing against their waste reduction goals, and ultimately divert more waste from landfills.
John: So in terms of potential clients out there, if other cities whereas open as Mayor Suarez was, and is to what you’re doing. They could definitely make a huge impact and their waste reduction goals across United States. Small cities, big cities, Canada, Mexico, and everywhere that right now you are, your cameras should be adopted by cities across United States in the near term. That’s gonna help us get from this linear to circular economy in better shape.
Jason: That’s right. It’s a way to do it in a very cost effective way.
John: Corporations like you said Google, Google is a great example backdating back to ’15. Are you having traction with great corporations and forward thinking corporations like Google as well?
Jason: Our primary business today is selling directly to corporations. We actually work with 1300 unique brands that range in size from, it might be an individual owner-operator of a shopping center, all the way up through Fortune 500’s like, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, and Starbucks. Multifamily housing operators like, Invesco and Grace Star. Retailers like, Nordstrom’s and REI. So it really spans all different property types. Really the key factor there is, it’s companies that have distributed real estate portfolios.
John: That’s so fascinating. So really sort of the subliminal message you’re sharing here with our listeners is that, business transcends politics and can move faster, hopefully progressive and smart politicians like Mayor Suarez also will join in as he did and he’s got Miami involved, but cities are moving slower than businesses have. But eventually you’re gonna get to the cities to and cities are, of course, gonna move the needle in a massive way with Compology as well.
Jason: Right. I think the reason that we’re seeing that is because businesses are so focused on their bottom line. When we talk about sustainability solutions, the historical stigma has been that, it’s gonna take you 10 years to return your investment on, whatever it is that you’ve installed. Maybe the solar panels you’ve installed. What we’ve been able to very clearly demonstrate into the business model that we use is we can start delivering a 10 to 15 times return on investment every month. Based on our subscription based service, starting at the start of a contract with us.
So, a store like McDonald’s, we can deliver them $7,000 a year per restaurant in savings, which is a 14 times return on investment for McDonald’s.
John: That’s huge. Like you said the numbers are so compelling with corporations, they have to move fast so then municipalities and cities.
Jason: They’re motivated too, right? There’s kind of no reason not to.
John: 14X, that’s wild [?]. I know you shared a great story with me off the air when we started. Talk a little bit, share with our audience the importance of EPA’s national recycling strategy to all of us, not only United States but around the world because many ways as United States goes. So does the world but for the environment, for the future for our children, and for our grandchildren. What’s the EPA’s national recycling strategy look like? What were you doing yesterday that I want you to share with our listeners now?
Jason: So, I had a ton of fun yesterday and I’ll come back to that. But it was the EPA’s national recycling strategy was released in 2021. It is focused on laying out five strategic pillars that guide municipalities and state governments as well as federal agencies in starting to make decisions on how we can develop an economically sustainable domestic recycling industry. For historically, United States shipped a lot of our commingled and paper recycling to Asia. Primarily China. In 2018, the Chinese government stopped all imports of that recycle material, which at times was as much as 30% contaminate. So 30% garbage, 70% recyclables. The US recycling infrastructure was designed to collect sort to that level of cleanliness and ship away the rest, right? So there’s been a period where we’ve had somewhat of a reckoning here to say, well, we need to develop a domestic recycling economy.
So now the EPA has finally come out with its five strategic pillars that help guide decisions towards that end. It’s around, how do we get cleaner recycle material at the source? So at the point of generation, how do we develop markets within the US for that recycle material for reuse? So manufacturing, using recyclable plastic sandpaper. Then the third key piece is around how do we measure? So measure the quality of material coming in, the quality of material going out, supply volumes. I was invited yesterday to speak with the Congressional Recycling Caucus as an expert on specifically the data and measurement piece of that recycling strategy. So how do we use new technologies that are available, that are scalable, that are commercially viable. To really start accurately tracking our baseline of where we are today, and implement measurable programs towards improvement. So we’re talking about how specifically metering of waste can fit into federal recycling policy.
John: When you finish what you did, besides being a very, first of all, it’s a great honor to be asked to do that. Second of all, do you feel like they were receptive and that they that you feel hopeful when that was all over with yesterday?
Jason: I do. I feel very hope I’m excited because I think one it was a bipartisan group and we had folks from both sides of the aisle joining in the conversation and they were very engaged. I think it was both the house and the senate and so we have both chambers there. Again, everybody got it.
What’s most encouraging is when one congressional office chimed in and said, “Well, this is just like water and electricity metering, which we already have regulations around and has dramatically improved the domestic industries around those utilities. So this makes sense. So thank you for educating us because we didn’t know this technology existed.” Was being deployed at scale. So this is exactly what we need to– how we need to have public-private partnerships and really advanced things.
John: That’s so great. How long until those strategies are mandated and implemented? What’s the goals and visions yet there?
Jason: Well, we’ll see. I think the infrastructure bill that got passed is a great first step. There’s some dollars in infrastructure that are gonna help set the foundation. There’s some dollars in the infrastructure built specifically for data collection around recycling and benchmarking. I think that’s a tremendous starts, that’s already happening. Then we’ll see. I think there’s a lot that’s gonna happen in between now and June before some of the members of congress break for midterm elections.
Jason: I think there’s gonna be a lot of activity, but people wanna get stuff done here. It’s happening. I think we don’t have to wait, is maybe more of my point is that people are already taking note and it’s only gonna continue to pick up momentum.
John: Where are you and Ben now Jason? You have a business. If it’s gonna work, it’s working. But then now you’re at that interesting point in the entrepreneurial journey of how big can this be, and how much can we really change the world. When you and Ben sit down and have a drink together, what’s your consensus thinking together on that, on those issues?
Jason: I think we are at we’re just scratching the surface. We get really excited. We actually joke around that every year as we’re getting ready to approach the year in our annual kickoffs. We say this year, we’ve never been more excited than we’ve ever been before. It’s absolutely the truth. 2022 is gonna be tremendous for us. I think there’s opportunity here domestically to continue advancing and whether that’s within waste and recycling, or taking some of the technology that we’ve developed, and help other industries advanced. We have a line of business that we are working on, that is for over the road trucking. How do you measure the efficiency of the utilization of a trailer? Make sure that that trailer is only leaving a warehouse when it really needs to, and when it’s ready to, and not just when a person an individual warehouse worker thinks it should.
So, there’s taking our technology and applying it to different verticals within transportation. Theme there is the same. Let’s build solutions that are gonna help reduce carbon footprint. Help measure sustainability but do it in a way that’s going to have a financial return from day one. We get really excited about that. We get really excited about the opportunity to move internationally and we have some of our big customers starting to say, we have operations in Europe and South America, and we’d like all of our operations to report using the same standards. How can we help you make that leap to Europe or South America. So, those are the big things that we’re excited about here in the next 12 to 18 months, and there’s more to come.
John: Is Ben left Westchester and join you on the West Coast is also, is he still on the East Coast?
Jason: Oh, yeah. He’s here in San Francisco. We remained close friends. Our houses are maybe three quarters of a mile away from each other.
John: How many employees do you have now?
Jason: We’re about 117.
John: Before I let you go, talk a little bit about, not only do you have a great idea you and Ben, and not only have you got it to work. But I know from having many conversations with you, you’ve created a really cool but fun culture. Talk a little bit about the importance of culture and building a great and brand that gets a change the world.
Jason: That has been a really rewarding piece of the experience and something that we spent a lot of time on. It really starts up front with how we’re recruiting and how we’re talking about Compology and it starts with core values, and making sure there’s alignment on those core values. One of the things that is kind of across all, we call ourselves Compologist. So across all Compologist is they get real pleasure out of seeing their work driving around the streets, right? They like seeing the dumpsters behind the restaurants that they go eat at. They think it’s fun to like we’re doing a lot of work with Taco Bell. So we’re doing a team road trip to Taco Bell to the number one most beautiful Taco Bell as voted by, I don’t know who, but it’s in [inaudible] California. But we’re going on a road trip and that’s fun, right?
I think ultimately we work really hard. We hold ourselves to extremely high standards and that reflects in the quality of the product that we deliver to customers. But it also allowed ourselves to be really proud of the hard work we put in and enjoy ourselves when we can.
John: That’s awesome.
Jason: At the end of the day, no matter how hard a situation is, you got to be able to laugh. Got to be able to have a joke.
Jason: Then take that deep breath and go tackle it and that’s everybody that’s part of the team here thinks that way. John that’s why you and I get along so well.
John: As we get along. What I haven’t asked of you that’s important that you want our listeners and viewers to know? Before I let you go, what question did I miss to ask you about the success that you’re having a Compology that you want people to understand about Compology?
Jason: Well, I think one of the pieces that can be intimidating around new technology is not does the technology work but implementing it and changing the business process to utilize the information. The proverbial is the juice worth the squeeze, and…
Jason: I think, this is Compology and new technologies in general have come so far and having that easier out of box experience, right? The ability to deploy across all 50 states within a matter of a month or two, which is what an implementation with Compology is like, is new and it kind of takes a lot of people by surprise that we can implement that quickly, and that it doesn’t require a heavy lift on their side in terms of business process change.
Jason: So this is not implementing new server farms, and this is pull it out of the box and bolt it on, and the system said that configures itself and goes. I think that’s a really common misperception about our technology and many others out there.
John: Right. The technology is complicated. But when you hear all and in your case, your technologies, both not complicated. Then as we talked about McDonald’s, a 14X return on investment, that’s incredible. I mean, the numbers are compelling and the ease of use is also compelling you’re saying.
Jason: That’s right.
Jason: That’s right. We’ve done a lot to set up the infrastructure. We have installers in all 50 states.
Jason: We’ve set it up. So it’s…
John: It is [inaudible] and you made it easy.
Jason: Send us a list of addresses, in a month, you’ll be metering your waste.
John: Wow. That sums it all up. Jason Gates, man, I’m gonna have you back on because this story is, I think you’re at the top of the second any if not at the bottom of the first. You’ve got a long way to go to changing the world, but I’m so grateful for the time you spent with us today. Again, for our listeners and viewers to find Jason and his great company. Go to www.compology.com. Compology.com, JC Gates. You’re making the world a better place. I’m so grateful to you for spending time with us today. I want you to come back on the Impact Podcast to share your journey in the future.
Jason: I’d love too. Thanks for having me, John.
John: This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed Loop platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps, and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to to www.closedlooppartners.com.