In March 2020, Drake Hougo, Wyatt Pontius and Sean O’Bannon founded ReMatter, a start-up that creates digital tools for the scrap metal recycling industry. Less than two years later, all three co-founders were named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Hougo, vice chair of the ISRI Young Executives Council’s communications subcommittee, took some time to chat with Scrap News about the launch of ReMatter, being named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list, and what he enjoys most about being part of the Young Executives Council.
Tell me about your background and how you ended up in the recycling industry.
Wyatt, Sean and I were friends while attending Stanford University. Wyatt was interested in industrial recycling through an internship he had done. That aligned perfectly with a class we were all taking our senior year that looked at software applications in industrial spaces.
We cold called recycling facilities in San Jose, Oakland, and the Central Valley, and several companies were generous enough to let us come to their yards to observe their operations. We were blown away by the physical equipment that people had to process materials, but we noticed that a lot of the software recyclers are using is legacy and out of date, requiring a fair amount of manual work outside of the program. The more recyclers we talked to, the more these complaints arose to the surface. Beyond that, we heard complaints about how difficult their software was to use and the struggle to find an all-in-one solution. Given our backgrounds, we felt there was an opportunity to build an easy to use, all-in-one solution specifically for scrap recyclers.
We began working on ReMatter full-time in March 2020 and thereafter, we joined ISRI. The mentorship we received from the West Coast chapter and ISRI’s national leadership helped us while we were building out our products. They were willing to give us constant feedback and we have made it our priority to execute on those ideas.
How much of a role did the conversations you had with recyclers play in how you built out your solutions?
The conversations we had when we visited ISRI-member recyclers were crucial to our success. They were very open about their issues and current workflows, which helped us design an intuitive product around the problems they face. For example, a lot of recyclers spend a ton of time tracking inventory manually and needing to reference the physical size of the pile to know how much they have to sell. Dispatching was done using sticky notes on a white board. Seeing these workflows helped us develop a product to streamline this work for recyclers. These conversations led to us building ReMatter Dispatch, which is used for container tracking, job scheduling and supplier management; ReMatter Driver, a mobile app to receive and complete jobs on the go; ReMatter Operator, a mobile app to manage your yard operations from your phone on-the-go; and ReMatter Full Suite, which is used to generate scale tickets, track inventory, pay suppliers and more. To this day, visiting recyclers and constantly incorporating their feedback into the product is a core focus of our company.
How open and receptive were people to accepting new technology?
The level of comfort with technology certainly varies but most people realize that technology is and will continue to be an increasingly important part of their business in the coming years. Our goal with ReMatter is to make technology not scary and easy to adopt. By implementing new solutions, you’re gaining more control of your business by having better insight into what your employees are doing, your expenses, and providing excellent customer service to your customers.
A big part of making our products easy to use and user-friendly is to make them accessible. Our web console is available from any internet connected computer, our mobile apps work on any iPhone, iPad, or Android device, and our mobile app is available in English and Spanish. We’ve seen people who were pretty technology adverse get comfortable with our solutions in the matter of just a few days which is exciting.
You, Wyatt, and Sean were named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list towards the end of 2021. What was your reaction to receiving this honor?
We were really surprised and honored to receive the award. The honor is a testament to all the good will that a lot of recyclers and ISRI gave to us in the early days. People were very open to speaking with us, which was so valuable since we were just getting into the industry. This award wouldn’t have been possible without all the recyclers we worked with.
How did you all hear about ISRI, and how did that lead to your involvement with the Young Executives Council?
We heard about ISRI through some of the first recyclers we talked to in the Bay Area. Anthony Bonilla, general manager at Universal Service Recycling Inc. and president of the West Coast chapter, was one of the first people to tell us about ISRI and he spoke highly of the association and its members. We did our research on ISRI and it became clear that if we were going to be successful in this industry, we needed to get involved. We want to be good stewards of the industry and give at least as much back to the association as we’ve gotten from it.
After joining ISRI, I got involved with the Young Executive Council (YEC). When the opportunity came to take a leadership role on the communications subcommittee, I jumped at it. I joined along with Megan [Smalley], and we’ve taken on a couple of initiatives to improve communications and make it more up to date for all the members of the group.
What are some of your fondest memories of being involved with ISRI and the YEC since joining ISRI?
Our two best memories so far have been from the Gulf Coast Convention in San Antonio, and the Southeast Convention in Charleston. I was blown away by the passion people have for the industry. Region to region there may be slight differences in how people run their business, but everyone faces a lot of the same issues and there is a lot of collaboration amongst competitors, which is really amazing.
Why should people join the YEC?
If you’re young in your career, the opportunity to gain mentorship through the YEC is invaluable. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with peers of a similar age. We’re all trying to build our career, so having people going through similar challenges that you can relate to and talk to is great. The group is also really fun. You’re never going to have a bad time attending a YEC meet up or hang out.
What are you most excited for about ISRI2022?
The convention has been described to us as the ‘Super Bowl’ of the recycling industry, so we’re excited to experience it for the first time in person. From a ReMatter perspective, we’re excited to meet potential customers and see a lot of people we’ve been doing business with since the company launched in March 2020 that we haven’t had the chance to meet in person yet. From a YEC perspective, we have some cool sessions and events planned. Trying to join a group over Zoom can be kind of intimidating, so meeting in person will be a nice change.
I’m also really excited about the fun run. I love to run. I’m not super excited about how early it’ll be [laughs], but I’m excited for the run itself and to see who shows up.
What are some of ReMatter’s short-term and long-term goals?
Short term we’re looking forward to onboarding recyclers to the ReMatter Full Suite. Over the next six months we’re going to be bringing on a lot of new and existing customers throughout the country to that product and helping solve issues they’re facing on their yard.
Beyond that, we want to enable people to run a digital scrap yard. For an owner, that means you can run your yard even when you’re not physically there and have eyes on how everything is going operationally. We’re in a unique position to enable that workflow for the recyclers we’re working with via our iPhone/Android mobile apps and cloud-hosted web product.
We’re excited to keep solving problems that our customers are facing through software. We’re also looking forward to getting even more involved in everything ISRI and ISRIYE has to offer.
All photos courtesy of Drake Hougo.