A passion in environmental sciences and economics prompted Lily Shen to develop Trash Warrior in 2019 as a solution for waste management collection challenges in her hometown of San Francisco. The tech-enabled full-service waste management platform helps business-to-business (B2B) customers connect with providers that can offer waste removal and dumpster rental services on demand.
“I’ve always been very interested in environmental science. For college and grad school, I was trained as a bioeconomist,” she says. “Trash Warrior is a blend of my passion in environmental science and economics.”
When Shen launched Trash Warrior, the platform initially focused on connecting businesses with individual consumers in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, Shen says she realized that a B2B focus would work better for the platform.
Today, Trash Warrior is used in about 300 cities across the United States, with thousands of service providers featured on the network. Shen says the platform has been used to service about 60,000 orders to date.
In October, Trash Warrior secured $8 million in a pre-A investment round led by San Francisco-based AltaIR Capital to help the platform improve technology, hire, grow its sales and strengthen its marketing efforts. Amino Capital, Operator Partners, Vermillion Ventures and Hyphen Capital also took part in this funding round, as did several previous investors in Trash Warrior, including Primavera Capital, Sand Hill Angels, Lombard Street Ventures and 500 Startups.
“Although the U.S. waste management market is constantly growing, it continues to use mostly traditional tools and methods,” says Igor Ryabenkiy, CEO and general partner of AltaIR Capital. “Trash Warrior invented an innovative approach to solving market problems, thus ensuring the company’s rapid growth.”
How it works
Trash Warrior pairs business customers with providers that match their needs based on customer preferences and location as well as provider details and rankings in the platform. It also considers factors such as availability, sustainability requirements and pricing when pairing customers with providers.
With a B2B focus, Shen says most of the customers using the platform are businesses operating warehouses that need to dispose of various materials. Clients have included companies such as Amazon, Instacart, Imperfect Foods, Weee!, Tuft & Needle, Holiday Inn, Hyatt and Hilton.
On the other end, service providers featured on Trash Warrior are primarily small, regional haulers and small business owners. As with Uber, providers are paid upon completion of a work order. Customers can rate the providers after services are completed, and the platform ranks providers from bronze to platinum based on those ratings.
Shen says the haulers and small businesses serving providing these services need to be trainable and willing to meet standards that are required by Trash Warrior and its customers. She says if a customer has specific expectations about how and where materials are disposed, the provider must be willing to follow those directions.
“Some customers care a lot about finding environmental solutions and, for executing on those preferences, we need a provider network that is trainable to those directions,” Shen says.
Over the last three years, Shen says Trash Warrior has grown its customer and provider network organically. She adds that once the platform secures four to six reliable providers in a city, the customer and provider networks tend to grow by word of mouth.
Shen says being a Trash Warrior service provider has helped some small business owners to grow their reach. She says one small family business in the San Francisco area almost tripled its income by becoming an active Trash Warrior service provider.
The platform also has helped to simplify communication between customers and providers. By using Trash Warrior, Shen says customers don’t need to make back-and-forth calls about the specific details of a given job, and providers don’t need to make multiple calls to ensure they are paid for their work.
Where it’s heading
Shen says she has focused on rolling out the Trash Warrior platform in large metropolitan areas across the United States.
Currently, the platform tends to work best in more urban areas as it builds its customer and provider network. Shen adds that she and her team manually handle requests from customers who need service at a location that might be too far from potential providers, though she says this situation doesn’t happen often.
The platform is continuing to roll out in more cities and regions of the country. Shen says it launched in Oklahoma City in early October.
As more customers and providers connect using Trash Warrior, Shen says the platform is shedding light on the prices being paid for hauling services as well as how and where materials are being moved.
“Trash Warrior knows better than a small, individual hauler of the right end solutions for waste streams in most of the markets we function in,” Shen says.
She adds that she hopes the platform can provide beneficial waste and recycling market data that can be used to improve waste diversion efforts and recycling rates.
“Our main plans are to obtain more enterprise B2B customers and deepen product features focusing on sustainability and data transparency features,” she says. “With the new funding round, we hope to build and utilize a very detailed database on waste diversion for each waste stream and every ZIP code in the U.S.”