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The Spray by Flat Can Recycling:

Thoughts on starting a startup at the worst possible time

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Hi – I’m Kat Gordon, and when it comes to recycling, I’m all about pushing the envelope.

As the President of Flat Can Recycling, I spearhead the vision for the company. And like many small business owners who are trying to transform their industries, back in January of this year, I had a specific (bold, disruptive) idea of how I wanted things to go over the next few months. 

My thought process looked a little something like this: “This is going to be such a great spring and summer for our company! People are going to attend community recycling events all over the place, and find out about Flat Can Recycling for the first time. They’re going to be so happy that they can finally recycle their empty aerosol paint cans! And we’ll have so many drop-off sites set up by then, including one at Sherwin Ace Hardware in Arlington Heights. Damn… 2020 is going to be amazing!”

I had also made some fantastic connections with personal mentors in the recycling space (shoutout to Jennifer Jarland of Kane County Recycles and Linda Paniagua from ePaint Solutions!). Needless to say, I was in a state of happy anticipation. Then COVID entered, stage left. Suddenly, I couldn’t get a meeting with anyone, and all those community recycling events I was so pumped about were cancelled. 

I’ll admit, I got worried for a minute there. Why would anyone care about recycling used spray paint cans with everything else that’s happening in the world? What am I going to do? How am I going to stay on track in terms of my plan for finally turning Flat Can into a real business, after recycling aerosol paint cans for free via our sister company, MMD, for the past 6 years?

Then I remembered that I’m a Gordon, and that means I can figure just about anything out. 😛 I put on my thinking cap and my rose-colored glasses, and I got creative. I committed to finding the silver lining in this unique and sometimes frustrating situation. As a result I’ve learned a few things about launching a startup in the middle of a pandemic.

Firstly, having lots of time to yourself in quarantine seems like it should give you a chance to really develop your vision. In theory, because you’re not being as distracted by office interactions as you normally are, you should be able to dive deep and analyze the best way to do things in your company, in terms of operations and everything else. But carving out that time has been surprisingly challenging. 

I know the time is there (we all have the same 24 hours in a day!), but honestly, I’ve felt somewhat stuck in my own head about the ever-changing, uncertain state of the world. I’m lucky to have been well trained in the process of developing a company vision, though, so despite my days looking a bit different from how they normally do, I’ve come up with some pretty cool ideas. And I have faith that the current pandemic won’t have any effect on the realization of my vision. When you have a strategic vision that you’re completely aligned to, it doesn’t change, even in the toughest of times.

One of the inspirations that came to me as I stood there in our extremely quiet warehouse recently was the idea to do on-site launch events for Flat Can Recycling at the hardware stores that become our recycling partners. When this whole COVID thing is over, I can’t wait to set up a Flat Can Recycling information booth outside local hardware stores and gift their customers with free swag while explaining that they can now recycle their empty aerosol paint cans there! Yes, I’m a total recycling geek, but I genuinely think people are going to be excited to learn that there’s finally a responsible way to dispose of their spray paint cans. 

And while we’re on the topic of marketing, something else I’ve had to figure out how to get done during COVID is the new Flat Can website. I only had $2500 allocated in my budget for this project, so I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to pull it off, but I absolutely love how it turned out (check it out for yourself at flatcanrecycling.com). 

Artistic direction for the site was done by Pete Ziegel, a super-talented illustrator who works at Solid Digital in Chicago. My local web company, Rhino Group, did an absolutely amazing job integrating and programming Pete’s vision into the site. 

This made me so happy, because we’re all about culture fit at Flat Can Recycling. The way that I know I’m working with the right vendors is that even during a pandemic, when everyone is on edge and worrying about their future career prospects, we can have a collaborative project that goes off without a hitch. Everybody who worked on the website played nicely together (i.e. kept their egos in check), and the finished product is something we’re all super proud of.

We’ll all get through this sooner than later, and I can’t wait to put the pedal to the metal with getting Flat Can Recycling out there in a big way. But in the meantime, I’m pretty proud of how I’ve made the best of things. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! (And when you’re finished spray painting your furniture in your backyard, recycle the can – with our help!)

Flat Can Recycling was born out of our love for the environment, doing the right thing, and recycling every part of a spray paint can, which is no easy task. Check out our infographic, stats on how we do it, how many cans we’ve recycled, and how much it costs at www.flatcanrecycling.com.

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About the Author

About the Author

Kat Kresic is the President of Flat Can Recycling.

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