Capitalizing on the centuries-old idiom, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” co-founder Vishnu Vardhaan of Cercle X exploded on the scene in 2021 with a B2B SaaS marketplace for waste management. It is the first web3-based management company that enables brands to manage their industrial and post-consumer waste quicker and with 100% traceability and transparency. Less than two years later, the business boasts over $1m in ARR and 1,000+ customers.
How did Vardhaan grow his mostly bootstrapped business so quickly? The CEO and huge Latka fan sat down with the GetLakta team to share how he 10X’d business from year 1 to year 2, why he believes scaling is critical to his business today, and what makes waste valuable to all businesses today.
- Team of 42 with 12 engineers, 5 on web3 blockchain, all in India
- $12m ARR
- 45,000 app downloads, 25,000 active users
- 1,000 customers
Bootstrapped co-founder wrote first line of code in 2020, launched in 2021
To make his vision of a circular economy a reality, Vardhaan realized he first needed to build a network. “We spent the first two years building a network in India of what we call kabadiwalas, or pickers, traders, aggregators, and recyclers. For them, waste has a lot of value.” Then, he explained, he built the software, choosing blockchain and web3 because “it gives us 100% traceability and transparency over the complete journey of the waste.” After writing the first line of code in September 2020, the co-founder launched in 2021.
1,000 brands processing 9,000 metric tons of waste in December 2022
Through their suite of blockchain-enabled SaaS solutions, Vardhaan’s 1,0000 customers processed 9,000 metric tons of waste in December 2022, with an average value of $500 per metric ton. “There is huge opportunity to manage waste management for brands; they are mandated to take back consumer waste and send it for recycling,” explained the co-founder. “Brand factories are under various environmental, governmental, and social norms. There is a lot of legislation around rules and regulations for managing waste properly, including extended producer responsibility. We are handling all that,” he added.
The Uber for B2B Waste with 45,000 downloads
According to Vardhaan, “We are the Uber for waste. You just swipe up to raise a pickup request. And within 30-45 minutes, one of our executives will come to pick up your waste.” Brands showcase what scrap they have, and interested recyclers bid for what’s available. “You buy and sell on the same platform,” clarified the Co-founder. As soon as a pickup request is raised, it goes to a set of recyclers or traders closest to the brand for bid. When a bid is accepted, the winner goes and picks it up. To date, the app has over 45,000 downloads.
25,000 users have completed at least one transaction
Impressively, of the 45,000 downloads, 25,000 users have engaged in at least one transaction. “We also have a lot of people coming on to look at the latest scrap pricing, as it is a commodity of supply and demand that regularly changes.”
9,000 metric tons processed in December, up from 6,000 metric tons one year ago
Vardhaan increased the waste processed by 50% in a year, from 6,000 to 9,000 metric tons per month. With a value of $500 per metric ton, the company processed roughly $4.5m in waste volume. The previous year, they processed $3m.
$1m monthly model includes SaaS fee plus GMV processing fee
At the end of the year, Vardhaan’s model crossed the $1m per month figure through its combination of subscription plus processing fees. The Co-founder clarified that they charge a transactional processing fee of 1-5%. “It varies depending on supply and demand,” he noted. Additionally, the company charges a software fee of $399 to $497 per facility per month. Currently, their revenue is 40% scrap processing and 60% SaaS fees.
1,000 brands paying $800-1200 per month in SaaS fees
“We work with a lot of MNCs (multinational companies) and CPGs (consumer packaged goods companies), as India is a major base,” according to Vardhaan. “Each averages 3-4 factories for $1200-1600 per month average, plus we serve many smaller factories in India,” clarified the Co-founder.
Growth hacking to get to 1,000 customers
To accelerate the growth, Vardhaan revealed that the company used “a lot of growth hacking techniques at the beginning. We signed up with a good influencer network, and they set us up. We selected local YouTube channels that had a strong presence. Plus, we did a lot of proper community-based activities, like cleaning up streets, entire cities…which got us a lot of leverage. People knew us immediately when we approached them to get them on board.”
Targeting 10% of the 4,500 big brands manufacturing in India
Vardhaan has his sights set on closing 10% of the 4,500 major brands manufacturing in India before aggressively expanding into the US, Canada, and the rest of the world. “We built it for India because it’s a proper testing market, but if we can prove it here, which we have done, then we can scale it up overseas.”
Team of 42 driving $285,000 of revenue per employee
Latka ran the math on the team of 42, declaring that Vardhaan’s company was doing an extremely impressive $285,000 per employee. “You’re just printing money, aren’t you,” queried the host, to which Vardhaan just chuckled. “Our team is from all over; our CEO moved here from Ghana, we have several people from Syria. They all believe waste management is really key to mitigating climate change,” the co-founder revealed.
Basically bootstrapped with small $250,000 raised in December 2021
With only a small capital raise of $250,000 against $12m ARR, Latka declared Cercle X “basically bootstrapped” but asked the Co-founder why he raised. “We were cash positive but wanted to hire and scale…and grabbed the opportunity to grow. We have only scratched the surface of waste across the world…probably doing 0.1 percent of all waste available across India. So, we want to channelize a lot more of that.” Vardhaan added that they plan on raising capital for expansion, but they remain unit economic focused and would be looking for networking and brainstorming.
50/50 split with co-founder wife
When asked about his other co-founders, Vardhaan revealed that he has only one partner, and it’s his wife. Both have 7 years of experience in sustainability. He added that, yes, they split the business 50/50.
Learned from Latka
Finally, Vardhaan closed with a nod to Latka, sharing, “Everything was inspired by what I learned from you.”
CEO he’s following: Without hesitation, Vishnu named Elon Musk as the CEO he follows.
Favorite online tool: Vishnu selected Pomodoro Timer as his favorite online tool. “That’s a great choice,” quipped Nathan.
Balance: Thirty-three-year-old Vishnu aspires to sleep 7 hours per night but admits his average is between 5 and 7. He is married to his co-founder. Together they have a pug but no children yet.
What does he wish he had known at 20? “Life takes its own turns and takes you to the path you always wanted to be on, irrespective of where you were at 20.”