'We’ve Already Taken 3 Tons of Paper for Recycling and Reduced Total Waste in Landfills'
Katerina Shipilova graduates from the HSE Master’s programme ‘Governance of Science, Technology and Innovation’ this year. And she already has her own business – a waste paper collection company called MK Service. In the following interview, Katerina speaks about how Master’s studies motivated her to start her own business, and about the specifics of the recycling industry.
I Can Do More!
My main reason for applying to the Master’s programme was to get a degree, since my family was very worried that I didn’t have one. Another reason was that if I can get something now, it’s better than not doing it. I chose the programme after getting a recommendation from a friend who entered it a year earlier. The main advantages were that the programme was English-taught and it would be possible to combine my studies with work. Back then, I was a marketing manager at a cosmetics company, and it seemed that my career path was already predestined. When I started my studies, the main focus was on work. So, I didn’t study too hard, but with the help of a little bit of magic, I was able to take the top place in the ranking for the first half of the year.
Later, a classmate asked me: ‘So what?! Is being the first student in the ranking going to help you sell cosmetics?’ I, of course, laughed this off. However, then I started having thoughts, whether I really could do more in life. Moreover, the environment in the programme played a big role in this, as my classmates went on to work in very interesting areas, such as innovations, Big Data, and marketing in technology companies.
The most useful things for me were the elective subjects taught during the second year, and especially, innovations marketing and finance. For instance, in the marketing course, we put together a team and developed an innovation that could be launched on the Russian market. Then, we elaborated the marketing plan, studied demand, and shaped the product’s positioning. We did something similar as part of the finance course as well - creating a financial model and looking for the breakeven point.
So, these studies provided me with the right tools. Furthermore, it was like that this idea just appeared from nowhere. I was looking for a new job, a more useful and socially responsible one, and I realized that there really aren’t a lot of jobs like this. Also, I saw there were almost no companies offering separate waste collection services. My entrepreneurial motivation was simple – to fill in an empty, preexisting niche. Together with my husband, we decided to start a waste paper collection service, since offices often accumulate a lot of leftover paper. Moreover, this process can be easily implemented.
Katerina Shipilova and her colleague & classmate, Anna Kokareva
Networking and Word of Mouth Marketing
I started with the creation of a MVP (minimum viable product), in order to test my idea. I created a logo and a website. Then, I told my friends about the project. In just a couple of weeks, we found our first potential client, and agreed to install waste paper containers. We saw a clear demand for this service. Many companies are willing to be more responsible and greener, but, unfortunately, they don’t know where to start. MK Service offers a solution for this situation. We are still at the trial stage and looking at how convenient the containers now in use are, and how much paper they can collect. We are very flexible, and keep changing so as to make the service more attractive.
After the launch, I invited my classmate, Anna Kokareva, to join the project. We worked in study teams a lot, and I knew that Anna loves ecology and maintains a green lifestyle herself. She was happy to join, and now she is a big help in our client relations, as Anna communicates with our partners, as well as prepares materials for the website and social media.
By the way, we haven’t invested in promotion yet. Nonetheless, we are active on social media, and many of our clients come from there. Word of mouth marketing also works! We are always networking. For instance, we attend industry-specific events, and meet new people and tell them about our services. Furthermore, of course, ‘content is king’, and we regularly try to fill up our website with related information. When someone looks for something related to waste paper online, they can come across our website.
Socially Responsible Business
For our clients, we can collect and take away their waste paper. We are practically the only company that implements an A to Z system: MK Service offers containers, trains staff, and removes waste paper. We are also virtually the only company that can collect small volumes of waste paper, starting only from 100 kg. Such volumes can even be stored at a small office.
Our service is free, because we make money on paper utilization. Many recyclers collect paper in Moscow, then process and send it to paper plants. Actually, the fact that our service is free is a guarantee for clients that their paper waste will definitely be processed, rather than just sent to a landfill.
Finally, I’d like to say that this type of business is very complicated, doesn’t generate a lot of money, and can’t be forecast with 100% accuracy. We don’t know how much paper each of our clients accumulates, and at what price we can sell it in two months’ time. Therefore, it almost makes no sense to develop financial models. It is also very disappointing that, in the ‘Year of Ecology’, the recycling industry’s efforts have not received any government support. Instead, all resources are being spent on building waste incineration plants and equipping garbage trucks with GLONASS modules. Therefore, we have to work following pure entrepreneurial enthusiasm and invest our resources without any guarantee that the business will work out well. This can be said about any business, though. We are happy with the fact that we are doing something positive for society. For instance, we have already collected three tons of paper for recycling, which means we have saved around 50 trees and reduced total waste in landfills.