Tyler Frank decided he needed to buy equipment for his start-up. But lacking enough cash and good credit, he couldn’t afford it. Instead of giving up on his business, he decided to give up his apartment. Frank moved into a tent on the business’s new property, and lived there while saving money and commuting time. That business, Garbage to Garden, is now one of the most successful of its kind in the country.
Like most start-ups, Garbage to Garden had humble beginnings. Frank and his roommates in Portland liked to compost but without a backyard, they were forced to use his mother’s yard in North Yarmouth. One day his roommate made a comment about how much easier it would be to just put the food scraps out on the side of the road and have it taken away like recycling. The seed for Garbage to Garden was planted.
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Frank showed up to the next First Friday Artwalk in Portland with a table, a few buckets and a sign-up sheet. He didn’t have a business plan, he didn’t have investors, but he did have an idea. And people immediately liked that idea. That first night, he signed up so many people he ran out of buckets and had to promise to deliver them the next day.
In the beginning, he used his own truck to pick up food scraps from his customers and did the cleaning and composting work himself. Soon, though, it became too much for him to manage. He was able to secure property on Riverside Street and hire employees. Garbage to Garden started to grow, and it hasn’t stopped since. In the five years since it launched, the company has grown from a one man operation to a twenty employee, 8,000 customer business.
Even as it grows, Frank tries to keep as much of the Garbage to Garden operation in-house as possible.
“We build everything from trailers to software, and it’s something I’m really proud of. We did it initially because we had to, so we’d just teach ourselves how to do it. And we continue doing it now,” says Frank.
The company has its own mechanic, a bucket repair setup for welding plastic and a technology guru. Frank’s best friend since childhood, James Nelson, coded their website, software and mobile apps.
Frank even designed a unique trailer for the business. The trailer is optimized for carrying the heavy weight of food scraps and fitting buckets efficiently. When Frank first moved the company into the Riverside Street location it needed a ramp at a cost of $20,000. With a background in construction, Frank decided to take on the job himself. He rented the necessary equipment, and he and a few employees worked through an entire weekend to complete the construction job for about $4,000. He and his employees built the interior of the office space as well. Doing all this work in-house doesn’t just save the company money, it’s part of Frank’s overall approach to life and business.
Frank credits his father for instilling in him this can-do, entrepreneurial attitude. His father did network marketing and owned an auto body shop. Describing himself as “a man of many interests,” Frank has followed in his father’s varied footsteps. He tested the waters with other businesses and jobs before finding success with Garbage to Garden.
His father passed away while Frank was a student at Boston College. Frank returned to Maine and eventually began taking classes at USM. Although he never finished his degree, that clearly has not held him back.
Frank is a firm believer in the value of education, but notes that there are many ways for people to educate themselves in today’s world. He found particular value in mentorship, utilizing opportunities through SCORE, the Small Business Administration, and Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Top Gun program.
Frank’s education and business savvy serves the company well. At one point the company was short on cash flow charging just $10 a month for scrap pick-up and compost drop-off. Wanting to keep the service accessible to as many as possible, Frank did not want to increase rates. He realized that if the company offered customers the current rate but encouraged them to sign up for a year in advance, Garbage to Garden would have the cash infusion it needed. The plan worked and the business kept growing.
Five years into the composting business Frank remains motivated by the future for Garbage to Garden. The company has a mission; to reduce food waste. While the company is making a difference, Frank says there is a lot of work yet to do.
“Less than 5% of food scraps in the country are actually recycled, so about 96% are going to landfills/incinerators. In Portland at least it’s more like 25%, but would be nice if it was over 50% everywhere,” says Frank.
The business is helping increase the composting rate outside of Maine. Serving four towns in Massachusetts with plans to expand further, Frank says the Garbage to Garden model could even become a franchise in the future. For now Frank plans to stay with the company, helping it grow and fulfill its mission.
He is well aware that with his varied interests he might want to go in a different direction at some point down the road. However, he says, his ultimate goal is to have “time freedom,” as opposed to amassing wealth. He’s not afraid of failure and at this point that looks unlikely. Frank sees every step along the way as a learning experience.
”Even if it all burns to the ground, what I’ve learned from doing it makes it all worth it,” he says.
Tyler Frank had an idea and simply went for it. He made sacrifices, made smart business decisions, wasn’t afraid to learn new skills or to get his hands dirty. He built a company with a mission and that company continues to grow, to offer good jobs, and to serve its community.
That’s why Tyler Frank is an Emerging Maine Icon.