While most University students use their free time to do homework, pretend to do homework or skip the façade and just hang out on the Ellipse every time it’s sunny, senior Charlie Dolan is taking advantage of every spare moment to co-run a company while finishing up school.
In the summer of 2011, he and one of his co-founders, Graham Rihn, were working together and looking for a new business opportunity. They knew they were interested in an opportunity highly reliant on technology and in a relatively untapped market.
They began to notice very inconsistent trash pickups at their office building and did some research, only to find that recyclable material travels hundreds of miles before being broken down.
Thus, they came up with Sequoia Waste Solutions, a company that focuses on bringing “hyper localized” recycling to small, medium and some large businesses. Their work results in cost savings for businesses and an environmental benefit to the local community.
Along with Dolan’s brother, Brian, class of ’04, Rihn and Dolan began to see progress immediately and steadily.
“Every day we went to work there was a serious chance we’d bring on a client in Pittsburgh,” Dolan says. “When things are playing out well over a longer duration, like they did for us, I think that’s more telling than a single ‘this is it!’ kind of moment.”
The young but profitable company currently has 180 clients working out of 25 states.
As the company began, Dolan found that the School of Business and the Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE) were helpful resources in building the company up, providing him with a rolodex of contacts or pointing him in the right direction.
Dolan encourages underclassmen to enjoy their freshman year before they get knee deep into any work projects.
“You will really value the friendships and experiences later on, especially if your workload dramatically increases as time goes on,” Dolan says, “However, take the ‘cool’ classes as early as possible. Sophomore and junior year I took most of the interesting classes for my major and it almost perfectly coincided with the things I was doing for my job.”
For example, Dolan took a Customer Relationship Management class, which focuses on the systems a company uses to track customer data, while he led the development of Sequoia Waste Solutions’ Salesforce CRM implementation.
“I’d say the ICE Center and VSB’s biggest role in the company is one of educating and mentoring two of the co-founders,” Dolan says. “I’ve had great experiences going to Silicon Valley with the ICE Center and attending events focusing on entrepreneurship and creativity of ideas.”
With a strong foundation set in real world business and an education in business, Dolan is ready to move “somewhere interesting,” like Colorado or California and see what those markets could bring his company.
While Dolan attributes much of his success to VSB, ICE and his co-founders, he also recognizes his own skills in planning and scheduling.
“I think back to freshman year and a lot of my days were spent sitting around, playing Xbox with friends or just procrastinating,” Dolan says.
Once he figured out a way to tackle his homework in a timely manner, he had much more time to organize things he would rather be doing, like starting his own company.
He takes care to remind potential entrepreneurs that business fundamentals are key when considering a business avenue in any field.
“There are a million failures for the one Facebook, Twitter or Groupon that crops up,” Dolan says. ” And look, Groupon was valued at $6 billion in 2010 and is worth pennies today. The fundamentals are not always there with these ‘great’ ideas. Use the resources at this school to build a strong business idea then deliver the product or service.”
His success has landed him coverage from the Philadelphia Inquirer and a guaranteed job after college: the continuance of being his own boss and co-running his own company. With all the free time he’ll have of “just” working once he graduates, who knows what will be next for Dolan.