While every business enterprise exists to fill a need, organizations differ in their secondary mission. Some focus on offering consumers bargain prices. Some strive to protect or improve the natural environment. Others seek to fulfill a social mission, such as hiring people who face barriers to employment.
But rarely does one firm check all of those boxes—and sponsor an annual robot fashion show to boot.
Tech Dump and Tech Discounts are linked organizations that serve all of those purposes. Tech Dump refurbishes and recycles computers, printers, monitors, cell phones, and other electronics while providing job training and practical experience for adults facing barriers to employment. Tech Discounts operates an ecommerce site and a retail outlet in Golden Valley, Minnesota, that offer affordably priced refurbished electronic devices.
Amanda LaGrange helped found Tech Dump as a board member in 2010, while working at General Mills in Corporate Finance. She took on the Director of Marketing role there in 2013, and in 2015 became CEO and launched Tech Discounts. She’s created a high-growth business that benefits the environment while addressing poverty and injustice.
Here is Amanda’s remarkable story.
Tech Dump provides electronics recycling for companies and consumers; Tech Discounts offers access to low-cost technology, all while creating needed jobs and protecting the environment.
And not only has Tech Dump succeeded in providing an innovative solution to for the growing global problem of e-waste, as a social enterprise it provides the dignity of a steady job, reliable income, resources, and training for adults who faced barriers to employment.
Year founded: 2010, with the specific Tech Dump brand founded in 2011
Funding rounds: A co-founder loaned the organization the initial startup expenses. We have self-funded (and paid him back) since that time.
Current size: 60 employees. $3.5 million annual revenue, two locations.
Webbiquity: What inspired you to work on a solution to this particular problem?
Amanda LaGrange: After helping found Tech Dump as a board member in 2010, I joined the Tech Dump leadership team as the Director of Marketing in 2013 because of my belief that business can be a solution for poverty and injustice.
We believe that everything and everyone has value. Hearing about the stigma associated with a history of incarceration and/or addiction spurs me daily to create opportunities. The environmental mission means we can work toward multiple solutions at once.
Webbiquity: What were the most effective channels or methods for you to get the word out to prospective customers when you first launched your product?
Amanda LaGrange: I really believe in a multi-prong approach—being very active in community partnerships and engaged with other social enterprises. We have had great success telling our story through earned media, putting on fun and unique events, as well as really working our social media campaigns and B2B sales outreach.
We wouldn’t be where we are today without early events with Girl Scout troops, like-minded business customers, and everyone in between.
Webbiquity: Finish this sentence: “Knowing what I know now, if I were starting over today, what I would do differently is…”
Amanda LaGrange: Learn to get comfortable with failure sooner. My background in accounting and finance trained me to mitigate risk, which is why sometimes I refer to myself as an accidental CEO. There were times early in my leadership that I would feel paralyzed by big decisions for fear of making the “wrong” one. On the other side of some failures (wrong hiring decisions, closing a retail store expansion, etc), I now see how much I learned from them, and in many ways how our organization actually benefited from them.
Webbiquity: What’s the most important advice you could offer to an entrepreneur starting out today?
Amanda LaGrange: Find a solid group of entrepreneurs to surround yourself with, ideally at a variety of growth stages and organizational sizes. There is much wisdom to gain, as well as the peace of mind that comes from talking through a challenge and hearing someone is dealing with the same issue.
And push yourself to really talk about your struggles and successes with this group—there isn’t enough time to not get real with people.