January 2, 2012: It being the winter break, I've tinkered with and re-edited yesterday's post on Entrepreneurism several times. It's better, if not yet shorter, than when it was first posted. I left the crazy long Mad Man title as kind of a warning that it would be difficult to skim. The post centers on an essay by Kentin Waits, published in OpenForum.com
Five Essential Characteristics of the Entrepreneural Mind.
2. Suspicion of Predictors
3. Comfort with Uncertainty
4. Openness to Experimentation
5. Functional Humility
This morning, I thought about people who are really looking to get into the recycling business, people who are thinking of becoming entrepreneurs. For that audience, my own shanzai essay is a little one sided.
There are of course other true entrepreneurs who have entered the "e-waste" business on completely different terms than I have. It takes creativity, suspicion, comfort with uncertainty, and experimentation to design an automated shredding and chopping and grinding machine, and to take a chance on not exporting when everyone else is donig so. I don't look down on any of the companies which established the USA's domestic recycling infrastructure. In fact, companies like mine NEED them to keep from sending toxics along for the ride, and for improving the junk in loads from 30% to 15% and better.
I can't even blame those who helped to fund the insulting and racist campaign that turned my Egyptian friend Hamdy and his brother Essam, both with medical degrees, into "waste tourists" and criminals. Or at least, they were suspicious dark skinned exporters who no one felt comfortable trading with. And the other recyclers can't blame me for taking credit for my own risk. My ewaste company was on Hamdy's side when their friends twittered down the dictators regime. If some of the 30,000 computers I sold there since 2001 played a part, I'm glad.
If some of those computers wind up in a Cairo dump 12 years later, with wire yokes scavenged by Zaballeen recyclers, the monitor would still have served its purpose 5 times as long as if it had been shredded after it was upgraded. And it will have helped 5 times as many people. And it did something besides play "Doom" or "Second Life". Heck, the computer itself lived a second life.
If some "Watchdog" takes a picture of that computer at the Egyptian dump, 12 years later, and says that it was "recently imported", and that 80% of the computers I put in my container for Egypt were obsolete scrap, that someone is a liar and has earned a crusading blog until they apologize. But I don't blame the recyclers who design a system to placate the yapping NGO watchdog.
Hamdy and his brother Essam, displaced Palestinians family, both went to med school, as did their two sisters. And both became entrepreneurs, with 20+ employees by the time they were in their early 20s. When entrepreneurs get together, good things happen.
What I hope for is a system where American refurbishing and shredding entrepreneurs work together with geeks of color, entrepreneurs in the converging markets, and negotiate fair deals which open markets. WR3A was based on the idea that the entrepreneurs who invested in "the junk stops here" technology would be the best at exporting the good PCs. That would increase the number of good PCs available, and Hamdy and Essam would buy the number they need from a larger pool of "refurbished ewaste".
And thus, the African market for PCs would be based on American hardware and software.
That insight was towards the end of yesterday's post. Identifying of the "gray market" and repair/secondary markets as "cannibalization" by Dell, HP, and others led to seizure of computers in Egypt, and shredding of working monitors in the USA. It forced Egyptians to try cheap Chinese "good enough" brands. That was a rather profound mistake. A mistake Ford didn't make when they responded to Vance Packard, author of 1960 "The Waste Makers".
Ford's used product being on the market made people learn to drive sooner, Ford said, so more consumers owned more cars during their lives. And people who had a good used car tended to buy more of that car during their lives, and Ford sold more cars than if they had "cash for clunkered" them all into metal blocks. That, said Ford, is why we don't practice "planned obsolescence".
And that's how it works when a new market is developing. Africa needs affordable PCs in order to one day buy new PCs. I think the PC makers blew it by attacking the export of their machines. And I think the people who worked for them, the ones who blew it, worked at a lower rung in a very big computer company, and probably wouldn't know a good entrepreneural risk if it was staring them in the face, much less if it was creating internet cafes and blood banks in Africa. Microsoft chasing it's "software" licenses is doing the same thing for Android as Stewards did for Chinese good enough product in Egypt.
This is after all a business blog.