Revolv: the software platform for the end of single-use
Revolv: building a network of tech-enabled packaging for the to-go economy.
Pitch us on your solution
Our solution allows users to rent reusable coffee cups (and other packaging), and return them to alternative locations within the city: either to other cafes in our network or to smart return points located within corporate hubs, universities and malls.
Users pay a refundable, digital deposit through our revolv app, which is returned when they return the cup. The cup is collected, cleaned and redistributed to retailers for reuse. Cleaning is undertaken by cafes with latent dishwashing capacity (morning hours), delivery is done by local drivers during off-peak hours (valleys between meal delivery surcharges).
This system is underpinned by our Smart machine-learning software, which tracks our RFID-embedded products, manages inventory, and collects data on user behaviour. Tech-enabled Point of Sale (POS) and Point of Return (POR) devices link and de-link products with users to enable the seamless renting and return of products.
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What is the problem you are solving?
Every minute, we mindlessly consume tons and tons of unnecessary single use waste, all of which ultimately ends up in our oceans and landfills. Annually, humans produce more than 275 metric tons of plastic waste, and 70% of that waste is single-use plastic that has been used for an average of 12 (and will exist in our environment for hundreds of years). Nearly 35% of the single-use plastic comes from the to-go food industry, which is set to grow at a CAGR of 10.7% over the next five years (2018-2023).
The existing eco-packaging market proves prohibitively expensive or inconvenient. Emerging market consumers are attuned to sustainable solutions, leading to an exponential demand for sustainable packaging solutions across retail industries. Revolv provides a solution that helps retailers and users to reduce the amount of single-use packaging produced and consumed, enabling a more sustainable consumption of resources.
Who are you serving?
Our solution is serving a broad population of consumers, from 1) everyone who consumes to-go food, to 2) everyone who sells to-go food. For consumers, revolv provides a responsible consumer alternative without sacrificing quality or convenience. We also provide restaurants with consumer analytics, and lower customer acquisition costs by turning cafes into return stations. Partners also receive rights to environmental marketing claims. Most notably, revolv offers restaurants a way to reduce cost spending on single-use cups and waste hauling. Another kick-back for cafes is an added digital interaction for their customers, linked directly to existing loyalty/reward programs
Beyond those immediate service, revolv provides a service for local municipal partners, who see a dramatic reduction in waste that is sent to landfills. All of the associated benefits of that reduction are captured entirely by our city partners, our hope being they reinvest those benefits into further improvements to waste recovery systems. Revolv's operations depend on a network of delivery drivers and dishwashers, providing a new source of revenue for many different underserved employees. By outsourcing our washing and collecting during off-peak delivery/washing hours, we can tap into underutilized infrastructures at restaurants, and downtimes for delivery drivers.
What is your solution?
Revolv is on a quest to be the global platform for the circulation of reusable products. To achieve our objective, we have started by optimizing our system for a deposit-based “rental” service for coffee cups, water bottles, and food containers. Integral to the operations is RFID, cutting-edge automation, machine learning logistics, and ethereum-based tokenization of deposits and returns. By targeting concentrated areas of to-go food use (campuses, events, food courts and office buildings) we are steadily building the Revolv brand and network. By avoiding single-use altogether, we are designing the waste out of the to-go food economy.
Ultimately, we plan to be the central, open platform that facilitates traceable systems of reusable products, all of which is dependent on collection and utilization of data through an infallible IoT technology system. Though we are a technology company, we are relying on our hardware line to introduce new partners to the system, which can be most easily understood through a 5-step process:
Cups are manufactured from a borosilicate composite, embedded with RFID sensors
Partner restaurants buy Revolv cups at a cost competitive with the existing CPU
Customer buys a coffee that includes a deposit at a slight premium to Revolv’s unit cost
When done, they return it to one of the many return stations within the Revolv network, (any partner restaurant or smart return station) and receive deposit
The Revolv backend logistics automatically dispatches a delivery driver to the “full” return station where it is picked up and brought to a partner restaurant in the area, where the cups are cleaned, washed and sanitized before resale
Revolv depends on a proprietary inventory management infrastructure that we call SMaLLS (Smart Machine Learning Logistics software) to track the movement of our products throughout the cycle. We utilize a backend software and reward/loyalty/incentive programs to ensure the products keep moving through the Revolv cycle. These pillars of our operation allow consumers and businesses to elect a sustainable option without sacrificing convenience. By nature of our business model, Revolv is short-circuiting the unidirectional flow of consumption to waste, altogether eliminating some of the negative repercussions of the CPG industry. Rather than a network of suppliers, Revolv relies on a network of partners, beginning with restaurant/businesses and their customer base.
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Where is your solution team headquartered?Hong Kong
Our solution's stage of development:
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New business model or process
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Since its inception, Revolv has embraced iteration and innovation. We accept and embrace that the world will not look the same tomorrow as it does today, and that cultural shifts will eventually eliminate the need for single-use consumption altogether. It is for this reason that our solution is built upon a software platform, which is the single most flexible component of any solution in the modern world. Our ability to make slight adjustments to our backend software to accommodate changes in the front end makes us the most flexible and versatile provider of reusable hardware on the market today. By utilizing modern technology, we ensure our cups/bowls/bottles/packages will integrate seamlessly with the world of changing consumer preferences (in payment systems, drinking behaviors, and urban design).
We are witnessing an overwhelming groundswell of support against single use waste. Revolv has built the system to enable people, companies, and entire governments to move away from a dysfunctional system of disposal, and failed system of recycling. Taking a page from the book of early-day manufacturing, we are building software and hardware that endures.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
Revolv’s technology is fundamental to the solution’s scalability, financial success, and environmental impact.
Each unit of hardware we operate (be it coffee cups, bottles or food containers) is embedded with an RFID chip. The RFID-derived data feeds into the customer revolv app, which connects with the customer’s unique ID with the reusable product they are holding. At any point in time, we know how many cups are in circulation, how many have been returned, how many are still in use, and what the average holding time is for any different product. The RFID is also useful for our smart return stations (SRS). The bins can recognize how many cups are inside and automatically notify the central system to dispatch a delivery driver to pick up and deliver the bin to the nearest washing station.
Currently, the Revolv “Backend” system can track product SKUs across an unlimited number of agents within the system. Utilizing RabitMQ, MySQL (built in GoLang), the Backend is ready to integrate into the enterprise scale via any number of different cloud-based platforms. As the Revolv system scales, the magnitude of customer, business, and regional usage data will require MLanalytics. Simultaneously, it will need a socket for operations managers on localized and regional rollouts. It our opinion, GoogleBQ presents itself as an ideal step in our development. Revolv depends on integration of our POS/Point-of-Return connected-endpoints to the cloud, and the ecosystem of CloudIoTCore acts as an integral platform for expansion.
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Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
1. Reusables are an important part of the future.
Imagine a flooded bathroom with a running faucet. What would you do first? Grab a bucket and start taking water out? Or turn off the tap? Each year we produce >400M tons of single-use plastic, yet less than 9% can get recycled. The first step to addressing this problem is turning off the tap with an upstream solution. This company is built on the belief that reusable products will play a significant role in the future of to-go food, CPG and shipping.
2. Our system replicates the convenience of single-use without the negative externalities. With an informative app, a large network of return stations, and automatic restocking for businesses, our system is designed to replicate the convenience that consumers are already used to.
3. Revolv enables cost-competitive reusables
At scale, we are cost competitive with single-use plastic. Simply put, this means that companies will no longer have a valid excuse to sell plastic and paper-fiber cups and to-go containers all day.
4. It’s a better experience and a statement of conscientiousness Our cups look better, feel better, and produce a better drinking experience. The same can be said for our to-go containers and bottles. Durable materials provide a far superior experience.
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
1. Through our pilot programs, we are currently serving ~1,000 people/day.
2. By this time next year, we estimate that we will be serving at least 500,000 people through our cafe and restaurant partnerships
3. In five years we will have over 5,000,000 reusable products in circulation and will have expanded heavily into shipping containers and CPG.
In addition to the direct users of our product, we expect that our system will continue to create jobs in the service industry and provide low-income workers with additional opportunities to make money.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
In the next year, we are hyper-focused on expanding our pilots to fully-commercialized offerings at 15 different academic campus, offices, and food court locations. This represents our push into what we call “closed-loop” spaces, where existing infrastructure simplifies our operations and the inherent design of the location reduces leakage and enhances convenience. This is directly related to our manufacturing partnership goals, which center around the full-scale production of our smart return station.
In the long term, our goals are to work with large CPG brands and governments to institutionalize the shift away from single-use, and from linear design and consumption. In five years, we will have iterated on our initial concept quite extensively, and expect to have offered our platform to many other industries that are looking for a centralized “logistics brain” for their systems of reusable goods.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
The first barrier (and one of the reasons we are applying to MIT Solve) is the financial barrier to scaling our solution. Manufacturing and coding all of the pieces of our system requires a sizable financial commitment, which we have just kicked off. In order to bring our manufacturing work to market, we will need to secure additional funding. Food safety regulation is something we have to be aware of as we move into new markets, as does replication of our business model/competition.
Our operation is not easily replicable, but we are aware of the potential for dilution of our brand and operations through less sophisticated players in the market. While we are actively looking for ways to support other systems of reusables, tech-enabled solutions must meet a certain operational quality threshold to help the world transition away from single-use.
Another potential hurdle is the improvement of single use plastic alternatives, such as compostable PLA/PHAs.
A very on hands task, Revolv will need a dedicated team to approach, close and onboard venues in the F&B industry. Since this requires more personnel, we are mitigating this risk through JVs (along with our motivated and global team), and the inherent benefit of unparalleled cost and convenience of making the right choice.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
We have successfully built partnerships with multiple different investors, and have launched a well-received Pre-Series A fundraising round that we hope will put us in good position after our current manufacturing push. As our network grows, as does our access to capital. Addressing the challenge of food safety is done through partnerships that are knowledgeable in the geographies where we operate. Since our products are all washed by local restaurant partners and served by cafes/restaurants, part of our job is to ensure those partners have the highest possible level of food safety rating.
We embrace competition in the world of reusable hardware, and we are protective of our operational software. Ideally, every reusable system that is built in the next two years will use a license for our software. This is where our unique capabilities will set us apart and where we can rapidly expand across global markets without requiring boots on the ground. If we can bring different reusable systems onto our network, we can ensure a high-quality experience for end users.
The material and systems experts on our team will always have a forward-thinking perspective on the underlying material advances in compostibles and recyclables. As a company and as individuals, we will always maintain our foundational ethos of honest, transparent, and sustainable design.
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How many people work on your solution team?
Our team is comprised of 14 full-time members. We have three employees focused on the technology capabilities of our product, one focused on finance, two focused on marketing, and eight who focus on business development and implementation within the cities in which we operate. We hire part-time staff for short-term needs such as design implementation or event coordination, and outsource our manufacturing capabilities.
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
Revolv’s 14 full-time employees come from impressive and diverse business backgrounds, with experience in CPG partnerships (Unilever), large infrastructure development projects (NRG), food delivery systems in China (Ele.me, now Alibaba) and circular economy design (sustainable fashion). We are made up of three key teams: product/technology, operations, and finance. Access to the profile of the entire team could be found at www.revolv.io/team
- A dedicated and diverse 14-people-team co-working and co-living across two regions that represent both ends of the single-use plastics problem - Indonesia & Hong Kong
- Experience in building and leading a team from concept to execution
- A talented design team capable of building a product that is exciting to interact with, ergonomic, and tech-enabled to be functionally convenient
- Strong branding team with an obsession to make revolv part of the larger global movement towards a sustainable future
- An exceptional operations and growth team leading the expansion of revolv. in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Europe and the United States
- A comprehensive finance and fundraising team to support the goals of the company accordingly
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
In order to reach our organizational goals, revolv has sought partnerships that provide mentorship with regards to manufacturing and technology development and a deep understanding of our target markets: Singapore, Hong Kong, New York, and San Francisco. One of our most notable partnerships is through our NextGen Cup Challenge accelerator, sponsored by a consortium of brands with the help of IDEO and Closed Loop Partners. The brands include Starbucks, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Yum! Brands, Wendy’s, and World Wildlife Fund. We also have strong partnerships with NGOs in the plastic waste space such as Blue Ocean Partners and National Geographic, along with technology partners such as Impinj and Sylebra Capital.
What is your business model?
Instead of filling out the Social Business Model canvas, we completed a Circular Economy Business model canvas to explain our system to the Solve team. Please take a look at the link below: https://drive.google.com/file/d/13QflaeFnt5ghMI7eKwoGJLsiwkeaqHy7/view?usp=sharing
Revolv offers 3 operational revenue verticals, and highlight one of them in this section. When it comes to progress tracking for early market demand, we rely on MOUs as an indicator and the number of cups that would be put into circulation. Revolv has been operating a program at the Dartmouth Business School in the US for three months. As winners of the NextGen Cup challenge, we have been granted the opportunity to work with Starbucks and McDonalds on pilot programs. In Hong Kong, we are in talks with HSBC and BAML and in Singapore we have run a few-thousand-people events at Garden Beats Festival and Marina Bay Sands.
Revolv has experienced interest from a number of corporate companies in HK and Singapore for services to provide reusable, tech-enabled containers.
This model is designed for closed systems at corporate offices, airports, or universities where reusable items are distributed, sold, and collected. Partners pay a monthly subscription fee that covers fixed implementation costs and provide ongoing monthly revenue.
Unit Economics (UE):
Total Revenue = [Redistribution Fee + Corporate Subscription + Cup Deposit (if unreturned) - [ Labor + Washing + Transport ]
What is your path to financial sustainability?
Quite simply, our path to financial sustainability is scale. Currently, we have far more demand that we are able to meet, which we hope to change after we commercialize our return stations. With a number of successful pilot operations behind us, we intend to expand our partnerships with various high-profile, closed-loop partners and to use those closed-loop environments as anchor tenants in our expansion to city-wide, distributed model.
Why are you applying to Solve?
We believe in the necessity of bringing more awareness to our solution to end single- use packaging. As a young startup, revolv can benefit from various areas of the MIT Solve network, one of the most crucial ones at this current stage being additional funding to overcome the financial barrier to scaling our software platform and tech-enabled packaging to be able to enter the market quickly. As a software platform, we are a flexible solution with many use cases, which means we could use the support mentors who are experts in the fields of CPG, food delivery, manufacturing, technology platforms and more. With regards to marketing efforts, the media exposure will help us tremendously bringing more awareness to the brand and our blended B2B/B2C solution.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
We would like to develop further partnerships with the CPG companies that we already mentioned, and are looking to expand relationships with large corporates with significant real-estate footprints. At the moment, we are launching a manufacturing push, and would get a lot of value from the advice of companies with technical manufacturing capabilities that can help coach us on our manufacturing decisions. Digital marketing is certainly an important part of our solution, and we are actively seeking a marketing accelerator/bootcamp but would welcome marketing advice and expertise.
If you would like to apply for the GM Prize on Circular Economy, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
Revolv has been building partnerships and advancing ideas in the Circular Economy since it was founded. Given the inherent circular design of our business models, we consider ourselves thought leaders in the entrepreneurial world of circular economies. We are most excited by this portion of the Solve challenge, and are keen to utilize any potential partnerships with GM stemming from this award. Winning the GM Prize on Circular Economy would spotlight our position in the world of circular design and bring welcome attention to our consumer-facing solution. If awarded up to $50,000, we would immediately put it to use to continue our manufacturing process, allocating part of the award towards ensuring the materials we are using can be easily recovered in standard recycling systems. Given the manufacturing expertise of GM, we would push as hard as possible to leverage their manufacturing expertise in our future industrial design and development. We would allocate a portion of our prize money to
Revolv’s aim is to help the global community shift towards a more circular economy through a new design tactic that produces zero material waste. With our consumer and business-facing model, we are poised to make a much greater impact than just reducing the number of single-use cups that are consumed. With your help, we can demonstrate the power of the circular economy in a world that demands immediate convenience.