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"These colleges are ranked the top in the country, and it's surprising to me that they can't send out a simple email."
Customer service is one area where small businesses can beat big-box competitors
Founders: Ron Gonen and Patrick Fitzgerald
VC Investment over the last four quarters: $30 million
Founded in 2004 by Columbia Business School grad Ron Gonen, RecycleBank is a recycling system designed for municipalities that rewards people for recycling with points that can be redeemed at retailers. The company, which has raised a total of $45 million, contracts with cities and towns to set up systems to collect and track recycling. Currently running in 15 states and dozens of cities from Alexandria, Va., to Albuquerque, N.M., RecycleBank makes money by taking a cut of the savings municipalities realize by reducing the amount of waste they send to landfills. With local government looking to save during the downturn, Gonen calls it a "unique time in our growth curve."
Key to startup success: "The most important thing, more important than price, valuation, or EBITDA, is the quality and character of the person with whom you are doing business."