Ash Baxter on running an impact startup, making composting accessible, and the power of purpose
Ash, what was going on in your life when you came up with the very first concept of your compost monitoring startup, Monty?
My life surprisingly had nothing to do with compost when I came up with Monty. I was studying Business Management and IT at the University of Queensland and had been doing work experience in everything from programming to project management at a bank. I had always been environmentally conscious, though: when I came across the issues of organic waste and soil degradation in 2018 and learned about the potential impact of compost, I just became obsessed with it.
When I first started researching, composting seemed like an absolute miracle cure — it recycles waste, restores our soil, can reduce chemical fertiliser and pesticides dependency and sequester carbon emissions! If it was so great though, I kept wondering why we didn’t all do it.
That’s a great question — why is that?
Three reasons: composting can be confusing, inefficient and unappealing. From education and experience, I saw that technology could provide a solution to all three of these. So I figured, why not make that technology myself?
When you realised you needed to partner with others to bring Monty to life, what did that moment look like?
…probably when I first actually tried to do it myself!
I knew a lot about compost, but barely anything about all the other stuff it takes to create a super cool, innovative startup. I started to take the first steps into what it would take to make a world-first, hardware/software product — but everything I didn’t know just hit me, and it was honestly overwhelming.
Fortunately, I was doing an accelerator with a massive network of people who did know how to do those things, which was how I connected with the industrial designers at Clandestine Design Group, and Josephmark.
What was your favourite part of working with Josephmark and Clandestine together?
Working with JM and CDG is like being in a 24/7 masterclass. Both agencies are literally the best in the field at digital product and industrial design. Each minute that we work together, I always learn more than I could in hours on my own.
Simply being around such creative, intelligent, innovative people would be reason enough — but then there’s the fact that they believed in Monty just as much as I did. It was such incredible validation that what we were doing was worthwhile.
What advice would you give to other founders looking to launch their own product in the sustainability space?
In all honesty: as a founder, there are times that I feel so exhausted and on the edge of giving up, which is something that pretty much every founder will have to go through. Every time I feel that way, though, I just remind myself of why we’re doing this and how much power compost has to positively change the world and mitigate the climate crisis.
This is something that sustainability and impact-centric startups have on the rest of them. We have a purpose, beyond just valuations and market capture. When things get tough — and they will — that purpose will be what gets you through it.
Speaking of things getting tough — let’s talk about the barriers and biased perceptions associated with being a young, female founder. What impact did they have on your journey to raising funds?
I had to address a lot of perceptions around myself personally, alongside addressing similar hesitancies about our slightly less-than-mainstream industry (compost that is) while trying to raise funds.
I spent a lot of time talking to super dismissive, rude investors — absolutely bending over backwards trying to validate what we were doing, to just get them to give me the time of day. I’ve realised something since, though:
The investors and funds you want to work with are the ones who challenge you to be better, not different — which I’m really fortunate to have found.
Amen to that.
At JM, we believe that a better future happens by design — and Monty represents that so well! For you, what elements of the design process for Monty ended up being most important to its success?
Compost is actually incredibly complicated, which is probably why we’re one of the few operators in this space. Every kind of composter is different.
Trying to create a solution that could cater to every unique compost operation has been, and continues to be, our biggest challenge. That’s why having JM’s expertise in solving this through their design ethos has been so absolutely essential.
What does the future of composting look like to you?
We believe everyone, everywhere should be composting — after all, we all produce organic waste! That’s why it was so important to create a tool that can help everyone, no matter what kind of composting they want to do. Compost is an amazing solution for so many environmental issues and builds incredible communities but there are a lot of barriers for people to start. We want to tear those barriers down.
What stage in the venture journey are you at — and what will your next steps be?
We’ve just opened our website for pre-orders and are super keen to get the word out there for anyone who wants to support us, join our community and be part of the future of composting.
With these orders, we’re pushing to have stock available by November, but shipping may still push out to early next year.
Once we’ve got those orders out and manufacturing up and running, the sky is the limit on our next steps.
We want to make Monty an essential tool to enable anyone, anywhere to compost: whether it’s in their backyard, an office, a farm… or an entire city!
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