Focus on what your business is and who your customers are, not what your business could be or who your customers might be.
Scott Vollero is an international entrepreneur and expert in the precious metals and automotive parts recycling industries. His latest venture, ScrapCATapp.com (SCA), is a mobile app that arms auto recyclers with critical insights into the scrap converters they sell, giving them valuable leverage in negotiations with buyers. By providing unbiased, accurate, low-cost appraisals, SCA is designed to close the knowledge gap between scrap buyers and sellers, leveling the playing field for sellers and ensuring that they receive fair prices for their wares.
The lion’s share of Vollero’s professional time is devoted to growing SCA’s user base, incorporating user feedback and improving the app. He firmly believes that SCA will disrupt the auto scrap recycling industry, and he looks forward to introducing more sellers to the product.
Prior to founding SCA, Scott Vollero spent more than 10 years as co-founder and head of Autocats Inc., a multinational firm that commercialized an innovative process for extracting trace elements of precious metals—including platinum, palladium and rhodium—from spent catalytic converters.
During the 2000s, Autocats moved into more than a dozen international markets, including China; the company became the dominant non-domestic auto-derived precious metals recycler operating in China. Autocats’ activities in East Asia helped swell the company’s payroll well into the hundreds. By the end of the decade, Autocats controlled substantial shares of the rhodium and palladium markets, and was at times the largest single supplier of the two metals. In 2011, Autocats was purchased by Toyota Tsusho America, Inc. (TAI) to fulfill a role of strategic partner in their their supply chain management.
Before he founded Autocats, Vollero worked in the financial, manufacturing and lifestyle services industries. He credits his first full-time position (at a Mid-Atlantic investment bank) with teaching him the value of humility and loyalty to others, lessons he remains committed to living out in his daily life, no matter how tough the going gets.
Scott Vollero has dual undergraduate degrees from James Madison University in Virginia and a finance MBA from California State University-Fullerton. He also holds Series 7 and 22 licenses, and retains his official environmental assessor registration with the state of California and a PMI certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP). In 2016, Vollero earned his Lean Six Sigma black belt and looks forward to capping his progress with a master black belt.
Where did the idea for ScrapCATapp.com come from?
It arose out of a longstanding disconnect in the scrap industry. In scrap converter transactions, relationships between buyers and sellers are fundamentally unbalanced. Buyers have all the power. For sellers, that means it’s very unpleasant to sell their scrap – which is a significant part of their business. By providing quick and easy scrap appraisals that let sellers know whether they’re getting a fair deal or not, SCA levels the playing field and improves sellers’ negotiating positions.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start my day with an hourlong workout from 5:30am to 6:30am. I then take a working breakfast from 7am until about 9am. That’s my time to answer emails and phone calls, review in-progress projects, take care of outstanding housekeeping issues, and the like. I’m in the office by 9am. I devote the rest of my day to meatier projects and pressing business matters. And I’m usually home by 5pm.
To stay productive, I set my watch to chime every 30 minutes. That reminds me to ask: “What have I done in the past 30 minutes to move further toward my goals?” If I can’t come up with a good answer to that question, at least I know I’ve only wasted half an hour. The day isn’t totally shot—there’s still plenty of time to get back on track.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I utilize a structured brainstorming process. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s actually quite effective in smoothing an idea’s rough edges and shepherding it through to fruition. I move methodically from the “minimum viable idea” stage, to determining what I need to flesh out the concept, to setting out an execution plan, to marshalling the resources necessary to bring the idea to life, to delegating execution tasks to members of my team.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m both unnerved and thrilled by the speed at which the world is changing. If you can set aside the sensation of dislocation that some of these changes bring and accept the risk that comes with any new venture, it’s not hard to spot and seize opportunities in the chaos.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I keep a detailed notebook of my daily activities and review it every day during my working breakfast. I also take care to do at least one thing for myself each day in four critical areas: spirituality, personal development, career development and physical health. For instance, I always set aside time for quiet reflection in the morning or evening, I exercise daily, and I’m not done with my workday until I’ve put a business-related task to bed—no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Develop as many high-value skills as you can. Without competencies that set you apart from your peers, you’re not worth much to potential employers. Regardless of educational attainment or innate intelligence, employees with limited practical skills simply don’t command the same salaries or enjoy the same upward mobility as those with specific, in-demand skills. If you’re not willing to develop the high-value skills you need to entice employers into a bidding war for your talent, you’d better be willing to work cheap for the rest of your life.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
It sounds harsh, but I believe that most people do not know how to be successful. That doesn’t mean they can’t be successful, just that they don’t know what it takes because they haven’t taken the first step of defining “what does being successful mean to me”?
Most people think about success in material terms like having a nice car, nice house, good job, etc. But I can tell you I know people who have achieved those things and are still miserable.
Here is an easy way to define what success means to you. Think of what you want people to say about you at your funeral…..then you will know what is important to you and how you define success.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Everyday, I take on a new challenge in some area of my life. It doesn’t have to be a massive, life-changing task with a high probability of failure. It just has to take me outside my comfort zone and reveal new ways of thinking or doing that previously hadn’t occurred to me. This routine immeasurably improves my ability to deal with chaos and personal discomfort. When the time comes to deal with real chaos or discomfort, I know I’ll be ready with the right mechanisms and strategies to overcome it. The other option is being caught unawares, like a deer in the headlights. That’s no choice at all.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
I’ve found consistent success in focusing on what my business is and who my customers are, not what my business could be or who my customers might be. I care about provable facts backed by real data, not theoretical constructs or unprovable hypotheses. I encourage other business owners to do the same. By all means, follow your intuition, but don’t chase ideas that aren’t supported by the evidence.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’m proud to say I’ve had just one significant failure in my business career. Years ago, I was a minority owner in a business chronically mismanaged by my corporate partner. It was a trying experience, but I got through it by seeking solutions to the problem and avoiding blame-casting.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’d love to come up with a practical, interactive way to teach leadership skills to mid- and upper-level managers who lack the time or personal bandwidth to attend formal classes.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
On a recent business trip, I spent $39 on a pair of Skechers shoes. They turned out to be an excellent walking shoe, and they cost far less than the running shoes I usually wear.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I’d like to plug two, actually: Dropbox and GoToMeeting.com. Dropbox allows our team, which is often spread across multiple locations and time zones, to seamlessly collaborate on projects together. GoToMeeting helps us communicate quickly and easily, in real time, no matter where we happen to be.
What is the one book that you recommend our community read and why?
I’m a huge fan of “Say It in Six” by Ron Hoff. It’s about effective communication—how to communicate pretty much any idea or directive clearly and completely in six minutes or less. I’m also big on Profit Through Change by Manny Barriger and Karl Eberle. I know the authors personally and can say without hesitation that they do excellent work. They’re all about solving business problems in a practical, cost-effective manner.
What is your favorite quote?
With so many to choose from, I can’t say I have a favorite. Lots of people far wiser than me have come up with some amazing insights, and I’m happy to borrow from them when I find myself in a tight spot. Why reinvent the wheel?
Come to think of it, I guess that’s a good quote in and of itself.
- Focus on what your business is and who your customers are, not what your business could be or who your customers might be. Don’t chase ideas that aren’t supported by real data.
- To help you stay productive, set your watch alarm to chime every 30 minutes. When it goes off, ask yourself what you accomplished in that time period to further your goals. If you don’t have a good answer, get back on track—fortunately, you only wasted 30 minutes.
- Challenge yourself in some area of your life every day, even if it’s a small, low-risk task. Doing so is a great way to learn how to deal with real chaos and personal discomfort in your work and personal life.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.