Trashswag Startup Founder Gets Fired, Watches Popularity Explode

Gavin Cameron was getting fired from his web analytics position but the whole time he couldn’t wait to get back home and check on his reusable goods locator website Trashswag.

It started as a hobby with a group of friends and has since exploded in popularity. Getting fired could never have come at such a convenient time for the 30-year-old.

“I was sitting in the office with my director and the VP and they’re like, ‘Ok, we’re letting you go’, and all I could think about was getting the hell out of there to check my emails and the web traffic,” said Cameron. “It was the best firing I’ve ever had.”

Just a few days later several major media outlets had covered Trashswag. The site’s rise to popularity has been exciting, nerve-wracking and even euphoric for the Torontonian, originally from Edinburgh, Scotland.

Trashswag is a site that allows people to report thrown out items outside that are still in reusable shape. Anything from timber to toilets appears on the site, but they won’t display mattresses or couches because of bedbugs.

The site is built on top of the Crowdmap platform, developed by popular non-profit crisis software company Ushahidi, Inc. (Swahili for “testimony” or “witness”). Crowdmap is used during crises to crowd source information, notably during Kenya’s disputed 2007 presidential election or Haiti’s earthquake in 2010.

Cameron and his friends would find thrown-out items that were in great condition and then picture-message each other with location information. Eventually it prompted him to create the site. “Toronto in particular has got some really nice old houses in the downtown core and people will often leave stuff outside,” Cameron told Techvibes. “I thought there must be a service like this so I started researching Crowdmap and I couldn’t find one directly for this practice.”

A large proportion of the site’s traffic comes from Toronto, so its map is automatically zoomed in on the city’s downtown area. But anyone from around the world can report something they saw and as a result objects have been reported from as far away as Japan or Tibet. Cameron has seen a clear demand for his platform and the huge spike in interest has caught him by surprise.

“I’ve worked for a lot of sites in web analytics so I know what to watch out for and the trends right now on Trashswag are very encouraging,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on, a lot of traffic and enquires coming in and a lot of media attention.”

A disproportionate amount of traffic is coming from the west coast of North America, with significant use in Germany, Austria and Japan. Cameron and his team of friends want to target a hub like New York City or Los Angeles next, creating sub domains for each city. Users must download the Ushahidi app to use Trashswag on iOS or Android, but in a few weeks they’re planning to whitelabel it as the Trashswag app.

Another idea is to organize in-person events to encourage like-minded people to meet each other, pick-up items and do artwork or restoration. “Its just an idea of trying to engage people beyond the digital sphere,” said Cameron.   

Because popularity came so quick Cameron admits he’s “scrambling for coders” while the team tries to throw the platform together as best as they can. Despite the sudden change it appears that the platform is headed in a positive direction.

“It started as a hobby and the purpose was to enable us to coordinate what we do but now it seems its worthwhile to give Trashswag a bigger avenue to promote and enabling reusing,” he said. “Watch this space, give us a little bit of time and we’ll do some awesome stuff.”