Mukul Chhabra’s Delhi-based startup, ScrapUncle, allows users to sell scrap for pre-quoted prices to verified collectors, which is then segregated and recycled.
Do you remember the arguments your mother had with the kabadiwala (scrap dealer) on a busy cleaning day, arguing about the rate for old newspapers and plastic knick-knacks? A 25-year-old from Delhi has capitalised on this unorganised scrap market and created a platform that helps people get rid of the scrap, minus the arguing part.
Founded by Mukul Chhabra in 2019, ScrapUncle is a Delhi-based startup which offers scrap recycling services via an online website and application. “My mama (maternal uncle) was a scrap dealer, and his work gave me the idea to do this on a larger scale,’’ he tells The Better India.
Hailing from Sonipat in Haryana, Mukul grew up with a business-oriented mindset. “I grew up in a home where my parents sent me to IIT Delhi saying ‘go and learn’. So I never worried about placements. It was always on my mind to start a business,” he says.
ScrapUncle is not his first try at business. Mukul started a business with his friends while he was in college. “I was in my second year of college, and we got funding too. After a year and a half, since we were all students and my co-founders wanted to continue studying, we shut the business down,” he says.
One man’s trash is another man’s gold
The idea of ScrapUncle started conceptualising in Mukul’s mind while he was still pursuing BTech.
“As a student, whenever I could find the time, I would visit scrap dealers in Delhi and try to find out the issues and gaps in the sector. I visited some markets and distributed a few pamphlets to get some response. I wanted to understand if there really is a need for a product like this in the market. It worked; the response was good, and I decided to go along with it,” he recalls.
“In my childhood, my brand new cycle got stolen from my home. Eventually, we found out a kabadiwala had stolen it. After this, my parents stopped letting any scrap dealers in the house. So there is an issue of safety,” he says, adding that he came across many more issues during his research.
“As kabadiwalas don’t always own shops, there is no on-demand service. You might need their service today and not find one. Then there’s a matter of pricing; every scrap dealer has different prices for items, which translates to time-consuming bargaining sessions. Then, there is a risk of weighing machines being manipulated. And I also noticed that there are no scrap dealing services available for high-rise apartments,” he explains.
Once Mukul got a handle on all these issues, he launched ScrapUncle in 2019, while still in college.
“But being a student, I was facing financial issues to fuel the company. Then in January 2022, I found my footing when the company received a grant from Columbia University. This helped me to manage the operations more efficiently.”
“At ScrapUncle, our collection agents are verified and are armed with all the necessary equipment such as scales, masks and gloves. This removes the safety issue. As for the pricing, we have fixed prices which we quote before the pickup, so there is no bargaining involved,” he notes.
ScrapUncle has collected 2000 tonnes of scrap from the Delhi NCR region with over 22,000 pickups so far.
Explaining the working of the platform, he says, “It is a different business model where our consumers sell to us instead of buying from us! And the platform is quite simple to use. One can download the application or log in to our website to schedule a pickup after checking out the rates. The consumer has to provide information about the amount of scrap while scheduling the pickup. Our verified collection agents pick up the scrap, after which the scrap is delivered to the fulfilment centre. Here, it is segregated into various categories like newspapers, electronics etc. They then go for recycling.”
He adds that they get around 600 kg of scrap per vehicle.
Sharks fight over ‘scrap’ equity
Mukul’s idea was able to impress the ‘sharks’ in Shark Tank Season 2 and threw them into a bidding war. He reveals that he was shortlisted for the first season of Shark Tank too, but the mail got lost in his spam!
“So this time, I was alert. I was in the United States on a work trip, for which I had spent quite a lot of money. Moreover, I booked the cheapest non-refundable flight back home to save money. That’s when I got the acceptance mail from Shark Tank Season 2. I cancelled my non-refundable flight immediately to make it to the audition. I was so jetlagged that day that even the Shark Tank team could see it,” he recalls.
He says, “Being selected among so many startups is exciting. The entire journey from auditioning and rehearsing to the two-hour-long pitch in front of the ‘sharks’ was amazing. I was quite nervous during the rehearsals when I was not even in front of the ‘sharks’, but on the final day, it went really well. The ‘sharks’ were so calm and made me feel at ease,” he says.
‘Sharks’ Anupam Mittal, Vineeta Singh, and Amit Jain kept counter-offering deals to Mukul, taking the company’s valuation from Rs 6 crore to Rs 12 crore in less than a minute, stated a Business Insider report. Finally, Mukul took up Amit Jain’s offer of Rs 60 lakh for 5% equity.
He informs that his platform got 30,000 signups after the episode aired. Neha Misra, a user of ScrapUncle, said, “Very professional service by ScrapUncle. Never knew recycling would be as easy as book…sell…relax. Definitely recommend recycling and doing your bit to protect the environment, and benefit from such services.”
As for the future, Mukul says, “For now, we want to tap the consumers in the Delhi NCR region, and then, expand to other metropolitan cities. We are also planning to make our weighing scales OTP enabled, so the consumers know that there won’t be any discrepancies in weighing the scrap.”
Edited by Pranita Bhat