Origin Story Interview W/ Jeff Kirschner, Litterati

Origin Story Interview W/ Jeff Kirschner, Litterati

Brighter Future

 / 

Apr 22, 2022

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #Crowdsourcing #SocialImpact #EnvironmentalImpact #CleanUpTheWorld #CuriosityDriven #PlasticFree #WasteReduction #LeaveNoTrace

Brighter Future

Today, we are joined by Jeff Kirschner, the founder and CEO of Litterati, a data science company with a mission to crowdsource a litter-free world.

Hi, Jeff! Thank you so much for agreeing to participate in this interview. For those who are not yet familiar with you or your work, let’s get started with a brief introduction to who you are.  

Thank you! My name is Jeff Kirschner and I’m the founder and CEO of a company called Litterati. It’s a crowdsourcing app that leverages mobile technology to photograph and identify the world’s litter. To date, Litterati users have cleaned up millions of pieces of litter, and the data we capture has even helped companies transform the way they do business. Ona more personal level, I’m a world backpacker turned bartender, turned serial entrepreneur and Dad, all wrapped up with a love for storytelling.

Excellent. Litterati is such a simple but creative and innovative business idea! How did the idea come about?

Thank you! I was walking in the woods with my two little kids when my four-year-old daughter noticed someone had thrown aplastic tub of cat litter into a creek. “Daddeeee,” she said, “that doesn’t go there.” That was my eye-opening moment. I was reminded of a lesson I had learned as a kid at summer camp. On visiting day, each camper would pick up five pieces of litter.

200 kids x 5 pieces/kid = a clean camp!  

So, I thought, why not apply that same crowdsourced model to the world? And why not leverage technology to do it? That was the inspiration for Litterati. 

Today, our platform supports a global community that is collecting litter data in 185 countries. It’s been incredible to see what can be achieved when we all do just a little bit to help.  

That’s an amazing story! Kids have a way of bringing us back to the simplest and most important truths about the world we live in. What motivates you personally to keep doing what you do? And who does Litterati benefit most?

Litter is a global pandemic. We live in a throwaway culture, where immediate consumption and disposable packaging are the norm. Litter is so pervasive that it blends into the background of our lives.Society has become desensitised to it, and with seven billion of us sharing the planet, the problem is only getting worse. 

Personally, I’m motivated by knowing that even as an individual, I can make a big difference by empowering others to create an impact. Litter impacts the economy, pollutes the environment, degrades communities, and kills wildlife. It’s a problem that affects all of us and so needs to be tackled by all of us. Many hands make light work, and when we each take small steps in unison, we become an unstoppable force for positive change.

We completely agree! As we’ve interviewed successful entrepreneurs for this series, we’ve noticed that there is often some common thread weaving its way through that person’s life that they can only see looking back. Would you say your past experiences or skills contributed to the success of Litterati, and if so, what is that common thread that lead you to this business?

I haven’t taken a particularly linear path through life. I’ve been a backpacker, bartender, copywriter, and entrepreneur. Along with that mixed bag of experiences, I’ve enjoyed a little success and my fair share of failure. Such a variety of experiences may seem disconnected, but as you mentioned, there has always been a consistent thread. For me, it’s an insatiable curiosity driven by the desire to build something from nothing. 

Litter is one of the world’s most challenging problems, and it’s very clear that the existing solutions and strategies to tackle it aren’t working. I believe that we have to try something new. I applied my natural curiosity and creativity to this problem, which resulted in Litterati.


Thank you for sharing that. So much of the startup journey is uncertain, no matter how experienced or knowledgeable the founder is. Nothing ever goes completely to plan. How do you handle the inherent uncertainty and unavoidable failures associated with starting a business?   

Honestly, it’s just always there in the background. Expecting the unexpected is the daily life of an entrepreneur.Things rarely go as originally planned. Failures, both large and small, are, as you mentioned, an unavoidable aspect of entrepreneurship. You have to be comfortable with that risk. The only way to deal with failures is to learn from them and become better as a result of them.

For example, my biggest failure was when I lost the trust of our early partners. We had a large software release that ended up not working. Our customers and community members were upset—and rightly so! We messed up. However, from that incident, I learned that what takes years to build can be destroyed in a matter of moments. That lesson has stayed with me and has probably prevented me from making even bigger mistakes later on.

Very well put, Jeff! As you said, it’s all about how you deal with problems and what you learn from them. As a planet, we are currently undergoing a period of great change. We, too, have to learn from our mistakes and act differently to secure a liveable planet for future generations. With all of the insights and data you have on environmental issues, we’d love to hear a little about how you envision the future.  

With respect to litter, I see a world where NGOs advocate for tighter policies, brands are held accountable for their packaging, cities are informed by real-time data, and people are able to contribute and consume data—all from one trusted platform.

That’s very interesting, and we truly hope that vision becomes a reality. Let’s flash forward past your lifetime. When you are no longer here on Earth, how would you like people to remember you and your journey?  

If future generations look back at my life and what I’ve achieved with my work, I’d like them to say: He left this world better than he found it. That’s all I want to be remembered for. In contrast, if I could rewind and go back in time to my younger self, who is just starting out, I’d tell myself to relax a little. Things take time.

This has been a really enlightening conversation, Jeff. We’ve really enjoyed speaking to you today and learning about Litterati. Thank you so much for sharing your story and insights with us. To close it out, we’ve got one last question for you. If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

My one lasting message for the world would be this: Individually, we can make a difference. Together, we can create an impact.

What an excellent way to end this insightful interview! A big thank you once again to our wonderful guest Jeff Kirschner from Litterati.

If you would like to find out more about Jeff and his work at Litterati—or maybe even get involved—you can find him at: www.litterati.org.
He’s also got an excellent TED talk that is available here.

To stay up to date with all of our interviews and latest content with amazing innovators like Jeff, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here


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