My First Job: 'Computer nerd' takes on recycling in Denver, Salt Lake City | Crain's Utah

My First Job: 'Computer nerd' takes on recycling in Denver, Salt Lake City

  • John Lair founded Momentum Recycling with two partners in 2008. The business operates in Salt Lake City and the Denver area. | Photo courtesy of Momentum Recycling

    John Lair founded Momentum Recycling with two partners in 2008. The business operates in Salt Lake City and the Denver area. | Photo courtesy of Momentum Recycling

  • Momentum Recycling operates in Salt Lake City and the Denver area. | Photo courtesy of Momentum Recycling

    Momentum Recycling operates in Salt Lake City and the Denver area. | Photo courtesy of Momentum Recycling

  • Momentum Recycling operates in Salt Lake City and the Denver area. | Photo courtesy of Momentum Recycling

    Momentum Recycling operates in Salt Lake City and the Denver area. | Photo courtesy of Momentum Recycling

  • Momentum Recycling operates in Salt Lake City and the Denver area. | Photo courtesy of Momentum Recycling

    Momentum Recycling operates in Salt Lake City and the Denver area. | Photo courtesy of Momentum Recycling

John Lair founded Momentum Recycling with Kate and Jeff Whitbeck in 2008.

The company started off providing various recycling services to businesses in and around Salt Lake City. Since then, Momentum expanded with a glass recycling plant in 2012 and a second glass recycling plant near Denver, which opened earlier this year.

Lair is a graduate of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

First job

I was always a computer nerd growing up. Back in the 1980s, it was all new and exciting for me, and that led to my first job. I was able to pay for a good chunk of college working for a company that provided computer services for businesses.

I would help people out with computer problems or network problems. Desktops were the norm back then, and they mostly had these little slots in the back for sound cards and things like that. Once I had to go service a computer that was unresponsive. It turns out that someone left the slot open, and a mouse got inside and peed on the mother board. It was totally fried. That was an easy issue to diagnose, I have to say.  

Catching the entrepreneurial bug

After college, I spent a lot of years in the tech industry. I was the IT director for a regional accounting firm in Utah. I helped them establish some new lines of business with technology, and that was my first exposure to the entrepreneurial side of the world. It was nice because I was getting a paycheck, but I got to build this side-business from scratch.

I got bit by the bug. After that, all I wanted to do was build businesses.

I started small, doing the same kind of consulting I had been doing. That branched into web development and web application development in the Dot Com Era of the late 1990s.

For a while, I partnered with a friend on an electronics company. We made wireless accessory products for commercial two-way radios. Our primary market was law enforcement, so we made wireless tactical headsets and wireless lapel mics all in the name of removing a hazard from that industry – the cord. That was a blast.

A moment of clarity

After I sold my interest in the electronics company, I had a unique opportunity to rethink what I was doing with my life. I had time and some resources, and I was able to step back and think about what I really wanted. What I realized was that the tech world was interesting, exciting and rewarding in some ways, but it was hollow in others.

I didn’t feel like I was contributing in the way I wanted to make my community a better place. I also didn’t feel a strong connection to my community. Most of these jobs and businesses involved clients around the country and in some cases other countries. Between calls and emails, I was spending very little time in my own community.

So I set out looking for a business idea that aligned better with my personal ethics. I feel very strongly about environmental issues, so when I was looking inside to find what I was most passionate about pursuing, it had to be something about that. My other criteria was that it had to connect me to the community.

That’s what led to Momentum Recycling.

Lessons learned

Through my various consulting and entrepreneurial endeavors, I was exposed to so many different ways to run a business. I’ve learned that a good idea really is everything. It doesn’t really matter what the industry is. It doesn’t matter what your background is. It doesn’t matter if you’ve ever done it before. If you’ve got a good idea and you know the basics of building a business, you can be successful doing anything.

As for having that good idea, I think it’s important to look at an industry with a fresh set of eyes. There are advantages to being involved for a long time, but with fresh eyes, like what I brought to recycling, we were able to identify that there was a strong enough contingency of businesses in Salt Lake City that wanted to be greener and didn’t have an easy way to do it. It can help you see underserved markets and holes in industries.

March 13, 2017 - 5:06pm