How did the idea for EcoAd come to you?
In 2009, I was travelling from my home town, Bhopal to Pune, after my summer vacation. During that time, I was intrigued by the concept of entrepreneurship and the idea of creating something for people. I was travelling by train and I woke up in the morning and looked outside and saw tonnes of plastic at a particular station. I stopped at this station and spoke to a few people to get more of an insight into this situation. I was already aware of how bad pollution was in India and what were the adverse effects of plastic to the overall environment. I researched further on this topic and I got hooked to the idea of solving this problem. I started dreaming of cities free of plastic. Though it was a gigantic task but when you are a student, you tap into your confidence and at that time you believe everything is possible and that is how I got started into tackling such a large scale problem.
Do you see competition as an opportunity for you, rather than a threat?
We see competition as a positive opportunity and in fact we encourage others to copy our model for free. All of our knowledge and content is publicly available because we would not be able to solve this problem on our own. We have received over 200 enquiries from across India to replicate our model. In fact, there are already people who have started and there are also people who have reached their first few milestones e.g. securing their first customers. We don’t see these people as competitors as what we’re trying to do is what they’re trying to do and we need to work together.
How does EcoAd work?
We want to These because they contribute to 80% of the total plastic waste in India. These are predominantly used in local retail stores where you go and buy something and at checkout you get a plastic bag for free. There are so many bags out there that the numbers are really staggering. What we’re trying to do is provide affordable alternatives to plastic carrier bags which are eco-friendly bags created out of used newspapers and can carry from 1kg – 10kg of weight in their different variations. They can used for up to 60 cycles of use. All these bags are hand-made and we take raw materials including used newspapers, industry waste which would regularly end up being wasted. These are created through a special process. We employ and train women from marginalised communities to make these bags and we only employ women because when they start earning, it elevates their social status and instils confidence.
Has your past experience helped you launch your startup?
You can start a business without corporate experience because whatever you want to learn is available on the Internet. When we started, we were students. We weren’t even graduates. With more experience, you learn to do things faster and mobilise things quicker. You learn to communicate with people. With more experience, you become more reasonable. That is the advantage of being inexperienced.
We started with a huge problem and a lot of people tried to demotivate us by telling us that we can’t do anything about it but we just knew that we had to solve it and so we started on this journey.
What was the biggest challenge for you when starting out?
Initially, sustaining ourselves was the biggest problem as we had no savings. I kept on working jobs to earn something. For my cofounder, the biggest challenge for him was to convince his parents that he was going to sell paper bags after graduating as an engineer when he could be constructing bridges and buildings. The challenges change with them.
When you first started out, was there anything that you wished you had known before beginning your life as an entrepreneur?
When we first started, we did not know there was something known as social entrepreneurship. We were simply trying to solve a problem. We weren’t aware that there was a whole ecosystem that existed to support social entrepreneurs.
There were a lot of things like business, finance and marketing which we wish we knew how to do back then as that would have saved us a lot of time. We learnt these things at a very slow pace.
Is there an ideal age for entrepreneurship?
I don’t think there is any ideal age for entrepreneurship. I remember myself doing things at a very early stage and I saw kids fundraising and making something and selling things outside so I don’t think there is any special need for identifying an age for entrepreneurship
What are the three top things an entrepreneur should do before starting out?
1) Take failures. Failure is considered to be very disgraceful in Indian society but we should learn to acknowledge failure. Keep moving forward and learning from our mistakes and shortcomings.
2) Learn to ask for support. Entrepreneurship is tough and social entrepreneurship is even tougher and you can’t do it alone. With collaboration and supporters, you can do things faster. Look around for support and do not hesitate to ask. If I had known, I would have asked a lot sooner and this would have helped me move faster.
3) Keep learning. You can not stop learning. You can identify a big problem or a cause but you can never say, this is the best way to solve it. That only comes after some time and experience. You will be able to see over time how your initial idea has evolved into something better.
Finally, any last words of advice for a young and aspiring entrepreneur?
If you take time to think and travel, meditate and you ask yourself, what is it that truly matters to you and what it is that you want to see in the world as a solution, then all the artificial things will disappear. Ask yourself, what really matters to you. What do you really see yourself doing in the world?