An Interview with Prashant Lingam, Founder of Greenlivelihoods

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Say Green. Say Carbon. Say Ecology. Social Entrepreneurship in the developing world has taken a new path. With a mantra of “do the new”, entrepreneurs have taken to greener ways of living to change the world. A pair of young minds from Hyderabad, Prashant Lingam and Aruna Kappagantula has resolved to revolutionize the Bamboo market in the country. After having worked in a Pharma company for a couple of years, Prashant took up a dealership for selling home appliances in Andhra Pradesh before resonating with Aruna on the idea of “Green Livelihoods” (alias) Bamboo House India. Bamboo House India was established in the May 2008 by these two First Generation Entrepreneurs. The evolution of the enterprise was purely by chance and not a strategically planned venture. The need for having an eco-friendly sofa set at home and corresponding study of the bamboo sector led to the evolution of the enterprise. The Viewspaper engages in conversation with the man behind Bamboo House India.

VP: What went through your minds when you did the research before conceptualizing Green Livelihood and at what point did you decide to venture out?

Prashant: It was a sunny evening; we were shopping around to buy an eco-friendly sofa set for home but noticed that the market was inundated with the routine wood, steel, iron and plastic furniture. Through web browsing we noticed that except in India, companies across the globe were offering eco-friendly bamboo furniture. By doing a 9 month study on bamboo we learnt that market potential of bamboo based products is estimated at Rs.26,000/- Crores and can help more than 5 million of our population cross the poverty line. Also, bamboo can help minimizes CO2 gases and generates up to 35% more oxygen than equivalent stand of trees.

VP: A few thousand crores- this is where the Bamboo market is pegged at right now. How do you think buyers would think of investing their money in Bamboo for furniture instead of the sophisticated teak, rose and other wood products that exist currently?

Prashant: Awareness in Eco-friendly practices to save the earth is increasing rapidly. Niche Urban markets are ready to be tapped on those lines. Today’s youth are enthused about these state of the art green practices already and that is clearly visible. There is a slow but steady progress on these lines and the potential Bamboo furniture market is well above 3000 crores.

VP: With the climate talks being at its fore, the levels of environment awareness and eco-friendly attitude is at its peak in the consumer minds right now. So is there any strategic marketing move in the pipeline?

Prashant: There are no plans to advertise on a large-scale. But we are looking at spreading awareness on the advantages of Bamboo to the youth by way of platforms like exhibitions. There are plans to rope in celebrities to spread this awareness through media. We are developing contacts and are currently in partnership with NMBA, CII, APTDC and IIT Delhi who will add value to the cause. Having strong partners is in itself a marketing strategy.

VP: 1.5 years into the business, where do you stand now? Has it been an easy ride? Or what are the problems that you faced during this period?

Prashant: Never an easy ride. It was an uphill task to bring NID, Ahmedabad, IIT Delhi and NMBA under one umbrella so as to unite the tribals at the Indo Bangla border and give them confidence in the Bamboo craft. Communication with the tribal artisans was also a huge challenge.

VP:Could you elaborate on the initial networking and how you spread your network to provide employment opportunities to the tribal people and be supported by IL &FS and APTDC?

Prashant: A model house built with the help of researchers from IIT Delhi was an important step. Having a rapport with CII, APTDC and NMBA was important as they funded our stall in “Inside Outside” exhibition at Hyderabad and it was not easy to convince the quasi-governmental institutions on the potential demand for Bamboo. It was all about instilling confidence in the Bamboo researchers, artisans and institutions that were working on Bamboo development. They had almost lost all hope at that point in time.

VP: How does Bamboo House India intend to create a brand for itself? Which is the biggest product for your market? Do you export bamboo as well?

Prashant: Branding is important and we are looking at creating a strong brand for ourselves. But we are not rushing to sell immediately. Though we have bagged orders recently, we are giving more importance to basic leg work in exploring the possibilities right now. Bamboo furniture is potentially the largest product in the offering. But as I said, we are not taking heavy orders and we are not rushing to create a brand. The strategy is to create a brand out of confidence as we have institutions like IIT, NMBA and CII partnering us. Regarding exports, it is a question mark. Don’t know if we will export any soon. We should wait and see.

VP: Do you have any plans of diversifying to other eco-friendly products as well? How do you plan to raise mass awareness about bamboo products and shift people’s preferences from the expensive teak and deodar?

Prashant: Bamboo flooring and clothing are niche areas to diversify. We have both these segments in mind. For shifting the preferences of people, like I said earlier, we are looking at involving celebrities and we are looking to use platforms like exhibitions and trade fairs.

VP: What was the impact of the global recession of 2008 on Bamboo House?

Prashant: The last 2 years have been tough financially. But it is always like this for any start-up. The first two years of the journey is are prone to be tricky and challenging. Recession isn’t making it any better.

VP: Your advice to the youth who are apprehensive about starting-up or following their dream?

Prashant: Remove the fear and apprehensions of starting up. Yearn for challenges and do not rush to make money. There will be a number of speed breakers in the journey. Be bold and believe in the idea. Do not give up on small downfalls. Sustaining those small problems that come your way is very important.

Compiled by:
Pradeep Sekhar

[Image courtesy: http://cms.outlookindia.com/images/articles/outlookbusiness/2009/9/5/Livel_PrashantArunaMain.jpg]

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