“My ‘work-life’ started during my college days itself Suba. Looking back, beyond my educational credentials, I have acquired numerous skills through hands-on experience. Even my entrepreneurial journey is the same as well.”
I straightened myself to listen keenly as Ramanan started talking in a measured tone.
Ramanan is the founder director of Shudh-labh, the fast-growing waste management organisation based in Bangalore, India. The entity aims at decentralising – sorting, collecting and recycling – all types of domestic waste. As the name suggests, the overall goal is to implement innovative recycle options for increasing profit. Thereby, up-cycling dry waste and enhancing the value recovery from waste. Aerobic Digester is their product that recovers the resource by composting the food waste.
“While doing my bachelors in Physics, I also got an opportunity to join the first batch of NIIT in Chennai where I acquired knowledge on software development. I was working in my father’s factory at the same time. After my NIIT course, my life took different turns. As a part of the Software Industry, I travelled across India, Singapore, and the USA. When I landed in Bangalore in 2004, joined a software firm and worked for three years. However, the thirst towards Entrepreneurship flaming up every minute, started a Training & Consulting firm focusing on Project Management/PMO certification.”
Ramanan took a pause here. I realised that he was introspecting and virtually gone back to 2007. I didn’t want to disturb the flow of thoughts and let the silence continue.
“I tasted the reality behind Entrepreneurship during that period. It was not easy for me to come out comfort zone where I needed to ‘sell a Service.’ Discussing even with my friends and contacts about my company was highly challenging. I also realised the importance of pushing oneself harder, continuously learn, thrive on sustaining and succeeding during that period. Talking about that experience itself look so different now.” Ramanan chuckled and continued “In fact, I wouldn’t call it as ‘Entrepreneurship’ now.”
I looked at him quizzically.
Ramanan continued, “I understand what you want to ask Suba? Everything changed when we started Shudh-Labh. One beautiful morning changed my life drastically. It was, in fact, a normal Bangalore day as I was sipping my morning coffee looking outside from my veranda. A pile of waste on the street and a stink emanating from it, I just turned around and came inside. Sanitary workers were collecting and transporting into a vehicle. It was heartening to see them using bare hands to manage the waste struck me really hard.
Further learning on waste management and a discussion with some experts led me to understand the impact such landfill has been creating on our mother earth. Further R&D and embracing technology as the right solution we found Shudh-Labh,”
“That’s quite an exciting start of this journey Ramanan. In a new business and a market, How did you handle the transition as a leader here?
“Yes, exactly. My earlier entrepreneurial journey taught many lessons by biting me financially and emotionally. But the passion, excitement was totally different this time. Responsibility and accountability somehow excited me instead of scaring. However, I was conscious that mere passion or enthusiasm is not enough to keep it going. This is a high scale initiative, I spent quality time in planning and executing.
Most importantly, my family is my great support system, Suba. If not my wife and daughter, I don’t see a possibility of Shudh-labh in my life. Their constant backing is the primary force here. You will be surprised to know Suba, we are running our family expenses solely on my wife’s salary for the past four years. I have invested all our savings in the business. Our extended family and friends have funded as well. As we are growing now, we are working on getting external funding as well.”
“You know what pushes me ahead amidst challenges…..even so-called educated people do not want to pay for managing their waste effectively but willing to dump it in landfills – a sorry state of affairs and depressing at times. Creating awareness in this space continuously is a task I have taken voluntarily, and, seriously.”
“Can you brief about the product – Aerobic digester?” I asked.
“Yes, definitely. Food waste comes under ‘Wet Waste’ category where the kitchen waste, vegetable peels, leaves and related ingredients are wet. When the air is used to process this food waste, we get ‘organic compost’ as a final product. This organic compost improves crop yields, reduces the carbon footprints without using any chemical substances. Using air, the Aerobic Digester helps in locking the carbon in the soil, convert the waste into reusable resource as organic compost.”
“Very thoughtful Indeed Ramanan. Now, tell me about your first client acquisition. Any Entrepreneur including me would agree that ‘getting the first customer’ as the toughest of many challenges. How did you convince the buyer to purchase your product?” I asked.
“Oh yes, that’s where my relationship building strength helped. I can connect with people very well. Moreover, Aerobic Digester is a product of many brains and hard work of people who are passionate about Environment. We are a bunch of people who are conscious of leaving greener earth to our future generation. Every household has someone suffering from serious health conditions like cancer, cardiac issues and many modern-day illnesses. People including you and me, knowingly or unknowingly, have already polluted our land and air; we are breathing and eating wrong things. It is hugely our responsibility now to correct it. We, from a business point of view, focused on creating awareness and showcasing the value proposition.”
“We are ever thankful to Sovereign Park in Basavanagudi who believed in Aerobic Digester and us. Later, the product and our continued support in handling the initial hiccups to day-to-day functions spoke on behalf of us. The association members have become our brand ambassadors. Our unique design in the Aerobic Digester now become the defacto standard across Bangalore and Chennai. Compared to our competitors, our design has gained huge acceptance in the market due to its ability to addressing numerous issues related to waste management. Our composters have one of the lowest Opex and Capex, and easy to use process create a competitive edge here. We take complete accountability on the site and, beyond a mere product company, we work as partners with our clients.”
“That’s encouraging information for the budding Entrepreneurs. Appropriate planning, value proposition and customer experience can help to break many barriers.”
I paused and got myself ready to ask the most critical question.
When it comes to running a business, that too, bootstrapped, managing finance is a more significant challenge, right? Since you are scaling up, is there any other major challenge that you face now?” I could sense the concern and curiosity raising in me as well.
Ramanan continued thoughtfully, “Yes, Funds are a greater challenge. We are cutting a big fat now. We are also working on getting the right people and skills on board which is posing a huge challenge. Those who seem to be passionate and interested do not show any inclination when it comes to really play the game. Not only Shudh-Labh, but many waste management start-ups also face skill scarcity. People struggle to make the decisions to join hands here.
We look forward to onboard more talents.”
“I understand and see a considerable gap in creating awareness about the opportunities available in the waste management Industry. Hope and wish things change for good and make our earth greener.
Now, tell me. If I ask you about one personality change you had to implement in ‘yourself’ to sustain and succeed as an Entrepreneur, what will be your answer?” I posted a question and got myself ready to listen to the answer.
Ramanan continued with a confident smile, “Oh, yes, the attribute seems as strength might pose a threat at times. I was a bit on the ‘Naive’ side when it comes to managing People. I have always been Empathetic and try my best to help others to grow. But, I realised that this attitude could work against the growth of my company. Beyond extending support, motivating and training, some people cannot change or perform as expected due to various reasons. ‘Letting them go’ still gives me a nightmare. However, I am changing, and I could see how such decisions help the company to grow. Every day becomes beautiful with such learning and consistent implementation of actions” The determination in his words showcased a more robust transmission that had happened from within.
Your ‘Single’ advice for the upcoming Entrepreneurs/Millennial/Corporate Sanyasis?
Perseverance and passion, but with a stable & practical action plan backed by data, is critical for success.
About the Interview: ‘Words of Wisdom’ Interview with Mr. Ramanan Natarajan is an initiative for bringing gems out to the limelight as a part of ‘Beyond Business’ series from SLN Brand Studio.
Ms. Suba Lakshminarasimhan, Founder director, SLN Brand Studio conducted the interview. Women Contentment Program (WCP) focuses on elevating the lives of Women by helping them create a new career, get back to the career after a break, develop Emotional & Social intelligence and build a Personal Brand.
About the Company: SLN Brand Studio offers Consulting, Mentoring, CXO Resume Writing and Corporate training Solutions. Aiming at building the personal branding and career growth opportunities for working professionals, Students and Women with a Career Break, SLN Brand Studio has developed numerous customized solutions such as SPBQ, SVEP and SWCP.
“Breaking inner glass-ceiling is the continuous process for human to grow” – Suba Lakshminarasimhan, Founder, SLN Brand Studio