While schools and other educational institutions teach us technical aspects of life, it’s always one’s family and people close to us who instill values in us that last a lifetime. Binaya Poudel recalls one of her fondest childhood memories when her brother taught her the importance of using proper bins to dispose of wrappers. Instead of letting her walk away, Binaya’s brother actually asked her to pick up the wrapper she had unknowingly thrown on the road and keep it in her pockets until she came across a dustbin to throw it in.
From there on, she started to become conscious of her actions and develop an interest in preserving the environment. Now, she runs an eco-conscious company called EcoTrends with help from her two mentors at Youth Innovation Lab. Read along to find out what she has to say about her experience so far as a young environmentalist.
1. Let’s start with your introduction and what pushed you to enter the startup world?
I have always been an environmentalist at heart, and mind and so I had pictured myself working to preserve and conserve it. As a development studies student, I learned so much about different aspects related to development, from politics, technology, environment, law, so on and so forth. I realized that what truly serves my interest was social impact and one that is targeted towards the environment. Sharing the similar kind of interest, Pradip Khatiwada dai, who is the Executive director at Youth Innovation Lab, Gave me a platform to run a startup that’s focused on creating awareness about and providing solutions to environment-related problems.
As someone who didn’t know anything about business or came from a family with business background, I never thought that I’d run one of my own. But, here I am challenging myself and opening myself to new experiences in order to have a creative positive impact.
2. Could you briefly introduce the company to us? What was the starting phase like?
The core purpose of EcoTrends is to reduce the use of single-use plastic and to promote environmental sustainability. In order to do that, we offer paper straws to restaurants and places that use single-use plastic straws. We have also recently added areca leaf bowls and we are in a phase to add other eco-friendly products.
We’re still in the starting phase actually. There are a lot of things we’re trying to figure out and since I do not come from the business background, I’m currently learning to handle different aspects of it. Since, there are a lot of companies that offer paper straws in Nepal, it was crucial for me to differentiate the ones I offer with a minimum price and high quality. To do that, I collected a database of a number of vendors and compared both the quality and price of the straws before deciding on one. So that was one phase of starting out. Then came the task of convincing potential clients. I think I learned a lot about how to convince people to use my product during this phase as I was continuously calling and meeting people, all in hopes that they would stop using plastic straws.
So, to answer your question, I would say it was challenging but a whole new experience for me.
3. Since you mentioned that you are not from a business background, how do you handle various aspects of it? How many people are there in your team?
I do not have a formal team as of now at EcoTrends. I’m the only full-time person working here without a salary, so to say. Also, I’m more in the field trying to be aware and convince people. I have learned through my experience in the field and I have two learned and experienced people guiding and mentoring me for the past 8-9 months. I mentioned one of them earlier- Pradip dai and the other mentor who takes care of finance is Kumar Paudel dai.
4. We see that there are a lot of plastic products, other than straws, recklessly being used. Why did you choose to replace straws in particular?I agree that plastic has become omnipotent in our lives and that everything we do involves plastic one way or the other. Sure, there are a lot of alternatives to a lot of plastic products, but from what we see, the Nepali market isn’t ready for that because of the high costs that come with the alternatives. So, we decided to start small with something that isn’t pricey but makes a huge difference. The first thing that came to my mind was plastic straw. We use it even when we don’t need it because we’re so habituated to it and restaurants love to please their guests. So, that’s where I saw the problem and an opportunity.
Although we have plans of diversifying our product range, for now, we’re going to stick to straws until we become sustainable ourselves and complete this project of replacing plastic straws in all places in Nepal.
5. There are other alternatives to plastic straws such as bamboo and metal straws, which can also be reused as compared to single-use paper straws. Any specific reasons you did not choose those?
The problem with these straws is that they can be used at home where people wash it properly but at restaurants and cafes, hygiene could be a serious matter. Moreover, people are reluctant to use straws they know has been used by someone else. Plus, I have seen that bamboo straws, after some use, get some kind of layering on them that looks unpleasant.
6. Where do you get the paper straws from? Do you have plans on manufacturing them here in Nepal?
We import the straws from China but after 4-5 years, we plan to manufacture them in Nepal. This not only reduces the costs but also makes us dependent on ourselves for our products.
7. How many clients have you served till now? Do you get repeat orders from them?
The number of clients is 30+ as of now and we’re trying to reach out to more people. We haven’t got repeat orders from many places because we had provided them in bulk. So, I can only tell you this after their stocks run out.
8. Does it get lonely as a startup founder with just yourself in the team?
Well, that’s where Youth Innovation Lab comes in. I have so many people around me sharing the space and working together so, I hardly get the feeling of loneliness. As mentioned earlier, I have mentors who are always there to listen to me and help me out so that’s a perk too. Although, I can’t reject the fact that with more team members, there could have been discussions on strategies and improvement on ideas that I come up with.
9. What are the challenges that you are facing right or faced before?
The major challenge right now is on importing. There are a lot of legal procedures and fees that come with it which raises the price a lot. The other challenge is of getting varieties of paper straws in terms of their size. I made a mistake on my part by not researching the sizes of glasses that the restaurants offer so I only got straws of one size. So, the other challenge would be of getting different sized straws high in quality and minimum price.
10. As a young startup founder, what did you think were the opportunities that you were able to grab?
I got opportunities to network with different kinds of people from diverse backgrounds while also stirring up self-growth. I had always been someone who found it difficult to talk to new people but now I feel pretty comfortable speaking about my interests and the work I do.
11. You mentioned that you’re mostly out there trying to make sales. Has there been any challenging moments?
This happened during the initial phases of EcoTrends. I had just been learning to make calls and talk to people to try and aware them of the harms of plastic. I think it was the second day that I had been making these calls. There was this one person who was very rude to me. He wouldn’t listen to me and would ask me what I was planning to do with the rest of the plastic that I didn’t have alternatives for. I tried all I could to explain that this is our first step and we would be looking at other single-use plastic alternatives too but he just won’t listen.
It was very heartbreaking for me but I learned to be more patient after that. I try how to handle these kinds of clients and become more confident when I speak to them.
12. Has there been any other realization that you would like to share, in terms of sales and selling strategies?
In my experience, I learned that it’s better to take show your products to the leads than just talk to them on the phone. When they see the products is when they are more likely to use it. That’s why I try my best to always give them a sample while doing my pitch.
13. What are your further plans in regards to EcoTrends and your career?
As for EcoTrends, we’re planning to bring in a new product range as mentioned earlier. If we are able to sustain the market, we also plan to have our own manufacturing plant in 4-5 years. Likewise, we want to reach out to new markets outside Kathmandu and abroad too. Honestly, I haven’t planned out goals for EcoTrends but I plan to do that now that I am done with my exams and have all the energy saved to work on it.
As for my career, I want to do my Masters abroad in order to experience a new culture and then return back to Nepal to continue my work.
14. What keeps you going?
I had always wanted to do this. When you’re in love with the work you do, I don’t think you need any other motivation to do what you do. Plus, people have been appreciating my effort so that’s cherry on top.
15. Do you have any message for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I don’t think I’m in the position to motivate or give a push to aspiring entrepreneurs as I am experimenting myself. Maybe, 5-6 years down the line. Right now, I’m only discovering myself so I do not have any confident statements to share.
For more information about EcoTrends, please connect with Binaya at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with them on Facebook here.
Interviewed and article by Yangzum Lama.