Green Bamboo Creation makes beautiful bamboo furniture, all grown and made in Nepal by the local people. With the mantra of promoting sustainable living, Pranav Pradhan, an engineer with an MBA and an MSc in Design and Manufacturing, has been in the manufacturing industry for 10 years. Moreover, he has spent 6 years in the bamboo manufacturing industry. In this conversation, we will unfold the story behind Green Bamboo Creation and the opportunities or hurdles it faced.
1. Could you tell me about your journey to starting your venture?
As an engineer, I always wanted to do something new. I was fascinated by manufacturing as a child and I grew up to believe that the manufacturing industry is the only sustainable industry in Nepal. However, I only see the trading industries growing in Nepal. The first time I saw bamboo getting manufactured was in Himalayan Bamboo and despite being an engineer, I couldn’t believe that the round long bamboos could be flattened into making boards and sturdy tables. I learned a lot in Himalayan Bamboo, from the varieties of Bamboo to its environmental benefits. I also saw that Bamboo is a sustainable future since wood is a limited natural resource.
I started this venture in 2015 and was accompanied by my friend Shankar Rana after 6 months. We used to make bamboo parqueting and export them but I wasn’t really convinced with the business model. I believed that we must be inclusive of all the key players in the bamboo manufacturing industry such as the farmers who plant and harvest it and designers and skilled workers who transform it into something more beautiful. Doing so makes this process community-based and close to the local people too. Thus, my basic objective was to make all processes inclusive.
After designing our very first products, Red Mud Coffee became our first client. Slowly, we scaled up our production and now we have a warehouse in Patan along with a factory in Hetauda.
2. What social change do you see your product or service bringing in society?
We are trying to create a chain of people from different backgrounds working in the bamboo market to provide them guidance and the right value for their work. Similarly, we also want to spread awareness of the benefits of bamboo as a material. Bamboo produces 30% more oxygen than other trees, conserves water as it sustains on minimum water, keeps the soil moist and repairs soil damages.
The only plant that survived the Hiroshima nuclear bombing was the bamboo roots which regrew after the tragedy because bamboo is resistant to UV and nuclear radiation. So, we want to promote this sustainable plant for a better future.
2. What is the legal status of your company? What stage is the company in?
We are registered under the VAT as a private limited company.
Our idea has been proven in the market hence, we are in the growth phase where we need to strategize our operations and scalability. Currently, we’re planning to shift our plant from Hetauda to Kathmandu because of the high transportation cost. So, we are going towards a scalable production line.
Our high-end sofa chairs have brass nails which cost around Rs. 15000 per piece and a sofa set costs around Rs. 65000. Our lower-end sofa set costs around Rs. 45000. So we have segmented our market into those who like specifically customized designs and those who look for cheaper commercial products.
3. How many people did you start with and what is your current staff strength?
We started with about 5-6 people and now we have 12 people in total. However, we hire around 20 people more when we’re in need of labor-intensive work. One thing we’re always making sure of is hiring locals there as we want to uplift them. Also, we encourage women to work for us too as we believe in gender inclusiveness. By doing so, we not only give them the skills of scaling or designing but also give knowledge about how much is fair pay. Since the work is labor-intensive but not difficult, we also hire middle-aged women.
4. How did you raise funds to start your company? How much capital have you invested to date?
I used my own savings in addition to some help from my sisters. We have invested 60 lakhs till date.
5. What challenges did you face while starting the company and what are the challenges you are facing right now?
There was no market in the beginning. People used to think our furniture was made out of cane wood. Moreover, people don’t trust bamboo furniture because they have the perception that it may attract insects and not be as sturdy as required. All of this is actually a false perception. It’s been 4 years since Red Mud has been using our furniture which is still in great shape despite being exposed to sun and rain.
Another general mindset that people have is that bamboo is a poor man’s furniture. A lot of people have this mentality that people who cannot afford other furniture buy bamboo furniture. So, our main challenge is to change peoples’ perception of bamboo and inform them about its reliability and usefulness.
Furthermore, a lot of us do not think about how we’re going to dispose of the products after their lifetime is completed. A bamboo sofa set lasts 10-15 years which can be dismantled easily and it’s materials used for something else. However, the case is different for other kinds of sofa sets. They aren’t easy to dismantle and even if you want to, you can’t get rid of them without paying someone else to do it. The concept of reusing and recycling hasn’t really inculcated in people because of which, a lot of reusable products are ending up in the landfills.
6. How do you overcome your challenges?
We try our best to create awareness among the people. This is the reason I started my own restaurant, The Watering Hole, which uses furniture made by Green Bamboo Creation so that people can see and feel it. They can see how the setting can change the entire vibe of the place and also feel the difference these pieces of furniture bring to the room.
7. What is the market potential for the industry your company is in? Has the company been able to make a profit and reach the breakeven point?
There is a lot of market potential among foreign consumers in Nepal. It is still quite difficult to change the perception of Nepali people. However, there is a niche market for our products.
As people are getting aware, they’re trying to use more organic and natural products. However, unless something big doesn’t happen, a shift in the perception will not occur. The unfortunate earthquake that hit us in 2015 brought a huge awareness among people that resulted in the increased demand for Bamboo.
Last year we were running in loss and this year we’ve finally reached the breakeven point. I don’t have a dream of becoming a millionaire selling bamboo furniture as all I want to do is create awareness among people about sustainable living.
8. Who are your target customers?
The customers are mostly B2B for large scale orders like restaurants and resorts. There are only a few customers who are aware of the benefits and buy furniture from us for their homes and offices.
9. What are the key needs of your company? (HR/ Legal/ Marketing/ Mentorship/IT)
The main need for us is funds and funds management as the first year was research-based and involved more testing. The second-year was entering and facing problems in the market and in the third year, we understood the market’s preference for the kind of bamboo and its furniture designs. So, we started the regular production line only from the third year.
10. What is the future plan for your company?
Our waste bamboos are soon going to be upcycled by handicraft businesses. I also want to work with small community workers for handicrafts in order to help and encourage them by providing the raw materials that can be used to create beautiful products.
I have my restaurant showcasing the bamboo curtains, sofas, chairs and tables and I also want to open a small bed and breakfast where I can showcase the bamboo beds and wardrobes. Then I also want to make my own two-story resort constructed from bamboo. These will mainly be for spreading awareness about sustainable living and sustainable eating with the use of natural materials and ingredients not just limited to furniture but also to the food.
For backward integration, I have plans to get into bamboo farming and for forward integration, I have a few ideas for bamboo and wood composite furniture integrating the IKEA concept of foldable furniture for export.
11. Do you consider yourself as a Social Entrepreneur?
Yes, I believe that I am a social entrepreneur. This is because, through my business, I haven’t just been making profits but also working towards a bigger goal of achieving sustainability and uplifting the lives of people.
12. Do you measure the impact of your product/service? If not what are your thoughts about impact measurement?
I think that impact is intangible and immeasurable. The decision of coming back to Nepal after finishing my studies in the UK is itself an impact as it has created a chain effect. But measuring that impact in my view isn’t very important because I feel that people mostly do it just to lure investors and that isn’t my business’s objective. I don’t think measuring the impact in numbers is necessary because if you’re doing a good job then the impact will surely be felt and seen.