THE ECO-ENTREPRENEURS

THE ECO-ENTREPRENEURS

Both Preethi Sukumaran (33) and Srinivas Krishnaswamy (34) prefer to walk it to their office or use the public transport. As a matter of fact, they do not even own a car. As founders and chief executive officers of Chennai-based Krya Consumer Products LLP (Krya) that creates environmentally sustainable consumer products, their company is but an extension of their way of living. Formed in May 2010, Krya (Sanskrit for conscious action) launched its first organic product, a plant-based clothes detergent, this September. And as vegans themselves, they make sure their products also adhere to their ethical standards of not using animal-derived ingredients or testing on them. The husband-wife duo does not like outlining roles for each other but prefers doing everything from scratch. From designing their own logo to packaging their products, they’ve also done a bit of web designing and for awhile, printed their own eco-friendly business cards. “There is a lot more exposure and learning involved when you do things yourself than outsourcing it to others,” says Sukumaran.

“It is often hard for us to distinguish our personal and professional lives because how we live our lives plays a major role in how Krya is run and the products that we make. Our focus has always been sustainable urban living.”

It is this joint responsibility on all matters that leads the couple on constant discussions and coming up with fresher ideas, even on their morning walks. “It is often hard for us to distinguish our personal and professional lives because how we live our lives plays a major role in how Krya is run and the products that we make. Our focus has always been sustainable urban living,” says Krishnaswamy. Their day begins quite early with a morning walk, when they’re not doing yoga three times a week. They also often visualise how they would like the day to unfold before the daily grind starts to help stay positive. “We’ve consciously stopped reading newspapers since it starts the day with a lot of negative or sad news,” adds Sukumaran. Since they do not take any processed foods, breakfasts do not include cereals but staples like Idli or Pongal. “We make our own cakes, biscuits and breads. In fact, Preethi’s chocolate peanut butter is amazing,” reveals Krishnaswamy. Since dairy is not part of their diet, Sukumaran adds that organic food and whole grains constitute their food source.

However, Sukumaran and Krishnaswamy didn’t always lead such a lifestyle rather it evolved over the past three to four years. “The interest developed much before Krya happened. We got interested in organic food while living in Mumbai,” they say. Now, they spend most of their free time trying to meet other people, who are also passionate about the green way of life. During weekends, they often spend time volunteering at an organic store from where they buy their groceries. They also actively try to reach out to green communities to expand their knowledge, be it organic farming or composting.

A fresh start

As alumni of Indian Institute of Management, both have led the high-flying corporate life. Krishnaswamy had worked with Johnson & Johnson, where they met, and Sukumaran went onto work in other companies like Henkel and Marico as brand manager in developing products. Their considerable experience in the consumer goods space helped establish Krya, with an initial investment of about Rs. 5 – 6 lakh. “One of the biggest challenges was making the shift from an employee to entrepreneur mindset,” says Sukumaran. Also, keeping their eyes fixed on the larger goal was not always easy when things did not work out as expected. “It took us awhile to get our logistics in place. Many of the people we wrote to did not respond. It is times like that you learn not to lose your focus,” adds Krishnaswamy. The duo also relied on their network of people to help with certain aspects of the company’s process.

After doing substantial research, they decided their first product would be detergent due to its importance in the market. “Detergents are a Rs. 12,000 crore market in India,” shares Krishnaswamy. They decided to use soapberry since it’s natural and plant-based. “Our ancient texts have long written about the cleansing properties of soapberries. We tied up with an organic farmer in Andhra Pradesh to source them and experimented to obtain the correct grade of grinding as they easily absorb water,” adds Sukumaran. The manufacturing facility is present near the farm from where the detergent is packaged and sent, thus ensuring its carbon footprint is less. Even the package is recyclable, including the plain black printed ink on it thus, making it eco-friendly. Priced at Rs. 290 for 400gm, the product is costlier than most other detergents available in the market but the quantity required per wash is lesser. Also, the by-products from the wash – the soap shells and water – can be used for plants.

The duo takes measured steps in marketing the product. They mostly rely on offering support in green livelihood through their blog, giving downloadable guides and through their Facebook page, besides word of mouth. “Communicating with our customers takes up a large chunk of our time. Many of them keep us updated about the product. We also try to meet one customer a week at their house when they use the detergent,” he says. They also send samples to other bloggers and let them review it. Though most of their orders are online, in the future they would like to target 30 per cent of sales through retail stores and they’ve already tied up with a Gangtok-based retailer. “We only want to tie-up with those who are a part of this ecosystem, mostly organic stores. We ask them to use it and retail it if they’re happy with it,” says Sukumaran. They’ve already got requests from such stores in Pune, Indore, Mumbai and Chennai. They also work with fabric experts, who evaluate the product and pass on the feedback.

Staying organic

Though on an operational basis, Krya is already profitable, they hope to completely break even at the company level in a year’s time. “We would like to grow organically. As of now, we are not looking for outside investment,” says Krishnaswamy. They also plan to work with students to make campuses like their alma mater more sustainable and are working on bringing a smaller student pack for the detergent. “When we started out, we always thought our target customers would be ardent environmentalists, but that’s not the case now. We also get clients who want a safe product for their clothes,” adds Sukumaran. With about 200 customers, the company is yet to establish its cash-on-delivery process, besides its online payment method and hopes to bring in SMS-based ordering for its repeat customers. They are now experimenting with more number of household cleaners, the next in line being a dishwasher detergent. For the long haul, the team is not fazed about competing with much bigger players, as they believe their product is not a niche one. “These days, everyone is concerned about the environment. It is only a matter of time before such eco-friendly products are also accepted on a larger level,” they conclude.


QUICK PROFILE

Favourite pastime:

Srinivas Krishnaswamy (SK): I love watching movies. I am currently working on a film appreciation blog.

Preethi Sukumaran (PS): I like to read a lot and love researching on green topics.

Dream to accomplish:

SK: I would like to make a feature film and start a media company.

PS: In the near future, I would like to have an organic farm, where I grow all the produce we require.

What keeps you up at night?

SK: The backlog of movies I like to catch up with, else I sleep well.

PS: None

Pet Peeve:

SK: None

PS: It is sad to see when educated and well-off people litter on the road.