In an interesting tête-à-tête with one of the co-founders of Ecovia, Dhwani Mehta—also the CEO of the sustainable brand—shares how even before ‘startup’ became a buzzword, she nurtured a dream of being an entrepreneur.
Born and brought up in Surat, Dhwani went to the UK at 18 to pursue a degree in Economics from Warwick University. Speaking to The Better India, she says, “I grew up being heavily influenced by my father, who was involved in the business. Even at University, all the internships I opted for were geared towards enabling me to become an entrepreneur.”
Dhwani worked at various startups in the UK to get a hang of various aspects of running a business. Even after completing her course when she returned to India, Dhwani chose to work with a health-tech care startup and then with a fashion-tech company before starting Ecovia.
Recycling: A Source of Pollution?
“The pandemic threw light on how dependent we all are on various e-commerce platforms,” adds Dhwani. “From our daily essentials like milk and bread to the more luxurious purchases. However, the one thing that bothered us all was the packaging material and sheer waste that our purchase was accompanied by.”
Thus was born Ecovia in January 2021 with Pranjul Jain as COO and Parikshit Joon as CTO. It focuses on D2C (Direct-to-consumer) brands, offering them sustainable packaging solutions.
At the outset, all three co-founders invested close to Rs 7.5 lakh each and also raised external funding to the tune of $1.1 million.
Having been operational for just over one year, Dhwani says that the company has signed on more than 25 brands. As of March 2021, they shipped out over 55,000 orders and in April 2022 they will cross the one lakh mark.
“Every brand and consumer we spoke to wanted to find a solution to the packaging that was being used. It also helped to have very environmentally-conscious brands and consumers. That drove us to want to find a viable solution,” says Dhwani. More consumers are driving brands to become more conscious of how they work. There are also sustainability-focused marketplaces that have sprung up in the recent past.
Adding to the point of reusing, Pranjul says, “Over the last few years, the awareness on recycling has increased manifold. But while we celebrate this awareness in the right direction, we need to keep working towards the best. Even with the cognizance of resources being finite, we continue to tweak and tamper with our broken linear consumption model to solve humanity’s problems.”
He continues, “To put it simply, we keep producing more using virgin resources, and then rely on recycling or methods of disposal. Recycling requires energy and extra resources while also being a huge source of pollution. On the contrary, a recent report by the World Economic Forum says that the circular economy has the power to shrink global Greenhouse Gasses (GHG) emissions by 39 per cent and cut virgin resource use by 28 per cent. Furthermore, we don’t even have enough recycling facilities to cater to the growing waste.”
From a business standpoint too, reuse divides the cost between multiple uses while this is not the case with recycling. This allows brands to switch to a functionally better alternative at a much lower cost.
‘Reuse Should Be Preferred Over Recycle’
“Imagine yourself seated in a bathtub. The water is overflowing. Would you start mopping the floor or simply turn off the tap? The debate about reuse and recycling is age-old. We, at Ecovia, find more value in reusing rather than recycling,” says Dhwani. Taking this forward, the brand also rewards its customers for returning the packaging material.
Asked why the company chose to work in the sustainability space, she says, “Something I read stuck with me – climate change is not a people problem, it is a marketing problem. If marketed well enough, people will start caring about the problem. While I practise sustainability, I wanted to do something on a larger scale as well and get people involved.”
The material is designed in such a manner that it can be reused almost 100 times. “The material being used is recycled polyester that is made of plastic bottles. So, it is essentially the same material that is used to make backpacks. It is water and tear-resistant. From a material durability perspective, it is inherently robust and very sturdy,” she adds.
One of the ways Ecovia is incentivising its customers is by offering them benefits when the packaging material is returned. She says, “As the packaging is picked up from the customer a reward gets unlocked. This reward is essentially tied to the same brand from where the first purchase was made. So maybe a 10 or 25 per cent off on your next purchase. While we have reached close to 70 per cent in the returns segment, less than half that number have redeemed the rewards.”
This, Dhwani says, is indicative of how people are more concerned about returning the packing material rather than availing of the rewards it offers.
Tips For Startups:
Parikshit says, “While thousands want to start up, not many understand the nuances of it. I have learned a few very crucial things during this journey. No resource or mentor can help you understand the journey unless you take the plunge. Starting up is a lonely affair, you’ll have to be extremely disciplined to even be in touch with friends and family. You will have to learn fast, most of the time beyond your usual function.”
Adding to this, Dhwani says, “The one thing that no one tells you is just how important hiring is.” As a co-founder, she says that close to 40 per cent of her time goes into finding the right fit for the various roles at the organisation. She says it is important to find people who enjoy the work they are doing and also contribute meaningfully to the advancement of the company.
The other important thing she points at is dealing with uncertainty. “No matter how good the plan looks on paper, it is only as good as its implementation. One has to be prepared for all the uncertainties and vagaries that might accompany the business growth. COVID-19 in that sense was a huge teacher. We all learnt so many lessons while dealing with it,” she says.
In conclusion, she says, “Be fearless when you pitch your idea. You have decided to work on the idea only because you believe in it. Ensure that you bring that conviction to the fore when speaking to potential investors.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)