Beyond Business

Ramanan, IT professional turned Environmentalist, a perfect Role Model for Empathy induced Altruism

“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.

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Ramanan, Shudh-Labh

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, 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 Training Solutions. Aiming at building the personal brand for Individuals, Entrepreneurs, and Businesses, SLN Brand Studio has developed numerous customized solutions.

“Breaking inner glass-ceiling is the continuous process for human to grow” – Suba Lakshminarasimhan, Founder, SLN Brand Studio

Mompreneurs, Passionpreneur, Successful Women Entrepreneurs

Vijayalakshmi Prakaash, Hobby Clusters: The Passionpreneur Changing the Lives of Classical Art Aspirants

“Entrepreneurship has been there in my thoughts since my childhood. However, life took me on a different route. After completing MBA in HRM, I got wonderful opportunities to work as the HR professional in the leading MNCs like ‘Accenture.’

Yet, the feeling of ‘missing something’ always lingering in my mind, one beautiful day, I took the plunge. I chose to do something which is very close to my heart. Yes, as a passionate Bharatanatyam dancer, I decided to start my journey in the field of the classical art form. The first thing that I did was quitting my day job.”

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Suba Lakshminarasimhan, SLN Brand Studio Interviewing Vijayalakshmi, Hobby Clusters

The words from Vijayalakshmi with such calmness and measured tone amazed me. The interaction with her began when I joined ‘Kathak’ in Hobby Clusters; all fresher learners. Within 3 months, our team of enthusiastic dancers got an opportunity to perform on stage as a part of Hobby Cluster’s annual program two months back. That is when I met Vijayalakshmi for the first time. I was infact stunned to see her carrying a small baby in hand. Yes, a new mom organizing such a grand event collaborating with numerous teachers and students, I was genuinely impressed.

We met another day again at my place for this interview.

“Tell me more about your Journey Vijayalakshmi,” I prepared myself to learn more.

“Everything started with Dance Suba. My mother & my first guru, Smt. Thangam Srinivasan is the great inspiration in my life. She is a singer and a dancer who got an opportunity to learn from the esteemed Guru Paramparas; She learnt music from Smt. Neela Ramamurthy, the daughter of Papanasam Sivan and dance from the descendants of Vazhuvuraar.

Later, I learned the intricacies and sharpened my dancing skill from the renowned Guru Shri. Narayanan. I am one blessed person to have had my Arangetram at the famous Nataraja Swamy Temple in Chidambaram when I was 14 years old.”

She paused and went into deep thought; I felt as if I was standing in Chidambaram temple watching her performance.

I never stopped learning; beyond winning or losing the competitions, I focused on in-depth learning, assiduous practicing, and completed graduation in Bharatanatyam as well. When I wanted to take up an Entrepreneur journey, my gurus only flashed in my thoughts. Whatever I am today is because of each one of them, their timely guidance and passion.

It is imperative that the ambitious students get the right guru for accomplishing their aspirations. Moreover, I have always cherished moments working with kids. With a vision to connect the students with the right teachers, founded Hobby Clusters in 2012.”

“Fascinating journey indeed Vijayalakshmi. That must be one brave decision to leave the full-time job, right?” I asked.

“Yes Suba, it definitely was a hard decision. Financial independence is significant to me. When you start to do something, it may take a while before you see any money in return. However, I was very confident about my passion, ability and, as I told you earlier, I have always been thirsty about continuous learning.

The most important aspect in Entrepreneurship is ‘the investment.’ I had two investment choices; one is to invest money, build an entity by hiring people to support me. The second option is to dedicate and invest ‘time,’ learn and do things without any hesitation. I chose the second path.”

I let her pause for few seconds without interfering her thoughts. Listening without filling the silence moments is one skill I acquired in recent times as I interact more nowadays.

Vijayalakshmi continued with a warm smile, “I defined my strategy first. Introducing the syllabus-based quality teaching where the students become the qualified performers is my mission. I started connecting with the aspiring students. Establishing the connection with the students’ & parents and gaining their faith was very challenging initially. I spent my time getting to know more about the market, students and their exact requirements.

Similarly, I spent quality hours searching for the talented teachers who can match with the student’ requirements. All these teachers and the students are the pillars and the reason behind where we are today. Now I have amazing teachers for vocal Carnatic & Hindustani, Music Instruments, Various classical dance forms, and sports who are spread all over Bangalore. I am very proud to say that we will soon be UNESCO certified too.”

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Hobby Cluster’s Annual Day 2018 at MLR Convention Hall, Bangalore

“That’s fantastic. Congratulations Vijayalakshmi.” I was equally pleased, continued my questioning, “What kind of challenges you are facing nowadays? How do you manage such challenges?” 

“When this digitized world is moving fast, people expecting quick results without realizing the importance of learning the basics well is posing a lot of challenges for us the teachers. I work closely with the parents and make them understand the intricacies the students must learn. Fortunately, many parents are very cooperative, they know the importance of time one must give for the learning curve and hours one must dedicate for the practice.

And, personally, as you know, my daughter is 5 months old. There is learning every day. She is my priority. I must mention here about the support I get from my husband. Prakaash extends his support and backing in all possible ways; right from taking care of the baby completely when I am working. My ‘go to’ person whenever I am facing challenges in the business.

When it comes to my capability to manage challenges, I must give credit to my ability to organize my time appropriately and balance things well so far. Spending more time in planning helps in executing things well.”

“Do you have anything specific to share with the fellow Women Aspirants who are struggling to manage family and work?”

Focus and priority are the two sides of the coin. If you look at people struggling to balance life, both their focus and priority is work. Then starts the ‘guilt trip’ leading to living life where there is no ‘contentment.’

Keep the primary focus on the family, prioritize activities based on the situation. Set a goal that benefits your long-term growth, and learn how to manage your time well. Little compromises here and there will help in balancing work and family well. Infact, not only women, this can apply to men too.

Isn’t life all about ‘Give’ and ‘Take’?

It was one satisfying interaction as I wished Vijayalakshmi and Hobby Clusters team!

“Living ‘just’ a life or Celebrating Life amidst ‘odds’; Choice is yours” – Suba Lakshminarasimhan, Founder, SLN Brand Studio

About the Interview‘Words of Wisdom’ Interview with Ms. Vijayalakshmi Prakaash is an initiative for ‘Women Contentment Program,’ a Mentoring program for women.

Ms. Suba Lakshminarasimhan, Founder, 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 Training Solutions. Aiming at building the personal brand for Individuals, Entrepreneurs, and Businesses, SLN Brand Studio has developed numerous customized solutions.

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