Episode 4

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Published on:

18th Nov 2020

Ep.004 - The First Five to Say "Yes" - Sandeep Patel

[00:00:00] Sandeep: I, I think, you know, you have to keep on struggling to really get the right people who are motivated by what you are saying, speaking in their language, changing the communication so that they get convinced and what works and what doesn't work. So when you get the first five to say, "yes," by then, you will know what works and what doesn't work.

And figuring that out is the most important part.

Clement: We have the chance today to speak to Sandeep Patel, founder of Nepra and Let's Recycle. Sandeep is a successful serial entrepreneur who has always been fascinated by the waste issue our society has created and too really challenged. He's the pioneer when it comes to waste management in India.

Today, Sandeep solves more problems than he could have imagined when he started. He works with people experiencing some of the most intense poverty on the planet and inspires their family's life with [00:01:00] determination, trust, and care. In solving the waste problem, he tackles gender inequality, unemployment, and poverty.

Giving us a strong lesson of humility, perseverance, and accessibility, here's Sandeep Patel.

Laura: So, Sandeep, I'd love to hear from you in your own words. What is Nepra? What is Nepra all about?

Sandeep: We started thinking all about sustainability. For us, Nepra is about sustainability. It was coined from two words, "Neha" and "Pranali." Those are Indian words where neha means love and pranali means system. So love thy system was the logic behind Nepra and all the business we do is surrounded to sustainability.

And for us, any action we take has to be people-centric as well as environmental-centric. [00:02:00] So that's what Nepra stands for us.

Laura: So when you say it's about sustainability, it makes me think of a couple of things right away. Either you're saving something or you are fixing something...it's like there's two, almost like two strands of sustainable businesses out there, ones that are producing goods that are sustainable and others that are cleaning up the mess of other people's goods.

And it's, it's, it's really interesting that... actually, this is our first podcast with a entrepreneur who's in the waste management space. So can you speak to a little bit as to why you even fell into this sustainability space in the first place? What made you turn to this?

Sandeep:  Right. So, no, I, I did my masters from Leeds business school in the UK.

And since that time I was very keen on waste management and retail. When I came back to in India in 2002, it was too early for waste management and I had no idea how to go about doing it. So I did a lot of [00:03:00] businesses in the past, which came my way and I, I could see businesses as an opportunity coming my way rather than going away from me.

So I did a lot of businesses, which initial days allowed me to learn a lot of things. But in 2006, Nepra was born. Well, you know, for me, it was calling from day one, that waste is something which I want to do. And I don't know, you know, it was always something like a magnet, which was pulling me towards it.

And it's a problem of magnitude, which people always complained about. I could see everybody complaining about it, but nobody really looking at a solution. And I think that really gave me a big challenge and I wanted to solve that challenge.

Laura: Interesting. Was there, was there a moment in time that you can pinpoint that you feel really launched you in that direction?

Was it...was it a day where there was just too many complaints and you realized, okay, something needs to be [00:04:00] done. Yeah. What was the catapult to even, it's one thing to make you want to study, you know, sustainability, but it's another thing to want to dedicate all your time, all of your efforts and as an entrepreneur, almost just... you know, give up part of your life to pursue solving this problem.

Can you pinpoint a moment?

Sandeep: So, you know, the, one of my businesses was of activated carbon manufacturing. When I was starting that activity, there was a industrial unit, which I had visited where the land was highly acidic. And, you know, the previous owner had poured a lot of acid on the land.

So my leg completely went almost two feet inside the land. And I was, you know, in acidic water for at least five minutes. That really gave me a very stark perspective of how degradation of environment is being done by industries by not being compliant. So that day I still recall that I was shaken up a bit about [00:05:00] how much damage people are doing in the name of industrial development by not being ethical.

And, uh, I had decided that whatever I'm going to do, is going to be right for the environment and the people, because, you know, the kind of acidic, if the concentration has been high, I would have lost my legs on that particular day because of the acid burns, you know.

Laura: Yeah, I can imagine that hitting you personally, pretty hard.

I think very few people who are in the sustainability space that I know have ever had, I guess, that physical close tie to seeing just exactly how bad the situation might be. And for you, it was only for, like you said, a few moments. That's not necessarily true for everybody who's living near and close to these waste zones.

That's pretty scary.

Sandeep: Yup. Yup. And I think, you know, but it's, it's, it is about feeling the pain that's when you really try solving it, you know? Yeah. So essentially, you know, it was more about, uh, feeling the [00:06:00] pain jointly, uh, and you know, trying to solve that problem. That, uh, forced me to think about, you know, what business to do and what not to do.

And that's where Nepra was born in 2006.

Laura: So when you said you were working in, uh, activated carbon or is that right? So, but right before Nepra, that was the space you were focused on.

Sandeep: So let me take you through the journey.  (Sure, yeah)  I came back in India in 2002 and the biggest risk I took was getting engaged in 15 days.

So I'm a risk taker at heart, and -

Laura: It sounds like it!

Sandeep:  Then before that I had opportunities of getting into travel business, air ticketing and passport. I had my IT company where we had recruited almost 750 people... again, from the bottom of the pyramid, with the textile measures and GOV trained a lot of people from the economically poor section and gave them a salary of almost a hundred dollars when the average salary was $40 - 50 at that particular [00:07:00] time. Then I got into chemical training and then into activated carbon. So I did a lot of businesses between 2002 to 2006, which gave me a lot of insights into how, how to build my waste management business.

And in 2008, I chose to exit from all the business because I felt the time was right to get into waste management. Maybe I did it a little bit too early. I was almost bankrupt in 2012. And that is when I could manage to survive by raising my first round of money, which again, I almost lost in two, three, four months because of a fire in my facility, but then post that we have been surviving and growing.

So we have a lot of learnings or failures.

Laura: Well, it sounds like you said at the beginning -- you are a risk taker and it doesn't seem to scare you off, which is good because, in my opinion, waste management is not a, how do I, how do I put this [00:08:00] lightly? It is not necessarily the sexiest field to go into and it doesn't... it's not for the faint of heart.

At least as someone who is looking in from the outside, it seems like you need quite a lot of grit to work in this space.

Sandeep: I agree with you because if I look back in my journey, if you asked me to take the same journey again, I would be hesitant, but maybe I was a fool.

Laura: But we need more fools, right? Because if not, no one's going to be solving for these things.

Sandeep: So I'm trying to encourage more fools in the space now. So, you know, there are a lot of things I'm trying to do to encourage people and support them. [So] that they don't suffer the way we suffered in the journey and made a lot of mistakes. So I think I will be paying back to the community in that particular way of helping a lot of entrepreneurs getting into this space.

Clement: And what would you recommend for an entrepreneur that wants to enter into waste management?

Sandeep: So, you know, I think be strong, uh, you'll see a lot of failures, but keep seeking the answers because if you stop seeking the [00:09:00] answers, you will always have challenge because waste is a very dynamic...but simple industry.

So if you are able to connect the dots, you will finish your journey. So that's the most important part, you know, finishing the journey because I think daily, we had had thousands of failures. We had made a lot of mistakes, but it is about building trust and transparency with people that will get you success in this life.

Laura: And finishing the journey, for you, what do you mean by that? Is it, is it a certain level of accomplishment, a certain level of, like, problem being solved? Is there like a data point that you think of when you think of finishing the journey for Nepra?

Sandeep: Yeah, so, I think, yeah, so it's not about Nepra's journey, I would say it's the journey to solve a particular problem. Because you know, every day in waste management, there is a new challenge.

Either. It is product, it is a process or it is people, it is machinery, I need to scale... so every time and every scale you will have a different challenge. So, you know, I have seen my journey. There is no standard [00:10:00] day. I've seen it, that I have two types of same day in my life. Every day, there is a new challenge.

So it's about completing that particular challenge on that particular day or in next few days, or few months, or six months or 12 months. But you have to have multiple milestones going for multiple challenges, which you need to keep on solving. So it's a journey.

Clement: And in your journey, then, you said there is daily challenges.

What was the hardest challenge that you faced and would you do differently if you could do it again?

Sandeep: See, I don't think it could have been done differently because I never knew what other options I had. So, as an entrepreneur, I am content with whatever happened with me. So yes, definitely, uh, I think if I do the same thing again today, and if I was 15 years back then the situation is much easier than what it was 15 years back.

So this sector has evolved, the level of awareness has evolved. So for me, yes, we've started [00:11:00] ahead of time. We had a lot of challenges, but that allows me to be, actually, you know, having more failure stories, which allows me to be more successful as well, because we don't need to repeat those mistakes. So I don't regret anything because that's the most important part in waste that, you know, you should not regret doing anything.

If you have made a mistake, I think you should learn from it rather than regretting it.

Laura: So do you feel like, if you're focused on waste management anywhere in the world right now, it is such a complex systemic issue that's extremely challenging and that touches upon many social systems, very many environmental systems.

Do you feel like more than maybe other industries, specifically for entrepreneurs in the impact space, more than other industries, this is where you need to almost learn to... love to fail or learn to love this like trial and error and there's, everything is quite new it's so... so little has been done and so little has evolved and [00:12:00] it's almost like you just have to be able to scrape your knees even more in this space.

Sandeep:  So, you know, I would say that every city or every country would have its own different challenges. So if you ask me today, if I go to the U.S. Or Europe and I do the same business, I think I'd be more successful than I am in India.

Just because, you know, the ecosystem is more mature over there and my learnings have evolved, but at the same time, I'm in a market where, you know, uh, it's like the story where, you know, you go to a city and nobody really is wearing shoes and you'll go and sell the shoes. Either you look at it, that nobody will buy it because nobody wears it.

Or you can say, you know, nobody wears it, it's a huge market. So I'm in a country where, you know, there's a huge opportunity for doing effective waste management. And I am the guy who's, you know, setting new trends and benchmarks. People look up to our failures and what we did right after those failures as a new benchmark of how to go about doing the business.

[00:13:00] So that's how, you know, uh, it's different, you know?

Laura: Yeah. You're willing to see opportunity where others might just see giant, booming challenges.  (laughing)

Sandeep: So, you know, by nature, I'm one person. So if you give me a challenge, I will give you a business model out of it.  (laughing)

Laura: Well, Hey, you know, if, if that offers stands, we'll have to have another call where I just throw some challenges your way.

Sandeep: No, definitely. I'm open to that.

Clement: And so you say you learn a lot and if you were doing it again in the U.S. you would be successful because you've learned a lot on the system, on how to better do waste management. What do you think you have cracked in this system?

Sandeep: So, you know, the value chain and the level of segregation, which derives more value, typically all in the Europe and U.S., you know, the model is more designed on charging the government or the people for doing waste management.

Whereas in India, our model is we don't [00:14:00] charge, but we might end up paying and still we can be profitable. So we know exactly where the value in the waste lies and what kind of value addition needs to be done. So if I take the money from the people in a market like U.S. and Europe, and I still make money from the level of segregation I do, I can make more money than anybody else.

Clement: Okay.

Sandeep:  In those markets.

Clement: So that means you feel that you have really kind of valued the waste. When in Europe and U.S., we don't value the waste, we pay for the collection and kind of hiding it from the society or... but you actually value the waste and so you could benefit from the collection fees from the government, as well as the value of it.

Sandeep: So, you know, in Europe and U.S., historically all the waste was going from U.S. and Europe to China or coming to India, the paper waste is coming to India and plastic has been stopped. So, you know, when the waste [00:15:00] is being collected and shipped in a mixed form, the value is not recovered in a very high way.

Whereas, you know, in our case, what we do is we not only collect, but we also segregate, to a very detailed level, where the recovery rates are much, three times higher than what they normally recover in Europe and U.S. So for us, we are able to create that circular economy. Whereas, you know, the circular economy is only done halfway in Europe or U.S., but definitely this, you know, China ban and all those activities have really forced all the companies in Europe and U.S. to rethink on the strategy of circular economy.

And a lot of infrastructure is going to come up, but, you know, with the consumption versus the kind of infrastructure, there is a long way to go.

Laura:  So, can you maybe explain a little bit more for someone who is unfamiliar with India or about the waste management in India? Can you explain a little bit more about what is the difference and what are some of the logistics like, well, how does it work? Can you take us from someone throwing something out at home or at an [00:16:00] office all the way through this circular economy structure that you've created?

Sandeep: So, you know, India is still about 20 years behind what happens in Europe and U.S. in the case of creating of infrastructure and the whole value chain of processing and all that.

But in the last four to five years, because of the government initiative of Clean India Movement and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the government has been alocating a lot of money on increasing infrastructure creation and projects related to waste management. So a lot of changes are happening at a very fast pace. So what I see, which normally would have happened in 20 years now would happen in the next five years.

That's where India is moving so fast. Now in India, presently, what happens is, uh, you know, people are requested or made it to segregate the waste at source. The success ratio of that would be hardly 15, 20% actually on ground. But if it is not segregated, either the cleaner [00:17:00] of the building or premises or the person who is in the value chain of collecting the waste and taking it to the landfill site or a processing plant, would try to recover as much recyclables, which he can, you know, recover from that waste and sell it in the market, which is typically the rack picker or the bottom of the pyramid, which is working in the value chain.

As an employee or as a processor, they try to recover the recyclables and they go and sell it to the unorganized sector guy. And they make anywhere between, you know, $5 to $10 per day from the waste streams, they also make salaries or they are just making $10 per day of revenue from selling of the waste.

So that's the unorganized sector. Part of it, the balanced waste, which is collected from households and commercial establishments by the mid body, to a great extent was being dumped on a dump site, but lately a lot of projects are coming up, either for processing into [00:18:00] compost or into dry waste recovery or for waste to energy.

So a lot of projects are coming up, which will help cities become zero waste to landfill probably next 10 years.

Laura: Wow. That's acceleration.

Sandeep: Yeah.

Clement: And how do you manage working with so many players, so many independent workers in your business currently?

Sandeep: So we are a tech-driven company from day one, you know, I always believed in technology.

So from all the mistakes which we ever made during the journey, we have been constantly doing a business process, reengineering and imbibing that into our software. Which is completely mobile-driven and cloud-based so that every single stakeholder in our organization gets to use the software in his role.

So that information is captured at source and we provide the information in the process way to the next guy. And it allows us to control all the moving parameters [00:19:00] in a very smooth way. And we get control over such a dynamic and such a distributed process, you know, because we almost have 650 people today.

And in next six to 12 months, we might be almost 1200 to 1500 people in the organization the way we are growing. So it's important to capture the data at source and manage the information and provide them the right guidance at the right time.

Clement: Okay. So would you say that the challenge is more on the tech side rather than on the management side?

Because I guess you're facing a lot of management challenges as well to kind of encourage people to use this software and your tech system.

Sandeep: So I think, uh, the challenge is always there because, you know, people are always resistant, resistant to change. And, uh, as a leader, you know, it's always a challenge to get everybody aligned and using what you want them to use.

So, you know, as they say, you know, you design a system for dummies, and that's what I [00:20:00] tell my tech team that we have to design the system in such a way that the people do not have an option to work unless, and until they use the tech platform. And I think we are reaching to a level where people are actually, you know, are using the tech platform and we are trying to train and improve the training mechanism by how people can learn at their all freedom, because you know, with a larger organization spread over multiple geographies, reaching out and making everybody achieve one particular target at different time zones is a problem.

Clement: Yeah.

Laura: So when you say when, when you say training, uh, to bring onto the tech platform, are you also speaking about members of the bottom of the pyramid that you are engaging with?

Sandeep: So, you know, the people at the bottom of the pyramid, they are...essentially they'll keep, they keep on changing their mobile numbers.

So then they don't prefer to use the mobile app. We had tried it once, but they don't prefer to use the mobile app. But all of our collection executives who are basically, you know, from the bottom of the [00:21:00] pyramid who have started earning almost a thousand dollars a month, uh, from almost zero income. And they are owners of vehicles and all, they all use a mobile app to do the collection from the bottom of the pyramid or from any of the locations.

And, uh, I think that gives them a lot of confidence and, uh, kind of an associate image of a affluent and successful entrepreneur at collection level in their communities.

Laura: So I'm really curious to know just a little bit more about how you engage these individuals who so, so the alternative for them, a lot of the times you mentioned are just this informal waste collection.

You mentioned rag picking and all of a sudden, if they transitioned to working with a company like yours, where there's a much more formal process. A) how do you recruit, do you have a hiring process? Can you explain a little bit more about how that works for entrepreneurs who might be interested in, you know, in their own fields, in working with the bottom of the pyramid [00:22:00] in terms of employment, but not really sure how to go about doing that?

Sandeep: Yeah. The challenge is always the first four or five people to get on board. Because you know, in the bottom of the pyramid, the grapevine, or you can say the communication channels are much, much stronger than the affluent side of the society. Where bottom of the pyramid, people would communicate about any success or new things which happen regularly and where is an opportunity for making more money.

 So we had a lot of challenges convincing people to come on board. We gave them confidence about making money and we gave them surety about giving them that much money for a certain period of time to the business became much more stronger.

And once they saw that bare minimum was taken care of, they put the trust on us and we ensured that the trust was taken care of. And [when] they started making more money than we promised, they started referring more people to the system. So essentially, the [00:23:00] word of mouth, uh, became much, much stronger.

Even today, in the cities in which we operate, we do not do a lot of marketing and branding. We are a very low profile, uh, waste management company because 80 to 90% of our business comes from word of mouth.

Laura: Wow. So, so, but really just building, building trust that way. So it's really the longevity of it, right? It's the long game plan.

Sandeep: Exactly.

Laura: So what are some of the challenges that seems like that's pretty, I mean, doable and it feels like more and more entrepreneurs should just do that, you know, create, create these relationships, go into these communities, find jobs for people.

So why aren't more people doing it? What are some of the challenges?

Sandeep: So, you know, I think at every stage, the challenges involve. Okay. So definitely money is always going to be a challenge to survive and, you know, scale. So that definitely is there... the availability of information or resources of people or, uh, your technology, you know, so it's more about [00:24:00] playing that symphony.

So you have to have all the parameters, which are required to run the business. Either it is the people, it is the money, it is infrastructure, it is the customer. As an entrepreneur, your job is to play that symphony. And I think that's the only challenge which you need to really look at.

Because the rest, it all is, you know, is your business and you will have failures, but learning to play that symphony is something which is a challenge, you know?

Clement:  And you said the most important part is to find the first five and then after that, they refer, how did you kind of capture those five peoples' interest?

Sandeep: So when I say first five, it is the first five who say yes, because the rest who said, no, you will learn from all of the mistakes.

So I think, you know, you have to keep on struggling to really get the right people who are motivated by what you are saying, speaking in their language, changing the communication so that, you know, they get [00:25:00] convinced and what works and what doesn't work. So when you get the first five to say yes, by then you will know what works and what doesn't work.

And figuring that out is the most important part.

Laura:  And so when you say, you have to figure out what works, what doesn't work with the first five, you're speaking about the first five employees in the sense, like the first five waste pickers, but are you also referring to the first five customers, the people who are paying you?

Sandeep: So it's everything. So, you know, either the person who is going to give you waste, the person who's going to work with you, a person who is going to buy your waste, person, who's going to... so, you know, you will realize there is a profile of people in each geography, which wants to do certain kinds of work. And it is very important to understand who fits what rules, you know, and especially in the waste business, because you will find a lot of people have resistance to getting into this waste.

And as a leader, it is important to identify, initially... this, this I'm talking more in the early days because you know, countries like [00:26:00] ours, we have a lot of inhibitions about what business you can do and what you should not be doing because, you know, I got a lot of questions in my early days is what is a guy from, uh, who has done his MBA from Leeds Business School, UK, doing in waste business in India. And especially from a community which is not supposed to be doing anything in waste, you know.

Laura:  Yeah, you were, you are pretty much paving your own path at that point.

Sandeep: Yeah. So those questions are always there. So, you know, I think the caste system or the kind of perception system about what community or what kind of people, or what kind of education background people should be doing what.

So the perception of waste was always about, you know, people who are from certain communities already do waste was something which was historically kept in mind. They never expected an educated person from abroad getting into waste and loading and unloading trucks.

So I've done that myself, [00:27:00] uh, you know, in initial days, me and my partners and all, when the labor used to go by six o'clock in the evening and they will leave the work halfway, we will just go and jump in and start loading the trucks. And gradually, you know, the people felt bad that, you know, they were not doing more efficient or completing the work and leaving, so they will come back and they will help us finish the work and then they go.


 So we have literally dirtied hands on the ground and worked and toiled the whole process ourselves. And we know exactly where the challenges are for the people who work for us, you know?

Laura:  Yeah. There's an importance in not sitting on a high horse and being able to get on the ground, get your hands dirty, roll up your sleeves.

Like you say, you know, see everything through the eyes of all the people who will be working in your value chain. But I just want to make mention on something really interesting that I hadn't thought of before until just this moment. As you mentioned this anecdote about, you know, how does, how does this guy who's been educated abroad, come back and decide to do work [00:28:00] in maybe one of the quote unquote "dirtiest part of the system."

And especially when you refer to caste systems in India, do you think that maybe a byproduct in terms of the impact, the positive impact that you're having is also demystifying, you know, what a profitable business, a successful running business, can look like, um, because you're blurring the lines between what business traditionally should look like and sound like and what an entrepreneur should be doing and, and what it is that you're doing.

Cause you're going against a lot of these social, I don't know, standard stigmas as well.

Sandeep: You know, while I was in UK, I always read about equal opportunity employer and everything. Right. When I came back, I was always very clear that, you know, I'm never going to differentiate between men and women. I'm not going to differentiate between caste systems and everything.

So we had our own challenges where people were hesitant that we cannot ask women to load trucks and unload trucks. And I was like, you know, if they want equal pay, they would have to do equal work. [00:29:00] And that was something which was taken very positively by our women team members. And, you know, they did their job equally and they, they were happy to work with us.

And a lot of them are still working with us just because we treated them equal and we never did in any part kind of partiality of the salaries and the standards, which we gave to a male male member or a female member. And secondly, differently, you know, you've mentioned the caste system. So yes, initially we had challenges where certain people will say I would not work with this person.

Then, you know, or they will say they will not lift a diaper or something which came in. Then we used to personally go and do those stuff and work with them. So, you know, we broke those barriers by working ourselves and ensuring that we remove those barriers in people's mind. And we say, we are not here to discuss anybody's original caste and everything.

What we are here to discuss is how we can recover more waste. And that's the message we literally did from day one. And I think that message has gone very strong at [00:30:00] our team at the operations level.

Clement: That's super insightful. How is it to solve many problems at the same time? Like male/female inequality?

Uh, I mean waste in general, unemployment of the BOP  (bottom of the pyramid)  and yeah. How is it to, to solve many problems at the same time? Is it challenging to, to find priorities sometimes? Or can you maybe tell us more about this?

Sandeep:  So first thing, it is very exciting to have many problems at the same time. So, you know, you are never free to think of anything else. That, you know, constant seeking challenges.

So as an entrepreneur, you know, you are always supposed to have challenges, which you solve when you grow. So I looked at it as an opportunity to improvise on the process. Secondly, early days we were doing everything on our own. Right now, my job is more about creating a direction and getting people aligned on the processes to achieve those targets.

So at every stage of the business, we have [00:31:00] evolved. I like challenges as, uh, I don't like my day to be very light. So I love when I have challenges in front of me, but definitely not all types of challenges I like because some things needs to be controlled. So yes, once in a while we have challenges and, uh, I think to a great extent, whatever decisions which we take has to be the right decisions for the interest of the people, for the company and for the overall ecosystem.

So when your decision making metrics in any scenario is about doing it the right way and ensuring that no person is hurt or is losing somewhere either on the environmental side or the social side, or is impacted negatively. If those decisions are coming your way, then you know, you know, what decision to make.

And when you ensure that don't harm the environment or the people, I think typically those are the best decisions for the business as well. So that's how we take our decisions in any crisis or any situation.

[00:32:00] Laura: Sandeep, when you say a decision that does well for the environment and a decision that does good on people is typically a decision that's good for business...

I don't know if that's inherently understood or feels natural to people to think of this triple bottom line as fluidly as you just said. Did you always feel that that was true? That it was always better for business from the get go? Or was this something that you. Saw over time as you grew and as you scaled and you realize, yes. Okay. It also does...

You know, we are living in the capitalist world and, and okay. It has to make sense monetarily, you have to be able to pay people. You have to be able to, to sustain your business. Do you feel like that only became true as you scaled?

Sandeep: Oh, so I think a lot of me who is a, you know, inherently when I started the waste business, I was made into somebody from 2002, 2006 from all my earlier businesses.

 So, as I told you, I [00:33:00] did my travel business where, you know, customers used to get angry on us because you know, travel business is something which is a very dynamic one where, you know, you get one call, you forget what was happening earlier, and then somebody else will come and scream at you.

And so customer service and how customers perceive a business where service is bad or.... only the perception, customer perception is bad, causes you to have that fear of failure or fear of looking down on yourself. My travel business taught me that. My IT business taught me how to do business process reengineering.

Okay. And at the same time, the social side of it, because we trained almost 750 people from the bottom of the pyramid or the socially weaker section of the society on the children, on business process, outsourcing projects and recruited them at a higher salary than what was the market standard.

Yeah, so we believed we were doing a lot of impact with those families. That total income was almost $70 a month and we paid their children almost a hundred dollars. And the family [00:34:00] income jumped from $70 to $170. And we saw so many families' lives turning around during that journey of two, three years, just because of that.

So I was observing those changes. So there was something which really helped me. Then this environmental angle came to me from activated in the chemical factory experience of mine. So the people and the environment was always imbibed to me from my experiences earlier, the experience of manufacturing and the servicing gave me a lot of insights on waste management.

And in 2006, 2007, you know, that's when Nepra was coined. Because I have gone through a lot of experiences before 2006, which made me realize sustainability is something which I think I am designed or, personally I can relate to more, you know.

Laura:  Hmm. I really liked that. I think that's really inspiring to think of, of your own personal experience as this backpack of tools that you can carry with you.

Even if you change [00:35:00] industries. I always love thinking of, you know, our, our knowledge has compounded and you don't have to, you're not wiping the slate clean ever. And so it's, it shouldn't be daunting if you are about to launch a business in a new space, because everything that you have learned and experienced before will come in handy at some point, maybe in a surprising way.

Sandeep: Exactly.

Clement: Do you have any plans to expand or replicate your model elsewhere? Do you see it as, um, something you could do or something that you could encourage people to do?

Sandeep: So encouragement is always an ongoing process. I keep encouraging a lot of people to do it.

The challenges in the way we do business today is capital. So I'm working on solving that problem today. Uh, the capital becomes an easy access for us, as well as other people who showcase how it can be done. So I think, okay. You know, we are open to going anywhere as long as there is something which is an opportunity to create impact either [00:36:00] for the business, for the people, or for the environment.

Only thing is, you know, you have to ensure that you only take how much you can eat. So, uh, we will choose that, you know, we will only focus on certain size and certain scale of business, but the rest, we will always try to help and create that ecosystem because that's a responsibility as a leader you have to take.

And, you know, you have to ensure that you act as a catalyst for other businesses as well.

Clement:  Okay. And, is there any recommendations, because you have gone through a very long journey and made different learnings on how to hire people, how to communicate with them, how to build trust, and have you collected all this learning somewhere because in order to later use it to scale or something like this?

Sandeep: So, you know, our tech platforms and all are designed for scale. So I can go to 50 cities tomorrow morning. So that's not a problem. We are also [00:37:00] imbibing a lot of learning modules and everything within the systems. All of those things are an ongoing exercise. What's important is, you know, when we go, people is a factor which is going to keep on evolving in every city in a different way.

So the training on how to handle people, how to look at it, is something which we are trying to really think true, but for advice to anybody else, and I would say always think how you would want yourself to be treated in a situation. In the sense of a driver or a bottom of the pyramid rack picker, or what not.

And if you have an answer, I think the opposite person would always respect you. So for us, we were always respecting the waste pickers and I think that is something which gave them a lot of confidence on our company and the team.

Laura:  So really thinking of them as, as part of the team. They're what makes the wheels go round in your systems, so.

Sandeep: Exactly. So they feel respected. That is the most important part. We have always, always, you know, in the historical [00:38:00] way, a lot of people, our customers would mistreat our team members and we have taken those situations very seriously, and we have communicated that to those customers.

So they'd know for us, respect of our team members and respect for their work is something which is a big priority. And if you can't respect that, sorry, we can't provide you services. That is something which we did initial days of our business. But then gradually people realize what we were really talking about.

And I think today we get a lot of thumbs up for just doing the way we do business.

Laura: Yeah. It creates a...you're building a name for yourself in the impact space. And I think it, it does drive a lot of inspiration for other companies to model themselves after. As we kind of close, we have a couple more questions and one is, I think, what is the future of waste in your mind?

I mean, when we talk about the circular economy waste doesn't even exist, right? It's this idea that waste equals food. Waste equals more [00:39:00] fuel and, and waste isn't wasted until you actually wasted. Right. So what is the future in your mind, in, in, uh, you know, briefly, what do you see happening?

Sandeep: So waste is always going to be waste, you know, so I wouldn't say waste will become something else because it will only happen, waste management will only happen, when the waste becomes waste. So definitely, you know, that there'll be opportunity for a, I think people to really create value chains and make money out of it as more people participate.

So, yes, it's going to be a long journey. I think another...couple of decades before it becomes zero waste for the overall ecosystem, if people continue to pursue the journey. But I think the time for the sector has really come because earlier there were only certain people looking at the space. Now I think everybody's talking about it.

So there is a huge support mechanism which has been created and across the world. Where you know, people, if they are [00:40:00] keen to do it and they're ready to take on a few challenges, then the world is going to support those individuals.

Laura:  Yeah, that's a great, that's a really great point. And I think to what it is that you said about, you know, waste will always be there.

That's true. I think I was seeing it as, you know, we have to reconsider what we think of waste as being waste. And then, and then in that system, then yes, there will be, there will be this end waste that, that we have to do something with then. And you're right. It does feel like a far off dream to even think of zero waste, but lesser waste sounds closer to the mark, maybe.

Sandeep: So, you know, what happens is, uh, every individual is not the same. So out of a hundred people, you will always find 25% people who do not feel the responsibility towards waste, uh, at all, to be segregated and to not really behave in a certain way. So I think my point on waste being waste is just because of those 25% which we'll definitely keep on [00:41:00] impacting the rest 75% efforts.

Laura:  Yeah. You, you only need a couple of bad apples to spoil the whole bag.

Sandeep:  Exactly.

Clement: And so, Sandeep, to close, if you would have like one crazy idea to solve all the problems at once for the planet, for the people on the planet, what would it be? Any crazy ideas that could be solving the problem in your opinion?

And it can be as crazy as you want.

Sandeep: Frankly, you know, when you were saying this, only thing which came to me was Thanos snapping his fingers and the world changing overnight,

Laura: Yes!

Sandeep: But otherwise, I'm not able to think anything else. You know, I see that a lot of challenges going to be there and a lot of entrepreneurs would be required to solve those challenges.

But then you wouldn't have to have a Thanos who's just going to snap his fingers and change the world, you know, but that's not going to happen.

[00:42:00] Laura: No, thankfully Thanos doesn't actually exist, but, but that's, I love, I love that analogy,

Sandeep: But I was supposed to think crazily, right. So I thought-

Laura:  There you go, there you go. Well, it, I think what it is that you're doing is pretty crazy already and I'm just grateful that there are entrepreneurs like yourself that do exist in the world.

Sandeep: Thank you. Thank you.

Clement: Yeah, thanks a lot, Sandeep. Thanks a lot.

Laura: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Spaceship Podcast, all part of the wider Spaceship Impact Entrepreneurship Program. If you're curious to learn more or you're thinking about solving big problems through business, be sure to check out thespaceship.org. See you next time.


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The Spaceship Podcast
Giving the mic to Impact Entrepreneurs Globally!
The Spaceship Podcast is part of an Impact Entrepreneurship Masterclass called The Spaceship. We're enabling status quo rebels to tackle our world's toughest problems through business. This podcast is where we bring the theory to life by featuring thought leaders and impact entrepreneurs from around the world.
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