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Saurabh Gupta, Social Entrepreneur & Founder of Earth5R

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Hailing from a corporate background and having served at various HR operations for several years, Saurabh Gupta identifies himself as a social entrepreneur. In the midst of his jobs, Saurabh took sabbaticals to pursue a few youth based social projects and these opportunities introduced him to a lot of intriguing people and gave him a chance to travel to a lot of places round the globe.

After working several years in corporate world, Saurabh finally quit his job, where he found innovative and inspiring ways of catalyzing changes.

Saurabh’s real passion is to work for the betterment of our Earth. During the process of cycling to and fro for work, he spoke to thousands of people about outer and inner sustainability. He tried to develop an understanding in everyone about leading a sustainable life based on personal choices that one can make by slight and important changes in the lifestyle. Fortunately, Saurabh also had the opportunity to conduct a few talks in the corporate sector on the topic, ‘Organic life’ which included- Not using automobile on work commute, Eating like animals- eating for the need and not for the want and Tech Detox- against material excess culture.

In the past, he was blessed with the appreciation and appraisal from His Holiness The Dalai Lama for his work related with youth community on Project ‘Ganga to Nile’.

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In your own words what is Earth5R?

Earth5R is a social movement about giving back to Mother Earth and serving the society in a way to culminate in the building of sustainable communities. It is a conglomeration of science, advocacy, education and action to bring about the much needed changes for the planet, through an environmental leadership. We believe in taking shared action via an environmental talk show known as ‘EarthTalk’, a sustainability based online magazine named ‘EarthJournal’ and a community project called ‘I’M EARTH’. As an organization we have an entrepreneurial team of hard-working volunteers who are passionate about building a great change with social and environmental impact.

 

How did you come up with the idea of Earth5R?

I have grown up in the Himalayas, where we grew the food we ate. We survived in an interdependent and balanced ecosystem, where we even shared our garden produce with the neighbors next door. With a sense of respect for nature, the whole social system was very cohesive. However, moving to the cities presented a whole new picture of reality, where the exploitation of nature grew with the globalization and developmental index of the city. Witnessing the loss of respect and care for nature, there was a growing concern in me to change the prevailing scenarios and I always kept pondering over the ‘how’ of it. The corporate work environment too breathed lack of sustainability- sitting on chairs throughout the day, eyes embedded on computers, eating food while working, drinking cups after cups of coffee and breathing the re-circulated exhaled air. With time and this schedule, I faced a lot of health challenges, starting with getting overweight and then back pain, occasional migraine attacks and gastritis. This was when I came across a cycling marathon and I decided to take it up. Even though I participated in the short distance amateur category, the benefits of cycling lasted for several days. Ever since, I was hooked to cycling and started bicycling everywhere. In the beginning, my passion for cycling was taken as joke as people thought I was unwise enough to cycle on the roads of Mumbai, taken the weather and traffic, to add on. However, with time, people were convinced with my hobby.

In due course of time I lost a lot of weight, became much healthy and started enjoying life a lot more. By this time I was getting in the inner circle of life and started exploring the real meaning of life.

It’s said Buddha achieved Nirvana under a Banyan tree and I joked with my pals claiming, I achieved mine on a bicycle seat. Deciding to break the monotony of work at the corporate sector, I decided to head towards helping people with the aim of sustainability.

After quitting my job, I wanted to travel for some time and to sustain the flow of income, I became self-employed as a natural therapist, and this is when I travelled and bicycled in several countries, crossing latitudes and longitudes.

With a distance greater than the circumference of Earth (40, 008 km), I completed to cover a distance of 50,000 km in 2014 in two years commuting to my workplace and it was then, the idea of Earth5R struck me. With the zeal to start with some ‘work for good’ I believe change is propelled through the power of communities. And to fulfill this, Earth5R started to take shape from last November.

 

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Earth5R?

After the idea of Earth5R came to me, I developed a very basic website and hired two paid interns to market this idea. However with their sole monetary interest and a meager willingness to contribute to the cause, I saw bleak chances of the success to the desired movement. However, a few people applied to work with us and after having explained to them the volunteer based model that we were to follow at Earth5R, that meant no pay for work as well as a determined will to work, we had our first set of volunteers. The team grew with word of mouth. Hard work along with fun at work brought a lot of meaningful work in practice and consequently helped expand our team. Initially we had the EarthTalk, which is somewhat like a TED Talk, but of and about environment. EarthTalk received a tremendously heartwarming response and to create a large scale impact, we thought of introducing the EarthJournal, to reach out to the masses. The journal is a provocative Scientific-Socio-Economic reportage through an environmental lens. We created this magazine for lovers of Earth, equality, and investigative journalism. EarthJournal too, was welcomed with a very good response. After talking and writing had hit the success bar, it was time to walk the talk and then was born- I’m Earth. In this initiative, comprising of a 120 people team, spread across most of the large cities of India, Germany, Switzerland and France, the team reaches out to the community and nature. Importantly, it builds impact by engaging people in activities that build collaborative change.

 

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup and if so, how did you guys overcome it?

The biggest challenge of any organization being manpower cost was taken care of, by the volunteer run model at Earth5R.

A major challenge that all social projects face is that people join in with a good intention of contributing towards a noble cause, but refuse to leave their comfort zones. Doing things because they are easy or convenient, is not something that we support or encourage as a team or as an individual effort. To overcome this, a uniform policy was finalized to be followed across the organization, be it the CEO, an EarthJournal author, graphic designer, photographer, college student or an artist- they all have to contribute minimally with two community services on a monthly basis to give back to the Earth. There was a deeper commitment with this uniformity and we realized that better performance came to the fore with the building of a greater understanding towards our concerns.

 

How have you been developing Earth5R since startup (i.e. what’s the developmental direction)?

I have had the experience of travelling and staying at many places with diverse cultures, from small cities to big towns to places in the heart of nature and coastal banks. There was an immeasurable gap between these places, especially considering the multifarious topographical and geographical conditions of India, where I spent the most of my time.

I got versed with the fact that people residing to the villages led a sustainable life and thus, were even well integrated with the ecosystem. The herculean challenges lie in the bigger cities where endless competition for success has embraced people with reckless lifestyles and the cities turning to concrete jungles. Recycling was not the sole solution to bring change in the community, we had to inculcate and restore the lost respect for nature. If people begin to respect nature, which includes them (as they too are a part of the ecosystem), they will reduce their needs- inner sustainability, if their needs reduce they would start reusing, consequently there is less left to recycle. Working on these four Respect, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Restore- can lead to improved restoration of resources, and that is what Earth5R is.

This thoughtful approach has been very important to each and every person working at Earth5R and that’s why we engage everyone working with us in community activities, so they can live those values and produce innovations. Action learning is a powerful force that can give rise to a lot of creative ideas which are more likely to work because they came out of practice.

We are working in the direction of developing social leaders; each person at Earth5R is a social entrepreneur. They create their own projects, conduct impact assessment and share their learning with the larger community via social media, EarthJournal and EarthTalk. When they engage with the communities they create more leaders, and that’s how a chain reaction of social change begins to evolve.

 

What kind of feedback did you get for Earth5R so far?

We have received a very positive response from our volunteers. Initially each volunteer joins for a duration of three months but it has never happened since the inception of Earth5R that a single volunteer left because their voluntary commitment of 3 months was over. They were tied to the culture, stayed in sync with Earth5R and some of them even got promoted as team leaders or project coordinators, seeing their caliber of work.

We currently have 120 people working with us in the core team who are driving various social projects across 4 countries and another 1,500 applicants reserved for future pipeline of work, as there is a saturation of volunteers for the committed work. Numbers have been very encouraging and there hasn’t been a struggle for talent till date.

 

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry ? What is your strategy against your competition?

Competition, as of now, has not come into the picture as we have created a niche in the area of work. However, to stay up beat and outperform competitors, we believe in a strategy of innovation, strong execution and continuous impact.

 

What can you tell us about the industry? Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

Social and environmental work isn’t anything new; it’s been around since humanity. However, what we did was created a sense of urgency and got together people to act, linking it with their leadership development and that is an interesting phenomenon, since people anyways wanted to do good but lacked a platform so we provided them the platform and brand, which they can look up to.

 

What is the future of the industry and how do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?

As an industry it’s quite contemporary and there is a tremendous future to this. We have colossal amount of environmental and social issues to tackle. We are working to develop new sustainable technologies and working towards social innovations- these are the key factors that would help us stay relevant and effective.

 

Were there anything that disappointed you initially?

We’ve come across people joining in with the ideation of social work being the ‘cool thing’ and failing to live up to the standards of performance. We have also learned that endorsing a talent and bringing it to smart execution are two different things.

 

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? Is it harder or easier, why?

The appreciable fact about working in Asia is its receptivity and acceptance of novelty in work. With an immense scope of social work to be done, Asia also serves as a large market for the same. However, the red tapism involving bureaucracy and redundant paperwork is  huge hurdle to overcome in India. Nevertheless, if we believe in our ideas, our cause, and ability, these obstacles don’t really matter.

 

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

By the history of culture and lifestyle, Asians seem to have a smaller appetite for risk, as compared to the people of west. Another bi-product of the collectivistic culture in Asia is that a lot of people have social and family responsibility to ‘settle down, while with individualistic societies of west are less tied. These factors do affect the flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystems of these societies. Despite, thanks to globalization that introduced cross cultural practices and traditions, which have helped in growing the girth of equilibrium Earth-wide. Acceptance has grown and continues to grow.

 

What is your definition of success?

Making a difference in people’s lives is more rewarding than just accumulating wealth and crunching numbers in boardrooms. In my opinion, success is what adds value to our lives, it’s about value creation that feeds more people than serving the few. Success is what is shared.

 

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I am an adventurer and I can tell you being an entrepreneur is one of the most adventurous things. You are always walking on a thin ice.  But a stronger reason why I decided to become an entrepreneur was because I wanted to challenge the status quo. I felt there was a need to get people out of their comfort zone, realize their potential and use it for building a change. People responded, and now it has become a social movement.

 

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

The single biggest key to success is execution of an idea, even if its half baked, rather than waiting for a perfect solution. People learn real lessons on the path of execution.  I love that Nike slogan- Just do it! It’s a greatly inspiring line.

Also it’s very important to have the right people as team, who believe in your idea and support it. It’s important to invest time in building a great culture, because that’s what drives performance and guards the team. Performance brings performers on board. That’s the power of culture.

It’s also very important to reward with perks and fire the jerks. It keeps the team motivated.

It’s also important to know whether people are having fun and customers enjoy a great experience.

Entrepreneurs must make sure that they are solving a problem and creating a difference to the lives of their stake holders- be it employees or customers. They will continue to be successful as long as they are relevant. Social media has enabled a lot of sharing of information to people which was earlier controlled by media and advertisers and those businesses who continued to operate the same way and now seem to face a load of difficulties, because they are losing relevance.

 

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

Do it only if it’s super important to you, if it’s not, don’t waste your time because life is too short to do something that doesn’t include your emotional investment.

 

Connect

www.earth5r.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/saurabhguptamumbai

https://www.facebook.com/Earth5R

https://twitter.com/Earth5R

https://instagram.com/earth5r

Entrepreneurship

Ecommerce in India – 2016’s Online Shopping Destination

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Shopping in Chennai, India

Ecommerce in India is looking pretty so far, but 99% of the canvas is still unpainted. The country’s online retail sales currently account for less than 1% of the total revenue generated by retail sales. However, it would be inaccurate to label India’s e-commerce state as ‘infantile’, for the industry has seen growth — fast and furious — over the past few years. For example, India’s online retail market share nearly doubled from 10% in 2009 to 18% in 2013. With the gears well-oiled to continue turning at this robust rate, key e-commerce players are forecast to run on exponential growth for the next five years.

With reference to a recent study by TechSci Research, India’s e-commerce market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 36% between 2015 and 2020. A combination of many important determinants work together in producing this figure. Internet and mobile penetration is at an all-time high and growing stronger by the day. With cheaper internet and mobile data plans being churned out, the feverish bug of online retail is spreading beyond Tier 1 consumers, but also to the Tier 2 and 3 consumers in India. Accessibility and awareness work hand in hand to contribute toward heightened interest in online shopping. Foreign Direct Investments and aggressive funding in both retail startups and giants are also major factors in stoking the fire. In the next half-decade, Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group will pour 5 billion USD of commerce investments into India.

On the consumers’ side, aggressive marketing and attractive discounts on spending are incentivising them to open their wallets. The big boys of India’s online retail — Flipkart, Snapdeal and Shopclues — compete for market share by keeping their prices low and competitive. Cashback sites have also caught on in recent years and proved to be a popular channel for consumers to make their purchases. These cashback sites monetise by providing rebates for consumers on their spending and purchases.

Top Online Shopping Sites in India

Just this year, Southeast Asia-based cashback startup ShopBack launched in India. With a strong pulse already felt in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines, ShopBack opened strong in India as well, offering customised cashback options for key Indian merchants like Jabong, MakeMyTrip and Amazon.in. Co-founder Joel Leong said, ‘We recognise that Indians are heavy users of mobile recharge, so we want to help them save money by paying them extra cashback for an indispensable necessity.’

As of Q2 of 2015, a study by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India revealed that mobile subscribership clocks in at almost one billion Indians. Recognising the savings prospects this entails for mobile users, ShopBack made its Indian debut providing 5% cashback for mobile recharge and bill payment with Paytm. To put that in perspective, the current market rate is only at 1.9%.

What obstacles must be demolished?

From arid dry deserts to sweeping mountain ranges, the Indian subcontinent is flush with beautiful panoramas. However, this varied landscape — coupled with insufficient suitable infrastructure — incubates a disorientating headache for retailers seeking economical logistics and transport systems. The developing country’s business-to-consumer e-tail platform is thriving, but specific to this department, the delivery fees for sending a single parcel from one end of the country to the other can be steep, making them unpopular with buyers and cost-inefficient for sellers. Currently, logistics systems in India are metropolitan-centric and target mostly Tier 1 consumers. About 90% of goods purchased online are delivered by air, layering added costs for retailers. Surveys have shown that Indian consumers expect low-cost, if not no cost, where shipping and returning charges are involved.

Indian Rupee

Another hurdle to cross for India’s e-commerce growth also happens to be their most favoured payment method: cash-on-delivery. Although manpower-intensive and time-consuming for retailers, the system accounts for more than 80% of e-tail transactions in India. The vibrant cash economy is supported by a majority of consumers who prefer inspecting the goods to match expectations before counting out the banknotes. This purchasing behaviour means returns and non-payments are high, and efforts and delivery costs come to naught for retailers. Plagued by low credit card ownership amongst the overall population, it seems this arrangement is set to continue, at least in the near future. However, the preference for COD also stems from a distrust in the lack of delivery and transit structures. Investments are already laying on the foundation for these problems, and key players are also introducing online payment wallets and enticing credit card payment options. The e-tail industry holds huge promise for expansion should these issues be alleviated.

What is brewing in the future?

India has a potential consumer base which far outsizes those of many other countries in the world. Currently, a flourishing travel market accounts for more than half of the total e-commerce market. Ticket-purchase, hotel-reservations, and holiday-planning are increasingly being completed online, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.

Agra India Taj Mahal

2015 was a remarkable year for India’s e-commerce, booming from 5 billion USD to 8 billion USD. Although there is no question of it continuing to permeate consumers’ lives in 2016, India’s e-commerce seems to be paving another route of growth. Out of at least 75 million predicted e-tail consumers this year, more transactions are likely to go through mobile phones than computers. India is opening its doors wider to international firms by the day and with accelerating capital flows bolstering economic liberation, the drumbeat of India’s e-commerce is looking to resonate stronger than ever.

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Features

ShuQi Liu, Founder of Q Communications

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ShuQi is a Gen-Y entrepreneur who recently started her own public relations company, Q Communications, in May 2014. Through quality execution, ShuQi is committed to helping newly formed businesses achieve open communications with various stakeholder groups. Besides building a young business, ShuQi enjoys yoga, music and reading in her free time.

In your own words what is Q Communications?

Q Communications is a Singapore-based branding and public relations agency. We are not the biggest in the industry, but we are a force to be reckoned with. It was founded when online and digital media began merging; more corporates were leaving their jobs to start their own business and employees in the creative industry were demanding more flexible working arrangements.

How did you come up with the idea of Q Communications?

I came up with the idea of Q Communications when PR agencies were struggling to sustain a stuffy corporate culture. Clients were also leaving their high-paying jobs to set up their own businesses. It was only a matter of time before the market required someone well versed in branding and PR principles to take up new jobs that required more flexibility and autonomy.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Q Communications?

Starting up Q Communications was not easy, especially since I am young, Asian and female! Nevertheless, I persevered. Eventually, people gave me opportunities to help them meet their outreach objectives. Over time, I could build a good rapport with my clients. More importantly, the media also found it interesting that a PR start-up was representing clients in the start-up space. Now, I am glad to see my clients have a media presence.   

How have you been developing Q Communications since startup?

Ever since Q Communications was founded in May 2014, it was clear that the company would set out to be a well-known brand, just as Ogilvy will always be synonymous with effective advertising. With this goal in mind, the challenge was to build up the client base and a capable team of creative communicators. To do this well, it was important to always stay focused on the big picture and be patient about gaining traction.

What kind of feedback did you get for Q Communications so far?

So far, the feedback for Q Communications has been great! Clients are very happy when their outreach objectives are met. The team also feels good about contributing towards the company growth.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry ? 

Q Communications is still operating as a small scale business, so thankfully we don’t face a lot of direct competition in the industry because not many agencies in Singapore are willing to offering marketing and PR support to newly formed businesses. In time to come, it is important that Q Communications differentiate itself from the competition by constantly evolving with the times and thinking a few steps ahead of what everyone else is doing. This ensures that we are a competent, trusted and reliable PR agency in the long run.

Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

As PR professionals, we need to understand our clients’ business in order to engage the media. We must also simplify the messaging so reporters can cut thru the clutter and get to the crux of the clients’ standout points. More importantly, we must have the creativity and knowledge to leverage when the right opportunity comes along.

To do this, a lot of time and effort is spent on researching and listening to what others have to say. A good PR professional must always be open to new ideas and possibilities. This principle remains as the industry will always be changing with the times.  

What is the future of the industry and how do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?

Like every other industry, work processes in marketing and PR will be automated by disruptive technologies. To stay relevant, it is always important to collaborate with like-minded individuals and be part of the ecosystem. For example, researching for the right media contacts used to be a tedious process. This involves buying the publication and manually flipping through it to find the suitable section and reporter. Today, there are companies which share these media contacts through a subscribed database. With the internet, we can also readily access the publication online. Another example would be working with strategic partners who complement your skillsets. At Q Communications, our strengths lie in media relations and copywriting. As such, we make an extra effort to work with graphic designers to bring out the visual aspects of the brand. This way, clients can better reach their outreach objectives through a collective effort.

Were there anything that disappointed you initially?

It is always disappointing when people perceive Q Communications as young and inexperienced, and try to take advantage of our expertise to reach their own goals. As such, Q Communications is very selective about working with the right partners. We are always open to trying out the working relationship first with anyone who is happy to give us the opportunity. However, in the long run, we want to achieve a win-win situation and not subject ourselves to anything lesser than our partners.  

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? 

Being an entrepreneur in Asia is very exciting. I think it is easier than our counterparts in other parts of the world. Asia is rising, and that means business opportunities are plenty. As long as you are willing to take risks and try new things, being an entrepreneur in Asia will be a very rewarding experience in time to come.

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

I would like to think that the principles in entrepreneurship, such as working hard, capitalizing on new opportunities, transforming a vision into a reality, taking that elusive leap of faith and such, is constant in both contexts. What differs in Asian and Western entrepreneurship lies in geography and culture. Asia, like the West, has its own unique characteristics. It takes time and effort to understand the differences and fully embrace the challenges in these regions.

What is your definition of success?

At a professional level, success is when Q Communications becomes a well-known PR agency in the industry. Clients are very happy with the work we do, the media loves to engage with our clients, we get new business through client referrals and word-of-mouth. More importantly, people value the work executed by a sensible, logical team of creative communicators. I don’t have to be driving the business on a daily basis at all, the team is competent and motivated enough to do the best they can.

On a personal level, success is doing what I’m good at and enjoying it to the fullest. It is always rewarding to see clients establish a public voice so more people can get to know the great work they do.  

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

Honestly, I never thought I would become an entrepreneur. I joined the industry thinking I would do my best to climb up the corporate ladder. Over time, I came to realise that my career ambitions were better fulfilled if I started something I really believed in. Which seems to be working out pretty well thus far!

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Entrepreneurial success comes with tenacity. Go after what gives you goose bumps!

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

Being a young entrepreneur is not as glamourous as it sounds. It actually requires a huge sacrifice to build a business. If you are willing to make major lifestyle adjustments and bid goodbye to your social life, entrepreneurship can be very rewarding in the long run.  

Connect

LinkedIn: https://sg.linkedin.com/in/sliu51

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SGQComms

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