Connect with us

Features

Saurabh Gupta, Social Entrepreneur & Founder of Earth5R

Published

on

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’.

thumb_IMG_2757_1024

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

Why is Facebook so Successful?

Published

on

This morning I thought I’d do some digging to try and find what people think about why Facebook became so successful. Most answers that I found didn’t really capture what I thought about the issue (not even Zuckerberg’s own opinion), so I decided to give a bit of an alternative perspective on it.

The One Thing We Learn From History…

As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in Outliers, someone’s success is not independent of their history. For example, Bill Gates had already built up over 10,000 hours’ experience by the time the opportunity to start Microsoft came along, and there are probably a number of examples of people who had similar experience to Gates but were just “one year too early or late”. Success is obviously a combination of both hard work and opportunity.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me state why I think Facebook’s strategy was so successful – I’ll get to why Google+ wasn’t. The closest answer to mine that I could find was this one on Quora (see point 1 of Todd Perry’s answer relating to “attacking hubs”). Yes, Zuckerberg had the right amount of technical expertise, but that isn’t the chief reason why their strategy was successful – many people have similar or even greater levels of technical expertise, but haven’t started Facebook. Yes, the owners have been aggressive about growing the site – show me someone who isn’t aggressive about growing their business. Yes, Facebook appeals to a side of ourselves that struggled to find expression prior to the existence of social media – MySpace, Friendster and countless others (including Google+) all do similar things, yet where are they today, really, in comparison to Facebook?

Zen and the Art (and Science) of Business Strategy

The answer, in my opinion, can be best articulated using terminology from Lila, the sequel to the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, as well as an understanding of social influence (power). This is a bit philosophical (abstract) at points, but I guarantee you it’s worth understanding if you’re in business.

In Lila, Pirsig divides reality into four “levels” of patterning: inorganic, biological, social and intellectual. Biological patterning (such as cells) cannot exist without inorganic patterning (the molecules that make up those cells). Social patterning (immediate, pre-intellectual gestures and responses between biological organisms, and social influence/power) cannot exist without biological patterning. Intellectual patterning cannot exist without social patterning (for a discussion of how we think mind emerges only from social interaction, see this article).

One thing we’ve been missing out on in our understanding of business is a thorough understanding of power and its role in society, and my opinion is that Facebook inherently managed to leverage the right amount of social influence at the right times to slingshot them to success.

How exactly did they do it? It was both easy and difficult (easy for Zuckerberg, difficult for the rest of us). Think about it: the first institution whose members were up on Facebook was Harvard – one of the most powerful, influential institutions in the world, with their students being incredibly influential people in society. Several other influential institutions followed, and before they knew it, everybody who was anybody was on Facebook. It was only a matter of time before the nobodies (such as myself) were on Facebook. (By the way, I’ve since deactivated my account, for a variety of reasons).

Where Google+ Went Wrong

According to this perspective, therefore, I (being a nobody) should not have received an invite to the Google+ Beta version, but I did! Who the heck am I in the bigger scheme of things? Apart from being a few years too late to jump onto the social bandwagon, this was Google+’ single biggest failing. Their entry strategy was flawed from the beginning. According to this article, Facebook has around 850 million users at the moment – Google+ has around 10% of that (90 million – and even that might be an optimistic estimate). (And no, I’m not on Google+ either, for a variety of reasons).

Conclusion

I am not at all discounting the value of incredible technical skill – it’s an essential component to getting your business up and running, and is mission- critical for high-tech businesses. You simply cannot afford, as a small start- up, to have your site/application fall over just when people start liking it, because then, just as quickly, they stop liking it. Also, I am not at all discounting the value of getting the right amount of start-up capital, if you can’t bootstrap your business, at the right time, or addressing the real customer need/desire, or having the right people, etc. Facebook certainly got a lot of those things right too.

What I am saying is that a successful strategy seems to be one that also takes into account social influence. Start off by convincing the right users – those with the most social influence – to use your product/service, and you’ll find it’ll be much easier to convince everybody else to do the same. That could be an incredibly easy or hard task, depending on how connected you currently are, and Zuckerberg was fortunate enough (this is the “opportunity” component of the opportunity/hard work mix about which Gladwell talks) to have direct access to some of the most influential people in the world to promote Facebook for him.

________________________________________________________

About the Author

This article was written by Thane Thomson, who is currently working for DStv Digital Media in research and development.

Continue Reading

Entrepreneurship

Ecommerce in India – 2016’s Online Shopping Destination

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Trending