How This Startup Is Constructing A Plastic-Free World With Roots, Seeds, and Leaves6 min read

Plastic. The word draws memories of clogged oceans, black fumes from burning, and dead birds infested with plastic. We know that the continuous use of plastic is bad and destructive to our world. Yet, day in and day out, we continue consuming plastic with excuses like better packaging, lightweight, and easy-to-use.

But have we stopped to think of an alternative? Have we actually considered that we could permanently do away with single-use plastic? Well, that’s what Karmic Seed is here to offer. The best alternative to single-use plastic with palm leaf plates, bowls, and other goodies.

Meet Neena Gupta, a carefree, down-to-Earth person who started Karmic Seed, with an idea to help make the world a better place and where better to start than India. Neena has spent most of her years in the US but has often travelled to India.

Journey Of An Entrepreneur Who Never Thought Of It! 

In a conversation with her, she tells me that she never intended to be an entrepreneur or start a business. Before Karmic Seed, Neena ventured with various odd jobs after her college that were mostly ad-hoc in nature. She was involved in graphics, communications, a brief stint with teaching, sales, and so on.

With all these, Neena has made sure to take time out to travel or go backpacking. During these carefree travels, she often saw lots of plastic and worse- burning. She came across tonnes of agricultural waste that were simply burned up or dumped, disposed off in open fields. On one such travel, she chanced upon her partner in Goa, two years ago.

This was where her partner and she decided that something aught be done. The idea of upcycling agricultural waste was germinated that grew into Karmic Seed. Together, they set out to explore what they could do with this waste and how better they could protect the world they so dearly loved. 

Let’s hear more about Karmic Seed in her voice.

You started Karmic Seed with hardly any business-experience. What were the challenges you faced?

There were numerous challenges that we faced initially mainly because we didn’t know much about business techniques. We didn’t have any mentors, which meant there were no guidelines either. And we started Karmic Seed from scratch; it was like two people with technically no investors at all.

But now, looking back I can see it’s been a learning curve. We took a lot of online classes and we got a basic understanding of things. Eventually, we’ve figured out a path and voila, here we are today.

I understand it’s been quite a challenging, but rewarding journey. Can you tell us the sacrifices that you’ve made along the way?

Well, there weren’t many (She laughs). That’s mainly because I didn’t have a set profession. But I had a lot of savings which helped in starting Karmic Seed. But if there’s one thing I’ve sacrificed is, it’s time. When you start a business, you need to devote a lot of time and it requires hours of dedication, sitting in front of the computer, making a lot of cold calls. This also meant I couldn’t travel as much as I used to!

Karmic Seed was started from scratch, just like most startups. How did you scale Karmic Seed?

We didn’t have investors and we’ve started with zero investment. I had saved up from all those odd-jobs and I poured it into raising Karmic Seed. When it comes to scaling, we never did any paid advertisements or other such marketing. Instead, we visited a lot of fairs, pitched our ideas at various events.

Eventually, we got a couple of clients who started dealing with us in wholesale. I can say that Karmic Seed has been growing, but still, we’re putting back the revenue we get back into the business to keep scaling higher. We do a lot of importing and exporting our products and we’re mainly selling them in the US and a few other countries.

Speaking of products, could you elaborate a little more here?

I can say that our Palm Leaf Plates is our flagship product. The palm leaf plates are made from fallen leaves, which are basically just sheaths. Many villages and other workers collect these sheaths and clean them thoroughly. Next, we heat press these sheaths in different moulds. If a client wants bowls, we have moulds in those shapes as well.

What really sticks us apart is that the palm leaf plates have no wax and there are no chemicals here at all. It’s a product from nature that can be well-used and can be returned to nature. In fact, it’s very good for soil composting.

Where do you see the future for Karmic Seed?

We continuously want to grow and have a bigger factory with a broader product portfolio. Maybe we could have more moulds and a couple more products, giving our clients more options to choose from. Of course, this would also mean more labour and staff. While it’s exciting to think of expanding our products, I would never want to jeopardise the quality of it. And of course, I want to keep the environmental factor in mind as well.

At the same time, I also understand the limitations of this. Right now, we’re a tight-knit unit, close like a family. When we visit the factory near Bengaluru, we all sit down together for a meal and I like this bond I have with them. If we’re to have more staff, I want to ensure that they have more facilities as well, like a shuttle service from their village to the factory.

And where does that leave you?

(She laughs again.) We’re simple people, you know, who love simple food and a simple lifestyle. My future would be doing ‘Seva work’, even with Karmic Seed. With the lockdown imposed, I know that the future is uncertain and that’s also a reason why I want to get back to the field, to the soil. I actually want to grow my food and probably turn into a farmer! The thing about being an online entrepreneur is that you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, I really do miss the soil!

A Word Of Advice For Budding Entrepreneurs

Stick to your idea; if there’s something entrepreneurial about your idea or if it’s out of the box, just go for it. Go with your gut feeling, because they’re always true. And most importantly, treat everyone with the same level of respect whether it’s the staff that is supporting you or your clients.

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