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Creating a business to address a social cause is easy but making it profitable is the tricky part. And that’s the balance Binbag Recycling Services Pvt. Ltd has been able to achieve. The Bengaluru-based startup has carved out a niche by catering to small and medium companies’ need to dispose of their e-waste. Since 2014, when it was set up, it has established a 300-tonne e-waste plant in Andhra Pradesh and is in the process of setting up another 100-tonne e-waste plant in Guwahati. The latter will be the first such plant in the North-East, says founder Achitra Borgohain, 40.

In the beginning

But this is Binbag’s pivoted avatar. When it began, it was a one-man operation and the waste was collected in Borgohain’s Fiat Punto. It also catered only to individual customers. During the week, he would be busy with his corporate job and on weekends he would visit individual houses and collect e-waste. “In a week, the car would be full and I would head to a recycler, who would pay me accordingly," he recalls. Within four months he got incubated by IIM Bangalore. To scale up, he enlisted local kabadiwallas, where he would pay them depending on the volume of e-waste they collected.

“It worked for a while but kabadiwallas are a networked community and work depends on emotional bonding. So, if someone from the community asked for their time, they would oblige. It was difficult to provide customer service since we had to depend on them," he says. Expanding the customer base was also becoming hard since collecting small quantities door-to-door was proving to be an expensive proposition. Borgohain found that he was getting a number of calls from small enterprises and organizations. “They don’t generate e-waste in the volumes of, say, Infosys because of which e-waste companies wouldn’t be interested in catering to them. It was a signal. But it took me six months to realize how we should pivot," he says.

After 18 months, Borgohain shifted his business model from individual customers to SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) segments and organisations like the Art of Living and Narayana Hrudayalaya, and new-age tech companies like Myntra and Jabong, who were former clients. Currently, Binbag has over 40 clients from IT, IT enabled services and manufacturing across the country. Many of these are repeat customers, he states.

Borgohain also decided to own not only the supply chain but also the recycling; in other words, providing a complete end-to-end solution. It was also the time when he got on board a co-founder. “It was an ‘aha’ moment for me. Having a co-founder helped. Since we pivoted, in the last two years, we have been doing ‘good’ instead of ‘doing well’," he says.

In the first year after the change of customer base, Binbag’s turnover was 1 crore, much more than Borgohain expected. In the second year, the turnover doubled.

Achitra Borgohain, founder of Binbag
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Achitra Borgohain, founder of Binbag

Creating a business to address a social cause is easy but making it profitable is the tricky part. And that’s the balance Binbag Recycling Services Pvt. Ltd has been able to achieve. The Bengaluru-based startup has carved out a niche by catering to small and medium companies’ need to dispose of their e-waste. Since 2014, when it was set up, it has established a 300-tonne e-waste plant in Andhra Pradesh and is in the process of setting up another 100-tonne e-waste plant in Guwahati. The latter will be the first such plant in the North-East, says founder Achitra Borgohain, 40.

In the beginning

But this is Binbag’s pivoted avatar. When it began, it was a one-man operation and the waste was collected in Borgohain’s Fiat Punto. It also catered only to individual customers. During the week, he would be busy with his corporate job and on weekends he would visit individual houses and collect e-waste. “In a week, the car would be full and I would head to a recycler, who would pay me accordingly," he recalls. Within four months he got incubated by IIM Bangalore. To scale up, he enlisted local kabadiwallas, where he would pay them depending on the volume of e-waste they collected.

“It worked for a while but kabadiwallas are a networked community and work depends on emotional bonding. So, if someone from the community asked for their time, they would oblige. It was difficult to provide customer service since we had to depend on them," he says. Expanding the customer base was also becoming hard since collecting small quantities door-to-door was proving to be an expensive proposition. Borgohain found that he was getting a number of calls from small enterprises and organizations. “They don’t generate e-waste in the volumes of, say, Infosys because of which e-waste companies wouldn’t be interested in catering to them. It was a signal. But it took me six months to realize how we should pivot," he says.

After 18 months, Borgohain shifted his business model from individual customers to SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) segments and organisations like the Art of Living and Narayana Hrudayalaya, and new-age tech companies like Myntra and Jabong, who were former clients. Currently, Binbag has over 40 clients from IT, IT enabled services and manufacturing across the country. Many of these are repeat customers, he states.

Borgohain also decided to own not only the supply chain but also the recycling; in other words, providing a complete end-to-end solution. It was also the time when he got on board a co-founder. “It was an ‘aha’ moment for me. Having a co-founder helped. Since we pivoted, in the last two years, we have been doing ‘good’ instead of ‘doing well’," he says.

In the first year after the change of customer base, Binbag’s turnover was 1 crore, much more than Borgohain expected. In the second year, the turnover doubled.

Another by-product of its core business has been getting into the office liquidation business. If a company is shutting down or shifting, besides collecting the e-waste, Binbag also helps them sell the office furniture.

Staving off competition

While there are a lot of e-waste recyclers in the market, Borgohain believes there is room for more. At present, he barely has competition in catering to the SME sector.

“There are enough recyclers but we need a great e-waste collection mechanism and that’s where we want to stand out," he says.

More participants would also mean more innovation in the sector. For instance, if a firm can extract gold and silver from computer parts in a highly efficient manner even at low volumes.

Going forward

Besides recycling, Borgohain says his Andhra Pradesh plant has a refurbishing licence and can refurbish electronic products. “We have kept a space in the plant for it," he says. At present, however, his team is busy building a technology to efficiently manage customer service and logistics while collecting the e-waste.

“I believe the impact of what you are doing is much more when you make money and are able to make your business sustainable," says Borgohain.

Solutions from Waste profiles startups that have created businesses or products from discarded materials.

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