Interview by the Editor
Who is Shriti Pandey and what motivates her to get out of bed every morning?
Shriti Pandey is a woman born and brought up in a Tier-3 city in Uttar Pradesh called Gorakhpur, in a fairly well to do family. While growing up she had more contact with books then humans around her. She loves travelling, believes everything needs to be experienced before one makes an opinion about something and the only habit she has carried on consistently since she was five years old, is to read before she goes to bed.
What motivates her to wake up every morning is belief in the butterfly effect, which metaphorically means that small events and actions can have large effects. We can all actively do our tiny bit in making the world we live in more inclusive, compassionate and empathetic.
Your work speaks of a business mind coupled with compassion. Have you felt deeply about the social and financial problems plaguing our country since you were a child?
As a reader from a very early age, it was my second nature to understand things by putting myself in the character’s place. In order to really connect to a story, one needs to feel what the characters are going through. I was receptive to the inequality that exists in our society and how privilege is such a important factor in shaping lives. All that we accomplish is quite a big representation of where we are born and the conversations and stories we surround ourselves with. The social hierarchy in India based on caste and financial status of the family, can be a privilege or a bane . For the longest time, I felt guilty of my privilege and eventually realized that the only way to confront it is to contribute in making the world around us slightly less unjust.
So yes the venture I founded is based on this idea that we all deserve certain basic rights as humans and access to a shelter/home is one of them , just like education and health.
Please share the significant milestones of your initiative Strawcture Eco, right from its inception till the present date?
Strawcture Eco is a venture whose mission is to make housing accessible, affordable and functional for all. I’d love to share some of the significant milestones here.
One of the most important things for a venture is the right team and partnership. I have been extremely lucky to partner with Ekopanely, a Czech Republic based company whose vision is aligned with ours. Our first pilot house was launch in October 2018 and its construction and launch is one of the biggest milestones till date.
We recently got our first paying customer, a secondary school and that is definitely something we will cherish forever. The team is very excited to build it and build trust in the extremely crowded and competitive construction sector.
Winning the 22nd UN Youth Assembly Impact Challenge award in August 2018, in my favourite city, NYC was a very special moment for me personally and a big achievement for the company as well.
We are incubated at Atal Incubation Centre, Banasthali Vidyapeeth University which has been a great support for us at every step of the way and has helped us get to where we are today.
How exactly does the initiative make money?
The initiative makes money by charging a margin on every construction project that it undertakes. We established this venture to target the economically weaker sections of society, which are currently highly underserved. The housing gap for economically weaker sections and low income groups in the country is 96 percent in both cities and villages .Our margins are not as high as a traditional construction company. Our vision is what drives us every day and the for-profit model coupled with our mission is what makes us confident that we will be self sufficient as a venture in couple of years.
What have your experiences been like, as a solo female founder in India?
My experience has been nothing like I thought it will be when I started out. The journey for almost a year now has been filled with lots of ups and downs. Being a solo founder of a startup is rare as most startups we all have seen being successful, usually have two to three co-founders.
The fact that I am a founder of a construction company is lot more rare as construction has always been a male dominated industry. When I was doing my undergrad, there were only around 12 female students out of 120.
I have definitely put pressure on myself before entering a room to pitch, knowing that I first have to gain the respect that a 26 year old women wants to create a Green construction company in India and then get trust for our product and vision.
In most cases people have been supportive and unbiased towards my gender when giving their feedback. As a woman founder, for me the idea of equality is to get the same response from a mentor or investor as a man would; to be judged on the merit of our work and growth. I don’t want any shortcuts or extra support but what I do want for myself and every other woman out there is the same platform as men. Ideas, innovation and creativity can be found anywhere and are never bound by gender, sexual orientation, caste or other boxes that we like to put people into.
What’s your vision for Strawcture Eco five years from now?
After five years, we should be locally manufacturing in India in more than two to three states states where paddy straw and wheat straw is readily available. This will generate jobs and provide around 2000 marginal farmers in India an additional 15 percent income from their same patch of land without any extra effort, just by managing their crop residue in the right manner.
We want to build more than 2000 homes in India that are sustainable and most importantly create a shift in the construction industry, where green building material usage becomes the norm and not an exception. We want to create a model that proves that catering to low income segments is not a poor business decision but one that can make money and have impact as well.
What do you most need help with at the moment?
We are at the stage where we are building a team and so looking for people passionate to work for a startup with social impact at the core of its vision. Since we are a startup and don’t have much bandwidth for paid marketing, we are looking for collaboration, partnerships with organization that also want to provide housing for all and we want do projects together to gain a platform.
Please share an inspiring message with the readers of Indspire Me, who want to follow their dreams and make a decent living as well.
Honestly I have been privileged to be born into well-to-do family. When I moved back to India to do the fellowship and thereafter start the company, that wasn’t at the cost of say figuring out how to pay back my student debt.
So I feel I shouldn’t be the one speaking for everyone, as I am aware a lot of times there are constraints to what we can do because of our financial background and if we have a safety cushion.
My message to everyone who wants to follow their dreams is to take risks sooner in life rather than later.
Failure is an experience if we can learn from it, and the sooner we learn the better. To also make a decent living while following our dreams, I think it’s sensible to have a hybrid model and multiple source of income for oneself. If you are passionate about something that is not necessarily a money minting machine, then try to do a second job or find a channel/ consumer/ customer in the same work that helps you to earn .
Life is the cumulative effect of a handful of significant shocks so go out and find those events or experiences for yourself that are worth writing about irrespective of its outcome.There is higher probability those are moments where you find your calling or passion.
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