Meet Sambhu Sasikumar: The founder of Re-Leaf, a social enterprise in the sanitation sector.

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Re-Leaf is a social enterprise which manufactures and services portable toilets thereby solving the problem of lack of public sanitation in the urban and rural areas.

 

We believe that ensuring proper treatment and disposal of waste is a key issue which differentiates us. Our products are water conserving, we have world class systems and treatment plants available on rental basis which is not available among the competitors

 

Give a brief info about your startup?

Re-Leaf is a Social Enterprise working in the portable sanitation sector. We are manufacturers and service providers of Portable Toilets, Treatment systems etc. Our products are available for purchase and also on rental model, where we take care of even day to day cleaning and operations, maintenance etc. Most of our products are water saving and made out of recycled materials. Few of our clients include Sabarimala High power Authority, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, Fifa U17 Worldcup authority etc. Re-Leaf through its products currently conserves around 20 Crore litres of fresh every year. We are also working on sewage disposal issues, waste recycling, organic fertilisers etc.

 

What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?

I think we seized an opportunity, which was a telephonic enquiry for designing a treatment plant for marine applications. The customer was convinced with our design and gave an opportunity to install a sample system. We began from there. Like every startup, we were also focused on a problem, which was lack of public sanitation infrastructure. The sector is very challenging and the problems are ever increasing with rapid urbanisation of our cities, public spaces etc. We decided to offer portable sanitation solutions for customers who had resource limitations.

 

Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?

I am basically a Marine Engineer. I did my graduation from TKM College of Engineering, Kollam. Later completed my PG in Marine Engineering from South Shields , UK. I started my career as a Trainee marine engineer with Tanker Pacific , Singapore., and worked up to the level of a Second Assistant Engineer. I decided to quit the career at sea following the demise of my father in 2011. In 2011 we incorporated M/s Indian Centrifuge Engineering Solutions Pvt Ltd. We started out of a space in SIDCO Industrial estate , Ettumanoor, a small town in Kerala. Our start was with rotor reconditioning and dynamic balancing services. Later in 2012, we ventured into Public sanitation space by manufacturing the first Biotoilet in Kerala. Later over the years ICF developed as a key organisation in the space of rotating equipment reconditioning in Kerala, and Re-Leaf as a prominent sanitation service organisation.  Apart from these two ventures, I cofounded M/s Dynamechs Technological Solutions, an Import – Export trade service organisation.

 

Where is your startup based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?

We have our offices in Cochin and Kottayam. Our factory is based in SIDCO Industrial Estate , Ettumanoor.

 

As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?

I am trained as a Marine Engineer. We used to have alarms coming at midnight from the engine room where the duty engineer has to visit and solve the issues. So I was naturally trained to handle these situations as well as getting a good night sleep amongst the issues. This is helping me as an entrepreneur. We are having a 24 x 7 thought process, but nothing stops me from having a good sleep and I specifically try to have a good work life balance. But the major things are marketing, product positioning, R&D, funding etc.

 

Who are your competitions and how are you better than them?

In this sector everyone is different. Anyone can have a basic infrastructure and start the service, but we believe that ensuring proper treatment and disposal of waste is a key issue to be addressed. Hence we are a differentiator. Our products are water conserving, we have world class systems and treatment plants available on rental basis also which is not available among the competitors. The major players in this sector are 3S Sanitations, Sebach etc.

 

How hard is it to have a work-life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it?

It is really the most important aspect for a startup founder. As I explained earlier, my career as a Marine Engineer immensley helped me to face situations. My family is also very supportive, we have open discussions about everything including the business. My wife and mother are active participants in our day to day operations. But we make sure that business is not interfering in our relationships. Also I like to be among my friends, who are also very understanding and accept me with all the faults I have. I try to be cheerful all the time irrespective of my business situations. This helps to get a positive frame of mind and spurs creativity.

 

Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you’re looking to raise?

We are yet to raise funds. We are a zero debt company with all investments coming from share holders. The initial few years were really risky, establishing in the market , ensuring superior products was our goal. We have good acceptability now and currently we are looking for expansion across India. We are seriously looking for partners who share similar vision towards life and enterprise building. Ours is a Social Enterprise, hence people with vision to contribute for the betterment of the society is very important and we are ready for collaborations.

 

What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?

I am an open communicator. I take all the efforts to remove any misconceptions about me through open meetings and discussions. If at all faults are at my end, I immediately appologise and move forward. For me relationships are very important and I care for people around me.

 

What gets you excited about this company?

The challenges in the sector, the scope for innovations, and the growth prospects are the three major things that makes me excited about this company.

 

Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.

I get up by 6.30 am. In the morning I spend 30 minutes for a walk and then continue with reading of news papers. This gives an important update regarding new initiatives, social concerns, political situations , opportunities etc. Also I am a regular follower of few magazines like Entrepreneur, HBR etc which also play an instrumental role in shaping my thinking process. I mostly have my breakfast at 8 AM, with the accopaniment of good music mostly semi classical songs . Morning 9.30, I will reach my factory. I make it a point to be there atleast 4 days in a week, as extensive travel is required to meet the customers, vendors etc. I interact with all my staff on a daily basis and try to keep a very cordial relationship with everyone. When it comes to my managers, I give them freedom for taking decisions.  Success is all theirs and I motivate them to work as intrapreneurs, hence all managers are trained to collaborate and make a collective decision process. Managers are assigned specific tasks to monitor and we discuss strategies and followup actions. I will reach back home by 6 PM. My evening is for my family. We enjoy our time together. Usually I go to bed by 10.30 PM, and I like to read business related books for half an hour before bed.

 

Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?

Ravi Jaiswal is our GM Operations & Sales. Ravi was part of my export import organisation. We worked together for 3 years in other sectors before appointing him as the head of Operations. He is an entrepreneur with a great flair for relationship building. He is dedicated to ensure success for our customers, which ultimately is the scale of measurement of our success. He is assisted by Mr Ananthu , a Post graduate in Commerce, a hardworking young lad who tirelessly work for the growth of the organisation.

Bhadralakshmi is  our GM (R&D). She is my wife and she is the backbone of all the research initiatives and product innovations. She is a Post Graduate in Nanotechnology from Leibnitz Institute, Germany. She is a continuous learner and my biggest critic, which helps us to evolve in our business and personal relationship.

Sreelatha Sasikumar is our Director for Finance. She is my mother and cofounder of the company. She has 30 years of experience with State Bank of India, which helps us in managing the finance part of our business.

Marketing is handled by a joint team of managers, with the help of industry consultants. Our total permanent staff strength is 25. We also employ around 20 part time workers for site related activities.

 

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