Aruna Kappagantula is a first generation entrepreneur backed by her husband and family. Today she is one of the successful young woman entrepreneurs of India. She is also the recipient of Young Entrepreneur award for 2012 from Andhra Pradesh government.
Aruna is so passionate with her enterprise and one would be surprised knowing that she dropped pursuing her Ph.D. Being an academician initially she was comfortable in conducting research with the different varieties of Bamboo available at the Indo-Bangladesh border. But her entrepreneurial journey didn’t go that easy while working with investors, advertising and employee management. It went on like a daily learning for her.
Here we present her inspiring CONVERSATIONS
Raja: How does it feel being an entrepreneur?
Aruna: (Smilingly) it is quite exciting! From dusting to negotiating with the bankers every activity in the start-up needed to be handled in the initial days. Challenges come and go but entrepreneurs should stand still. This is what we at Bamboo Housing learned and practiced. This is the only shortcut to be successful I ever think.
Have you ever thought of it as an achievement?
Not an achievement to say, but we feel proud when we had built two storey building exclusively with bamboo and we it sustained load testing too. Proud moments really come during the journey for all entrepreneurs.
To make a special mention of being an entrepreneur I learn daily. After some time even the way we handle things get changed.
How did your entrepreneur journey start? Is it a dream-come-true in your case?
Frankly to say I never thought of becoming an entrepreneur or start with some business. It only happened after my marriage. It is almost seven years back when we were not able to find some good furniture I googled for different varieties. The online search created more interest in us finding for bamboo furniture. Me and Prashant (husband) both were eager to know more about bamboo furniture, how it is made or to get it. Surprisingly we didn’t find many stores here. From there our journey started.
Prior to this venture were you employed anywhere or had any similar experiences?
I was pursuing my Ph.D. and Prashant was into his family business. But after a period of time, we had quit those and dedicated to Bamboo Housing. We were mad with bamboo handicrafts & furniture but never thought to go back. We went to the Indo-Bangla border to find different varieties of bamboo for starting the venture.
When you thought of getting into business what were the reactions of your parents and friends?
There was some pull-back as it would happen to every other woman trying to start her own venture. But am determined after which they too felt confident enough.
Frankly to say we Indians do not have many women entrepreneurs and everyone first doubts the chances of success in business. The same happened with my parents and well-wishers. I don’t say exactly it being a woman but every entrepreneur gets the same reactions irrespective of gender. There was a mixed response for stepping into business but really pulled back when I said about bamboo business. Setting up such an enterprise is first-of-its-kind. No one knew how the days could be for us. Everyone was afraid of that. But today we had a handful of projects for the next two years. We would never fail when we believe in it and determined.
How about Prashant?
He deserves a special position in the whole journey. It is he who patted me in the initial days and funded me. My determination had built confidence in him. Prashant had quit his business and joined me.
How were the initial days?
They were really tough. We never knew how to make furniture out of Bamboo. Studied extensively where and how to get bamboo for furniture. Along with Prashant, I traveled a lot to know more. Finally, we landed at the Indo-Bangladesh border where we found tribal people working with a special variety of bamboo. Their handicrafts impressed us. But we were moved to see their livelihood. Being in the remote areas, they never knew how to market their products. We determined first to find markets for them. It didn’t seem so easy. We took the challenge to improve their livelihoods. We went there merely or researching but eventually came up with the idea of SOCIAL ENTERPRISE. This is how we started with Bamboo House India. From there on with the help of NGOs and different organizations we successfully managed to create structures, furniture, and handicrafts out of bamboo.
We mainly employ tribal and rural people who were into these and similar kind of traditional jobs. We are happy that their standard of living had increased a lot to earlier.
How about the financial story?
Convincing a banker was very difficult for us in the start. They were of no clue with our kind of business. After many hurdles, we were approved. It took time to build confidence. We were successful in building the market and paying back. Even the customer base grew which automatically brought Investments.
Being a woman did you find any difficulty in convincing a banker or an Investor?
Being a woman entrepreneur it helps a lot for the business as the government promotes us. At the start, it is easy to get a loan for a woman entrepreneur from a bank.
Any hurdles that you faced being a woman on the journey?
There is nothing as such I can remember at this time. There were no discriminating factors too. There may be occurrences of some personal problems at the time of pregnancy or post-pregnancy for every woman. Prashant met with an accident and was bedridden during my days of pregnancy. Those days were horrible. We really need to move out but somehow managed them.
Luckily I do not have any issues with my family. That really helped me a lot. Else everything would have been a mess as we hear such stories daily.
Hurdles with Financials?
As said yes we faced a lot in the initial days. It is the true test for entrepreneurship.
Any special mention or a story about your jewelry or personal assets in converting them for the enterprise?
Yeah had. But not so dreadful. Jewelry is meant for the same purpose. What could it give in decorating ourselves?
Have you ever thought of winding up any time?
We knew it is a new kind of business and success would take time. We never worked for making just money. But very confident that one day we shall bore fruits. Many really don’t know this. Till 2012 customers used to visit and walk out without purchases. For a year and more, our customer base got momentum.
For almost five years we struggled. Promoted and educated before making sales. In the process CI APTDC helped us a lot as they too work and fund in the same domain. One thing is we never thought of skipping out. We stayed together, motivated each other and went on.
How about employee management?
We had completely employed tribal and rural people. Our primary goal is to help them. We achieved it. From Khammam and Rampachodavaram we work with them. We had set up our workstation at Uppal, in Hyderabad.
How about employing women?
As these people need to come leaving their forest dwellings and houses it would be difficult for women to come here and work. We give them the suitable works. This year we are planning for a woman exclusive team to work with.
Tell something about your Man …
Had he not in business am sure I would not have stepped in. It is he who motivated me and funded me in the difficult times.
Any advice for budding woman-entrepreneurs?
Basically, women are very tough. They can handle any situation or any problems. Their multitasking helps a lot. The only thing a woman needs to learn is to balance between family and business.
After being an entrepreneur think that there is no other way. Success automatically follows.
Any special initiatives for women?
We are planning for an exclusive women-team to build structures with bamboo.
F2F Interview as captured is presented for reader.