Gurashish Singh Sahni - It’s Important To Know Your "Why" (Co-Founder & COO, ReCircle)

There is no one typical role of a founder in an organization. Right from setting the mission and vision, to setting up systems, procedures, and the right team to achieve those goals, a founder’s role is more cross-functional.

1. Tell us about your company and your journey.

Did you know, India imports 465 crore plastic bottles annually? 

Yes, imports!

When my co-founder, Rahul Nainani and I discovered this during our preliminary research over a decade ago we found it shocking and unacceptable. If there’s one thing that we don’t have a shortage of in this country is waste, and we realized that there was a massive opportunity hiding in plain sight. 

Today, we empower consumers to divert waste away from landfills and our water bodies, back into the economy to be recycled, reused, or repurposed. We do a lot of ground-level activities to bring about awareness by partnering with events to become zero-waste. Recently, we were the official waste management consultant for the ICC Men's World Cup at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. On the consumer side, we also execute monthly waste collection drives; we recently executed Mumbai’s largest Diwali dry waste collection drive wherein over 7 days we collected and diverted over 20,000+ kgs of waste!

We also have a tech-enabled platform that enables transparency, traceability, and accountability in the resource value chain to promote sustainable production and consumption of resources. Right from ClimaOne to Plastic EPR Service and Plastic-Neutral programs, we work with businesses across industries helping them go plastic-neutral, thus taking them one step closer to circularity. 

We’ve already diverted over 1,00,000+ MT (equivalent to the weight of 16,666 elephants) of waste from landfills and our oceans across 270 cities & towns in India with the help of 45+ processing partners who have a pan-India network of 400 collection partners all while impacting the lives of over 3100 informal waste workers or Safai Saathis. We also recently closed our pre-series A fundraise led by Flipkart Ventures, 3i Partners, Acumen Fund Inc., and a pool of HNI investors.

2. What is the typical role of a founder in any organization?

There is no one typical role of a founder in an organization. Right from setting the mission and vision, to setting up systems, procedures, and the right team to achieve those goals, a founder’s role is more cross-functional. By donning many hats it’s easier to gain an understanding of all facets of the business.

I’ve always been willing to learn and embrace different roles which helps me be more agile and resourceful. 

3. What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to people management?

I think as an organization grows, it becomes a challenge to find quality people at scale. We have addressed this to a good extent by putting in place HR processes that drive us towards better talent attraction and retention strategies. 

Also, refining processes in line with millennials and the GenZ workforce is constantly evolving; millennials are set to comprise 75% of the global workforce by 2025. Apart from being fast learners, they are invested in circularity — overall, they try to match their spending power with environmentally friendly consumption patterns. So, we need to tap into significant youth participation and together drive a larger shift towards circularity. 

4. Describe a time you had to make a tough decision (e.g. budget cuts, organizational restructuring, market withdrawal, etc.). What did you do and what was the result?

During the pandemic, we were not sure how the business would run seamlessly given the various complexities that came along, including but not limited to travel restrictions, and fear of contracting COVID-19 for waste workers, among a host of other issues. 

However, the team came forward and was determined to work during this time as waste is a never-ending problem that if left unattended, could lead to another widespread epidemic. We ensured travel passes were issued to the team and enrolled them for emergency vaccines. 

Additionally, we got the entire team tested regularly and created a buddy system to ensure that the workers were in good health. We are happy to say that we did not have to lay off any people during this period and were there to support our Safai Saathis (informal waste workers) with incomes and other essentials as and when required. 

5. How can one know if they have a knack for becoming a founder/ entrepreneur and will enjoy the role?

I’m from a family of serial businessmen, so critical thinking and problem-solving are second nature to me. I knew very early on that I wanted to start something of my own. So, over 8 years ago, when Rahul and I participated in Google’s Startup Weekend, we ideated an ‘Uber for radicals’ app and won the challenge that week. This is when we realized that there was a dire need for awareness and action on the segregation of waste and resource recovery which led to the founding of ReCircle (formerly Raddiconnect). 

I think it’s important to assess your strengths and weaknesses and have a knack for motivating yourself and others around you to do better and achieve higher. It requires you to be able to hustle and keep yourself motivated when it seems like things are not working out. 

6. What are your tips for those aspiring to join the clean-tech space?

It’s important to know your Why as to wanting to join the sector, find your niche, and identify what value you can bring to a cleantech company or the overall space. 

7. Which is your favorite book and why?

Elon Musk’s autobiography, it shows how Musk believed in his ideas and team and therefore was able to fight through the most challenging times in his startups SpaceX and Tesla. 

It reiterates the fact that in running a startup there are several ups and downs and the ability to sustain through the troughs during the start-up cycle differentiates and builds a sustainable startup.

About Gurashish Singh Sahni: 

Gurashish Singh Sahni — Co-Founder and COO of ReCircle believes in the power of a circular economy towards creating a more sustainable future. Together with his co-founder Rahul Nainani, the duo launched ReCircle in 2016 in response to one of the greatest challenges of our time — waste recovery. 

Interviewed By - Aarya Gode