Ever tried trapping sunlight in a box and using it later? Well, Greenlight Planet has just lit up over 100,000 villagers lives with their solar panel light. “Definitely, its energy everyone can afford,” says Mayank Sekhsaria, Founder.
Q. What is your business all about?
A. We manufacture solar power lanterns to provide light in places where there is no electricity.
The lamp is easy to use. There is a solar panel to which we connect the lamp and keep it in the sun for four to five hours to charge it. Once charged, the lamp gives light through the night.
Q. How did you get the idea and develop on it?
A. It all began in 2005 when we were doing a project while studying in the University of Illinois. One of our colleagues visited a village in Orissa. Here he used crushed non-edible seeds to make oil and then converted it to electricity. At that point, we thought that people can use electricity for farming, factories etc. When we finished our course and came back to Orissa to start a company, we saw that people in that village had used the electricity for lighting up their homes instead!
We did research and found out that most people in the villages used kerosene lamps. These lamps gave very dim light and people spent approximately Rs150 every month on lighting.
We decided to make a product that is not only useful, but also affordable. As villagers are our target audience, our product also had to work well in tough conditions like dry weather, heat, dust, so durability was our concern.
Our solar lamp costs Rs850 and is five times brighter than the kerosene lamp. We give a one year warranty with the lamp.
Q. How does your business function?
We earn our money through the sales of lamps. And the best way to ensure that many people buy it is through direct hyper-local distribution.
To implement this, we go to a village and show the benefit and use of the product. Then we find a person who is willing to buy our product and then appoint him as the “Sun King Saathi” When this person uses the lamp at night, the people living around his house people want to know how his house is lit up. And product awareness spreads through word-of mouth.
When someone wants to buy the product, the Sun King Saathi fetches the product from the village mandi (weekly market) for them. In this way, we have a contact person who sells the product right upto the interiors and remotest areas where we can’t go ourselves. And the Sun King Saathi also gets to be well known in the village as he provides light. We also give him a monetary incentive for the lamps he sells.
Q. What about revenue?
A. We will earn more when purchases are in bulk, but our sales force has broken even. We launched in mid 2009 and we will break even by the end of this year. But we are also raising money for further expansion.
Q. What were the difficulties you faced while starting up?
Once we made our lamp, we didn’t know how to get it to our customer. We tried various distribution networks. We tried selling it in village shops and mandis (wholesale markets). A mobile phone company offered to share their network and we tried it. But it failed.The problem was, no one went to a shop to ask for solar light. It was there in all shops near the villages, but no use. Then we came up with the Sun King Saathi network idea.
Q. What about your team size and growth?
A. We were three people when we started off in 2005. Now we are 50 people on payroll. We had our product ready by mid 2008 and our manufacturing facility is near Hong Kong. We got our initial funding from an angel investor and later by others. Our presence is in three states in India – Bihar, Orissa and Karnataka. We have a network of partners and some strategic partners in Africa. We are present in over 3,000 villages.
Q. What support do you seek to take the initiative to the next level?
A. Finance. We need to scale our network pan India. We need strategic people to join us. Good investors and team members.
To know more about the company, check out http://www.greenlightplanet.com/