Entrepreneur: Madhavi Das
Business Name: Bamboo Tribe
Welcome to Entrepreneurs of India #startupstories episode 86
Madhavi Das, an alumnus of IIM Calicut, worked in banking sector for seven years before joining Xiaomi as its India sales head. As her jobs changed, one thing remained same- the yearning to launch her own business.
And one fine day, she made up her mind and bid adieu to her corporate career – That’s how she co-founded Bamboo Tribe, an online shop for bamboo-based apparels, along with her former colleague, Aiyappa Somayanda.
Now Bamboo Tribe, her brand, has found a unique place in India’s apparel sector with an extensive clientele. Madhavi unveils her incredible business journey.
1) How did you get your idea for this business?
I’ve had an interest in the bamboo plant itself for many years now due to its immense benefits to the environment – Bamboo releases more oxygen and absorbs more carbon dioxide than even Hardwood trees, the vast root system prevents soil erosion and helps elevate the water table, and it can be cultivated very easily in a variety of soil and climate conditions without the need for pesticides.
I got so enthused by the idea that I spent a lot of time learning about bamboo and what it can do and I got convinced that this was what I wanted to, in some way. Initially, I toyed with the idea of working with bamboo handicrafts by scaling up demand for small cooperatives to give them scale.
However, while a noble idea, it lacked the potential to build a scalable business quickly. I needed to find something where I could scale demand and supply rapidly. And that’s where Bamboo clothing came in – the apparel market in India is booming and there is a clear space for homegrown brands to be built.
The features of bamboo fabric (being moisture-wicking, anti-odour, hypoallergenic etc) led me to realise that activewear was the perfect category to begin with. I pitched the idea to my now business partner, Aiyappa Somayanda (we worked together in Xiaomi & LeEco), he loved it and that’s how we created our line of Bamboo Activewear & Casual wear.
2) Why is “now” a good time for this idea to exist?
2 major growing trends make this a perfectly timed idea – a) An increasing amount of interest in physical fitness has meant that more and more people are everyday looking for more effective and comfortable activewear. b) There is a growing shift towards making more sustainable choices in day-to-day life with increasing awareness of the threats our planet faces. These two together make a perfect entry for Bamboo clothing.
3)What was the reaction from your family when you first decided to become an entrepreneur?
In our family, we respect independence and making our own choices – same was true of this. It was my decision and everybody has been happy for me. I believe it has been the same for Aiyappa with his family as well.
4) What was your biggest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?
Probably just not having our supply pipeline sorted out – our first batch did quite well but we weren’t prepared so our customers had to wait for months with no inventory before we were able to bring out new stuff.
5) What is your biggest obstacle in the next 12 months and how will you overcome it?
Our biggest challenge is scaling up production to match demand – this will always continue to be a challenge in some form, but we have learned a fair bit over the last 18 months and I think we are already on our way to managing this aspect better.
6) What habits contribute to your success?
I am very focussed when there’s a task at hand which has helped me deal with the mountainous volumes of work I’ve had, quite efficiently.
7) If you had the opportunity to start this business again what would you do differently?
We would probably start with more inventory than we did – though to be fair I didn’t know how well our products would be received at the time. Hindsight is always 20-20.
8) What is your favourite inspirational quote?
“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” – W.E. Henley
9) Where do you find inspiration?
Music inspires me.
10) What is your favourite book?
Brave New World
11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Keep your values in the foreground. Compromises are necessary, but not at the expense of your core beliefs – they will keep you afloat in rough waters.
Be a realist in mind, while an optimist at heart. Stay sane – It isn’t always necessary to work 20 hour days and drive yourself crazy.
Too often, entrepreneurs have to go beyond their horizon to explore new opportunities in the market. Madhavi Das successfully unlocked an opportunity in bamboo-based clothing and carved a niche for herself in the highly competitive clothing industry.
Her unstoppable passion is an inspiration for budding entrepreneurs to believe in their idea. As an entrepreneur, you may have to pull off a Herculean task to make your ideas work. So, the key to success, as Madhavi points out, is to stay positive. Thank you, Madhavi for sharing your startup story.
You can follow Bamboo Tribe on Instagram here.