How a failed entrepreneur is minting millions with his recycling startup Priti International
Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Huston said, “You only need to be right once.” Hritesh Lohiya suffered through an embarrassing deluge of wrongs before stumbling onto the idea that would eventually make him a multimillionaire. “I started a textile chemical factory and then a stone cutting factory, manufactured and sold washing powder, began a stock market business, et cetera. I lost huge amounts of money in all these ventures,” he rues.
Venturing into garbage recycling was not a business savvy idea; it was literally the only choice left. Hritesh says, “After losing all our money in these bust businesses, we could not afford to invest in anything new. The only legacy of those failures was the string of garbage strewn around our old factory. There were old gunny bags, drums of chemicals, various bits of plastic and so on. We tried to sell some of these for our bread-and-butter, but no one would buy them. Out of desperation we started thinking about how we could generate any kind of revenue from these waste items. Thus, Priti International was born in 2005.”
Hritesh was quite superstitious when christening his umpteenth effort at starting up. “My wife Priti is my rock. She is very lucky for me. I believe that all my earlier startups failed miserably because there was no part of her name in their nomenclature. This time round, I didn’t make that mistake.” Or rather, this time round, he got it right.
The firm designs and manufactures various handmade products out of waste materials. “We make handbags from old gunny bags, cast off military tents, denim pants, etc. We are also into producing furniture from waste tins, drums, old military jeeps, tractor parts, waste machine parts and lamps from old scooter- and bike-lights. These products are then exported to various countries like China, USA, European nations, and Australia. We are now India’s biggest exporter of waste handicraft products, and the only one in India to export to China,” he rattles off.
“At present, our current turnover is around $8million. Our customer base is in 36 countries. Our production facilities are spread over 3 large factories, with around 400 people working for us. Our focus market is China, where there is huge customer potential; the new generation is veryfond of using our products to decorate bars, cafés, pubs, restaurants etc. We are planning to expand our production facility and scale our venture to $20 million by 2016,” Hritesh beams proudly. “We have recently started a retail showroom in Ningbo, China for selling our products in retail. This is just a test showroom, but the response has been heartwarming. Now we are planning to open 12 more showrooms across China exclusively, for our products.”
While scouring through garbage was once a mode of survival for Hritesh, it is now the most exciting part of his day. “Ours is a purely design-based business. We have to think over each waste product we come across, and design it to make a useful product out of it. It’s a very exciting job! Every day we find new waste products, and brainstorm new ways to turn them into something people would like to own.”
India figures prominently in Priti International’s expansion plans. “In regard to India, the potential for our products, due to the rise of online shopping, is immense. We are in talks with several online retailers, like Pepperfry and Flipkart,about selling our products online here.” Priti International’s popularity shows no signs of plateauing. “We are completely booked with our export orders for the year 2015. In 2016, we are participating in various international exhibitions, like China’s Canton Fair and International Furniture Fair, Shanghai. Recently our unique products’ success story was filmed by Discovery Channel for their segment titled, ‘The Liquidators.’ Our work comprises an entire episode, and is scheduled to be telecast in 140 countries around the world. This is a big landmark for us,” he exudes.
Priti International is self-funded. “We have taken no loans from banks or any other financial institution.” The core team comprises only two people, Hritesh and his wife Priti. “It is a labour of love for us. It’s just the two of us and we are hands-on with every aspect of the firm,” Hritesh explains.
For Hritesh, the hardest part about being an entrepreneur was the lack of self-confidence that stemmed from being a serial failure. “After failing in several ventures, it becomes very difficult to start from scratch with yet another new idea. We pitched our idea to many investors, but no one took us seriously. In serious need of money, we started selling my wife’s jewellery for the seed fund. We would make samples, take photos and upload them online and then market those pictures to prospective customers around the world. It took us around 2 years to get our first order. Those two years were the hardest part.”
Priti International’s future is aglow with possibilities. Hritesh chirps, “We are growing at the rate of 25% annually.” He has had no mentors and doesn’t believe in the concept. “I only have faith in ‘Aham Bhramasmi” (Sanskrit term meaning ‘The core of my being is the ultimate reality’). Work hard enough long enough and you will spout your own miracles.”