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Madhavi Das wears bamboo on her sleeve, and with style

Deepika Singhania
28th Mar 2018
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Madhavi Das went from the banking world to leading Xiaomi’s sale efforts in India, and to finally starting Bamboo Tribe, her own online venture. Read her #PassionToPaycheck story below.

Often life’s twists and turns surprise you and that’s precisely what happened with Madhavi Das. This alumnus from the Institute of Management, Kozhikode, followed the usual path, working with HSBC for some 7 years, donning a variety of roles across departments. But this Bangalorean continuously yearned for that often elusive state – job satisfaction.

Interesting background

Madhavi comes from a very linguistically and culturally diverse background, with two sets of parents who range from being businesspersons to published author and restaurateur. It was such a background that inspired her to start Bamboo Tribe, a bamboo-based apparel online venture.

“I decided to leave the banking industry without much clue as to what I’d do next, except that I wanted to join a newer, exciting company rather than yet another behemoth in which I’d be but small fry. That’s when I met Hugo Barra and Manu Jain of Xiaomi and after a lovely chat, I was pleasantly surprised to be asked to lead Xiaomi’s sales efforts in India,” says Madhavi.

That period was hugely exciting for her. She was just the eighth employee at Xiaomi, then just a modest player in the smartphone market, and this gave her an opportunity to be a crucial part of the nascent business. Madhavi recalls, “It was a lot of hard work but it is also one of my most personally satisfying jobs; and the learning I gained in the 15 months I worked there is immeasurable.” She then went on to head the e-commerce platform at LeEco.

A noble adventure

But there comes a time in life when people take that leap of faith to do what they really want to. For Madhavi, it came in March 2017 when she launched her own venture, Bamboo Tribe.

It began with her partner Srish’s interest in the versatile bamboo plant, which is eco-friendly and its high sustainability quotient foretold a great future for it. He believed that there was something worth exploring and Madhavi saw his point. She explains, “I got so enthused by the idea that I spent a lot of time learning about bamboo and [its unlimited potential]. I needed to find something where I could scale the demand and supply rapidly. And that’s where bamboo clothing came in. The features of the bamboo fabric (being moisture wicking, anti-odour, hypoallergenic, etc.) led me to realise that active wear was the perfect category to begin with. That’s how I created our line of Bamboo active wear.”

Old chemistry

Madhavi got together with Aiyappa Somayanda, her friend and co-founder of Bamboo Tribe, to begin the new venture. The two had worked together at Xiaomi and LeEco also, so Madhavi’s elated when he agreed to join her. “I was thrilled when he said he was on-board too. I handle the design, manufacturing, marketing, IT and financing while Aiyappa handles the sales, operations and administration. It’s a good mix which works well for us and plays on both our strengths.”

Bamboo Tribe, as the name indicates, is dedicated to developing bamboo products, especially their signature active wear range. “Bamboo is a sustainable and breathable alternative to the synthetic sportswear currently available in the market. Bamboo-wear keeps you dry, odour-free, rash-free and, best of all, it’s even softer than Egyptian cotton,” Madhavi says enthusiastically.

Today, the year-old company serves anyone looking for comfortable sportswear - be it yoga, the daily run, an intense crossfit workout, a sweaty game of football or just a regular day in the Indian summer.

Ready for the next step

Bamboo Tribe has been bootstrapped so far, but now that it has been in the market for a few months, it is ready to raise funds. As Madhavi spells it out, “Our product is pretty different from most startup stories, where they are more of tech-enabled services, with monetisation somewhere down the line in the form of subscriptions or advertising. Bamboo Tribe, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward and, therefore, immediately viable. We’ve just been creating products and selling them to customers via sales partners, mostly online.”

But building a company isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Madhavi believes it is crucial to get some work experience before starting out on one’s own. “Don’t underestimate the value of learning the ropes by actually working for someone else first. Real-life experience matters. It is also important to thoroughly evaluate your financial position as well as your emotional resilience because you need both to help you not panic at every wrong turn.”

The way forward

One of the biggest challenges when Madhavi started, Bamboo Tribe was reliable and steady supply, which is a problem for even the biggest brands in the industry. Lack of structure and organisation, especially for local production, can be a significant hindrance. “We have been making headway on that front and are now focusing on some of our other issues like scaling up, sales expansion, and developing a more structured marketing strategy.”

Read other such inspiring #PassionToPaycheck stories brought to you by Signature Startup here.

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