When Neha Juneja and Ankit Mathur found an alternative for the polluting traditional mud chulhas, they were sure women in rural India would embrace it wholeheartedly. However, they had not considered the socio-economic factors that exist in rural India, which meant despite a significantly better cookstove, the duo found the going tough.
Greenway Appliances was setup in 2011 and the idea was to come up with stoves that offered a viable replacement for the traditional mud chulhas, while also taking cognisance of the health hazards posed by the latter. Their first Greenway stove, which promised 65% fuel savings and 70% smoke reduction, came through in 2013.
Neha Juneja, co-founder and CEO of Greenway Appliances says that the thought was to start with the development of a clean biomass burning cookstove that would replace polluting chulhas. “These continue to be the dominant mode of cooking even when the household has an LPG connection, TV and more. We started this company with the mission of developing everyday products that could improve quality of life for the average Indian,” she says.
Known as Greenway Grameen Infra earlier, the founders eventually did away with ‘grameen’ and rechristened it as Greenway Appliances due to the lack of aspirational value attached with the word ‘grameen.’ “People asked us why we don’t have a different name for the brand. We took that feedback, which helped us have a better brand image and perception,” adds Juneja.
Greenway stoves essentially operate on a patented air induction mechanism that ensure cleaner combustion and drastically reduce emissions. A portable stove, touted as a high efficiency cookstove, it works on all solid biomass fuels like wood, dry dung, crop waste or bamboo.
Easy finance options
However, despite the range of benefits on offer, selling these stoves was a herculean task initially. It was difficult to convince women to buy the product since the price point of Rs 1800 played up as a major deterrent. The duo then came up with a solution that would make payments easier for households in rural areas. “It disrupted their budget and hence they weren’t keen to buy despite liking our demo. It made us understand that just having a great product isn’t enough – it is also necessary to help the customer overcome barriers and buy it,” adds Juneja.
They started collaborating with micro-finance institutions, banks and facilitated part payments via EMI options for anyone keen to purchase such stoves. In the cases where they could find no institution or bank, they took to developing credit scores on their own. And even though there were apprehensions on repayment, it eventually was a plan that augured well for the founders. “It took me some time to convince myself that the customer will repay. 4-6 months is the time allotted for repayment and all of them repaid the amount that they signed up for,” she affirms happily.
Juneja would know. In the first year in 2013, their annual sale of stoves was less than 7000. This number spiked to 70,000 in 2014 with a more regulated supply chain coming through and has now scaled up to 3 lakh average sale of stoves in a year. Since 2014, the company has sold a total of 8 lakh stoves, of which 2.5 lakh were sold based on their own credit scoring system alone.
The challenge, for the founders, was not just limited to economic bottlenecks. There were long standing socio-psychological barriers that had to be broken as well. Juneja recalls several instances where women despite liking the product demo and with an income of their own were unable to convince their family to spend the money. “This phenomenon is more pronounced in North than in other parts of the country. For example in Madhya Pradesh, women don’t come forward and seek information about the product during a demo. I think the biggest challenge for anything that relates more to women is that they need a stronger voice,” asserts Juneja.
They had to work around the issue by designing campaigns that also featured the mother-in-law unlike how it would be in the South. “There is greater money in the hands of women in the South and the East. So it is easier to talk to women in southern states and women networks there are strong as well,” she adds.
Building the product line up
The plan is to up the ante on sales of the stoves while also building on their relatively newer line of products. Their manufacturing facility, overseen by Mathur, is in Baroda with a production capacity of 50,000 stoves in a month. A bigger version of the company’s smart stove is the Greenway Jumbo Stove, priced at Rs 3000, which can be taken up by households with bulk cooking demands. Besides this, they are enthusiastic about the Greenway Free TV which is a home satellite system for receiving the channels listed on their website. “We see a lot of interest from men in this product category. There is a sense of urgency in purchase. We find a major spike in sales at the time of cricket matches and tournaments,” reveals Juneja.
The other line up from Greenway includes a range of water purifiers which they distribute and Little Sun solar powered lamps that can be used for varied applications like reading, torch or emergency lighting.
Revenues in the current fiscal have been close to Rs 36 crore and Juneja foresees this reaching to Rs 100 crore by FY 21, a year later from their initial target.
“We lost a lot of momentum after demonetisation. From November to March at that time people were not spending any money and we also suspended credit. Then our team collected field data and that helped to make things better for us,” recalls Juneja.
Their first round of fundraising was in 2016 when they secured $2.5 million in series A round from Acumen Funds, former Genpact CEO Pramod Bhasin and Vikram Gandhi, founder of Asha Impact.
Juneja is bullish of the road ahead. She is hopeful that their venture will help to bridge the urban-rural divide in a fruitful way. “We saw a gap when it came to innovation for rural India. A lot of unique things were being done for the urban category but not as much revolutionary concepts were coming through for the rural market. We hope to make a qualitative change that can help this market too,” she adds.