Hyderabad-based Bamboo House India is receiving enquiries from across the seas for not just their houses made of bamboo and plastic, but for their other innovative products as well
The journey of how Prashant Lingam (42) and his wife Aruna Kappagantula (40) started Bamboo House India is #goals and a lesson for aspiring entrepreneurs in patience, persistence and perseverance. Born in Rajahmundry and brought up in New Delhi, it was Hyderabad he chose to pursue his MBA from Osmania University, but dropped out in the last semester. Later on, having established Equation 28.6 with a friend and turning an investment of `10,500 into `2 crore by selling home appliances from China here, Lingam was confident that he wanted to take his expertise elsewhere. Thus, Bamboo House India was born. Today, their name is synonymous with bamboo and plastic houses, which is what Bamboo House India makes. But it wasn’t easy at all. Like every success story, their journey has been full of ups and downs. Lingam sat across the table from us and over a long conversation, told us all about the tale behind their success and even offered us a glimpse into their future. Let’s check out their timeline:
An interest in bamboo was sparked in Prashant Lingam and his wife Aruna Kappagantula when they were looking for furniture and they zeroed in on ones made of bamboo. Upon consulting with Professor MP Ranjan from NID, Ahmedabad, the couple undertook a tedious journey and travelled to Katlamara, which is on the Indo-Bangladesh border, to find the furniture and the makers. One look at the work of the skilled artisans, they spontaneously decided to start making homes using bamboo.
While constructing a 250 sq ft bamboo house employs about 100-120 people a day as it is labour-centric, the plastic house requires 25-30 people for a day and consumes 3,000-4,000 kg of plastic waste
For 18 months, the couple travelled extensively to understand bamboo, what can be made out of it and who has the skill set to make it. They travelled extensively through the Northeast because both bamboo and skill were in abundance there. Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland and Assam were their target areas. They also travelled to Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In Andhra Pradesh, they visited Khammam and Bhadrachalam and finally, it was from Adilabad, Telangana that they chose ten artisans to work with. Though they were basket weavers, the duo gave them the confidence they needed and brought them to Hyderabad.
Across from their house in Uppal, the couple took up an empty plot of land and set up a workshop there. They gave each tribal artisan a salary of Rs 7,500 along with food and accommodation, but they had no work for a while.
The couple-preneurs started leveraging the internet to learn about techniques and read extensively. They zeroed in on the Columbian-style of building bamboo houses, where a thicker type of bamboo is used for construction. They started experimenting by constructing a house on their own terrace.
They ordered their first truckload of bamboo from Katlamara. The transport alone cost them Rs 2 lakh and it reached them after 40 days. But the bamboo that reached them was not only crooked, it had also started splitting. “We did not know that the bamboo of that region will not work in this region,” says Lingam.
They have built 40 engineered bamboo houses since 2014 and by 2020, they aim to construct 50 recycled plastic houses
Though disheartened, the duo treated the poles in a tank and tried to work with what they had. In the meanwhile, they started approaching the market and pitching their idea of a bamboo house.
Their resources started dwindling and yet, they kept on experimenting. They completed the construction of the structure on their terrace. Their intention was to test loads to see if the structure would hold and make doors and windows. Their expenses were now coming up to `1 lakh per month and they started borrowing money from friends and family.
By 2012, their debt went up to `60 lakh. They decided to take another chance and purchase treated bamboo from Assam this time. “But we were fooled again,” says Lingam. The bamboo was cut into inconsistent pieces and seemed like it was not treated.
The Confederation of Indian Industry bagged a project in Ramanthapur where they were asked to construct a bamboo house on a terrace. They approached Lingam, but at that time, he had fractured his leg and his wife was unwell. But he decided to take it up anyway. Simultaneously, they also applied for a Rs 5 lakh loan from Bank of Baroda.
Now, because they had experimented enough to know their work inside out, Bamboo House India successfully built the house which got a lot of attention in the media. That’s when things started turning around.
The US Consulate noticed their work and because Lingam still couldn’t walk and things were looking up in Hyderabad, his wife visited the US, upon invitation, in the month of March to understand how social enterprises work there. Right around this time, they started making interiors and furniture as well. They increased their staff from 10 to 25.
The company soon had a website in place and started taking orders for houses, gazebos, interiors and furniture, even compromising on cost sometimes, so that they could put up pictures on their website for more orders to flow in. Orders from corporates like Google, Wipro, Infosys and TISS started pouring in as well. They simultaneously started constructing a two-storey house on their terrace. There were no columns for the 1,800 square feet house, but they had a staircase in between and started distributing the weight from there. “By that time, we were good at what we were doing,” says Lingam with confidence. And then, the agitation for Andhra Pradesh’s bifurcation had started. It was around this time that they had decided to take bamboo from Visakhapatnam and Rampachodavaram in present Andhra Pradesh. “Till now, we were making everything on a cost-to-cost basis, but then we decided to make operational changes instead of increasing margins to sustain longer,” he recalls.
Lingam is trying to win certification and approval from the government by investing huge amounts so that people are more confident about investing in sustainable homes
As if nothing else could go wrong, their team of artisans became over-confident and understood that the duo was highly dependent on them. They started turning up late to work and slacking in other areas as well. Now, the husband-wife duo was in a situation where orders were coming in, but they were falling short in terms of resources. They retained their sanity and decided to fine-tune their process. Instead of making the skeleton of the house with bamboo, they opted to do it with a metal frame. “For welding of the iron, one can get several workers, but to make the same in bamboo, artisans were few and far in between,” explains Lingam. The walls were made with bamboo reinforced concrete which is made by splitting the bamboo, making it into a grid and applying concrete on it. They changed this laborious process and started using bamboo boards which they sourced from Meghalaya. They even brought the size of the team down to five. They outsourced the welding and used the new boards for a project in Vijayawada. They decided to stop doing interiors and furniture, as, “we were spreading ourselves thin, so we decided to just focus on the prefabricated engineered bamboo house,” explains Lingam. They even brought onboard a plywood wholesaler from Nampally who then started making the bamboo boards for them instead of them sourcing it from Meghalaya. They developed a very lean model and started seeing a turnover in their project.
Now, with a single-point agenda, they started constructing houses alone. They even started taking a 75% advance from the buyer. Their brand and trust in the market started growing. They would take 75-90 days to construct a house, but now they do it in seven days. They have different vendor teams who are paid on a project-to-project basis. Around this year, they started Recycle India. They started using tyres, plastic bottles and drums to make houses.
But they were not happy with what they were doing with plastic, so Lingam started travelling to understand plastic better. He went to Delhi, Gujarat and other places to learn. A few people were interested in making boards out of plastic that came from printing waste (the plastic packets for chips that are rejected due to errors in printing).
They built their first house out of plastic in Miyapur and it went viral. They started getting as many as 30,000 visitors every month on their website. In June 2018, they closed down their workshop and bagged one of their most recent and popular projects, a footpath made out of paving stones that were made from recycled plastic. When Lingam showed the sample of the paver to the West Zone Commissioner D Harichandana, she agreed. The pathway is 3,100 sq feet and is made of 24 lakh waste polythene covers (mostly milk packets), peg bottles and more; though the cost is a hindrance as the paver they make is priced at `100 while it’s available for almost half the cost outside.
In the future
Lingam and his wife have already sent a sample of their paver to a prospective client in the UK and France. A team from the Netherlands interested in constructing plastic houses in their country have visited him too. Inquiries are coming in from the Middle East as well and most of them are asking Lingam to set up the technology in their country, but he is clear that he will send only the finished products. “What will happen to all the trash here then? We want to use our trash to send them the finished products. They can take that or nothing at all,” says Lingam confidently.
For more on them, click on bamboohouseindia.org