Meet the SHEROES - Nisha Bora
Nisha Bora shares the story of her unique, innovative venture – Elrhino Paper with us today. What makes Elrhino Paper unique? It’s the way the company uses innovation to make tree-free paper out of animal poo!
By doing so, the habitats of these wildlife animals are saved. As they say, a “journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”…
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in Assam, surrounded by dense forests where the occasional deer, leopard or elephant would stroll into the backyard only to look, listen, explore and silently retreat into its own space.
Today, I live in Bombay with two children in an apartment, and a parrot or a bat sighting is the source of much excitement in their lives.
I am a sociologist by education, a market research professional with a career spanning 15 years. I am also, and primarily so, a social change maker. After several years of having searched for a constructive way to channelize my skill set and energy, I have stepped off the path of a full time corporate role, and am firmly on the path of getting where I wanted to go.
How did the idea / inspiration for Elrhino Paper come about? What does the name mean?
I read haplessly about forests being depleted rhinos being hunted down and killed relentlessly. Humanity is accelerating the pace of consumption and subsequent destruction of the universe. This is a short sighted attitude; as is obvious, in the long run all systems need mutuality and controls to survive. If we destroy our forests, animals and enormous natural legacy, we shall be left with no fresh air to breathe, no water to drink. Our children will be left with a horrific future. Being a mother has shaped my world view; this is not an inheritance to bequeath.
I have chosen to activate my despair, and fight this reality. We chose the path of innovation and we basically use animal poo to make tree-free paper!
We have chosen innovation, design and consumption as the very platforms to reach the citizens’ body and speak to them in a language that they understand. Our key message: “Consume, but do so with responsibility. Shop, but spend your money meaningfully. Create significance for yourself and your actions. Make yourself count.” Every time a customer buys an Elrhino product, they take a step in the direction of this ideology.
What is your average work-day like?
I spend more than 25% of time doing evangelism. Telling people, over and over again, that what we do and what they do, makes a difference. Reminding us all that the world deserves good work, that we need pride and joy in our work. This includes face time with the team, with clients, with institutional partners and with customers
I spend at least 20% of my time soaking in inspiration as well as keeping up with trends. Amazing people, mind bending ideas, intelligent products, and people who have the gumption to seek change all take up much of this time. New products, trends that might have an impact on my enterprise. This process is critical to my survival and growth, and I take this time most seriously
For the rest of the time each day, I'm splitting time between dealing with clients, brainstorming on design, hand holding the team, overseeing operations. It's a blur.
Before 8 am and after 6 pm I'm a mother to my children and am quite serious about cutting off work. My time with them is when I get to recharge my batteries and strengthen my spirits
When setting up the business what initial challenges did you face and what are the challenges you face today in this line of work?
We were inundated with scepticism from all quarters, and found ourselves expending far more energy defending ourselves than doing the work we had set out to do. We dealt with this by becoming severely inward looking, cutting off information flow to people outside the enterprise, and being completely indifferent to all distractions; pretty much like hermits
We had severe cash flow issues. This meant that I worked three jobs - I was an entrepreneur by day following my calling, a market research consultant by night earning the money to keep Elrhino on its feet and a full time mother
One other problem that we faced then - and continue to face - is corruption and systemic barriers to much of what we are trying to do. Access to opportunities, monetary and otherwise, is regulated by many dynamics and the ability to be corrupt appears to be one of them. This is alien to us and we have now become resigned to achieving less than we might have by other means.
There are severe infrastructure, logistics and supply issues in the area that we work in, Assam. It means that we are less competitive in terms of cost, turnaround time and as well as general access. The industry and taxation policy climate in the North East compounds these problems. I believe this makes us more innovative and able to deliver higher impact locally.
What according to you are top 3 must-haves for entrepreneurs?
Courage. Knowing that every step is an exercise in risk, understanding that it is a long and lonely journey and working with the absolute confidence that when one falls, as they will, they are alone. Not being afraid to be criticized, judged, laughed at. And never being intimidated by failure.
Detatchment. To be able to stay still emotionally, get up each day and be willing to face a wall without agitation. Neither loving the success nor detesting the failure, understanding that the only attachment you can have is to the dream, not to the emotions that accompany it. Equanimity is the foundation of strength, perseverance and the secret to being able to run entrepreneurial marathons
Intuition. Having the ability to listen to your gut and trust it, even though rationality might suggest otherwise. Your gut is only your only constant companion through the ride, so it's important to have a good laugh with it when nobody else can see what your gut can. Reasonable people would not make good entrepreneurs.
Professionally, what do you target to achieve with Elrhino Paper and do you have any other plans to start a new venture in the future?
My vision for Elrhino is to shape a global movement for the reversal of the Greater One Horned Rhino’s ‘Vulnerable’ status by protecting it from the impact of human activities. Commercially, Elrhino aims to be a 1 crore company by 2018, 4 years from inception. Organisationally, we intend to demonstrate a successful working model of a self sustaining social business that can be good by doing good.
I have many plans for many new ventures; my head is always ringing with ideas. But for now, Elrhino is a toddler, just learning to take its first few steps. Until it is well nurtured and able to walk, it cannot afford a sibling
A few thoughts you'd like to leave us with?
If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. So if you're looking for a painless life, spare yourself the entrepreneurial experience. There are plenty of other wonderful experiences to go after
As a mother, being an entrepreneur comes naturally. We're solution finders, multi taskers, team managers, seasoned at facing heaps of criticism and operate like rock stars under pressure. If you were able to deflect the world's cynicism as a mother, you'll do a great job deflecting it at work. You've already had a dry run
There are way, way too few women out there, in meeting rooms, on trading floors, on the streets. Every time I step into the arena as a leader, which is all the time, I understand that I am a minority. People are largely underprepared to deal with women leaders. This is not necessarily a function of a conscious bias, it might also just be exposure or conditioning. Whatever it is, it's always palpable and I feel very proud of my gender and the fact that I can look the bias in the eye and challenge it.