By Shruti Chakraborty
A chocolate wrapper tucked into the glass-holder of your car, a collection of toll tickets behind the steering wheel, an empty packet of chips on the backseat that your children left behind and a used wet wipe that you did not want to throw on the street. Does this paint a familiar picture? It may not be your car, but you have probably seen one that looks quite like this. Of course it collects in the car because you are not one of those who litter streets, and in all probability judge those who do.
Nupur Rajvanshi, 40, was a keen traveler to several countries with her husband Anshul, 44, while he was in the Merchant Navy and constantly faced a stark reality-streets overseas were cleaner than in India. A few years later, the couple designed a product they believed could resolve this glaring problem and set up Lighthouse Management Pvt. Ltd in Mumbai.
A bin for a car
The company was registered in 2008, but Rajvanshi started seriously fleshing out her plan of creating a commercially viable product only in mid-2010. “We had the idea of a car bin in our mind, but we were waiting for the right time to launch it,” recalls Anshul, Co-Founder and Director, Lighthouse. On a friend’s advice, also an entrepreneur, who woke the duo up to the reality that in entrepreneurship there was no such thing as ‘the right time’, they jump-started plans of starting up. “We had been researching the idea and our initial prototype was made using paper bags and cardboard, but these were not suitable for wet garbage. We then began working with plastic and cloth and came up with two models,” says Rajvanshi, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Lighthouse.
From December 2010 till August 2011, the couple finalized designs of a car bin, suitable for both wet- and dry garbage generated in the car and filed a patent for the concept.
The result has been four models of car bins-two made from hard plastic and the others made with cloth, which is lined with waterproof material inside. The firm also provides customers with garbage bags to line these car bins. Affordably priced, three models are priced at Rs. 399 while the plastic model costs Rs. 499 as it is bigger in size. Each bin comes with a strap attached which can be put around the co-driver’s seat with the help of a hook attached to the bin. “We did some market research to find out what would be convenient before we launched the product,” explains Anshul.
The product was launched in Mumbai as part of an anti-litter drive for which the Rajvanshis tied up with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in 2011. Over the next year, they spoke to a number of car retailers and manufacturers seeking potential tie-ups to make the product freely available in the market. They got lucky when in May 2012 these bins became mandatory for all public vehicles in Uttarakhand, after the husband-wife team explained the concept to the Mayor and City Magistrate. They have also received an order from Dubai, their first international order, but the founders refuse to divulge any details.
“The product is gaining popularity not only because the concept makes sense, but also because it is an eco-friendly initiative that companies encourage as it counts towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives,” informs Anshul.
Toyota dealer Lakozy Toyota in Mumbai bought the product in bulk and distributed it to their customers. Ambarish Patil, General Manager(Services) at Lakozy Toyota says that this was part of a campaign for cleaner roads they ran in mid-2012, and received good response from customers when it was distributed free. However, while some customers suggested they sell these bins at their outlets, the company is still not sure it would have enough takers.
Co-branding is a service that Lighthouse has been offering Lakozy Toyota and now other companies too. The car bin carries the logo for both-the specific company and Lighthouse. For Tata Motors, one the first big customers Lighthouse secured, the startup manufactures and brands bins with the Tata Motors logo on it. Tata Motors then sells this as an original accessory. Rajiv Madhavan, Deputy General Manager (Accessories) at Tata Motors met the couple about three years ago, when they started serious work on their business. Madhavan says the product has come a long way and Tata Motors began dealing with them about two and a half years ago. Madhavan informs that the bins were displayed by Tata Motors at the Auto Expo 2012 held in January in New Delhi.
Besides selling through car showrooms and manufacturers, the founders have reached out to car accessory portals online but are yet to finalize a sales partnership. Alongside, they have directly established a network of distributors, one each in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Rajasthan, Goa, Karnataka, Delhi and Maharashtra.
“We don’t have any great technology in the product, it is only the concept,” points out Anshul. The concept can be copied easily, even though a patent has been filed, Rajvanshi said, but this does not frazzle them in the least. “The concept needs to get popular first. People do not know what car bins are. If we have others in the market doing the same thing, more people will know about it,” she affirms.
One of their biggest challenges has been the lack of visibility for the product, since limited access to finance hampered their plans to aggressively market it. “Another challenge that comes up,” Madhavan explains, “is that people are often willing to spend Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000 on a music system for their car but do not spend a few hundred rupees on an accessory like this. They just do not give it a thought.”
So far, 20,000 cars have been fitted with Lighthouse bins generating a total turnover of Rs. 20 lakh for the company that has grown organically. Marketing the product is currently their biggest investment. “While we have not asked for funding yet, we will look to raise funds from an angel investor or venture capitalist soon,” says Anshul.
Manufacturing is currently undertaken at a facility in Mumbai and they produce 1,000 pieces of plastic bins and 500 fabric ones per day. “The facility is not ours, but the moulds are. Being a startup, we need to focus on marketing and therefore have not invested in setting up our own manufacturing unit,” explains Rajvanshi. The founders are members of the Mumbai chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), a non-profit organization that fosters entrepreneurship globally, and have received mentoring from them.
Rajvanshi’s passion for the concept is apparent. She says it can also be used in trains where people stash trash under seats or throw it on the tracks. In fact, its scope can be extended to other modes of transport like auto-rickshaws, buses and trucks as well.
Launch date: August 2011
Cars with bins: 20,000
Price points: Rs. 399, Rs. 499
Total Investment: Rs. 60 lakh (Personal savings and bank loan)
Revenues till date: Rs 20 lakh
© Entrepreneur India April 2013
Rasna, a three-decade-old brand is innovating constantly to stay fresh
CORE Education & Technologies is bringing global education systems to Indian education
How to assess your product’s market potential
Taking the next step
Anyone can start up: Chris Guillebeau