Sriram Kuchimanchi, founder of SD+ tells us about sustainable resource management.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sriram Kuchimanchi: We have been lucky, and even though my brother and his wife contracted the virus, it was mild, and just staying at home, resting, and taking care worked out.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded SD+.
Sriram Kuchimanchi: I have always had an interest in climate change and what I could do in this space, independent of my career. I studied technology at bachelor’s and master’s level and worked in the tech-industry in IND & US for over 11yrs. The majority of this time was in the Silicon Valley area of California. Unsurprisingly, it exposed me to both cutting-edge technology and its potential impact and, at the same time, expanded my horizons on social impact globally due to global warming.
While volunteering with the Association for India’s Development, I saw first-hand the impact of my life choices in the Bay Area on the developing world (mostly India). It was humbling, and I resolved then to work towards addressing climate change, especially India, with a global impact as the long-term goal. I studied sustainability leadership at Presidio Graduate School, which gave me the confidence to quit the corporate world and move back to India in 2011 and delve into Sustainability. I founded Smarter Dharma subsequently in India and have since been leading our efforts. And our approach to addressing Sustainability was identified as unique and globally scalable, and thus I was awarded Ashoka Fellowship in 2016.
How does SD+ innovate?
Sriram Kuchimanchi: Our thesis has been that addressing climate change cannot be in a siloed approach, whether with respect to resource conservation or people engagement, or policy. It needs to be addressed together with key stakeholders being able to make simple decisions while taking into account complex data points.
This cannot happen without a comprehensive & simplified data-science platform. We realize this is lacking in the infrastructure industry, especially the real estate sector, and that’s what we have built – what we believe to be one of the 1st Sustainable Resource Platforms. Years of working in this space have given us the expertise, and we are excited about how SD+ has shaped up.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Sriram Kuchimanchi: Like for anyone else, traditional sales and outreach came to a standstill during the initial months after the pandemic struck.
Beyond that, we had another problem. Until recently (late 2017), adopting Sustainability had been a good-to-have for any business. From early 2018, the adoption of Sustainability became a must-have, and businesses were ready to integrate climate change awareness and preparedness key for their business future. However, COVID-19 moved the needle back, and organizations have deprioritized Sustainability yet again. And this has been a challenge. The good news is that we are beginning to see progress in 2021, with new customers signing up once again. While these are early days, there’s momentum giving us confidence.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Sriram Kuchimanchi: Fortunately, we did not have to make any personnel cuts. However, we did take organization-wide pay cuts to mitigate the risks of survival. The first thing I learned was the importance of transparency and involving everyone in decision making which impacts all. I found that the team rallied around and that understanding simplified decision-making.
The other thing we learned was that, like anything else, a challenge could also be looked at as an opportunity. In our case, we used the lull in business as a way to rethink our platform rollout strategy. The introspection was very valuable and helped rejig our approach for the next couple of years.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Sriram Kuchimanchi: We did a couple of things.
1. We built a design document for Construction sites as well as Corporate Office interiors – redesigned for COVID preparedness very early during the lockdown. This helped them prepare to get back to offices better than most others.
2. We also had to rethink our communication tools. Like many others, we reverted to online communication, but at times, due to needs on the ground for infrastructure work, we had to use mobile video communication. It was interesting, but most importantly, effective too!
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Sriram Kuchimanchi: No – we did not receive any governmental help on this front. However, we received support from our office premises landlord, who agreed to reduce our monthly rent. This was a great help in managing our operational expenses.
Your final thoughts?
Sriram Kuchimanchi: COVID-19 is, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic for all of us. And while the damage to health and life is irreparable, it also helped us and me personally in being able to reflect and rethink priorities. Startups such as ours are forced to rejig and find ways to survive and thrive. The requisite agility for this is very important and a great lesson for newer startups.
It is also humbling to note the power of a small virus and a great eye-opener for realizing the impact global warming can (and is already having) have when our species go against nature. I sincerely hope it makes everyone take up global warming as the biggest on-going pandemic and become conscious citizens and organizations.
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