Partner Spotlight: Greenway
With over 160 million households still cooking on traditional mud stoves or “chulas”, India is one of the largest markets for clean cookstoves. The country’s cooking habits and traditional stove designs are as diverse as the country itself. As a local clean cookstoves start-up, it was imperative for us to develop a product solution and business model that is scalable and inclusive of the users’ needs.
Starting as a team of three engineers in 2011, Greenway found success by focusing on developing a stove design that satisfied individual cooking requirements and was flexible enough to work for a variety of uses, including different geographies. So began our journey across five states in India, co-creating 10 different designs based on user feedback.
To ascertain which design users liked the most and were willing to pay for, we undertook prototype placement in rural retail outlets. To our surprise, it was not our most efficient design that was liked and purchased the most. Users gave weight to certain other parameters such as portability and overall height, which we hadn’t considered to be important before. Reiterating that ‘customer is queen’, we went ahead with the design that was most desirable to the user, as well as highly efficient (exceeding performance parameters set by the Indian government). We then set out to build a distribution model around this product, again focusing on how and where customers find it most convenient to learn about and shop for new products.
In 3 years, Greenway has sold over 280,000 stoves through our distribution network spanning 3 states in India, and is looking to expand further. This year, the company also set up India’s largest clean cookstoves factory. This enthusiasm and volume of sales is attributed to the success of our marketing initiatives, which took much trial and error.
We owe a large part of our success to rightly-timed funding from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in the form of the Pilot Innovation Fund in 2013, which helped us experiment with our marketing, and the Spark Fund in 2014, which helped set up the factory and expand upon marketing just when demand was outpacing supply. This support enabled us to hire more salespeople and expand geographically. As with most enterprises, market growth requires investment in people and infrastructure (warehousing, basic marketing, and communications collateral, etc.) before sales can commence, leading to a period of financial stress. While easy for big businesses, this can be very difficult for start-ups. The Alliance’s funding helped us to fill this gap and successfully get running, with eventual profits in new territories.
Spark funding was also instrumental in getting our business to a place where we were able to access additional financing, specifically stabilizing our operations in order to become debt-worthy. Banks in India require proportional collateral for debt funding, but being a start-up, we had none. However, in 2015 the Isenberg Family Foundation analyzed our business and gave us a $250,000 USD guarantee against which we are drawing a working capital loan in India.
Our learning curve in this endeavor has been steep and the most important takeaway has been that we must do everything from the point of view of the needs and aspirations of the consumer – build a product that they find worthy and build a distribution and business model they find easy to link themselves with. Starting with just 3 staff, today the Greenway team has grown to 132 employees and will continue to grow until we solve the problem of cooking in India.