Abhishek Deshpande Speaks on transitioning from the hospitality to tech industry and launching Recykal

With over 7 years of work experience in the hospitality industry, Abhishek started Recykal to empower businesses to achieve their EPR target and other stakeholders to get complete traceability and transparency with help of its digital technology solution

Abhishek Deshpande, Co-Founder of Recykal is an enthusiastic tech entrepreneur, business head, team builder, people-person and a lifelong learner. Thinking differently and putting his best efforts to attain the unattainable is what motivates him to continuously improve in this ever-evolving ‘start-up’ industry. 

Abhishek’s start-up ‘Recykal’ works towards empowering businesses to achieve their EPR target and other stakeholders to get complete traceability and transparency with help of its digital technology solution. Prior to Recykal, Abhishek worked for Accor group of hotels as an Operations Manager. 7 years of hospitality industry experience tremendously helped Abhishek to improve his communication and networking skills. He became “a pro multitasker”. 

Abhishek’s journey from the hospitality industry to tech start-up is quite unusual and often astonishes people. Both industries demand ‘strong people skills’ and he has it in inexhaustible quantities. Wasteful use of single use plastic items (such as plastic cups/water bottles, etc.) in hotels and its imprudent disposal process made him think about the environmental concerns. He meticulously studies the process of waste management in India and strongly felt the need of streamlining it with the help of digital technology. Read this exclusive tête-à-tête of Abhishek Deshpande with BW Disrupt. 

1. You have 7 years of experience in the hospitality industry. To what extent do you think it helped you in launching Recykal?

For me, Hospitality is not just the customer service you provide in restaurants; it is making sure you provide any kind of service in such a way that it makes the customer feel great about doing business with you. My stint in the Hospitality industry taught me some amazing things which directly or indirectly helped me during my startup journey. The most important skill I learned in the hotels is how to solve problems on the spot, without any backup or additional guidance. It taught me to face any situation head-on. This attitude helped me tremendously when I began my startup journey. It also taught me real-life soft skills. Hospitality is all about people - different types of people! It taught me how to communicate and connect with people. I learned to read people.

Another important skill that I learned and helped me immensely is ‘patience’. In the hospitality business, you either learn to be patient, or you get out. This applies to start-ups as well. Start-up is a journey of an idea towards a well-established business which tests your patience at every stage. For a start-up you need to establish a proper eco-system from scratch. Effective execution is as important as your idea. My (hotel) pre-opening management experience helped me set up this ecosystem effectively.

I had to learn many things for launching Recykal but my experience in the Hospitality industry gave me that strong base of real-life skills which are crucial for any business to succeed.

2. Your journey from the hospitality industry to tech start-up is quite unusual. How would you describe this transition?

Yes, it is quite unusual. It is surprising for many because we as a society think in a stereotypical way. For example, only a person from a business family can start a company, only an engineer can work/do something related to technology, only girls can perform nursing jobs, etc. Nobody would think that a guy working in 5-star hotels would start a tech start-up. Neither did I.

It was not a deliberate or intentional move. I always wanted to start something of my own and I was ready to explore new avenues. I never limited myself to a certain field or my educational qualification.

Starting off your own venture is not as glamorous as it looks. A business owner needs to worry about many things like hiring the right people, finding the right place, finance, marketing and whatnot. Any startup requires incredible personal commitment and management skills. Initially, it was difficult, as I had to learn many different things; I had to perform many different roles. At times, I felt tremendous pressure, I felt like quitting. I struggled but kept going, I never quit. I was out of my comfort zone but I was happy as I was growing.

3. What led to your shift from an industry that serves people to an industry that serves the Earth? Could you take us through your personal journey?

Wow…I appreciate the way you framed this question. It was indeed a shift from serving people to serving the Earth.

As you know I worked in the Hospitality industry for more than 7 years. I was reluctant to settle down in a job. I always wanted to start something of my own. So, while working in the hospitality industry in the rotational shifts I kept exploring different business ideas. I mean I used to come up with different ideas almost every month. I used to do research, prepare presentations, discuss my ideas with friends and family. I was constantly in search of a perfect business idea. From food to mobile apps, I pondered many business opportunities.

Wasteful use of single-use plastic items (such as plastic cups/water bottles, etc.) in hotels and its imprudent disposal process made me think. Out of curiosity, I started learning more about the waste disposal process in India. I was surprised to find some huge gaps in the process. Meanwhile, I had also started reading books, watching documentaries to educate myself about the ecological concerns caused by such wasteful use of plastic. A documentary called “The 11th Hour” featuring Leonardo DiCaprio inspired me to pursue this idea further. Finally, I had found something through which I could contribute to something that actually matters. Through serving people or serving the Earth; in the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for everyone.

4. When did the concept of this company originate? How did you cover the distance from the idea to the launch of Recykal?

As they say - great teams build great ideas! I was fortunate enough to come across passionate and like-minded people like Abhay and Aniruddha. Abhay is a seasoned entrepreneur, under his guidance, we started our journey. In 2016, we made up our mind to work towards streamlining the waste management process. In the initial phase, we did extensive research to understand the ground realities. We met many rag pickers/waste collectors, Kabadiwalas and recyclers from every nook and corner of Hyderabad. We tried to understand how they work, what are their pain points and challenges.

After completely understanding the process, we started connecting the dots. We realized that with the help of digitalization we can streamline and revolutionize the waste management in India. Digital disruption in the waste management sector was the need of the hour and we decided to provide scalable solutions for different stakeholders involved in the process. Based on our search, we prepared prototypes, introduced it to the actual stakeholders, took their feedback, analyzed it and kept improving our products. Parallelly, we built our team, secured funding and thus, Recykal came into existence.

Our aim is to provide a better tomorrow to coming generations with the help of improved recycling practices hence we named our company ‘Recykal’.

5. We know that Recykal offers a digital platform which connects waste generators like businesses, consumers, waste aggregators, recyclers, and enables transactions between them. Could you elaborate a little about the functions and operations of the same?

Our idea of a digital platform was to make it easy for businesses, consumers, waste generators, recyclers and others to be able to easily access a service.

We basically form a bridge between waste generators, such as consumers, businesses, and the waste aggregators and recyclers, through our digital platform and Recykal points- which are waste collection/drop off centres.

From a waste generator point of view consider our platform to be like dunzo, where you make a pick up request and waste is collected by a registered driver nearby, and in return the customer earns redeemable reward points on the app - UZED, and if it’s a business or a bulk generator they can access the same service through the Recykal Business App.

From a waste aggregator, recycler and manufacturer point of view, Recykal Marketplace is similar to Amazon, where in plastic waste can be bought or sold online.

Also, We have the Recykal Smartcentre which helps digitise collection history, payments, tracking the waste etc., this is focused on empowering the informal sector which include ragpickers and kabadiwalas, who are connected to the recykal points or ULB run DRCCs. This eliminates the middlemen and ensures they get a fair price for their goods.

All in all, we take pride in the platform that enables real-time tracking for our customers, with transparency and traceability, irrespective of the quantity of the waste generated.

6. Recykal has extended its hands to the government too. How is the govt as well as the private sector benefiting from the company?

Yes, we have partnered with over 42 municipalities across 25 states in the country in streamlining the waste management in our country. During the company’s inception we noticed the fragmented nature of waste management in India, owing to lack of data availability, lack of awareness, transparency, traceability and most importantly lack of a robust channel of implementation.

To be specific, we believe digitisation of the process of waste management creates an opportunity for sustainable planning and handling of waste for both governments and businesses.

We assist governments and businesses in collecting and transporting large volumes of waste which often is a tedious task for these entities.

We have partnered with the State Pollution Control Board of Telangana in waste collection drives across the state. In a recent development, we partnered with WeCare and the Tamil Nadu government to spread awareness on waste management with focus on segregation at source.

Our key and the significant project is with the local government and community of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. So when you imagine the islands, its pristine beaches and tourist attractions right, on the contrary the islands suffer from overflowing landfills with waste, that eventually end up in the oceans.

Recykal conducted multiple awareness campaigns, collaborated with local recyclers and government agencies in efficiently managing the waste, and alternatively shipping it to the mainland for further processing. As of November 2020, we collected and transported nearly 50 tonnes of plastic waste for further processing.

Our sensitisation and awareness creation programs were successfully implemented in schools, offices, organisations both private and public.

7. The company was founded in 2016 and is based in Hyderabad, what are the most prominent achievements of the company till date?

The journey till date has been exhilarating and extremely encouraging given the success of our platform. As of today we have partnered with more than 1000 businesses, more than 500 aggregators, about 100 recyclers and with numerous government agencies and municipalities across 25 states of our country.

In my opinion, the most important achievement of our organisation was our ability to revolutionise the way plastic waste is treated in our country. Digitisation of the process has disrupted the entire system, which rapidly spread a thought across the country that ‘yes, it can be done and it's not as hard as it seems.

In 2019, Recykal’s initiative called Eco-Santa in Hyderabad, aimed at creating awareness among children on recycling and eco-friendly practices. The programme was a huge success with over 30,000 children participating and helping us collect more than 50,000kgs of recyclable waste.

In 2020, Recykal partnered with HCCB (Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages) and UNDP for an initiative - Project Prithvi, aimed at developing sustainable plastic waste management practices in India.

The belief in our work was recognised by Circulate Capital - a Singapore based investment company, funded our idea to solve the biggest problems in the waste management sector in India. This was both a validation and achievement for us on the work we did so far.

In 2019, we were recognised as one of the 50 most innovative emerging software product companies by NASSCOM, and in the same year we were awarded the ASSOCHAM Best Digital Technology Solution for Waste Management

In 2020, Recykal was recognised by Grant Thorton - Sabera Awards as a Responsible business of the year.I believe that each of our projects and programmes conducted so far have been an achievement for us all at Recykal.

8. 2020 has been a tough year in terms of stagnant markets. Has Recykal been able to prosper in these difficult times? Did it achieve the plans drawn or the targets set?

The year 2020 has been challenging for us all. The beginning of the year we saw our efforts in various projects being hampered due to the lockdown. However, with days passing by, we took necessary safety precautions with our vendors, customers and partners to continue collecting and transporting waste.

In 2020, nearly 12,000 tons of plastic waste was traded through Recykal Marketplace and ERP Loop. Of this, 4500 tons of plastic waste in multi-layered plastic which is difficult to recycle and often ends up in the landfill.

Even if the country was in a lockdown, that wouldn't stop us from generating plastic or e-waste, so we kept our plans and projects running using technology. I want to take this opportunity to address the grit and passion that each of our team members showed during the pandemic, without their support we wouldn’t have been able to continue as we did.

We may not have achieved our targets set for the year, but the pandemic did not stop us from planning our future projects in the pipeline, which are set to further revolutionise the waste management industry.

9. Apart from the economic aspect, 2020 has led to tons of hazardous waste being generated. Can Recykal come into play in this scenario? How would that work out?

Recykal currently manages plastic, e-waste, cardboard and paper waste only. Hazardous waste is out of our purview. I believe the data management and traceability aspect of recykal can be adopted by the government agencies in implementing a similar robust system to manage the hazardous waste generated during the pandemic.

10. What are the goals the company is driven towards in 2021?

We have set ambitious targets for 2021, with a target of increasing our waste collection and transportation volume to 4 folds of what we do today.

Recykal Points, it's a waste collection and processing centre, with cutting edge cloud data integrations to marketplace and EPR loop, that also provides visibility to new categories of recyclables that can be traded. Our Recykal Points have been highly appreciated by brands and recyclers alike. By end of FY 2021 we plan to have at-least 100 such centers across India, making waste disposal as easy as stepping into a store to buy your new sim-card or mobile phone.

The EPR compliance rules are expected to be applicable on new categories such Tyres, Automotives and spares, which will help us develop channels for reverse collections and formal disposal for additional categories, in the years to come.

We have had great success with our behavioural change programs for e.g. ReThink+ with DOW and our association with UNDP for project Prithvi, in the months to follow these initiatives will be expanded much further to include a larger section of citizens.

Deposit Return System or DRS, a system that enables users to return their electronic, electrical or packaging waste, in exchange for a refund on the deposit. We have been pitching this concept to different state governments, since DRS has a proven record of 90%+ reverse collections rates wherever it has been implemented so far.

Ocean plastics is another aspect where we feel a lot of work is needed. We have tied up with various fishermen associations. We are now helping them build the infrastructure to channelise the plastic collected. All in all, our ultimate goal is to further disrupt the system through our platform and bring out significant change in the way we generate waste and the way we think about waste.

11. Please feel free to add anything else that you would like to highlight

Recykal’s unique expertise has enabled a first mover advantage in providing comprehensive digital technology solutions for the waste management and recycling sector. Our success to date shows the potential to further scale and grow to further support the sector in more cities across India. Our digital footprint for waste collection, channelization includes 400,000+ consumers, 1,000+ businesses, 500+ aggregators, waste management companies, 100+ recyclers, 27 municipalities across 25 states and union territories in India enabling more waste collection and recycling.

Tags assigned to this article:

Around The World