The Social Innovation Podcast was joined by Mayur Singh, a co-Founder at Green Collective and a Founding Partner at IxSA.
Mayur truly embodies the title of this week’s episode. From a young age, he has chosen his own route both in what he wanted to study and in his career. Coming from a background in investment banking, Mayur has combined his love of sustainability and a for profit mindset to develop a retail as a service concept in Singapore.
This week’s episode is guest hosted by Zal Dastur. Zal, has been an entrepreneur for the last 14 years and has turned his attention to helping solve the climate crisis in the best way he knows, helping for-planet businesses develop and grow. As an active advisor and investor Zal has impacted dozens of companies in the climate space helping them to reach their potential to do the maximum good for the planet.
Some of the topics covered in this episode:
  • Going against the family tradition
  • Being a doctor or an engineer
  • Finding Ikigai
  • How frustration leads to a business
  • Taking a step into the unknown
  • The growth of Earth Day
  • Government’s power to push awareness
  • Sustainability as a way of doing business
  • The changing face of consumer products
  • How to make sustainability more inclusive
  • Consumers buying into sustainable products
Other titles we considered for this episode:
  1. Find My Own Ikigai
  2. Maths or Biology
  3. Never Scared of Thinking Against the Tide
  4. A For-Profit Mindset
  5. When Will your Home Be Uninsurable?
  6. We Need Consumer Demand for Large-Scale Change
  7. I Would Love a Carbon Tax

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Zal Dastur 0:03
Hi, everybody, welcome to the Social Innovation podcast. I’m your host Zal Dastur. And I’m sitting here today with Mayur Singh, the co founder of Green Collective, as well as the founding partner of IxSA. Meyur…Welcome to the Social Innovation Podcast.

Mayur Singh 0:18
Thanks for having me on, great to be here.

Zal Dastur 0:21
Why don’t you just tell us firstly, a little bit, maybe about yourself and as well about like, what’s going on at the Green Collective?

Mayur Singh 0:26
Sure, definitely. I mean, quick one on myself. A long journey has been starting up in tier three city in India, growing up in a household where I’m the first non teacher in three generations. So yeah, so I grew up, I studied economics, that investment banking, spent around 10 to 12 years on the corporate side, doing mostly investments, turnaround management, and around for four and a half years back is when I wanted to look for my own iki guy and started finding it around sustainability and tech. And how can we merge the two together to do business model innovation. And that was a very simple premise that I personally had, how do we look at business model innovation and try to bring sustainability and use technology as an enabler to build business models for the future. So that’s been my focus for the last four years and green collective, which started around three and a half years back now the essential idea with green collective and the origin was out of frustration as an entrepreneur for my first startup, wherein I met a lot of these amazing entrepreneurs and brands who were at pop up markets are doing simple roadshows or different corporates, but I could see them doing the same thing again, and again, they all had the jobs. And what I just failed to understand is, why are they growing. So there’s a huge gap in the market for these entrepreneurs, because this was an underserved segment in retail. So what we wanted to do with green collective was to bring a focus to these entrepreneurs, and actually see how we can act as a bridge between these entrepreneurs to focus on doing what they do, while actually building their businesses and growing them as well. So today, in the last three years, of course, the business model has evolved a lot. But today, what we do is we use we work with early stage sustainable direct to consumer brands, and through our unique what we call it retail as a service model, we are able to take these brands to two steps, which is first is the build stage, wherein through our own retail presence, we provide them support, data analytics, and logistics, a whole gamut of services are provided to them. And once they are ready to grow, or move to the next stage, we actually linked them up with supermarkets, larger online marketplaces, and other ways of distribution. So that’s what we are doing at Green collective.

Zal Dastur 2:59
I want to get back into the into the business side in a moment, you said you were the first non teacher in your family and three generations was that hard was, you know, in terms of how you manage that with the with the family? Was that a conversation that you had? Definitely,

Mayur Singh 3:11
I think I mean, what will be more surprised to know is that I graduated out of high school like in India, we have 10 plus two, which will be equivalent of 11, if I’m not wrong over here, and my school only had science as an option. So the options were whether you want to take maths or biology, right. So as you can imagine them the options are whether you become a doctor or an engineer. So I think that was the first big step that that this is I’m good at it, but I’m not great at it. So I’m definitely not cut out to be an engineer, I might score well in maths and physics. But that doesn’t mean that I’m an engineer, leaving science to go into economics was a big, big step. It was it was a I mean, at that age at like 1718. What do you know? Right? But it was kind of a gut feeling that this is something that I can actually do, and do well in and go to one of the best places in India for that. So definitely challenging, especially given the background you’re coming from you have family, which basically wants you to take the path of minimum resistance and less risk, so that you can get, as I say, in India settled very quickly.

Zal Dastur 4:24
I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit there because I think at 16 or 17 to be able to understand hey, what am I good at? What am I great out? Where should I be putting my energy and what should I be doing? I would say that that’s not something that your average 16 or 17 year old thinks about you use this phrase iki guy right, which is again, obviously someone has put a lot of thought into understanding what is it that you want to get out of life? Do you want to just explain ikigai for anybody that may not be familiar with this term?

Mayur Singh 4:52
No, definitely. I think ikigai is a concept that I think you’ll likely pointed out I might have practiced it earlier in my life. Some different points but didn’t really No name to it. If you guys are Japanese concepts, which basically it kind of tells you to think about things that you’re passionate about things you love doing, as well as things that you can monetize or find some way of revenue rating yourself, it doesn’t need to be necessarily in cash, because there can be different ways you can terminate yourself. And it’s a cross section. And it’s always represented as a three circle Venn diagram. And the ikigai is kind of what you find in the middle. And yeah, I think I’ve been reflecting on it. When I’m talking to you as well, yes, it was a point. And I think it was also a case of you’re pushed to a corner, where you are forced to think I was never scared of thinking against the tide. That was something that was always the so that kind of helped.

Zal Dastur 5:49
quite unusual, growing up in India, to be encouraged to think against the tide, definitely a different step. I think it’s something that a lot of people probably earlier in their life did not think about. But having given the last two years and the pandemic, I’ve actually put a lot more thought into the idea of, well, who is it that I am? And what is it that I want to be spending my time doing? Think that’s why, you know, they talk about the great resignation and and other things. And that’s definitely something that that we’re seeing right now, which is people making choices for reasons other than pure finance?

Mayur Singh 6:23
No, definitely, I think, and I’ve had this conversation with so many friends that different, one very common thing that comes out is through the pandemic, is the is finding the balance between needs and wants. And I love having that conversation with people because it’s also very central to the whole climate debate and, and sustainability as well, about how people have started really looking at things that a pure wants, how they want to, and how much in their careers do they want to stretch themselves to keep achieving wants, whereas the needs are more or less there, for many people who are in their mid 30s, early 40s, it goes back to exactly what you’re saying that pandemic has really, really led to change the way people think about just how they live. And work just happens to be a very integral part of how people live their lives today.

Zal Dastur 7:16
So coming back now to sustainability and the green collective, what I liked about this idea that you have brought, and what I think I have seen throughout your career is your marriage of business with sustainability, this idea that this is not something for charities, this is not donations, these are trying to empower business as like a catalyst for change. And I think that’s what you’re showing here. And in the green collective.

Mayur Singh 7:46
Yes, definitely. I mean, trained to think from a for profit mindset, firstly, and secondly, I feel that there are issues that can be resolved better with a nonprofit lens, to be honest. But once that I have worked on have been, however, better solved through business, I really believe in the power of business, for profit businesses, because incentive alignment, to motivation can be actually measured. And it also can be aligned really well. And one of the biggest challenges and in the talk on sustainability is has got much more momentum in the last couple of years, at least in Singapore, I would say are in the region. But before that you had many skeptics, and you still have skeptics, which is good to have for the sector, because you need people asking difficult questions. But one of the biggest issue was that is this for real? Like are these businesses actually for real? Is ESG actually a competitive advantage for companies in the long run? Is it actually only meant for oil and gas companies who have one of the best ESG rating scores in the world? Is sustainability just a fast you know, but coming back to the for profit was a nonprofit because I do wear these hats. I’m on a nonprofit board in Singapore, which is on plant based living as well. So So I do wear the other hand sometimes, but I feel the there are certain needs for business. And there are certain deliverables which can be done much better for through a for profit lens. And that’s what I focus on.

Zal Dastur 9:23
You had mentioned that you’ve seen a change in the last couple of years here in Singapore, especially what have you seen in terms of the industry and how has that grown maybe in the last three to five years in your mind? And where is it going to be going in the next three to five years?

Mayur Singh 9:37
That’s super interesting. I mean, I managed to take a break for four days to crabby. So I was actually thinking about it and I think it was quite interesting just last month. Earth D used to be a non event in the calendar in Singapore. You will be surprised this year there’s so much happening that as green collectively didn’t do much because they were like we really cannot compete. Let’s just park It’s a bit with others, I think it’s if you think of it as a marketing funnel, like a traditionally marketing funnel, the awareness has actually just kind rocketed. Now in Singapore and specific, which is where we have a lot of top down level of awareness. So while there are local groups which have been working on the problem, but there have been small niches in which they have been working, once the ministry was set up, once the green plan came out, I think that is when you really saw huge momentum, huge push on the awareness. Last month alone, I was like a part of couple of panels, did a panel for a couple of corporates, and was involved in like a big event. Now what’s what’s interesting is because I’ve been doing this for four or five years now, what is super interesting is this, the questions have evolved. And so I’m talking about the normal consumer. So the questions have really evolved, they have moved on from I don’t believe in this to convince me on why should I buy a straw to is this better than that? And what is the origin? How is it better? How is carbon emission calculation? So that’s great to see, because we can see that movement happening. And I mean, I build businesses in Singapore and in Europe. So the conversations were very, very different. Europe, which has been at the forefront of this conversation for a long time, the normal consumer actually asked much more sophisticated, complicated questions, so and it’s a curve for any society to get on. So I think that for me, personally, was really gratifying. And I was really happy to hear tougher questions. So that’s one thing that has definitely, definitely changed. The second thing is that in Singapore alone, if I was to look at it, there’s a lot more support in terms of funding, which is grant based funding, or private institutional funding, that is changing the landscape quite rapidly. And that is really required if we want sustainability related principles, either to be embedded in the current business models, or new business models, which are focused on sustainability flying through. Because eventually sustainability is not a sector is just a way of doing business. And that amount of capital and push is required in order to make it mainstream. So I was coming to the second part of your question, which was three to five years, right?

Zal Dastur 12:23
where’s it gonna go?

Mayur Singh 12:23
Yeah, I think it’s gonna be very exciting. I mean, exciting on one side, and a bit disappointing at times as well, because I was just going through something yesterday, which is like a climate map of Australia. So it it

Zal Dastur 12:38
was that the climate tech 100? Yes,

Mayur Singh 12:41
I think so. Yeah. Our guest on

Zal Dastur 12:45
the show last week was the guy that was one of the while he definitely helped put it together for Australia. Yeah,

Mayur Singh 12:52
I think they what they’ve done is correct me if I’m wrong. So they they have created this index through which you can enter your PIN code, wherever you are in Australia. And it can tell you when your home will become non insurable. And for a lot of homes closer to cost. It’s 2020 20. Tax deeds, I think 2022 right now is eight years away, I think the escalation of problems. And we’re seeing that right now. I mean, I got up in the morning, and I was going through articles on our hub, India has a cold start shortage. And power shutdowns are these extreme events are actually becoming really, really extreme. And that necessitates a change in the business model. And what would what I see happening much more is the three pillars of the government, the private sector, and the society kind of moving forward together towards this movement

Zal Dastur 13:46
is something that I read about Earth Day, which actually made me a bit, I was a bit disappointed, supposedly, the very first Earth Day, which I think was in the 70s was one of the largest single protest that the United States has ever seen. So it was basically people that came out in support of the planet and in support of taking care of it and being better with it. And that was in the 70s. So that was, you know, now almost 50 years ago, or more than that. And I agree that the momentum, especially in the last two years with the pandemic has really picked up a huge amount of pace. And it is now part of every conversation as opposed to being a side part of the conversation. And I liken it to exercise in the 1970s According to Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, people didn’t exercise for the sake of keeping fit. It just wasn’t a thing. And now when we think about exercise, even if you don’t exercise, you know that it’s something that you should do. And so I’m hoping that with sustainability with climate change, people where if you’re not doing something, that’s fine, but there should be this kind of feeling that well, but you know, that you should be and even if that starts getting more pervasive in the society, when People start making those individual choices. That’s where we will start seeing huge amounts of change.

Mayur Singh 15:05
No, definitely. And I think it’s always a trigger effect in sustainability and talking from like a consumer perspective, right, because at the end of the day, we need consumer demand for it for large scale changes from businesses to come in, because businesses are not going to evolve overnight, and change the definition of how they do things, it’s tougher for them to do it, we need consumer demand. And on the consumer side, sustainability for what it means for me will be very different from what it means to you and to someone else in the room with us. Right. And that’s, that’s where it’s exciting and challenging at the same time. So it’s exciting because of the fact that you can change, you can choose your own route, which is why human centered design is extremely important that you let people choose their path, rather than trying to prescribe to them that this is the one and the only way of doing it. That just doesn’t work. It’s it’s not a one size fits all. The second part that the reason it’s challenging, is because it makes a market Yes, job really, really tough. It makes targeting really tough it makes understanding the consumer personas very tough, because archetype is good, but then you’re reaching out to a very narrow set of people. And you kind of vary times and sustainability. And I see that a lot with the brands, you keep preaching to the converted, that’s sometimes not good business sense. So I think that it’s exciting from the point of view that basically you you see people taking these little actions, but one of the things that I’ve realized is that it’s also need bees. So for example, the other day in green collective I met this, these parents with a kid who have been apparently buying from Green collective for the last three years, because they love the wellness range, but they love it for their kid who has very acute Zima. Right? So it’s a need based thing is just that they found their product over there, and it happens to be sustainable. So that helps them to reinforce things.

Zal Dastur 17:00
How do you see us getting more people into the tent? Maybe wider audience, you know, as you said, where there’s a lot of preaching to the converted already? How do you get the next customer, the next person to say, Hey, let me try this. Let me do this.

Mayur Singh 17:14
I think if we talk about like b2c in specific over here, I think brands need to evolve, they are evolving very rapidly. And we see that I mean, we just on boarded an organic wine into Korean collective yesterday, which is made in Singapore, made from tofu way water, which was just drained up, and for every kg 10 liters is drained out, and they make wine out of it. So there’s innovation coming over here. I think some of the basics of branding and marketing need to be actually put into brands and products should be good. Not these are two three things which I can say we’re not perfect earlier, when we talked about sustainable products they that’s changing, that’s changing very, very rapidly. If you look at the plant based meat industry, look at the impossibles of the world. It’s a complete branding play. And it was a super branding play for a b2b company, so that consumers go there and ask for impossible.

Zal Dastur 18:13
This idea that you had mentioned about top down awareness, if for example, an effective carbon tax is levied on products, does that not make all of a sudden sustainable products, which are generally a little bit more expensive than other products? Doesn’t that all of a sudden make them more viable? And what is the role? Or where do you think the role of the government is in in implementing things like this

Mayur Singh 18:37
challenge with carbon related any calculations when you come to day to day consumer products, is firstly, getting to the accuracy of it. It’s very, very, very tough to do that, especially if you have small batch made sustainable products. Right? So because you’re working with very small manufacturers, or you’re working with a particular line of a manufacturer. So getting that traceability and getting the data to be right is tough. Secondly, I am a skeptic in terms of how much do consumers actually understand carbon emissions straight now? And it will they understand carbon tax, I think they understand very simple thing. So for example, menstrual cups is a big seller for acid cream collector, that whole category. Now what we’ve seen is that a cup would be anywhere between 25 to 50 bucks depending on which brand or what you want to go with. What people have started realizing is that although it’s a big upfront investment, you actually it actually becomes cheaper for you in six to eight months because of you reuse the products. So those kind of concepts, that the value is more to us compared to the price today. Those are the concepts that people are able to understand, while a carbon tax and other things can be useful, but I really doubt how much people are actually able to derive out of it and say that, okay, I’m going to take this decision because of this.

Zal Dastur 20:07
My point was more around the fact that if you started including the true cost of the product, then just even on a financial basis, when people are sitting in the supermarket and having to make a choice, the choice becomes maybe on a more equal footing, because they’re saying, Oh, well, you know, they’re, they’re the same in price or whatever, maybe I choose this because I understand that being able to make green choices is an incredibly privileged choice, right to be able to choose something, because you want to support a particular lifestyle, or a particular way of thinking, versus it being just a cost issue is something that only a certain percentage of the world is even able to do.

Mayur Singh 20:49
Yeah, so there’s two ways of looking at it. So one is we did cat capture this data is all within green collector with some analytics with a local startup that we worked with. Price was actually factor number four. But having said that, it’s with a bias that people are walking into the dream collector, you’re completely right. And one of the things that I really want to strive for personally is what you’re talking about how I summarize it is that sustainability is not inclusive. It’s not very inclusive. But there are various ways of finding a solution. And we’ve done that within dream collective, in order to reach out to people with different price segments. So while we have products, which will be average, 20 to $30, of 20 to $30, I would say that would be the average price. In general, we do have $10, for pre loved clothing, flat pricing, where people can come in, it doesn’t need to be a new product all the time reuse and bringing in new systems or is also equally important. And that is how I do see inclusivity coming in, as we actually go beyond borders and beyond different systems. And that’s the attempt that we have at Green collective, because as our whole idea is to set up that system of how these circular systems could come in. And that will make it cheaper. And of course, as it leads to more adoption, things would I mean, I would love a carbon tax, of course, I would love it. But I’m also wary of the repercussions of it because and as you rightly pointed out, it still needs to be affordable.

Zal Dastur 22:29
I agree with you that people don’t buy products because they’re sustainable, they will buy them because they are better. They will buy them because they are they do the job they meet the price requirements. And if they happen to be sustainable, especially if you want mass adoption of any product. It needs to be it needs to have that desire from the consumer to want that. One last thing I wanted to talk to you about was you were on The Apprentice, right the candidates came down to the green collective and just wanted to you know, how was your experience filming that was it was it enjoyable?

Mayur Singh 23:03
Yeah, that was great, actually. And it was almost a you know, almost a year back actually. I think it was screened initially locally. And then I got much more Limelight when it came on Netflix. I’m not a TV host TV star or anything like that. So it was interesting experience. But at the end of the day, to be honest, it was really nice because the contestants were business professional. So it was literally like a sales meeting. Yeah, I mean, it was great. Because firstly, that they chose us, they chose allow small startup to kind of film it in, which gives us visibility gives us support and also showcase the larger message because that whole episode is based on sustainability. If I’m not wrong, including us on social spaces. Well, yeah, it was a nice experience because like I said, I think it didn’t feel like I was filming.

Zal Dastur 23:57
And it was the best you know, more foot traffic if people come into the stores more.

Mayur Singh 24:03
Not so much in Singapore. I’ve noticed more of my friends seeing it and messaging me on LinkedIn. But yeah, there’s there’s definitely a larger recall value and in Singapore things we’ve always had that fixed number of footfall and fixed number of clientele who comes again and again to us. I think the uptake is coming more with Singapore opening up with tourists coming in than with the with the Okay,

Zal Dastur 24:25
interesting. So you’re saying that most of the customers in the store are quite regular, so that come every week? That’s right every week at least once or twice? And are there plans to open up more locations?

Mayur Singh 24:38
The way our concept works, so we are in Funan. But what we have is we have 16 different points of sales in Singapore. So we are in different fair price finance, which is the local grocery chain. We are in three right now. looking to expand to audit please double that number for the end of the year. We are also at M social hotel and Robertson key so we have a retail point there. So of how we are expanding is through these different partnerships currently. But yes, Off late with things opening up, we are evaluating a few offers from a few months to open another one. But what we really want to do is kind of open concepts which are focused on one particular space like wellness or homeware of food, rather than take the whole concept of Funan together, because, okay, it’s a bit but

Zal Dastur 25:27
I guess that’s a great opportunity, as you said, to introduce these brands and these products to new audiences to new markets in places where they may not ordinarily get exposed to these kinds of businesses.

Mayur Singh 25:39
Yeah, definitely, I do believe that if you’re doing anything in this space, related to like, sustainable b2c products, Omni channel is very, very essential. So while digital can grow and exist and coexist, Omni channel is essential because the consumer consumer journeys are a bit more tougher for these products. So omni channel helps in better conversion rates overall. So yeah, so that would be

Zal Dastur 26:03
I’m guessing that the situation that you are in with the data that you would be able to see, you would be one of the people to be able to see the uptick in Singaporeans, or just generally the market going more in this direction, because you will be able to track what products are being purchased, how they’re being purchased, how frequently?

Mayur Singh 26:22
No definitely answers we started, if we look at like a three year window when the data becomes a bit more tangible to make decisions on. I think the first one and a half years that we started. Our best sellers was straws, lunch boxes and very basic day to day items. And they were in the less than $15 side. From there on to now I think the share of wallet that we get has increased to 25 to $30. So that’s been that’s if you look at it statistically, that’s a big win because people are convinced to spend more on these products. So that’s been a shift that we have definitely seen from audio Interesting.

Zal Dastur 27:08
Well, Mayur, just wanted to say thank you so much. Pleasure speaking to you. I look forward to seeing the Green Collective expand further.

Mayur Singh 27:14
Definitely, Zal. Thanks a lot.


Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):