Prakruti Kodali’s journey was a very conventional one – studying engineering, getting an MBA from a top-notch B-school followed by a series of consulting positions in the corporate world. Through all this, she held on to her quest of making this world a better place. This is what led her on to the entrepreneurial journey. In this exclusive interaction with AsiaBizToday, she shares some insightful notes on the path towards becoming an entrepreneur.
A turning point for Prakruti was the Entrepreneur First (EF) programme in Singapore where she first envisioned starting her own company. It made her acknowledge her potential to contribute more concretely towards her one true goal – making the world a better place for the generations to come.
Talking of her work prior to starting out on her own, Prakruti says, “I had the opportunity to work with C-suite executives to develop growth strategies, and thoroughly enjoyed the process of problem-solving and transforming the business.” She insists that in all her professional endeavours, she has ensured to create a positive impact on people’s lives.
Having been a part of the corporate world, Prak, as she is fondly called, realised that the inherent inertia and structure of corporations is a limiting factor on how fast changes can be made. “I wanted to have more ownership over the impact I create, while being able to learn and contribute across the entire value chain. Founders typically have to wear many hats, and I relish being CEO, clerk, and so much more at the same time. I have a more holistic perspective of my business, from the high-level vision to the reality on the ground,” she says about her leap of faith into the world of business ownership.
Birth of pFibre
Over the past few years, she has been contemplating if having children is a responsible thing, considering issues that the planet is facing including environmental problems like climate change. Being a problem solver, she got into action mode giving birth to pFibre in Singapore, which develops fully biodegradable B2B packaging using plant-based materials. The idea was to reduce plastic waste, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions that come with their manufacturing and disintegration.
Her biggest challenge in this role was not having the right technical know-how. “Material science is heavily technical, even with my engineering background. There’s not a day that goes by without me asking all sorts of questions to my incredibly talented co-founder Dr Dinaz Zenobia Tamboli” she says. She also believes that women are cognitively and emotionally built to be great entrepreneurs.
The situation also made her realise the importance of starting a company with the right person, and to ensure that you share the same values about growing the business together. Elaborating on the relationship she shares with her co-founder, Prak says, “Both of us believe that there are no ‘dumb’ questions, and that every question is a learning opportunity. Such a supportive and encouraging learning environment breeds curiosity, and has helped me to understand technical nuances much faster than if I had tried to learn them by myself.”
In fact, Prak thinks that her novice understanding of the complex subject gives her a relative advantage. “I am now better at communicating complex concepts in a simple manner, and explaining our technology to customers and investors who may also not have that material science background,” she explains. This, she believes, makes the two co-founders equipped with complementary skills and expertise.
Learning from experience
She has been making good use of her years of working directly with C-suite executives early on in her career which offered me a glimpse into the decision-making and problem-solving process at the highest level. For one, a steep learning curve was to hold her own while working with such senior and authority figures.
“This instilled in me the confidence I need to interact with investors and other business leaders today, and I can focus more on engaging them and solving the problem at hand. There are many considerations when making decisions across hierarchies and business functions, and I was able to pick up valuable insights that have come in useful as I make decisions for my company today,” she said.
Irrespective of one’s skills or confidence levels, the task of making the world a better place sounds like an overwhelming one. Quiz her about what keeps her going and Prakruti points towards a quote by polar explorer and WWF fellow Robert Swan who once said, ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it’. “This quote inspires me on good days, and motivates me on difficult ones,” she says.
This optimism can be quite contagious. Which would explain one of Prakruti’s proudest moments at pFibre when she convinced a global FMCG giant to be an early adopter of the new material when the company was barely 8 weeks old! “We’re so excited to be working with massive organisations like them to help reduce their carbon footprint. Also, it’s a great start for us and the impact we can make in the long run,” she gushes.
Despite her many achievements, Prakruti does not define her success by the conventional metrics of the society. She believes her success lies in fulfilling her purpose of adding value to better the lives of people around her. Another success mantra of hers is to be her own biggest cheerleader. “There is nothing that you cannot do if you believe in your potential and abilities,” she said adding a great parting repartee: Be fearless, bold, and deliberate.