Interview with Dinesh Thirupuvanam, Co-Founder of Viv Biz Club
This is an interview with Dinesh Thirupuvanam, who is 25 and is a founder of the Viv Biz Club, a Green Buying Group that helps small businesses save up to 80% on their eco supplies. Dinesh received his undergraduate degree from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s a North Carolina native and enjoys indie music, soccer, karaoke, and fake mustaches.
Continue reading to learn more about his business, the “green” movement, and his tips for how you can succeed in your quest for successful entrepreneurship.
1) Today you run a successful business by helping other businesses, but I’m sure this isn’t how it all began for you. How did you get started as an entrepreneur? Where did you begin, and what were the major stops along the way (in terms of jobs, critical events, etc.)?
It’s definitely been a long road to where I am now. I started my path into entrepreneurship about 2.5 years ago. I was 23 in New York and I started tossing business ideas around with my cousin who was out in San Francisco. We both wanted to start a socially minded biz, and being family there was a ton of trust between us. (my dad’s also an entrepreneur, so I like to think it’s in the blood). The big step was deciding to quit my job at American Express and move out to Cali. I think when I did that it freaked my cousin out a bit, but hey, sometimes you just have to pull the trigger and dive off the deep end.
The Viv Biz Club is a Green Buying Group that helps small businesses & organizations pool their purchasing power together to save up to 80% on eco-friendly supplies, including compostable food packaging (from World Centric) and recycled office & janitorial supplies (from Office Depot).
There are two big problems small businesses have when they’re trying to purchase green supplies & operate more sustainably: 1) it’s expensive (up to 4-5x the price of “non-green” items), and 2) they don’t know who to trust / what products are actually good for the environment.
The discounts we help businesses get access to make it much more affordable for them to make green changes. Further, we vet all of our products to make sure they’re truly green, of a high-quality, and have the right certifications.
The Viv Biz Club has really taken off over the past few months. We’re now working with organizations in more than 100 cities and 30 different states across the country. We have a really wide range of eco-minded members too (which is part of what I love of about our biz). Viv member include: restaurants, cafes, offices, start-ups, schools, churches, non-profits, catering companies, frozen yogurt shops, breweries… the list goes on.
And we absolutely want to expand :-). We have two main focuses right now: 1) We’re starting to work with larger organizations (we just had our first Whole Foods store start buying from us!), and 2) We’re making a big push against SEO (again, big shoutout to Market Samurai – god I love that thing).
4) What has been your biggest success to date, as an entrepreneur (and not necessarily with Viz Biz Club)?
My biggest success to date as an entrepreneur… hmm. Honestly, I’d probably say being able to convince my girlfriend to do 2 years of long-distance with me ;-). As most folks know, when you start a business, you’re pretty much working round the clock. Combine that with seeing your significant other once every 5-6 weeks – not easy. Luckily she’s super chill and recently managed to get herself a job out here in San Francisco – woot!
5) What has been your biggest failure and/or source of frustration? What did you learn from it?
Biggest failure. Well our business didn’t start out as the Viv Biz Club. We ran a green loyalty program under the the name “Do You Viv?” for almost a year in SF. It got some decent growth out the gate, but never really took off. It wasn’t built to scale properly and our businesses just weren’t seeing enough value.
With the recession, we realized that we had a much bigger opportunity to help our businesses save money (hence the Viv Biz Club), but it took us way too long to come to that realization. Looking back we should have been much more self-critical in the early months. There’s a fine balance between believing in your idea and reacting to feedback from the market that says you need to change. In our case, I think it took us too long to react to that feedback.
6) What is your greatest source of motivation, and why?
My family and friends. They’re the ones who have to listen to all my BS about the biz. They’re the ones who have provided most of the ideas / input for major evolutions in the biz. They’re the ones who continue to tell me (and my cousin… can’t leave him out of this) that we’re screw ups… even when we’re doing well. And in the down months, they’re the reason that you keep chugging.
7) Where do you think the “green” movement is headed? It’s clear this is an increasingly important issue from an ecological and sociological standpoint, but what about for new business? Is this already a saturated niche, or do you think there’s a lot of opportunity here?
I think green is going to get even more mainstream, but I think for most folks it’s going to be less about saving the planet and more about living a responsible, healthy life that you can feel good about. For god’s sake, my mom just became a vegan!
One of the areas that I’m really excited about is composting & compostables. We’ve seen curbside composting programs kick-off in a few major cities so far, mostly on the West Coast (e.g., San Francisco, Portland, Seattle), but I think the number of commercial composting facilities and curbside composting programs is going to absolutely take off over the next several years (similarly to how it did for curbside recycling in the 80s).
So, as far as business opportunity goes, yes there’s a ton. Sustainability is no longer a niche concept. It’s something that’s become core to businesses and people all across the world, and I think that trend is only going to continue.
8) What tips do you have for someone who currently works a typical “9 to 5″ job, but wants to emerge as a successful entrepreneur?
Do what you want to do today. Don’t go do something as a stepping stone to tomorrow. If you want to be doing it today, then do it today. There is no such thing as a “good time” to quit your job. And don’t give me that nonsense about “I don’t know where to start.” There are way too many resources out there. Read The Four Hour Work Week, read Eric’s blog, and get going!
Thanks to Dinesh for taking the time to answer my questions. Again, please check out his business at Viv Biz Club. If you have further questions for Dinesh, feel free to ask them in the comments.
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