May 4

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Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Environmental Advocacy with Dtocs Founder Pallavi Pande

By Mimi MacLean

May 4, 2021


Pallavi Pande exemplifies sustainable entrepreneurship. She is an entrepreneur, mother, and founder of the sustainable plates company Dtocs. If you have been wanting to start a business that benefits the world and the environment you will be inspired by Pallavi’s story. She is committed to ethical leadership and the importance of having a clear message.

Episode Contents

Inspired by Childhood Eating Practices

Pallavi Pande - sustainable entrepreneurship - founder of Dtocs
Pallavi Pande – sustainable entrepreneurship – founder of Dtocs

Mimi: Pallavi, thank you so much for coming on today. I really appreciate it. I’m excited to hear your story with Dtocs. I would love to just start with how you came up with the idea and what were you doing at the time when you came up with the idea in this area of sustainable entrepreneurship?

Pallavi: Sure. Thank you for having me here, Mimi. I’m very excited today as I get to speak to your audience and tell the people about my story, about my ideas, where I come from, what I do. As you can see, I am a woman of color and I was born in India. Coming from that country, I grew up in a very small town, in the very Northern part of India close to the Himalayas, the Mount Everest. Nature has been a very big part of my childhood. I remember when I was a child, I used to eat my food on leaves. That is where the whole concept of my business today, what I’m doing, comes into picture. My nostalgia of eating on leave since I was a child and the hunger of bringing that concept to the Western world.

Why? Because I’m a parent now and I want my daughters to experience what I experienced when I was a child, which is eating on leaves, being close to nature, using natural resources. The idea came from there, my nostalgia combined with my passion for the environment, my love for the environment, and using what we have today, just like natural resources.

Meaning-Making Combinations

The name, there’s a quite interesting story was, of course, first we were not able to get the actual word “detox” for our business because it was taken. We had to think creatively, come out of the box and come up with a different word which could align or perhaps mean the same, which was D-T-O-C-S. That’s why my business, my company today is Dtocs spelled in a different way. This is D-T-C-O-S and it’s the same exact meaning that I want to advocate to people that when you can detoxify the inside of your body, which people do.

Of course, they are so conscious. They put in medicines, they try to detoxify natural ways, or perhaps with medicines. I just want to inspire everybody to start that from the outside. Why not take care of our bodies and at the same time, take care of the environment from the outside, where we put our food on? The plates and bowls that we put our food on. At the end of the day we are parents. That’s the last thing I want to worry, what or where my kids are heating their food, how many times, in the microwave. I really wanted to be conscious over there and put in a caution for all the parents that you don’t want your kids using plastics or substances that has chemicals where they’re putting the food on. Hence, the word “Dtocs”.

Mimi: I love that because I’m totally into healthy living and detoxing as well, and have had plastics out of our house and how bad they are for the microwave. I thought it was very interesting that yours actually can be microwaveable, which was great.

Banana Leaves or Palm Leaves?

Dtocs - sustainable entrepreneurship plates from plants
Dtocs – plates from plants – sustainable entrepreneurship

When you started, what did you do? How did you decide? Because it’s actually not banana leaves that you’re using. How did you decide not to use banana leaves? How did you find another source to use? I know there’re other kinds of companies out there that are doing something. What’s the difference between yours and when you kind of looked at the market analysis of like, “Okay, I have this idea. Now I need to do a market analysis.”

Pallavi: Sure. There are two components to this question. The first one is how did I think of palm leaves instead of the banana leaves? Of course, I’ve seen the food being cooked in banana leaves. For example, if you’re visiting Jamaica or Puerto Rico or Hawaii, all these countries have these traditions of cooking in banana leaf so I knew this for sure, which I’ve also seen growing up in India, the Southern part of India, they actually cook food wrapped in banana leaves. The reason for that is because they are so soft that they are able to save the flavors of the food and make it more tasty. Of course, I knew if I’m going to make tableware it’s has to be sturdier than a banana leaf. Of course, we had to do research.

The palm farms back in India is a cottage industry. I had to go down there myself. We had to study a little bit about how the manufacturing process takes place. What does it take? Which part of the tree? Which part of the leaf? It did take us six months to do research on where the manufacturing would be and how did we decide on where we are today.

Nurturing Holistic, Interdependent, Global Relationships

Quote from Pallavi Pande
Sustaining meaningful relationships matters to Dtocs Founder, Pallavi Pande

Of course, because ethics mean a lot to me, having that one-on-one relationship would be employees mean a lot to me. Because here I am not doing this alone. I really thank those employees and the manufacturing units who are making these products with me.

So the impact here is not just only from me, but also from them at the end of the day, because they are the ones who are making this with me. Together, it’s very important for me to find ethics in the work we’re doing, have that one-on-one relationship and also make sure that these are naturally sourced. There is no pesticide. There’s no chemicals used in growing these farms. That was one thing that I had to go deep down myself and find the appropriate manufacturing unit where we wanted to manufacture these. This was always a factor when I think about sustainable entrepreneurship.

Going to your second question, I’ll be honest. I started this two years ago. We’ve been running two years. Solid two years. It did take me six months to come up with the idea of the palm leaves because I had that reminiscence from my childhood eating on a very raw-looking leaves. Even today, when you go actually go back to India, the street food is actually served in a very raw-looking leaf. It’s actually just a leaf and it’s very fragile. It’s very flimsy. It leaks. I knew we could do something around the leaves. I just had to figure out if it’s going to be banana or palm leaves.

Frankly speaking, in the last three years, I’ve seen some more of these companies exactly like mine. Palm leaf products tableware emerge in the market, I don’t know from where, out of nowhere. What makes me very different is what I’ve seen is either they are wholesale sellers or they are manufacturers only. But there’s nobody like me, a mom who is not only manufacturing, but I’m also exporting around the world. For example, let’s say there’s a resort in New Zealand, or let’s say Australia,

I’ve got family back in Australia so if they wanted, I can get the stuff exported, imported to them at their convenience. We’re not restricted to just sell this in a part of a country. I can have these everywhere and that’s what my ultimate goal is: to be globally, internationally present everywhere. Why? Because it has to come from everybody, not just a handful of people. Millions of people need to do this with me.

Third-part is supplying it to grocery chains, to caterers, to wedding planners. I am the only person, as far as I know, who’s doing this from step one to step three, which is manufacturing, supplying, importing, exporting, and supplying it on the shelf. That is what makes me different.

I’m a mum-preneur. I’m a mom who’s raising eco-conscious kids, at the same time, teaching them the importance of natural resources, how to create a business with something you just have handy. Just you need to learn how to not to deplete natural resources and something you can do with what’s actually present.

Mimi: I would also like to add another point to that from when I was reading. You also provide a charity component to it – linked to sustainable entrepreneurship. I would love for you to speak about that.

Pallavi: Sure. Thank you for bringing that up. Like I told you, the employees that we work with, we like to put a direct impact on them. It’s very sweet how right next to the manufacturing unit is their village where they actually live. Having not only food on the table, but also their roof over their head, when I made them, it’s that love they give to us. That’s what makes this rewarding, that we are able to support their children and the way we make sure it’s a part of all our sales go towards their children’s education.

That’s why when I tell people, support the website, because that’s the direct way for us to give back to them, back to the community over there. Because, of course, I was born there. A part of me wants to give back to the community over there, and at the same time, I love teaching that to my children. They get to go there with me. They get to see the impact we put on their lives. It might be not a big amount for us, but it’s their whole life. Talk about education. It’s like making them, right from this age, with good education will bring them a better future tomorrow.

Mimi: Were they manufacturing something else when you found them? Or did you create the manufacturing plant?

Pallavi: It is a third-party manufacturing, but they were doing other jobs. They were not employed. This is the way where we got them employment. Today, we make a family. That’s what I tell them. That it’s just not me. This business is because of them, because at the end of the day, they are making these for me and the impact that they are putting in this world as equally important as what I’m doing today.

Financial Decisions To Be Made

sustainable entrepreneurship - dishes made from plants
Dishes made from plants

Mimi: That’s great. Can you talk a little bit about the financing of it? Have you just personally financed it yourself? Because obviously, this inventory is so expensive. When I tell people they’re going to start a business. I’m like, “You need capital for inventory.” Especially if you’re doing overseas, it takes a long time for something to get from point A to point B. You’re not flying unnecessarily. It’s on a boat. Now, you’re paying for that lead time on the water as well. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve been able to finance this?

Pallavi: Sure. We did have to work around a lot of attorneys, a lot of country laws, a lot of non-USA made product laws. We did have to figure all that out. That’s why I say that I have a solid team because we are able to achieve this just in two years. Yes, we have not to get found any investors, but that is my goal next. Because it’s been two years, we financed everything on our own, the revenue has been great, and that is the reason why we’ve been able to put that money back into replenishing our inventory. But now, at this point of time, we are looking for investors where we can improve our social media, for example. I was never there on social media until one year ago.

Attending to Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Legacy

Assortment of plant-based dishes
Assortment of plant-based dishes

When the pandemic hit was the actual hits to me, which came as a business owner that, “Where is my brand? What am I advocating?” Those were the topics that I had to really reevaluate and come with content and showing my face, speaking my voice, and making sure I show my kids faces because I’m just not leaving a legacy for them. I’m leaving a legacy in them so that when I’m gone, the impact is still there.

We want to use, be able to use, these investors for improving everything from our inventory. Of course, we want to scale up. I want to go global. Canada Amazon is going to be my next launch so we need to try that. We need it to scale up. I need more hands helping me in this cause. That’s just not a handful. I can support communities outside India. Perhaps here. That’s what I need these investors for. I’m in this constant lookout for people, for example, in Shark Tank, a big shark with me so that I can make a bigger impact with their help.

Mimi: But you made it to the final list of Shark Tank, right, if I recall?

Pallavi: Yes, we did.

Mimi: Can you tell me a little bit about that process?

Preparing for round two of Shark Tank

Pallavi: Sure.

Mimi: That’s amazing.

Pallavi: Thank you. Me and my husband, we’Ve both been to the Ohio State University. The creative director is also from Ohio and that’s how we connected. She was like, “Oh, I’ve seen your product.” I think that was possible because in 2019, we won the NEXTY Awards for the Most Innovative Product of the Year for the quality. Like again, I said, I’m not a wholesaler so I don’t believe in making profits at this time of the business. Now, that’s something long-term goals, which will eventually happen if you provide the right product to people, if you will make the customers happy. I do not like to compromise on the quality and because of that we got the 2019 NEXTY Awards. Because of that award, we snagged B2B with Amazon and other companies like Wayfair, like walmart.com.

I think that’s how the creative director of Shark Tank got in touch with us. She was like, “I have seen your product. We’ve compared to your product to other companies.” The question that you asked me, “How is it different? That makes me different?” I got to hear a one-on-one experienced review from her saying she’s tested a product, she knows our products, and they are way better. That gave me immense confidence in what I’m doing and I’m bringing in the right direction and there’s no quitting. There’s no stopping. Even if it’s pandemic, it’s not going to stop me. It’s just the ladder up from here.

That is how we started the procedure. We auditioned. We got into the first round. We’re just making home videos like a very raw file. They looked at it. But what we did not have at that time was we were just one year into business and we were just starting out and then the pandemic happened. Of course, there were no numbers to talk. There was no marketing that was happening because like I said, I did have a vision which was, I wanted to introduce the world to this concept, but I didn’t have the bigger goal of what is my target. Like, where am I trying to make this product reach? Today, I know.

I want to be there at every event from somebody’s biggest day of their life, their wedding to their baby’s first birthday to any event possible. Today, I know I want these everywhere. Our goal is next year to be at least a million dollar company and audition again in Shark Tank.

Learnings Along the Way

Mimi: Oh, that’s great. That’s great. What do you think is the hardest lesson so far?

Pallavi: Oh, boy. Talk about that. Well, being a mum-preneur, hasn’t been very easy. I will say when you are the caregiver of the family and when you’re really wearing these responsibility hats around the home, especially during pandemic, from a maid, a chef, to homeschooler now, and of course, running your own full-time business, the work-life balance has been a challenge and it was never easy to begin with.

But what I think I have found it more fluid in my lifestyle is the work-life blend, and that is a new trend. I really want to emphasize that, forget about compartmentalizing and trying to put work separate from life, unless you really have to. But for business owners like me, where I can include it in my daily life, and I can incorporate these products and use them in my own household before I preach the world. Why not do it? This is a blessing somebody could have asked for. Being able to blend your work in your life, and that’s what I’ve been doing. That was the hardest piece, which I have tried to puzzle it now with my family, of course. I can do it because my family is into this as much as I am.

Mimi: I did see that you have made your daughters ambassadors. The businesses I’ve had in the past that were product driven, I have five children and I’ve made my children a part of it. I’d like to, if it’s packaging or making it a game or something that you’re actually incorporating that them feeling like it’s part of them and their company, too. It seems like that’s what you were doing as well.

Pallavi: You’ll be surprised. If I wasn’t ready to talk to you, you would actually have two podcasters this year on my seat, talking to you even much more passionately than what I am today with much more creative out of the box ideas. That’s what the idea for. It’s like sometimes when I’m losing my motivation, people tell me, “How do you keep doing this everyday?” By looking at their faces, by looking at their enthusiasm, by looking at their passion. “Oh, mom, look at this picture I just took.” Out of nowhere I have a great photographer taking great content pictures. That’s my motivation because I’m never out of ideas.

Customer outreach

Mimi: That’s great. Now, have you found it difficult to find customers? You’re not selling directly to customers except online, correct? You’re mostly selling to more B2B?

Pallavi: We are actually selling B to C as well. It’s just we don’t have a brick and mortar, so we don’t have a local following, which I would love because I live in the beautiful state of Portland. This is one of the most zero waste eco-friendly places out of all the places in the United States. I’m so grateful I’m here because that motivation you get and just by being in that environment with these kinds of people just gives you a good picture of what you’re doing.

We do online. It is a hundred percent e-commerce. Of course, we do it through Google. We do it through Amazon. Of course, we have B to B with Amazon and Walmart, Wayfair, but through our website. We can ship it to any customer and we do free shipping on any amount. There is no minimum. You want one pack, we’ll ship it. You want 1,000 packs, we’ll still ship you for free.

Mimi: How do you do that? I mean, I think that is a huge hurdle for a lot of companies because you’re competing with Amazon and it’s free. I know because I’ve had companies before where shipping is an enormous expense. Just for, I don’t know, if you’re shipping it out or do you have an outside warehouse, but outside packing companies, they’re charging 6.95 just before they even touch the box, without even the shipping costs. It’s so expensive, so I’d love for you to talk about that.

Pallavi: I might not have been clear. We don’t do all of the items free shipping. For example, the B2B, because where it’s like huge volumes, we talked about, like more than a thousand, more than 5,000, of course we don’t offer that for free shipping. But for, let’s say, a mom who’s homeschooling five children and just wants a set of plates to try, we ship it for free. When it’s a B to C order, it’s just for free from our website. We do have enough margins on our product. That’s the first rule.

Second point is what you said, “How do you compete on Amazon?” We actually do not compete on Amazon. We are actually working simultaneously with Amazon because we provide our products on Amazon and our website. The only difference is that through our website first, you can use a discount coupon code. Second, on our website, a part of all the sales from our website helps us with the charity. That’s why when people say, “Which one is the better option?” Of course, it’s the website because Amazon, of course, in the end takes 17% commissions on each sale. That does not leave us with a great amount for the charity work so that’s the challenge over there.

But for international, right now, we are not shipping for free. We ask people to pay shipping. I have friends in France who are ready to pay shipping. As long as people are really sure what they want and if they’re up for the shipping, we will ship them anywhere in the world.

Staying Organized is About Evolving

Quote about being organized
Words of experience from Dtocs Founder, Pallavi Pande

Mimi: That’s great. You are a very organized person. Do you have any tips on how to stay organized and on top of things? Are you a digital person, are you a paper person?

Pallavi: Actually, I will say, I am a combination of both, but more often old-style paper person. Because I’M just learning all the tricks and the internet things, because I never had the time, first, with the children. Now, I just feel if you have to be a successful business, you have to evolve. You have to go with what’s the new technology, the new trend. I’m just learning all that. I’ve just been a TikTok addict, Instagram addict, because I’m learning so much, I’m spending so much time there.

Like you said, “How do I do it?” Because, of course we have a logistics company taking care of all our orders. I don’t ship anything myself, but yes, my children have made handmade cards, at least six months ago when we were actually shipping all our orders together. They were doing handwritten cards and making notes and putting it in every shipment because, of course, the volume of shipments has increased and there’s these guys who take the inventory from us and they take care of all the shipments and the freight now.

Pallavi: But going back to your question, yes, I believe in organizing and keeping everything planned ahead. Why? Because I like to start my day with making my bed sheets because it just helps me keep organized here. When you’re organized in your mind, it’s the mindset thing for me that, “Okay, it’s easy-peasy, I’ll make it happen.”

Then, second is, I love to make a to-do list every night before. When I’m going to bed, I like to put in a realistic to-do list, not overwhelming, because I hate to crush myself under the burden of homeschooling, cooking. Of course, I make three meals in a day fresh. From planning the meals to homeschooling to running errands to, of course, having my wine time with my Netflix, I keep a doable to- do list. That’s something I really believe in and I try to prioritize it.

Whatever is important to me in the beginning of the day, I try to accomplish that, and I need my cup of tea to function. That’s the first thing. Once I get that, then I’m on my toes. You’ll see me up and down running. That’s my battery charged. That’s why I love to organize and just keep going from there.

Mimi: That’s great. Now, what would you say it takes to be an entrepreneur, thinking about sustainable entrepreneurship? What kind of characteristics?

Pallavi: That’s a great question. People generally ask me, “Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?” Hell no. If somebody told me the amount of work I’m signing up for it, apart from being a mom, a mom-preneur, a chef, all those responsibility hats that I just told you, I think I would have doubted myself if I can even do this.

I think it was since after I had my children that made me more conscious and more aware of packaging of the products around us, of what we’re using at home. I was like, “How? What was the thing? Why did I even buy this?” That’s something that came after that conscious awareness that affirmed, we take off our surroundings and we like, how do we want to live this lifestyle? That’s where it actually hit me, that what I wanted to do with my life. What was I really made for? Sometimes in this world, your biggest contribution could not be what you’re doing, but who you’re raising.

Raising Children to Give a Damn

That’s when it hit me that I want to raise these children who give a damn because I could sense a bit of my childhood. I went to a Catholic convent school and from right on kindergarten, I was taught these habits which are sustained even today to me and they are just here in my subconscious mind. I just do things because that’s the way I was programmed. I love it because they make my life easier. They’re just there to help me get up every day, get things done.

If I can raise that kind of children with those qualities, I would love that. I think that’s where I thought I can be an entrepreneur. Sometimes, it’s like you have this epic idea and the real challenge is for any entrepreneur is how do you get started? Sustainable entrepreneurship is my passion.

I think when this idea came to us, that what about those leaves that we eat our food on? Oh, the street food. Oh, we miss it so much. That nostalgia, those flavors. How can we bring this into life in our children’s life? That is where it started. Startups always have that hard time on starting that idea. I say, there is no idea that is big or small. It’s just, you should know how to execute that idea. Once you can execute it in a way that you have the right team, you have the right business model, you have the right strategies, and of course, if some people need mentors or that motivation to keep going, I think that’s how you would just know you can do it. You can become an entrepreneur.

Mimi: You spoke about team. You have your team down in India. But as far as the United States, your team that you have here, do you outsource additional help that you need? Or have you hired full-time people?

Pallavi: I have hired full-time people. But the funny thing is not all of them are here. They are scattered around. For example, I will see my VA who does most of my social media work, is in Philippines. The funny ways, the way I found her was over Facebook two years ago. She’s younger, she was just starting. I just received an email from her last week, it was my birthday. That was the most touching email that I’ve ever received in my career, in my whole entrepreneurial carrier. Why? Because she was like, I was about to quit and go back to my corporate job but it was you who found me and put this trust in me that I could do this. I’m so grateful for where I am today because of you. Today she has clients, she’s doing great, she’s improved. That’s been one of the best emails I’ve received. For example, she’s in the Philippines.

We’re not a very big team. We’re just four people, excluding me. The rest, three of them are in India and they do everything for me. It is, I don’t know if you say outsource, I say it is the family because I am from India and I can go back to India at my convenience That’s the whole point. Having people who can represent me, who can talk on behalf of me, go down and represent me wherever they’re needed, if it’s with the employees, if an employee needs us, or if it’s the manufacturing unit who needs us, it’s just I’ll say they’ve become family now.

Mimi: This has been great. Is there any last minute tips that you would give a female entrepreneur or someone who’s thinking about being an entrepreneur, perhaps focused on sustainable entrepreneurship? Any advice that you have that you wish you knew from the beginning that you know now.

Pallavi: I will say, if nothing else, you should come to the conclusion that you would rather create work you love and constructed to fit your lifestyle like I did. No matter what the motivation is, to be your own boss, you can start it today. I always tell people that if you have an idea, the best time to start that is gone. Don’t regret it. The second best time is now so get up and do something about it. Doing is so powerful. Just go ahead and start.

Mimi: That’s great. I love that advice. This has been amazing. Thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it. I would have anybody either go to Amazon or to your website, which is DTOCS.com, and your Instagram handle is dtocsplates.

Pallavi: Yes, one word. One word, dtocsplates. The story behind that is when I started two years ago, I literally had four products. Literally, I started with four plates because I was like, “Ah, I’m not so sure if this is going to work. Let me just start.” It was more of that nostalgia versus a driven passion when I started. That’s why I had to name my handle dtocsplates because we were starting with plates. But today, I have 50 different kinds of plates and bowls and platters and dipping sauces bowls. A variety of things. That’s the reason why I just tell people, “I don’t know what I was thinking. I kept the name dtocsplates because we started with plates.” It’s easy to remember.

Mimi: That’s great. Thank you so much. This has been amazing. I really, I wish you the best of luck and I just love the fact that you have a product that’s doing well, that’s helping the earth, that’s also helping people – sustainable entrepreneurship. You do become a B Corp, if you have not become a B Corp. I don’t know if you’re trying to get that. I know it’s very hard to get that, but you’re right in there.

Pallavi: That’s a work in progress.

Mimi: Exactly. You would fit. That would be a perfect thing for you to do. But thank you you so much.

Pallavi: Thank you for having me today, Mimi. It was a pleasure.

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