Friday, December 19, 2008
Interview with Rajeev Kapur, Greenwala
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Today's interview with with Rajeev Kapur, Chairman and Chief Wala, Greenwala (www.greenwala.com), a recently launched social networking site focused on green/sustainable topics. We spoke with Rajeev about the idea behind the site, how he went from being a General Manager at Dell to green social networking, and where the company is hoping to go.
Where'd the idea for Greenwala come from?
Rajeev Kapur: I believe that much awareness has been created for the green/cleantech movement, but a lot of that movement has been focused on climate change and the negative consequences. For me, it's more than climate change, it's also about energy independence, and also about living a healthier lifestyle. I also think that corporate social responsibility is very important--business leaders have a responsibility to help their employees and their community, to make things better. It's not just about climate change--although climate change is important, if you solve these other things, you can also solve the climate change issue. For me, Greenwala is about building a location, a place where people can have fun, learn and share, and help each other. Over the past few months, if there's anything we've learned, it is that one person does count, and can make a difference. One person can virally affect family members, colleagues, and firms. I felt that a social networking media company was the best place to be, because I wanted to learn form other people, not companies. Sites like Amazon.com are good at fulfilling products, but I want to learn from other people who are passionate about being green, who are interested in helping and sharing with other people. I then realized that if you've got a vertically focused site on green and sustainability, one of the best ways to make money is to partner with brands, and help them to be green, get the message out, train their employees to be green, and create marketing conversations with their marketing team to help get the message out there. So we're a green social networking and media company.
Your background is in the electronics industry, isn't it?
Rajeev Kapur: Prior to Greenwala, I was president of a dot com, called Smarthome. There are great people over there. Prior to that, I was at Dell for 11 1/2 years, serving the last two years as General Manager covering Southeast Asian countries like Taiwan and Singapore. I also represented my vertical group at Dell as part of the Dell.com team. Amongst my group, they looked at me as the person to talk to about leveraging social networking, things like Twitter and how to leverage social networking sites.
Why decide to switch from the electronics market to green?
Rajeev Kapur: When I left Dell, four and a half years ago, it was a tough decision. I had a great time there. I was in Asia, and had our second son, and needed support here. I was raised in Southern California, and didn't want to be the out-of-the-country guy for the rest of my life. I met some people who were at SmartHome, which was a great company and opportunity for a few years. Then, the company wanted to go in a different direction, and I was looking to go a different direction in my career and in my life. I was doing things, trying to be green. I was trying to put in a tankless water heater myself, and tried to learn about it on things like Facebook, and I ultimately got an answer to my questions, but it was kind of painful. My son was learning about things in school, talking about global warming, and I read the first two pages of a book by Paul Hawken, and it sold me. One of the things he says, which honestly sounds corny, is that profit equals planet--that you can build a sustainable business, you can build a culture and have great people, and help the planet in the process.
Talk a little bit about the corporate ties to the site?
Rajeev Kapur: We're a social networking media company, and we have the ability to do marketing campaigns for you, and act as an extension of your marketing team. If you want your employees to become engaged, we have a marketing expert and top social networker, Jonathan Good. Justine Burt is our chief green officer, and once worked with NASA. We have the ability to bring these people to the table, and if you don't have much of a message on green, you can hire us to help you figure out your message, then get your message out to the people.
What are some things you offer to users on the site?
Rajeev Kapur: We've built three different areas on the site. The first area provides value through content. Sites like MySpace and Facebook can't provide content. But, we wanted content. We have more then 400 pages of content, all of our own original content, and not aggregated. We've got channels and are adding a little bit of content every single day. That way, we also get picked up by Google and the other search engines. So, if you're looking for some information from the community about a hybrid car, you might find an article about what a Tesla is on our site. While we've just launched, we're seeing anywhere from 5 to 12 page views per person looking at the site, and that's creeping up every day. We also have a section, the Treewala game, which brings up a window and asks a question, and for every 20 answers that people get right, we plant a tree in the rain forest. They learn about the green movement, and learn about terms associated with the green movement. In the middle section, it's more dedicated toward having fun on the site, and if you can have fun with green. Clicking on campaigns, you can do things like design a T-shirt for Greenwala, and stuff like that--engaging people in cool, fun ways.
How's the company funded?
Rajeev Kapur: We started the company in January of this year, and got our first funding in March. We hired our first person in April, and started building things in July. We've raised a little over a million in angel funding, and are starting to work on a Series A. We're a little concerned about the investor climate right now, so we'll get a small angel bridge round started after the holidays, before we start working on our Series A.
What's the next goal for the site?
Rajeev Kapur: For us, the biggest thing is getting to more people. It's one thing to have five or six people internally banging on it, but once you open it you discover there's lots of user experience things you need to work on. In the immediate future, we're making sure we get the bugs fixed, making sure there's a good user experience, and driving more traffic to the site. Probably the next big things for us is the user experience, and make it the best experience possible, then we'll look at other ways to monetize the site.