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Abhra Banerjee is presently the President and CEO at Cleanomatics. With over 25 years of experience in leadership roles, he has worked across India, Southeast Asia, and the US. Abhra is a seasoned C-level corporate executive turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He is a participant of the Berkeley EPM 2019-21 cohort and shares his experience of the launch of his company and of the program thus far.

TELL US ABOUT CLEANOMATICS AND WHAT IT AIMS TO DO.

I conceptualized Cleanomatics when my son was leaving home for the first time to go to his hostel. We figured out that he didn’t have a reliable laundry service available on demand. And with a little research I figured out that it is a very common problem. And, when my son had a bed bugs problem, we looked up Justdial in all of Manipal only to find somebody who charged us a humongous amount and the problem was still not resolved.

Apart from PCI for pest control, and to some extent, maybe UClean and Urban Clap (Urban Company) in some places, there is no such reliable option which is available every time you need cleaning and laundry. That is why we conceptualized this business idea.

We decided that we wanted Cleanomatics to be like Google to ‘search’. Anything to do with cleaning, laundry, and dry cleaning, we should be the destination of choice.

To do that we need to onboard each and every player who’s connected directly or remotely with this ecosystem. Be it chemical manufacturers, machine manufacturers, service providers, etc. We have embarked on this journey of creating the Uber of the cleaning and laundry industry.

And, when we started this journey in January this year, at the conceptual stage we got the blessing of a Silicon Valley pre-seed accelerator. We participated in this pre-cohort program and developed the initial business model and we launched it in India in June. And every month, we have been growing by more than 65% to 70%, acquiring customers, and gathering traction. We are present in all of Delhi NCR and Calcutta. This is how much we have expanded in the last four months. And, in the next three months, we expect to expand more.

WHAT PART OR PARTS OF BERKELEY EPM SPECIFICALLY HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO LEVERAGE IN ORDER TO GET HERE IN YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY?

BEPM and Northwest have been life-changing for me. Because I quit my corporate career after 25 years, when I was at the peak of my career. I was doing extremely well; I was the vice president and business head of Havells (India Limited). But being at BEPM, I realized that this is the time to do something different and that is when I decided to quit my corporate job and make my capstone project my startup idea.

Ever since I’ve started this journey, I have been updating my capstone. I’ve been able to use my interactions with Prof. Frank Schultz, Prof. Holly Schroth, and everybody else, in my startup. I’ve also been able to leverage the Harvard Business Publishing financial and accounting model, as well as the Leading Innovative Change module in my startup. Right now I am waiting for the financial bootcamp, the next phase of the capstone journey, and the next part of the campus modules at Berkeley.

My relationship with Berkeley was further enhanced when my startup got selected for the UC Berkeley SkyDeck Accelerator Program, which is a very prestigious accelerator program. So Northwest and BEPM have made this entire journey possible, and it really is a wonderful journey.

CLEARLY GEN Z AND MILLENNIALS ARE AN IMPORTANT TARGET AUDIENCE FOR YOU. WHAT ARE THE LEARNINGS FROM THE PROGRAM THAT HAVE ALLOWED YOU TO EXPAND IN THIS CUSTOMER SEGMENT?

Gen Z and millennials are not like any other generation. They are digital netizens with a very strong point of view which does not waver easily. They form their own opinions and stand by them. Their world-view is very different. So, no amount of advertising can influence them. If you advertise and you don’t live up to the promise, it doesn’t excite them.

They are not driven by a brand name or glamour. And they will not conform to anything just because you tell them to. They have their own way of adapting to change and their own way of accepting what you tell them to do. This segment is becoming one of the most important segments.

So to work with this generation, it is very important to understand them fully and offer them your product and services on the internet, but not try to sell it to them. Highlight the merits and the functional properties of what you’re offering and allow them to objectively compare it to the competition. If your product is good, you are living up to your promises, the product reviews are good, the service reviews are good, then you will automatically be adopted. Because word of mouth operates in a much more powerful manner with this segment than in any other generation. This is the generation of the future. They will drive the world.

WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH YOUR PEER GROUP AND HOW HAS THAT HELPED YOUR PROFESSIONAL JOURNEY?

The group is multinational with people from Australia to the US. In the COVID scenario especially, it is very important to understand what is happening in each country to form a worldview and engage the right possible success formula in the markets you operate in. So the first advantage is that because we have such a diverse group, we have been able to learn from each other’s experiences.

We also bond excellently as a group. There is a lot of bonhomie amongst the group. I have 60 new friends. We all have a common mission and all of us are part of this exciting journey at BEPM.

Every bit of interaction has been very stimulating intellectually. We have study groups and have formed long-term friendships. So it’s a very warm and nice feeling of having an extended family of 60 more people.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE – CHALLENGES AND BREAKTHROUGH MOMENTS SINCE YOU LAUNCHED YOUR COMPANY AND WHAT YOU HAVE IN STORE FOR THE FUTURE.

A startup is not an easy thing to do. You have to live your startup idea 24/7. You have to do everything in that business – be a telephone operator, the person who is pitching to the investors, the HR, the accountant, even if you haven’t done it at any stage of your life. So the biggest challenge for me has been getting used to this new routine. In the beginning, there have been times when I had to reorient, challenge, and completely change myself to adapt to the demands of a startup.

My inspiration has been Colonel Sanders of KFC. Because if he could start his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 65, and make KFC what it is today, I started at the age of 50. So I can do it too.

The second challenge, obviously, is being able to manage capital. Making sure that I have the runway for a suitable length of time, before I raise the next round of investment and how to raise that investment, is a challenge.

The third is the vulnerability to legal cases or litigations. As a startup, it is easy to end up in litigation and understand how to avoid that has been another challenge.

Going forward I think it is a very beautiful future for all of us at Cleanomatics. We are expecting our operating breakeven latest by February, 2021, which will be about a year since our birth. We are working on an evolved technological digital platform with artificial intelligence and machine learning, in line with the vision of being the Uber of the cleaning and laundry industry. We are also looking forward to a hundred million dollar business in India in the next couple of years. We are looking at a 1.2 billion large customer base in India. And we are looking at our US launch and maybe two to three years later a B2B SAAS model, maybe a B to C model. We have not formed that yet, but that’s what we’re looking forward to.

SHARE WITH US ANY ANECDOTES / STORIES / EVENTS FROM YOUR JOURNEY AT BERKELEY EPM THAT HAVE STUCK WITH YOU.

I would say my interactions with Prof. Frank Schultz are times I will always cherish. Every time I need him, even if it’s online, he’s always bubbling with energy and positivity. I always wonder how a person, despite being such a superhero in terms of his credentials, is so down to earth. He is always laser focused on whatever he has to teach us. Every interaction with him has been fantastic.

The interactions with Prof. Holly Schroth in Bangalore, understanding what negotiation is all about, has also been a very memorable experience.

Mohit Jain (from the Northwest leadership team) has been guiding me through my capstone project. Every time I interact with him, he is to-the-point and meticulous about suggesting the next step forward.

Drafting a business plan and reading a balance sheet with Tamhant Jain (also from the Northwest leadership team) has also been a very memorable experience. I can keep on recounting all the lovely memories with each member of the Berkeley faculty and the Northwest team or even the peer group. And I’m really looking forward to the next opportunity when we can be grouped together.

My advice to anybody who is considering this program is that this is probably one of the best programs available. Berkeley EPM is a very natural fit. I always have a feeling that Berkeley knows what I am thinking, what I want at this stage of my career. You can decide how you want to change your life after entering this program. It completely depends on you. If you decide to take it as a college degree and get a Berkeley stamp, you can get that. But if you want to use it as a life-changing experience like me, you will change your life. Because, this is a program that can actually change your life and open up a vista of opportunity, which you had probably never thought of before.

FEATURED PROGRAM

Berkeley EPM

Jul, 2021 – Mar, 2022

INDIA & UC BERKELEY CAMPUS (CALIFORNIA, USA)

The Berkeley Executive Program in Management (Berkeley EPM) is a year-long distinguished general management program that prepares participants for the next level of leadership. Created to transform proven leaders into global executives ready to lead the charge, Berkeley EPM encourages reflection, enhances strategic thinking, and develops authentic leadership.

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