5 minute read
Case Study

Brown Living drives sustainability with zero-waste e-commerce platform

Founder of Brown Living

How an Indian startup is making sustainable living accessible through its platform of curated products for zero-waste

Brown Living, India’s first plastic-free marketplace, is a growth platform for small- to medium size businesses and artisan groups from India with a mission of making sustainability easy, accessible, and affordable. The company started with 15 brands on a spreadsheet and has grown to over 450 carefully selected brands on the platform. Now, Brown Living offers over 65,000 products that are sustainable and plastic-free alternatives, curated for a sustainable, vegan, eco-friendly, toxin-free, and zero-waste lifestyle.

Founder Chaitsi Ahuja discovered her passion for sustainability during her time at one of India’s largest retailers. Her role allowed her to develop an understanding of the Indian consumer. Combined with personal interest in leading a healthier and more mindful lifestyle, she began to read a lot about sustainable living, the climate crisis, and the United Nations’s sustainability goals. Chaitsi would participate in community events where she would spend her weekends helping with a beach cleanup or going to farmers’ markets to understand how small brands are trying to make a difference. “Through community events, I realized that if I believe in the idea of sustainability I cannot promote brands that create waste,” says Chaitsi.

With this in mind, Chaitsi quit her role in February 2019 with no plan and no business idea. “I just said that I’m going to figure it out along the way. I’m going to talk to people, do my research, and figure out what this will turn out to be,” says Chaitsi. She began meeting brands who were in the sustainability space, including people from energy, consumption, product, and special materials innovation.

She identified a common thread of frustration when speaking to these brands: people inherently want to do good in the world— but only if it’s convenient for them. “As humans leading such busy lives, we end up forgetting our basic core values. This is how my own journey started with food sustainability and why I want to make it easy for people to live a sustainable life,” says Chaitsi.

Chaitsi helps sustainable brands by taking them to a specific set of consumers who want to make a change but don’t know where to begin. “We’re building a new sustainable economy where it becomes super easy for businesses to grow and scale in this space. Consumers can reduce their impact on the environment and shop guilt-free,” says Chaitsi.

Brown Living sells plastic-free products, and 80% of its sellers are women-run businesses. So far, according to an internal report of their impact measurement, they’re carbon neutral, planted 48,000 trees, created 1,800 jobs in rural India through tree plantation efforts, and saved 500,000 kilograms of carbon. “All of our efforts are towards making the planet a better place for humans to survive,” says Chaitsi.

Participating in Google for Startups Accelerator: Women Founders in India
Prior to participating in the Google for Startups Accelerator: Women Founders in India program, Brown Living was preparing to scale to reach their next million customers, and the Accelerator program helped them sharpen that plan and set clear goals.

“Before we got into the Accelerator: Women Founders in India program, we were not using anything apart from Google Ads,” says Chaitsi. “Through the five-month program of intense acceleration, we learned immensely about technology on the cloud-based system, Looker Studio, and we started creating our own simple plug-ins through Google Sheets. We’ve automated a lot of our tasks through the Google ecosystem and network, and we’re also looking to reach out soon and work with Google developers to build an AI system on Google Cloud.”

“The mentors from the Accelerator program asked me probing questions, allowing me to realize solutions through my own discovery and helping ensure that I was thinking in the right direction,” said Chaitsi. "Being in a cohort of 20 other women founders was an enriching experience and made me feel like I was not alone. I didn’t realize how challenging it was for women to be in a founder’s position or even in the workforce until I actually heard stories of other women.”

Chaitsi Ahuja in a breakout session during the Google for Startups Accelerator: Women Founders in India program.

Chaitsi Ahuja in a breakout session during the Google for Startups Accelerator: Women Founders in India program.

Additionally, for Chaitsi, she says it’s been an incredible journey full of learning and sharpening of brand offerings.

“The Google for Startups Accelerator mentors are like an extended family to us now. We know we can reach out to them with a vague problem, and they will not just troubleshoot or connect us with the right people but also make sure we put in the work to achieve our goals,” says Chaitsi.

Brown Living with the Google for Startups Accelerator: Women Founders in India cohort

Brown Living with the Google for Startups Accelerator: Women Founders in India cohort

What’s next for Brown Living

Since participating in the program, Brown Living was selected for the Villgro IMMpact program, completed the Stanford Seed Spark Program in July 2023, and has seen an average conversion rate improvement of 45% compared to previous quarters.

Looking forward, Brown Living is planning to build and integrate a new AI tool using Google technologies that will eventually help consumers measure and quantify the impact of every product on their platform. “The idea is to democratize that information and let consumers make that decision on what is good for them and what is not,” says Chaitsi.

Chaitsi is grateful for the network of founders and mentors she built throughout her journey. Her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Keep asking questions. That’s one thing I live by daily, keep asking questions.”

Learn more about Brown Living