Prashanth had contacted one of the local university’s placement offices to secure four Master’s students for our surveying. We met them at 9 am, after Prashanth and I finished off our south Indian breakfasts. In Tamil, Prashanth explained Essmart and the purpose of the surveys. He’s a great manager, and I’m happy to have him on our team.
After the introduction, the students split up in four different directions to begin surveying. The goal was to complete 15 for the day. I joined Eknath, who Prashanth said was the most eager to survey from the beginning. We traveled by what is becoming one of my favorite forms of transportation: motorbike. There’s nothing like whizzing past farmland on the back of a motorbike.
The first store we stopped by was a huge supermarket. Eknath, who is getting his Master’s in Social Work and has a lot of survey experience, was pretty professional in getting this information. The first survey went well, and the shop owner was interested in Essmart’s products (more on that soon). We surveyed on, skipping lunch to make sure we finished 15. With each shop, I stepped further back. It was faster for Eknath to handle the surveying alone, since he wouldn’t feel compelled to translate everything for me. I observed the interactions and gauged shop owners’ interest from afar, answering Eknath’s questions as they came up. I also took a lot of pictures.
Mid-afternoon, Eknath stopped for tea at his aunt’s place. It was a modest house, and his cute little cousins were also there. Eknath began calling me his sister – his akka. Note: This was not the first time that an Indian guy had begun calling me his sister. Prashanth said they did this to make them feel more comfortable. In his words, they wanted me to know that they were not hitting on me. Fair enough. I just hope that having new brothers does not come with obligations to another family.
The first round of survey results were interesting. We found that Tamil Nadu is a great market for solar – especially solar lanterns and solar inverters. Finding this out made me think, Wow, this can actually work. And, wow, we need to incorporate quickly. We finished about 60 surveys, thanks to Prashanth’s big thinking and incentives scheme.
After debriefing with the students, Prashanth and I got the technologies out of his car. We took stock. The inventory: Five each of d.light S250s, S10s, and S1s, Five Envirofit G-3330 cooking stoves, one Envirofit LED lantern, one BOPEEI solar panel/mobile charger/lantern, and one Tata Swach. Not a lot, but at least it was something. Were we really going to begin selling these things? We would figure it out later.