Elston Menezes – Taking the road less travelled? More like creating a path where there was none.

in Entrepreneur by

Meet Elston Menezes – laid back and unassuming, a guy most would describe as ‘chilled out’. But beneath that calm exterior burns a fiery passion that drove him down a path that most would shy away from.

What, you ask, makes Elston a trail blazer? Elston Menezes is the co-founder (with his cousin and close friend) of B.E Hemp India, a company that makes and markets Hemp products exclusively. Currently, B.E Hemp sells notebooks, clothing, accessories, dream catchers, smoking papers and soaps. Soaps are one of their earliest products (made from hemp seed oil), which was introduced three years back.

Despite Hemp being a super plant that can be used almost entirely (seeds, flowers, fibres, stalk) to produce a range of items, its usefulness as a versatile and environment friendly material remains largely unknown. Due to being a variety of the Cannabis Sativa plant it tends to be associated with Marijuana (another variety of the same plant). Thus, the challenge in marketing Hemp products.

So how did the idea strike? When asked about what motivated him to start B.E Hemp India, this is what Elston had to say, while also shedding light on the Hemp industry in India and abroad, “In college we researched on Cannabis. You can make 30,000 different properties out of Cannabis, including medicines, plastic, building material, fuels, body care products, food items. The Hemp industry has been running since the past 25 years in the world. Not every place has legalised it as such. Gradually countries have legalised production and selling of Hemp. In India as long as it’s not flowered, you can do what you want with the whole cannabis plant, but not the flower (flowers are illegal) as per the national regulations.”

“In college we researched on Cannabis. You can make 30,000 different properties out of Cannabis, including medicines, plastic, building material, fuels, body care products, food items.”

Because of being a new and niche market in India, a lot of money had to be invested initially to create awareness about Hemp. By exhibiting their products at various flea markets in Bangalore like Soul Sante and others they got people interested. The positive response encouraged them to go forward and explore the market further.

B.E Hemp aims to revive the Hemp industry in India which existed about 20 years ago when it was legal. On doing research they found out that a lot of Hemp based products from Nepal are sold to foreign markets at huge profits. Wanting to bring Hemp back to the mainstream, they started production here in India.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Elston. Due to little awareness, unclear laws, and his limited knowledge and experience, the idea at first seemed scary. But travelling around, talking to sellers in other countries like Nepal, and gaining an understanding of the global Hemp market that is far more developed than India gave him the gumption to go forward. He wanted to make a difference despite the hurdles, for instance they didn’t make profits until last year when they registered their company.

But for Elston, one of the greatest challenges faced by him was personal: his parents were not okay with his venture. They wanted him to join a good company and lead a corporate life. Getting them to accept the idea was difficult, given Hemp’s negative association with Marijuana. They eventually came around when Elston showed them actual products made from Hemp. He didn’t give up on his dream, but pursued it harder, despite the lack of parental support. That in itself is a bold move. However, Elston’s parents who were his biggest critics are now his biggest supporters.

Commenting on competition in the budding Indian Hemp industry, Elston says, “Bombay Hemp Company is our current competition. Actually, they aren’t competitors as much as allies. Since it’s a small market, we don’t need to compete. Products made by them as compared to B.E. Hemp are different.”

Going forward B.E Hemp plans to expand its marketing activities. Despite having amassed nearly 12,000 followers on Facebook in their short time, they haven’t been able to cash in on this popularity, due to Facebook’s ban on the sale of Hemp products. So, they are on the lookout for other social media forums for advertising. Also, a number of companies have approached them to advertise their work. Apart from events and exhibitions, B.E Hemp intends to start an e-commerce website to sell their products. They are also looking to collaborate with suppliers in Himachal for products. At present most of them are sourced from Nepal. Many plans in the making, as the journey continues.

Elston and B.E Hemp have come a long way. He had to learn everything from scratch. It took 3-4 months to learn and perfect making a simple notebook. This was necessary as vendors set high profit margins. During this process of learning, he got to know of many Hemp farms. A double win for all the hard work.

But Elston believes there is still more that can be done. “Funny and stupid that you have Cannabis and Ayurveda as a medicine. Everyone knows it goes active after the budding of the flower. Before budding it’s just Hemp, the fibre. Outside India, Hemp has already been bred to have 0.03 % THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). Within India we don’t have anything to regulate it”, he says, venting about the situation. That’s what they trying to do in a small institution in Uttarakhand. Until the government approves, they can’t go ahead and explore the medical benefits.

Elston’s advice to budding entrepreneurs wanting to do something different – “The main thing you’ll face in the Indian market is that it is going to be slow and frustrating; plenty of people give up along the way. Start working towards your dream, right things will come your way. Reply and respond to everyone, things will come your way. Networking helps.” Replying to messages and giving personalised answers to queries is what led them to the opportunity of entering the U.S. market. “Personalised attention makes a difference. You know everything about your company; it’s your baby and you want to see it develop.”

The main thing you’ll face in the Indian market is that it is going to be slow and frustrating; plenty of people give up along the way. Start working towards your dream, right things will come your way. Reply and respond to everyone, things will come your way. Networking helps.”

Fortune favours the Brave. And Elston embodies this saying. From being a pioneer in a nascent and challenging industry to battling family opposition, he has done it all. A true believer in the potential of Hemp, he soldiers on with big dreams and an optimistic vision.

Take a page out of Elston’s book. Step out of your comfort zone and be Bold.

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