Founder Spotlight: Meet Priya Bhullar, Co-Founder at Planboo

Meet Priya Bhullar, Co-Founder of Planboo, a Rockstart AgriFood portfolio company. With an MSC in Environment and Sustainable Development from UCL, she brings extensive international development experience from various countries. Passionate about climate change and socio-environmental justice, Priya infuses these values into her work. Outside of her professional life, she enjoys surfing and singing. A new mother to her daughter, Nour Marie, Priya is navigating life as a mother and founder. Hear directly from Priya as she shares her journey:

What motivated you to found Planboo, and what was your experience like in the early stages of its development?

“I have always been curious about issues related to people and the planet. My father is from India and my mother was British/Irish so I grew up feeling as though I had one foot in the door of two very different worlds, the South and the North. This led me to pursue an MSc. in Environment & Sustainable Development from UCL, where I specialized in climate change and socio-environmental justice. I came to understand that people are disproportionately affected by climate change depending on their location, gender, and ethnicity. It allowed me to understand my own privilege to be able to move between the world and that spurred me on to spend the next five years in international development. I worked in London, Nepal, Peru, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and Zambia for NGOs and development organizations. 

As my career in “humanitarian aid” progressed, my frustrations grew. I saw so many hands working on the ground to effect change and yet there were countless roadblocks and cuts in funding meaning the sector was not conducive to challenging and changing the status quo. When I met my co-founder Freddie and later Marc, I was truly inspired. Brainstorming the concept of Planboo helped me see that as a startup, we had the chance to look at the challenge of climate change and global inequality differently. By thinking outside of the box and dreaming big, we were able to welcome in innovation which is a core part of changing the status quo.

We founded Planboo in 2020 and as first-time founders, our experience in the early days was, let’s just say- rich with lessons! To be honest, I’ve never felt as buzzing about going to work as I did then and still do today. We made a commitment to ourselves and to each other to be able to show up as our full selves at work and we’ve come far in being able to share when things come up as honestly and authentically as we can. Being friends and founders of course has its challenges, yet it’s given us a solid foundation to support each other in our own personal and organizational development. Planboo has gone through several evolutions. When we started, we were all adamant that we should steer clear of carbon credits due to mistrust, skepticism, and fears of getting called out for greenwashing. Yet here we are actively choosing to grow a solution that builds trust in the carbon credit market through transparent data collection. I’m grateful for how those experiences in the early days shaped the company as it stands today.”

Could you elaborate on your time during the Rockstart accelerator and our collaboration since then, as well as key takeaways from these experiences?

“We had already been part of a few accelerators before joining the Rockstart program and so in honesty, I was unsure whether Rockstart would be able to provide anything different. What emerged was a closeness to the Rockstart team and their network of mentors that gave us tailored advice and sessions. It felt like we could call upon a number of the Rockstart team members for a range of things, most notably funding advice during the time we were raising our round. The program was intense in terms of the time requirement. This proved to be the most effective way to get us as a founding team and company to commit and put in the effort. It was because of this that we were able to reap the benefits of the program. Rockstart is super willing to open doors and we have been introduced to several investors, potential customers, and even a portfolio company that we now have a partnership with.”

Reflecting on your journey in scaling, what valuable insights have you gained so far?

“Having the right team in place is key. What started as a shared vision between three friends became something that others around us started to buy into. We began receiving messages from people all over the world who wanted to get involved. We’ve now got an amazing team of individuals who are helping us move to the next level and it will be future top talent that will help us scale further still.

In addition to the right team, the right partnerships are so important to unlocking growth. For us, this looks like alignment with biochar projects on the ground. An example is in Thailand with our project WongPai. The project is run by co-founders Khom and Nui who in a bid to reduce the pollution caused by the region’s bamboo processing standard practice of open incineration, put a team together to turn the bamboo industry waste into biochar. This process prevents the release of smoke and greenhouse gases, fixes the carbon dioxide into solid carbon, and produces a valuable soil additive that can be applied back onto the bamboo, as well as other local crops like rice and cassava. The project employs the local community supporting green job generation and both parties feel there is a values-based synergy.

Similarly, since 2023, we have been in partnership with Think-it, a sustainable software engineering company. Think-it nurtures tech talent from North Africa and across the globe and puts these top minds to work on conscious and planet-positive engineering challenges. They have been the perfect partner to support us with the development of our tech-building needs, but it goes beyond that. We’ve learned so much from them as an organization and enjoy building a close working relationship between both of our teams.

Finally, when reflecting on scale, we’ve come to learn how important it is to take stock of how far you have come. Progress is a never-ending road and while one of our guiding principles is to drive forward with momentum, it’s valuable to do regular retrospectives to appreciate how much we have already achieved. This keeps us motivated and allows us to stay focused when the road ahead seems daunting.”

If you had to offer a single piece of advice to fellow founders in their early stages, what would it be?

“Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. When I reflect back on our early days, so many people kindly offered their time and energy to hear our pitch, read our deck and generally offer their insights. After a certain point, we felt confident enough to trust our convictions and now are asked to share our own stories and advice with other founders and companies. When we see ourselves as part of a bigger ecosystem, all pushing for the same thing, which is to leave the world a better place, then it removes some of the barriers that prevent us from collaborating rather than competing.”

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