Change is the only constant in the world that we live in. This is especially true for family businesses that span generations by constantly reinventing themselves to adapt to changing perceptions, lifestyles and values.
Arjun Vaidya, our next pathbreaker, CEO at Dr Vaidya’s, takes forward his rich family legacy through his New Age Ayurvedic Products Startup, which endeavours to bring the rich, traditional Indian science of Ayurveda to today’s modern consumer- both in India and Worldwide.
Arjun talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about realising the need to bridge the gap between the preferences of modern consumers and the age-old science of Ayurveda not only by providing well packaged herbal products that promote healthy living but also by going digital, thus solving the problem of access.
For students, irrespective of whether you start your own business or inherit a legacy, the challenges are still the same, staying relevant to the times ! Always keep your eyes and ears open to your target audience .
Arjun, tell us about our background?
My name is Arjun Vaidya and ‘Vaidya’, my last name means Ayurvedic doctor. My family has a legacy of 150 years in Ayurveda. I grew up with juvenile bronchitis (asthma) which stopped me from my biggest passion while growing up – cricket. After 14 years of painstaking Ayurvedic treatment with my grandfather, I was able to get over my asthma. This allowed me to get back to playing cricket – a turning point in my life.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
When I was 17 ½ years old, I left Mumbai for my undergrad at Brown University in the US. I studied liberal arts at Brown and graduated with honors with a dual degree in International Relations and Economics.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
During my time at Brown University, my eyes opened to a whole new world. The natural and organic products revolution was in full swing. Consumers attached more value to natural products as stores like Whole Foods captured consumers’ imagination and changed lifestyles. Everyone was talking and practicing healthy eating and active lifestyles. The exponential rise of Yoga though was something completely unique. This ancient Indian practice had been rebranded to suit modern consumers’ needs. With yoga pants, mats, apparel and gyms, Yoga has become a household name and a >USD 20b industry. This trend of adapting Yoga to become appealing and accessible to modern consumers is something I considered a master stroke and an important learning as I moved back home.
When I moved back to India in 2013-14, things began to change both from a consumer and macro perspective. Indians had adopted a fast-paced lifestyle, sleeping less, working harder and generally feeling more stressed. Given this lifestyle, citizens also began to understand the need to adopt a healthy lifestyle as the Health Revolution came to India. Simultaneously, Ayurveda was also undergoing its own renaissance. The new government in 2014, created the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy)– a monumental moment. Urban Indians began to demand Ayurveda, and Patanjali was created as the fastest growing FMCG mammoth in the country. This event actually woke up the large consumer companies in India who had traditionally stayed away, as they too began launching completely herbal lines. Yet, in this scenario, Ayurveda was missing a trick – Ayurvedic products were still boring, old school and poorly packaged. While urban India woke up to Ayurveda, Ayurveda still had to wake up to the needs of the urban consumer.
Tell us about your career path
In August 2013, I started my first job as a college graduate at a private equity fund – something that is considered very rare. The fund was focused on the consumer sector and this allowed me to spend a lot of time on consumer brands. I saw a change in India as consumers changed from obsession with imported products to pride in consuming Indian brands. Interest in Ayurveda started growing substantially in 2014, with creation of the Ministry of AYUSH. In ~3 years, I got to meet more than 150 entrepreneurs across the consumer sector in India and realized that brand building was what stimulated me over finance. The time was right – I quit my job to take on my family legacy of Ayurveda…
We started with a simple goal, taking 150 years of family legacy and 5,000 years of Ayurvedic science and repackaging it to appeal to 21st century consumers using the power of digital.
I remember starting off as a 24-year-old in FMCG – no one took me seriously. I would not shave when I would go to meetings. People just could not accept that I was actually the CEO of the company. Looking back, those early days of trying and getting rejected taught me to value what we have today even more. Never be complacent and take one’s customer for granted – the customer is our reason for being here and should always be in the driver’s seat.
For us, patience and staying true to our vision of being a digital first new age Ayurveda brand really worked. Instead of being everything for everyone – focusing on our core competency allowed us to grow from 1 order every few days in 2017-18 to more than 5,000 orders a day in 2020.
How did you get your first break?
When I was graduating from Brown, I knew I wanted to be in the business side of luxury and retail. I was fascinated by the LVMH group and learned that they had a private equity fund called L Capital. I happened to go for dinner with a Brown alum in Mumbai and was talking to him about this organization. Without hesitation, he connected me to the managing partner of the fund in Europe and in weeks, I had an interview with the team in Asia.
What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
The biggest challenge for us was trust. Being in an industry characterised by legacy players, people asked why should we be trusted as a new brand in the space. While it was difficult to challenge the question, staying true to our legacy, delivering high quality customer experiences and new age delivery formats has now allowed us to engage with more than 1million customers over the last 3.5 years.
Tell us about Dr Vaidya’s
Honestly, in a growing startup, every single day is different. I think for me, the one hour in the morning of going through my Whatsapp messages and emails set my priorities for the day – this is the only constant. The rest pretty much comes instinctively.
Happy to Work and Happier to Achieve is one of our 7 philosophies at Dr. Vaidya’s. For us, coming to work and making things happen is fun and its something we are passionate about. This is what allows us to achieve even more!
We saw a disconnect between Ayurveda and modern consumers. There was a need to bridge this gap and thus, Dr. Vaidya’s endeavors to bring our rich, traditional Indian science of Ayurveda to today’s modern consumer- both in India and Worldwide using the power of digital. Dr. Vaidya’s sees Ayurveda in a disruptive manner and has launched more than 50 products including LIVitup (Hangover Shield), HERBOfit (Goodness of Chyawanprash in a Capsule) and Chakaash (Goodness of Chyawanprash in a toffee). Other than these, the brand has multiple products addressing various illnesses, i.e. arthritis, diabetes, asthma etc. and wellness i.e. sexual wellness, weight reduction, cough, skin etc. spaces.
How does your work benefit the society?
Consultation has been free at Dr. Vaidya’s since my great grandfather started his first clinic in Mumbai in 1923. This has given us access to high quality Ayurvedic care and products to consumers from Anantnag to Trichy at the touch of their fingertips using the power of digital.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Our 3 favourite milestones:
- Being the First Ayurveda brand to be featured in the Forbes Asia “30 Under 30” List
- Getting on a flight and finding the person next to me seeing the logo on my t-shirt and showing me a screenshot on his phone of one of our products and asking about it
- My grandmother telling me that even though my dada is not around, he would be proud of what we have done with his legacy
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Failure is part and parcel of the entrepreneurial journey. However large you grow, entrepreneurs see failure every single day and the way one deals with it is critical. My father has been an entrepreneur for the last 35 years and he told me that if something starts with a yes, you should be worried. Everything good in life starts with a no – and the hallmark of a good entrepreneur is working to convert that no to a yes. We’ve had many failures and rejections along the way but, coming out of it stronger as a team has been our biggest learning.
Proudly Indian is at the front and center of Dr. Vaidya’s packaging. Our aim is to be the Ayurveda company to take this mark of India to the world. In the medium term (next 3 years) we will push to see our products in more than 50 global markets.