Rajiv is based out of Delhi-NCR and writes stories on startups, corporates, entrepreneurs of all kinds, and yes, marketing and advertising world. His ‘historic feats’ include graduation in history from Hansraj College, master's in medieval Indian history from Delhi University, and PG diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Another forgettable achievement was spending over a decade at The Economic Times as his maiden job. For the first seven years, he learnt the craft on the desk, and the remaining years were spent unlearning and writing for Brand Equity and ET Magazine. What keeps him going, and alive, apart from stories is the heavenly music of immortal legend RD Burman.
Swagatika Das, Co-founder and CEO, Nat Habit
Image: Madhu Kapparath
Quite early, a barrage of powerful messages got drilled into her impressionable mind. “You are equal. You must speak your mind. You can do anything.” This is what Swagatika Das’s school teachers taught her. What was sowed into their heads 30 years ago, the IIT-Kharagpur graduate underlines, is being reaped now. If you find a steady stream of women entering the workspace, moving up the ladder, taking up senior roles, and speaking their minds, then it’s not a sudden change, reckons Das. You live with bold messages for years, and you end up internalising them. “That’s what changes lives,” she says.
In June 2006, Das was about to exhibit a bold and distinctive behaviour. She was starting her professional stint by joining Schlumberger—the world’s largest offshore drilling company—as a lead engineer in Mumbai. For ages, sectors like oil, gas and drilling have been fortresses ruled by men.
Das was seen as the odd one out. In reality, though, she was merely doing what she has always been taught: You can do anything. She did everything that a young engineer was asked to do. After six years, she quit, completed her MBA from Insead, and did something that not many would do: Changed her stream and joined Apple in 2013.Apple radically changed her job profile. From heading hardcore drilling operations for years, Das now started building sales strategy across online and reseller channels in Singapore. She also established distribution strategy across Asia-Pacific countries. The shift to a consumer brand came naturally. “I was always fascinated with FMCG brands, and their advertising jingles and tags,” she recalls. Apple looked like the best option to complete the transition from oil and gas to FMCG.
Also read: Saumya Mittal's Fitbudd enables fitness coaches scale their businesses through this SaaS platformAfter two years, Das again dared to do something different. She came back to India and co-founded Stichio, a social network for ‘dares’ or challenges, in January 2016. The ‘dares’ ranged from outrageous to humorous, such as asking users to write a song on bitter gourd, act like a potato in a pressure cooker, perform 30 push-ups, to whacky brain teasers and egg smashes. Stichio quickly caught the imagination of the youth. In fact, it got selected for Facebook’s FBStart programme, and at one point, the Hyderabad-based startup reportedly had over a lakh users posting content. Das, though, was not happy with Stichio’s trajectory. “We didn’t want to build another content platform,” she says, explaining the move to shut operations after a little over three years.
In March 2019, she co-founded Nat Habit, a D2C personal care brand that claims to make fresh, 100 percent natural beauty and wellness products. The products—ranging from underarm body scrub, cold processed butter soaps, all-day face malai and ready-to-apply heena paste—are certified ayurvedic formulations, prepared from whole grains, grams, milk, yogurt, fruits and flowers. “They have zero chemicals and preservatives,” underlines Das.
Nat Habit serves nearly 10 lakh customers, ships 10,000 units per day, and has 35 product lines. Over 40 percent of its users come from tier 3 and beyond, another 40 percent from tier 1 and the rest from tier 2 cities. Last April, the startup raised $4 million in series A funding led by Fireside Venture, and backers including Sequoia and Whiteboard Capital.
Also read: Anisha Dossa Aibara is on a mission to create impact in a JiffyDipanjan Basu, partner at Fireside Ventures, explains why they backed Das. Founders are either strong in product, brand or channels. “Swagatika is one of the rare founders who brings in a balance of all three,” he reckons. Her product innovation mindset, deep understanding of the formulation, new product launches and passion for building a brand make her unique, he adds. Nat Habit, Basu stresses, is a massive disruption in the beauty and personal care space. While there are brands offering natural products, Nat Habit’s unique proposition, in-house scalable manufacturing, supply chain and strong unit economics put it in a different trajectory.
The brand has a fair set of challenges to contend with. The key ones, Basu points out, would be to replicate the brand story of ‘freshness’ at scale, expand best-in-class manufacturing capability across India and be present in all channels. Brand awareness too remains a tough task. In a hyper-cluttered market, upstarts have to spend a lot on marketing and advertising to grab mindshare, says Ashita Aggarwal, marketing professor at SP Jain Institute of Management and Research. “Unless you make people know what makes you unique, the word ‘natural’ won’t have any impact as it has become generic.”
Das tells us what makes Nat Habit unique: It is disrupting the beauty and wellness space by helping users form a natural and new habit. “Winners are born out of habits,” she says. Legendary swimmer Michael Phelps is a winner because of a relaxing video he would watch as a child, she reckons, adding that companies have turned failures into success by planting singular habits among employees. “There are endless stories of what a habit is capable of.”
So, is there a habit that she would like young girls to embrace? Just one, stresses Das. “Believe in yourself. You are as good as anybody in the game. Just be bold and confident.”