Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

How The Ayurveda Co is bringing high quality, affordable ayurvedic solutions to the masses

A taxing childhood, a punishing adolescence and an exacting adulthood... Shreedha Singh spent most of her life fighting extreme odds. Now, the doughty founder is disrupting the health, beauty and personal care space with her ayurvedic venture TAC

Rajiv Singh
Published: Dec 29, 2023 11:27:42 AM IST
Updated: Dec 29, 2023 12:18:35 PM IST

How The Ayurveda Co is bringing high quality, affordable ayurvedic solutions to the massesShreedha Singh, co-founder & CEO, The Ayurveda Company, at her family home in Karanda village, Ghazipur district, Uttar Pradesh. T.A.C makes beauty and wellness products based on Ayurveda. Image: Madhu Kapparath

The commerce grad from Punjabi University was foraging for backers. It was early 2021. It was a year when venture capitalists were cutting cheques at the drop of a hat, and all kinds of business ideas—from rank frivolous to amazingly unique to potentially disruptive—were getting generously and lavishly funded. Shreedha Singh’s The Ayurveda Co (TAC) —a beauty, personal care and wellness venture—had all the traits to make it to the third bucket of ‘disruptors’. And the first-time founder too was confident of striking it big with her contrarian play.

And why not? So far in India, most of the ventures in the ayurveda, herbal and natural segment had straddled the extremes—either too cheap and highly suspect in quality or prohibitively expensive and cramped in appeal. The ayurveda beauty and wellness upstart, though, identified a huge market opportunity—high-quality offerings, affordable price points and a mass play—with its differentiated strategy. TAC, Singh reasoned, had the right kinds of ingredients to woo investors.

Well, when the founder hit the funding market, the right kind of ingredients didn’t mean much to the wrong kind of investors. Most of the potential backers looked for the right pedigree. Singh, unfortunately, lacked any Ivy College tag. The first-generation entrepreneur completed her MBA in human resources (HR) from Panjab University, and if one went back to her formative years of education, Singh had her tryst with English when she was in Class 7! Born in Ghazipur, which is three hours from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Singh spent the first few years at Karanda village, and then hopped multiple places because of the mobile nature of her father’s job in the army.

Adapting to diverse circumstances, confronting peers who would constantly mock her rustic background and bully her in schools, and coping with a hostile home-front where her mother was always on tenterhooks because of an abusive marriage… Singh had a feisty upbringing. It became clear to the young woman that the only way to change her destiny was through relentless hustle. “I was determined to script my own story,” she says.

Meanwhile, back in the pitching room, the founder from the cow belt was battling with herd mentality. There were no takers for her story. A bunch of investors were eager to listen to the stories of founders who came from consulting backgrounds. Singh, again, failed on that front. She had a stint of close to four-and-a-half years in HR at VE Commercial Vehicles, a joint venture between Volvo and Eicher Motors, and a non-profit organisation. She also spent two years at Bombardier. “Nobody listened to my story. Nobody gave me a chance,” recalls Singh who couldn’t raise funding for the first few months. “I was waging a lone battle,” adds the founder.

How The Ayurveda Co is bringing high quality, affordable ayurvedic solutions to the masses
Back in Nashik, Maharashtra, the 14-year-old girl was waging a war to make her family survive. Her mother along with Singh’s younger brothers were thrown out of the house by her father. Survival was at stake, and the teenager decided to hunt for a job. She finally got a part-time job as a trainee at a multinational burger chain. Singh had to wait tables, mop floors and work at the billing counter for a daily wage of Rs 26! One-and- a-half months into the job, the family was barely managing to survive, and Singh was settling into her new role.

Then one fine day, destiny played a cruel joke. One of her school friends spotted her at the burger outlet, and the young girl felt humiliated. “It was embarrassing because everybody in school knew of my army background,” recounts Singh. Feeling disgraced, she quit, and after a few days managed to get a part-time receptionist job for Rs 4,000. The daily routine was gruelling: School in the morning, job in the afternoon, and homework at night. The ritual continued during college, during the early years of professional life, and finally in 2015, she pulled her mother out of 28 years of troubled marriage. “The joy of freedom on her face made me forget years of toil,” she says.

How The Ayurveda Co is bringing high quality, affordable ayurvedic solutions to the masses
Four years later, towards the fag end of 2019, it was Singh’s turn to celebrate freedom of a different kind when she decided to break free from corporate slavery. She pumped in all her savings, roped in her husband, and jumped into entrepreneurship by rolling out Khadi Essentials, a beauty and wellness brand which was positioned on the luxury side of ayurveda. The trigger to start, though, was rooted in the daily life of Singh who had been battling urticaria, a chronic skin condition, for four years. After trying diverse sets of medications—homeopathy, allopathy and naturopathy—Singh found salvation at an ayurvedic clinic in Kochi, Kerala.

The solution turned out to be an opportunity. Singh explains. The perception of ayurvedic wellness products in the market was more towards beauty and personal care. “I wanted to create something holistic which would be clinically driven and result oriented,” she says. Khadi Essentials had a promising intent. The freedom, though, to disrupt the market was short-lived. Four months later, the pandemic uprooted lives, business and plans. For Singh, the chaos turned out to be a blessing. She went back to the drawing board, dropped the luxury positioning and decided to reach out to a wider audience with a diverse set of offerings, and a year-and-a-half later, Khadi Essentials got morphed into TAC.

This time, Singh made an optimistic beginning. In spite of a fair share of scepticism from potential investors—clinically-proven ayurveda was a known concept in the country but the space was not occupied by any brand—TAC found backers in Wipro Consumer Care Ventures, Sixth Sense Ventures, Trifecta Capital, Alteria Capital and Strides Ventures, who have collectively pumped in Rs 115 crore in the venture so far. The growth has been encouraging. From Rs 12.7 crore in operating revenue, the numbers jumped to Rs 40 crore the next fiscal. “TAC is now striking a revenue run rate of Rs 150 crore for FY24,” claims Singh. Though the losses have increased from Rs 2.7 crore in FY22 to Rs 10 crore in FY23, Singh reckons that things are under control, and every consumer product company needs to go through the natural cycle of heavy investment and fair amount of time before it can get to the stage of posting profit.

How The Ayurveda Co is bringing high quality, affordable ayurvedic solutions to the masses

The backers, meanwhile, are elated with a promising beginning. Singh, points out Sumit Keshan, managing partner at Wipro Consumer Care Ventures, has a deep understanding as well as insights about the ayurveda and wellness space. “What has worked for them is the right kind of products and affordable price points,” he says, adding that the move to stay away from luxurious positioning and appeal to masses with high-quality formulations have made the company grow at a brisk pace. Founders hailing from small towns, he underlines, are adept at looking at the bigger picture and identifying a bigger TAM (total addressable market). “The co-founders filled the need to have a popular and affordable ayurvedic brand in the country,” he reckons.

Singh, meanwhile, is planning to roll out smaller packs and a differentiated strategy for Bharat. The idea is not only to cater to the aspirations of millions but also reach out to them with effective products. “Ayurveda, health and wellness has to be for all, and not for a select few,” says the founder. “TAC packs a punch,” she signs off.