Personal care brand Arata’s co-founder Dhruv Bhasin gives us an insight into building a personal care brand, the many learnings and struggles of entrepreneurship, and more.
Published: 19th September 2022 07:29 AM | Last Updated: 19th September 2022 07:29 AM | A+A A-
Arata co-founders Dhruv Madhok and Bhasin
Observation and innovation are often the core of an entrepreneurial venture—one usually starts by identifying a problem that exists, and then sets out to solve the same. It was no different for Dhruv Bhasin and Dhruv Madhok. The friends-turned-co-founders recognised a gap in the hair care segment, and realised that organic, homemade hair-styling products—such as the one made by Bhasin’s mother using flax seeds as a substitute to hair-styling gel—were apt to fill that void.
It was this out-of-the-box thinking that led to the inception of Arata—a homegrown, vegan, natural personal care brand that started out from Bhasin’s home kitchen, with an initial consumer base comprising friends and family. We speak to Bhasin (35), one-half of Arata’s founding team, about their entrepreneurial journey, the successes and struggles the brand faces on a daily basis, how he de-stresses, and more. Edited excerpts…
Tell us how the idea of Arata came about?
Madhok and I met through a common friend in 2006—this was via Facebook while we were pursuing our undergraduate degrees; Madhok was in the US and I was in the UK. We both have this knack for believing that our sense of humour is great (laughs). Later, in 2016, I attended one of Madhok’s wedding functions. At his function, he came up to me and said ‘Every time I see you, your hair is always perfect because of the products you use; how is it that your hair doesn’t grey or fall?’ I told him about the product, a homemade recipe my mother made—she would boil flax seeds, sieve the seeds, place it in the fridge, and that would double up as a hair-styling product. And it was great for my hair. He asked me to send some over to him, which I did. He tried it, and the same (or maybe the next day) he said ‘We have to start selling this.’
This was a problem we identified as something that affected both of us. Hair-styling products are the usual suspects for hair fall, greying, etc., and people either do not use them or use them very little. The idea was around one specific product or a couple of specific products, focused specifically for men’s hair styling. I wanted to give it a shot. Essentially, that is where we got started.
We started with boiling flax seeds in my home kitchen; putting it into small bottles and passing it around to friends, who absolutely loved it. The product was such that it was only stable in the refrigerator. Whoever tried it felt that it was solving a problem they had as well. And that’s when we slowly got onto the journey of formalising it.
What are the fears that you had to combat when you started out in your entrepreneurial journey?
I think the biggest demon that any entrepreneur has to battle—no matter what the size of the business—is self-doubt. However, that is also where the other part of being an entrepreneur comes in, which is, pure grit. Grit takes precedence over self-doubt on a daily basis.
For us, it was a risk that we had to leave our full-time jobs [Madhok worked for a bank, and Bhasin had his own brokerage firm] and start our own business. But, it was a risk that we were willing to take.
Solo entrepreneurship usually takes a bigger toll than when you work with a founding partner. Was it easier to have Dhruv Madhok with you on this journey?
Absolutely! I think, almost every other day or week, we look at each other and say ‘Main tere bina ye nahi kar paunga [I will not be able to do this without you]’. It is a standing joke now (laughs). There is no doubt that if you have a (or multiple) business partner(s) in your start-up, it lends tremendous support physically, emotionally, when there are times of stress, when there is something to celebrate.
Being on that journey, as an entrepreneur on your own, is probably an even more difficult task. We have huge respect for founders who do it on their own and they are a huge inspiration to us as well. But, I think, it is one of those things that if you have that entrepreneurial spark in you—whether you have a co-founder or not—you will always find a solution for whatever that problem may be. You will suddenly find it inside you to be able to get all these capabilities that you would imagine you did not have, whether that is emotional or operational… You will find a way to achieve those things.
Also, having a co-founder or multiple co-founders is about maintaining and nurturing that relationship… which is also difficult. You are essentially right at the top of the pyramid, it’s about joint decision-making and strategising. There are times when we will have alternate opinions.
So how in sync are you both…
In a broader sense, for what the vision is for the company, we are absolutely in sync. And that is the magic that works for Arata. But in everyday operational items, it is, in fact, very good not to be completely in sync or have consensus on everything. Because what happens then is, it does not create a space or an environment to look outside that box.
We do have polarising opinions on certain things. But the most important part is to keep our egos in check, and keep egos out of the discussion. Eventually, we have a data-driven decision on what is best for the company… Not who is right or who gets to one up.
What were the problems that you faced when you started out?
I think on a practical, operational aspect, when we first started out (and other entrepreneurs too) it was resources—financial resources, human resources. Sometimes, it is even intellectual resources because you may have a great idea in an industry or a category where you do not have experience or history in. Taking our example, we are not from the beauty or skincare industry. We studied business, but it was not specific to this industry. So, in the early days, it was resources. When you start out, everything is brand new to you.
And at a later stage…
As the business grows, as you build it out, trust the process, have faith in the process, give it time, then you slowly start finding solutions for those plethora of problems that you faced when you started out. At every stage, you find a different set of problems that come with scale.
I think two of the most important learnings—I would not call them problems, I’ll call them learnings for us—at this scale is that [earlier] we were a team of generalists and, of course, they helped us get to where we were. But, slowly, the requirement for the business turned into needing specialists for each item of the business—whether that may be marketplaces, websites, human resources, operations, or anything else. We had to start building a team of specialists.
I think the other major learning for us, which is also the case for most founders, is taking a step back from everyday operations and micromanaging. As we built a team of specialists, we had to start taking a step back and allowing the team to do what they do best. Because in each of these channels, our team actually has far more capabilities than we do. So, a huge learning for us was that we had to learn to delegate instead of micromanaging.
Given you work round the clock, how do you de-stress?
I have been boxing for the last four years. It is a very high-intensity workout, and I do it at least four times a week. That really is key to keeping me de-stressed. Other than that, even though we often end up working most weekends, Sunday tends to be a slightly quieter day… There is nothing like spending time with family to de-stress and an important part of that is putting the phone away. The last is something I am working on now—trying to be a bit more mindful through meditation. I am trying to inculcate that in my life.
What are the lessons you will give to someone who is just starting out as an entrepreneur?
The first part is to figure out what you are passionate about or what are the things in your life that bring you happiness? List it out on a piece of paper, if you can. Within those areas of passion, try and identify problems that actually exist and where do you potentially see a problem that you can solve. From there, slowly and steadily start building it out and find ways as to how you can potentially monetise it. Because if it is something that you will be giving a huge part of your life to, it has to make you happy as well. There are going to be successes and failures, but if it is something that you really feel passionate about, you will keep going without stopping. However, if it is something mundane with only a focus on money and financial success, when the difficult times come it will be difficult to move on from there.
The second part is to just get started. I think fear is one thing that holds back so many potential ideas for the world to see. And the world is waiting to see what that idea is, or what that potential invention is. So just do it and get it [the idea] out there. You will have failures, you will have learnings. Every single person who started a successful business has seen some level of ‘failure’, or what we like to call ‘learning’. So just get started.
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