A chance meeting with a middle-aged woman in one of her travels and the former’s inability to feel good about herself despite spending exorbitantly on beauty products, taught Dolly Kumar a valuable lesson – true beauty comes from within, only if one leads a healthy life.
No matter how many beauty products you create, there is no point if you are not healthy. I therefore wanted to go beyond beauty,
says Dolly Kumar. That was enough for Dolly to quit the beauty sector in which she was employed all this while to kick off her entrepreneurial journey. She started GAIA, one among the top health and wellness food brands in India today.
GAIA, in Greek, means the Goddess of Earth. True to its name, Dolly Kumar’s range of products only has natural ingredients. “Earth has the power of regeneration. Similarly, human body also has the power of regeneration. Our line of products are meant to help people feel younger,” says Dolly.
In a span of less than six years, Dolly and her team have managed to create a pan-India presence for GAIA from modest beginnings in Delhi in 2009. What’s more, she has managed to do so in a market space that has multinational competitors such as Kellogg’s and Nestle who have much larger operations, resources, and teams.
Dolly’s soaring career graph
Dolly credits the successful growth of her brand to the values that she has got along her career – a relentless focus on innovation, quality, passion for work, and empathy for people. For her, GAIA has been an extension of her own brand persona and principles, and the brand’s growth trajectory has been very similar to her own – from a management trainee to GAIA’s founder.
Born in Delhi in 1972, Dolly completed her Bachelors of Technology in Cosmetic Engineering from Nagpur University. She started her career as a management trainee, but soon found her calling when she got an opportunity to work as an Assistant Manager for Colorbar Cosmetics. Her important role of setting up and growing a new-age cosmetics brand helped her discover her latent entrepreneurial spirit and grit.
Soon after becoming the COO of Colorbar, Dolly left the organization to start GAIA in 2008. Since then she has not only built her own Health and Wellness retail brand, but also started manufacturing operations for the parent company, Cosmic Nutracos, where she is the director. Currently, Cosmic Nutracos has facilities to manufacture and package food, health supplements, and personal care products and also does private labeling for many leading brands in the country.
My career was never planned. I grew up and got bored with the same kind of work in the beauty business. And I realized that there was no umbrella brand which promises health to people. There was a huge gap and I started work on preventive healthcare by offering two verticals – supplements and substitutes.
Dolly laments that people in India are ready to shell out astronomical amounts when they have a heart attack but there is no awareness about preventive health food.
The challenges along the way
Dolly Kumar, a first generation entrepreneur, recollects her initial days into the business. She found attracting the right talent the biggest challenge, to sell people her dream. “I have been God’s blessed child, I must say,” says Dolly adding that when she did manage to find the right people for her venture, they stuck with her and are her colleagues even today.
For a brand which started hitting the shelves in 2009-10, GAIA as a brand has done reasonably well right from its second year of operations. Currently their line of products are available in over 20,000 stores across India.
“The retail business is rather tough,” says Dolly. Initial days, she and her backend people would walk in to the retail stores to find out more about their products and the perception around them. “‘Ye to lagta hai aaya aur gaya (GAIA) jaisa product hai, naam bhi waisa rakha hai’ (Looks like this product would come and go (pronounced as GAIA) from customers and ‘Naya hai par chal raha hai, log leke ja rahe hai’ (Its new but doing good, people are buying it) feedback from retailers gave us encouragement. Slowly retailers started stocking us, customers started buying us,” says Dolly.
GAIA now plans to start a specialized ‘light’ range of products, particularly for diabetics. They intend to start a range for sports fanatics too.
Dolly role models herself on anyone who has passion to excel in life. “Passion, discipline and hard work are the three keys to reaching the top,” says Dolly. She says she leads a peaceful life with an excellent work-life balance. Her mother and mother-in-law are also her inspiration, people who have pursued a career along with taking care of their families.
With a husband who works in a multinational firm, her son has just moved to a Business School abroad after finishing his Std 12 examinations.
Apart from work which is Dolly’s lifeline, she enjoys listening to music. Exercise and yoga are other big motivators for her. “Above all, I enjoy traveling to different places, meeting people and exploring the culture,” says Dolly.
For those who thought she only preaches, take a cue from this. She practices her brand philosophy of ‘feel younger, live longer’ by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.