Dharma Life Sciences — the startup for those who are down and out
A technocrat, J Sasidhar became an entrepreneur as early as 1987 and founded Dharma Systems, a software company that operated out of India and the USA. In the 25 years of running his software company, he noticed that people who worked in the corporate world were not able to achieve their goals, and that the ensuing confusion and disillusionment destroyed their personal lives too. That was the reason, in 2012, that he put his technology business on the back-burner and invested $1 million to study why people suffer to find a work-life balance.
“Living my own life was a trigger. I noticed that I could easily achieve some goals but found that others were very difficult. And being exposed to two cultures — in the USA and India — which had opposite views on achieving goals, added to the difficulty in understanding what could be achieved and what could not,” says Sasidhar, Founder of Dharma Life Sciences, LLC. He adds that while Indian culture revolves around fate — if it is not meant to be it won’t happen — Western culture is based in the belief that anything is achievable if you work towards it. “I was not happy with either explanation and I felt that scientific research could solve the riddle,” says Sasidhar.
He started with a team of five researchers to gather data on employee behaviour and life goals. In three years, the data showed that employees were indeed not meeting their goals in organisations and that companies believed them to be expendable. There was no harmony in the system. Dharma Life’s researchers also signed up 500 people from the corporate world so that their behavioural traits could be studied. The findings were startling on how it impacted personal lives and organisations. For example, employees took work home and brought personal life to the office Dharma Life’s psychology and personality development experts’ work with corporate employees who connect to the self-awareness programme delivered through an app. The expert allows the employee to discover the strengths and weaknesses of different traits.
Every year, several go-getting youngsters are afflicted with psychological disorders and suffer from low self-esteem.
According to an ASSOCHAM report, due to demanding schedules, high stress levels, and performance-linked perquisites in the private sector, nearly 42.5 percent of employees are afflicted with depression or general anxiety disorder. Government employees, whose work environments are not as psychologically taxing, are much better off. The report titled ‘Preventive Healthcare: Impact on Corporate Sector’ reveals that the rate of emotional problems such as anxiety and depression has increased by 45–50 percent among corporate employees in the last eight years. The report is based on the views of 1,250 corporate employees from 150 companies across 18 broad sectors like media, telecom, knowledge process outsourcing (KPO), etc. The report included major cities like Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Chandigarh, etc. A little over 200 employees were selected from each city on an average. In terms of those afflicted with depression or general anxiety disorder Delhi ranks first, followed by Bengaluru, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, and Pune respectively.
For Sasidhar, understanding the root was the problem.
The root is the trait
“The starting point was stating the problem. Once the problem was stated then it would show the path to the solution for an individual,” says Sasidhar. The problem was stated as follows: is there a boundary placed on a person in his attempt to reach his or her goals in life? If there was a boundary, then what would be the attributes of the boundary and what would be the methods to move the boundary? So Dharma Life defined the attributes (genes, environment, mind, and luck), after which it was a matter of adding the right people who had the background to research the solution to the problem.
As part of the field research, Dharma Life had many individuals from Indian corporations who went through initial tests with the utmost secrecy. The startup found how certain traits (physical, dietary, mental) were creating barriers for an individual’s personal and professional growth. These traits in turn affected entire corporations. Dharma Life realised that if they could solve this at an organisational level, then they could grow much faster. They began to map these traits and created learning and development programmes for organisations.
“What we learnt after talking to a number of corporate managers was that leadership training was notorious for not changing the individual at all. However, corporations were spending significant resources on learning and development,” says Sasidhar. Dharma Life’s USP was that they could map their programmes to the business bottom line. The startup also predicts the percentage improvement of any measurable goal that the organisation wants from an employee. According to Deloitte, the consulting company, a global organisation could spend close to $600 to $1,000 per senior executive per year on leadership programmes. But the impact on an organisation is barely measured, which is what Dharma Life wants to achieve.
The business model and competition
The business model is based on a corporation asking the leader or employee to take up the programme by downloading the Dharma Life app. The app is also open to individuals outside the corporate world. It is a module where a coach (a life expert) is assigned to the employee and there are certain tasks provided that help the employee understand his or her traits to become aware of their selves to align their goals in life. The corporation pays for the research provided by Dharma Life. Sasidhar has launched this business in the USA with three corporations and has covered 1,000 employees so far.
Since the business with corporations is in the pilot phase, there were no testimonials given. Dharma Life Sciences is yet to draw substantial revenue. The founder believes the business will make money once there are more than 10 paying customers. The fragmented competition in this field includes companies like Stillwater, HR Global, and UrbanPro.
“This is a fragmented industry and needs to scale based on core research, which a corporate must be willing to pay for, otherwise the business cannot be scaled up,” says R Natarajan, CFO of Helion Ventures.
No wonder Dharma Life has started work in the USA. It is one place where this research platform can be monetised with corporations. For now, ways to make people not just productive, but to allow them to live life to the fullest with no psychological breakdowns need to be found.
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