How Bengaluru-based AyurUniverse is working to put Ayurveda destinations on the global wellness map
In a world where stress and lifestyle diseases rule, wellness matters. Almost everyone around the world wants to be in this “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being”, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (as defined by the World Health Organisation). India, which should have been on top of the wellness game with Ayurveda, yoga or Siddha medicine, does not seem to have benefited much despite these homegrown concepts resonating worldwide.
It was this thought that led Vijay Kumar Karai to leave behind his corporate life and turn entrepreneur. His aim was singular: to put Ayurveda, yoga, meditation, and other concepts on the global wellness map.
In 2016, he started Bengaluru-based AyurUniverse, an online wellness aggregator startup that leveraged technology to let customers worldwide search, choose, and book a wellness package of their choice without any intermediaries.
AyurUniverse founder & CEO Vijay Kumar Karai
“I always used to feel that people in India, well-qualified MBAs and others, did not have the courage to take an Indian brand abroad,” Vijay says. The idea for his venture came when he was running an Ayurvedic spa centre in Mysore. He soon realised that there was tremendous potential with strong demand, but all such units in India were operating in silos and lacked marketing bandwidth.
“My idea was why market just one centre? Why not market multiple centres on a global scale and reach out to customers worldwide,” says Vijay, who has an MBA from University of Southern California, and 18 years of corporate experience with companies like Coke and Pepsi in sales and marketing. The entrepreneur knew that the golden triangle of Indian tourism, Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, drew the most international tourists, and decided to focus on wellness options in this circuit.
Focusing on the wellness space
Over the last two years, AyurUniverse went about building a technology platform that would act as a one-stop aggregator for these wellness concepts. It provides customised Ayurveda and yoga packages for ailment management, wellness, and training. A team of doctors and yoga experts offers online consultation on health concerns to customers while a team of advisers helps them choose the right package at the right centre, based on requirement and intent.
There were also certain learnings along the way. “We realised that many centres that provided Ayurvedic, yoga, or meditation services were just following the same system without any marketing innovation,” Vijay says.
Many of them did not follow adequate hygiene or safety standards, a top most priority for any customer. “One must remember that customers coming to such centres are not coming for a day or two; they spend minimum a week and this can stretch to a month,” he adds.
AyurUniverse began a very stringent curation system; team members would personally visit each and every centre to check whether they were maintaining global standards. Over the last two years, the startup has brought 300 such “certified” centres across India and Sri Lanka on to its platform.
Using AI to offer the right fit
“This is not commodity branding, but involves experiential and involved purchase,” Vijay says.
The key here is to map customers’ expectations with a centre’s offerings, and this startup has leveraged technologies like AI to bring about this connection. It uses AI to match the requirement of a customer to a particular centre and provide the best fit.
AyurUniverse claims to enjoy a diverse clientele from 190 countries. Customers from India account for 35 percent of its business, followed by UK and US. Vijay believes that fitness does not necessarily equal wellness as most diseases are psychosomatic. Here, concepts like Ayurveda, yoga, and meditation fit in well as they “go to the root of the problem and act as a preventive measure”.
Vijay believes this sector has the potential to scale, especially if wellness is combined with tourism. For example, a high-end resort in Thailand provides Ayurveda services and charges $1,000 a day. “If there are yoga cruises in America why not something similar in India,” he asks. There are a few attempts, he says, citing the example of an Ahmedabad centre that has built its wellness unit amid a golf course.
All’s well with the wellness industry
According to recent estimates by FICCI and EY, the wellness industry will grow at a CAGR of nearly 12 percent for the next 5 years, and reach an estimated high of Rs 1.5 trillion by 2020. The growth is being attributed to the increase in disposable incomes and rising prevalence of non-communicable diseases.
AyurUniverse is looking to tap this rising demand. The startup, which received a funding of $1 million from angel investors, is looking to raise $5 million in a Series A round to fuel its future expansion plans. It aims to design its own packages that are better suited to modern-day requirements and expand into newer geographies outside India.
Vijay believes their packages will not come in conflict with a centre’s offering as all of them have excess inventory due to “this being a very seasonal business”. As of now, the pricing for the various wellness centres starts from Rs 4,000 per day and goes up to Rs 60,000 per day.
The business model of AyurUniverse is very simple. The team takes a fee for marketing and referral from wellness centres only after the customer conversion is completed; customers pay no fee. The startup has been growing at 17-18 percent every month, Vijay says.
However, challenges persist for wellness centres in India. “The marketing at the ground level is still not strong for these centres. The government should put Ayurveda in the forefront just like it did with yoga,” Vijay says.
He talks about how China has over 10,000 yoga schools with around 3,000 teachers from India, and the presence of the Yoga Alliance in the US (acts like a body for certification of centres).
Vijay believes they have very little competition in the space of Ayurveda. Stating that Ayurveda tourism is about 10-12 years behind yoga, he believes that India needs to tap this burgeoning market. “India is a powerhouse of wellness systems as there are others like Siddha medicine or Kalari that have not yet been marketed. Our aim is to see that traditional wellness systems are available worldwide,” Vijay says.