How WhatsApp helped this woman entrepreneur scale her wellness startup

Bengaluru-based Aksobha, which offers wellness solutions through eco-friendly products and services like yoga and Tai Chi, leveraged WhatsApp to cater to a wide range of audience.
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Where there is scope to start a business, Sruti Venkatesh has never been one to let go of opportunities. Helping elderly parents relieve joint pains became the genesis for her latest venture Aksobha, a wellness startup that offers eco-friendly products and provides services like yoga and Tai Chi (a gentle form of martial arts known as meditation in motion). 

Sruti Venkatesh, Founder of Aksobha

Founded in 2014, Aksobha uses WhatsAppto reach its customers— contributing nearly 35 percent of the total sales.  The entrepreneur says setting up a virtual stall through WhatsApp for Business and updating story status has become important ways to announce new product launches and updates.  Personal interactions doubled since they began using the platform one year and half ago. Besides, it has increased profitability since they don't need to pay a commission to ecommerce platforms.

“It has been a great advertising tool to reach and educate customers on upcoming products and maintain a personal touch with them. It’s a good feeling to see the value we are adding with our product utility,” Sruti tells HerStory. 

The startup claims to have sold an average of 15,000 products since its inception.

The journey

Born and brought up in Bengaluru, Sruti says her family lives by traditional wellness practices and visiting doctors is the last resort. A certified yoga instructor and a graduate in accounting and finance from Mount Carmel College, she moved to Singapore after her marriage in 2000.  

There began her tryst with entrepreneurship as she began selling Indian handicraft products by starting Enlighten Karigars. She also conducted yoga classes and learnt Tai Chi at the suggestion of her Chinese clients. 

After returning to India in 2014, she officially registered Aksobha and started a small manufacturing unit employing underprivileged women. Among eco-friendly kitchenware and wellness products, the startup sells herbal hot and cold packs Sruti designed as an alternative to plastic-made heating pads to help with her mother’s knee pain. 

Bengaluru-based Aksobha's eco-friendly products are priced between Rs 200 and Rs 2,000.

The products are sold through ecommerce sites including Amazon and Seniority as well as through B2B association with FabIndia, Earth Organics, and The Organic World.

Notably, Sruti shares that the COVID-19 outbreak in India generated huge sales as requests for masks poured in from B2B retail partners as well as direct customers.

“We had never done masks but we decided to give it a try and started processing orders. Then came the lockdown but business continued because of the demand for masks and the labourers continued working from their home,” she says. At present, the startup has about 30 SKUs.

Aksobha also organises corporate wellness workshops based on yoga and Tai Chi. 

According to a report by FICCI, the global wellness industry was valued $4.2 trillion while the market in India is valued at Rs 490 billion. COVID-19 is believed to have further boosted the industry and health and wellness became a general concern.

Overcoming challenges

Sruti’s experience of conducting businesses in Singapore and India has been differentiated by society’s attitude towards women entrepreneurship. 

She says the former offers a progressive space whereas, in India, people do not quite expect women to be the sole owner. 

“When you need any work done at government offices, they look for a man to talk to until they realise you are running the business,” she shares.

Hiring labourers used to be a challenge in the initial days as many would leave after acquiring the skills. As an entrepreneur, Sruti was unsure of how to handle the situation but says the situation has since stabilised. 

She says running a business is not a cakewalk but taking things one day at a time has helped ease the journey.

“There are many times when you just feel like giving up because an order didn’t work out or things don’t go as planned. But being patient and sticking to your vision goes a long way,” adds Sruti.

This story is part of a series spotlighting extraordinary, inspiring women from different walks of life for the See Us, Hear Us campaign powered by WhatsApp for International Women’s Day. You can read more such stories from the month-long campaign here.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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