OZiva unplugged: building India’s leading clean, plant-based nutrition brand

Watch Time: 29 mins

 

 

OZiva unplugged: building India’s leading clean, plant-based nutrition brand

 

 

Sanjot:

 

 

OZiva unplugged: building India’s leading clean, plant-based nutrition brand

 

 

Sanjot:

Hi, guys, welcome to your first episode of Matrix Moments. Thank you for doing this. Aarti, founder of OZiva and Mihir also the founder of OZiva. 

 

OZiva, for our viewers, is India’s leading plant-based nutrition company and one of our very exciting investments. Why don’t we start with your backgrounds, guys, and what kind of led you to start OZiva in thisspecific space.

 

Aarti:   

Thank you, so much. I think it’s wonderful to be a part of Matrix Moments. Just a brief introduction about ourselves – we started OZiva back in 2016 but I think before that our entrepreneurial journey started in 2013. And I actually come from Chandigarh so I was born and brought up there. My mother comes from a healthcare background and -- you know, just turned out to be better in Maths so went to IIT, right, that typical structure that we follow. I was working for a startup in Bangalore back then into the analytics space. And then I did my MBA -- but I think over a couple of these years what was happening was there was this quest inside and if I were to start my business it’s either now or it would never be. And the areas that interested were healthcare but not the curated because I had seen that throughout my childhood. So something that interested me was the preventive healthcare space, and I came to Mumbai to get this rolling, met Mihir. Mihir comes from a bio technology background. 

 

Mihir:  

So I come from a bio technology background and more towards life sciences and I’m more interested in fitness and health always. But was not doing the same thing because I was doing something else before, but then the true calling came in and I was trying something in a similar space and we both met while running a marathon through a common friend. And then we exchanged thoughts and found that, okay, this are some really complementary skillsets that we have and let’s try this. 

 

Aarti:               

That’s how we started. I was just talking about preventive health, and if you look at preventive healthcare basically there are three key pillars when you talk about health and fitness in general. It is, first of all – we believe that you need to eat clean, right, that you need to have – your nutrition is a very important pillar. 

 

Second is that you need to focus on your physical wellness and then I think if you want to reap benefits of the first two you need to be mentally healthy and stress free. I think that’s where predominantly the thought process was when we started building this company that how can we empower more and more people to be healthier and better. I think that’s the baseline – we honestly tried out a couple of business models, right, different brand names. A lot of my friends will still say, iss saal toh yeh tha, agle saal kuh aur hogabut I thinkover a period of time we realized that we knew what we need to solve for, but how – I think that was the question. 

Hence we pivoted, we pivoted till the time we figured out the right business model. And we initially started with, which I’m sure you know, we were into health services, so fitness services. 

 

So we were doing diet consultation, we were doing marathon training and all of that basically into the services and consultation space. And then we realized why not focus on one pillar at a time and then crack it end to end. 

 

Right, because it’s very important – you know, it’s easier said than done that khaane mein yeh khaalo, include this kind of food, right, but it’s very difficult considering the type of lifestyle people have in India. It’s very typical to get the nutrition – and when I say nutrition it’s very different from food. People try to mingle both the things,right, food and nutrition, it’s not the same thing. You might be eating good food but that doesn’t mean that youactually get the right macro-micro nutrients that the body requires. 

 

And which is where we looked at – initially we were recommending other brands but when we said, okay, is there something that is worth recommending. Right, and which is where everything across the table that we were looking at – the products and the brands available in the nutrition space either has a lot of artificial chemicals, ingredients, and which is where we said that there is a need to build something which the country doesn’t have today. But I think people need to eat something that’s clean, that is safe for their body and which is where OZiva came into the picture. 

 

Sanjot:

And we’ll dive more into OZiva in a bit. Let me ask you a question, you know, from a founder’s perspective maybe talk about your choosing your investor. How we met and – I remember it where I had to chase you and you weren’t taking my calls and I had to really convince you to speak with us. How did you make that decision, how did sort of that journey look like?

 

Aarti:   

See, we actually – when we initially started the business it was a typical thing which a lot of entrepreneurs do in the early stages, ki paisa milega aur tabhi business build ho sakta hai, And we were actually -- knocked a couple of doors which is where we realized that something is not matching. 

 

You know, either we’re not able to raise capital in the initial days and which is when we realized that – you know, why focus on money first, let’s try and solve the problem. And in the next 2-3 years we just dedicated on solving the problem and we actually – our conviction that there is a problem that lies there. Where everybodyelse in the initial years were saying that nutrition, that’s a vitamin, minerals category, it’s not a must have, right. You need to do something that is must have for the human like – you know, it should be like a scalable business, it should have this much market cap. Then we were like we have to solve the problem, right, I don’t right now know what the market potential would be, right, that’s something that we realized over a period of time. 

 

And which is where we actually raised debt in the initial days. And business was – you know, we grew it slowly but I think that’s what worked in our favor. In the initial days we figured out the right business model, the right kind of products that is speaking to the consumers. We just focused on consumers so much we were obsessed – like, you know, and even today like what consumer really needs. And I think capital initially – so capital there are multiple ways to raise it – we leveraged debt in the initial years and we were growing very nicely and that’s where I think over I think last year Jan, Feb, March, right, we started talking and we met you. 

 

And I think what was important, what I still admire about Matrix and that I admired, you know, post meeting I think we had a conversation and I think after that I met Avnish and the other team members in this office. Important was that dhandha toh humein karna aata hai,  but I can’t setup a thesis for you. Your thesis in the space was clear, right, that market potential what would it be. So, it was in your words as you say like the marriage of the two minds.

 

I think that’s where it was all syncing well because we were growing very nicely. I think our unit economics, growth potential, all of that was nice and you guys had a very laid out thesis in this space. Okay, you know, this will eventually become bigger. And which is where I think we eventually – it worked out well. 

 

Sanjot:

Right. Yeah, I know absolutely. And I think just on that thesis point obviously the core of our thesis is the founding team and I think that was the most important part. I think the customer obsession that you spoke about really shows through and it was showing through in the numbers too.

 

 The customer love was really exceptional and so I would say the decision was very easy and the excitement was there for sure -- but broadly I think -- like you mentioned the thesis on nutrition for us is one of solving a core issue in India. India is one of the lowest penetration countries in terms of both vitamins and protein and is a large category even by today’s standards -- it is 2.5 billion and growing very quickly. 

 

But I think the why now of it is very, very important. I think the backward-looking view is that it’s a vitamin and you should have a pain killer to solve my problem. But that I think is a very backward-looking view of the world. The awareness because of internet penetration has just taken off among the Indian consumer too. And so, the pull is there for the first time, so the why now of this thesis I think is very, very important. Then the final one I think which all three of us are most excited by in my opinion is the whole platform ability of this to go into something much, much larger, right, which is the whole commerce plus community plus content type of play. And I think we’ll talk a little bit more about that. But let’s talk more specifically about OZiva. Why don’t you tell us about – maybe start with what the name means and why OZiva and why you picked this specific category in business. 

 

Aarti:   

That’s I think one of the best questions, I love answering that. I think we were actually playing around with a couple of names early on, right, and we realized – stepping back even before the name. Important is what is the philosophy, what’s the core philosophy in the brand, right? And as founders, both Mihir and I truly believed that best is a myth, there is nothing called best. 

 

There’s always a better version of you that exists, right, and I think that’s the kind of consumer that we wanted to speak to that we believed that that would be a consumer, he or she would be a seeker who was on that – seeking for something better in life. And we said we would empower every seeker’s relentless pursuit of being better. I think that’s a simple thing that we put together, right, that’s the core philosophy of the brand. And then we said, okay, let’s talk about the name that can actually do justice to this. And which is where if you look at the name OZiva, right, it comes from Ziva is a Hebrew word which means radiance and brilliance. So we saidthat radiance and brilliance to be better has to come from within you. We actually can’t solve that problem for you, right, because it’s about you, you are at the core of this essential – like the life that you’re living. So youneed to actually move forward, be better. But we as a company will provide all solutions that will actuallyenable you or empower you to make that journey easier. I think that’s the way we actually thought about Ziva. And O for us stands for originality. So when we said, we said we would never do Me Too products, that’s the core philosophy that we would never – if there are say hundred products available in the market or hundred solutions I would not be a 101st one for consumers, this is what it is. That’s where it keeps reminding us day in and day out anything that we launch or we think about has to be original and it needs to empower the peopleto be better and healthier. I think that’s how we thought of the name. 

 

Sanjot:

Right. Very good start. 

 

Mihir:  

Yeah. It took us almost two and a half, three months to come to this whole – lot of brainstorming sessions, lot of café sessions with lot of people. 

 

Aarti:   

Mentors.

 

Mihir:  

Mentors and well wishers. And that’s the outcome which we got and now we’re all proud of it. 

 

Aarti:   

Yeah. And thanks for the café and the coffee. Caffeine boost helped us. 

 

Sanjot:

And it’s very interesting. I also remember initially wondering why the Z in Ziva is capital, right, and this is the reason. 

 

Aarti:   

Yeah. I’ll just say that everybody who sent me a mail, please make O capital, Z capital, right, that’s veryimportant.

 

Sanjot:

Because of the Hebrew word you said. 

 

Aarti:   

Yeah. 

 

Sanjot:

Very interesting story. Mihir, why don’t we come to you? I know your bio science background as well. So we talked a lot about clean label and plant based as well and there’s a lot of brands now sort of getting on that trend because the consumer is asking for clean labeled foods, they care about what they’re putting in their body. But there’s no real definition of clean label as such, that’s universally accepted. So what makes OZiva special?

 

Mihir:  

So there is a way to test it and I’m really proud to say this that we’re India’s – OZiva is India’s first – you know,from US we’ve got the clean label product certification and that is also the highest certification which we got was purity certification. A purity award which we got and we have been tested on almost 300 different tests right from the raw material to the end product. You know, there are n number of tests we have done like you know, plasticizers, there are residual solvents, there are micro toxins, environmental toxins. These are all found in all the brands which are there and now we can say that in India we’re the first ones to get thiscertification and in India, you know, the testing limits are in parts per million. We were not even getting those limit of quantification in India so we went to US, sent our products there, our raw materials there, did all the testing. 

 

Sanjot:

Which is parts per billion.

 

Mihir:  

Parts per billion it is. So they test in parts per billion and all our products are tested on that parameters and now we can proudly say that you will not find any of these traces in our products. So we’re truly, truly a clean label product certified brand. 

 

 

Sanjot:

So we spoke about the brand. Let’s maybe talk a little bit about what makes the core business unique and what’s really special about it?

 

Aarti:   

I think we spoke about OZiva, right, and predominantly as I was talking about the three pillars to our overall existence which is the nutrition, physical wellness and mental health. So within OZiva which is our nutrition brand there are three key pillars to it. One is the products need to be clean and plant based. So we need to use – when I say clean that it needs to be free of any artificial ingredients and we need to use as many whole foods and plants because its better absorption and works better for the body in the longer run. I think that’s the first thing. The second one is that it needs to be enriched with Ayurveda – so, you know, we’re actuallymerging the two sciences, modern science and ancient Ayurveda. Now the key thing to this is I think in different parts of the globe I think there are different names to it where you call it plant base, Ayurveda. You’reactually leveraging a lot of plants and herbs, standardizing them so that they can actually have benefit for the body for a particular – maybe it’s skin, maybe it’s hair, maybe it’s for your fitness or your gut health. 

 

So there could be multiple problems that you’re trying to solve. And which is where is the second pillar to OZiva and the third one is that it needs to be – how can you make it far more personalized for our consumers. Because we said we don’t want to just send a dabba out there, okay, ki yeh lelo, aapka kaam ho jayega,I think it’s about changing their entire lifestyle. And then how can we be a part of people’s lifestyle -- which is where the content that we’re building, right, or even the personalized consultation that we give. 

 

So any OZiva customer today when they actually buy an OZiva product they can connect with a nutritionist and we don’t charge anything for our ecosystem or for our services. Because we believe that it’s an integral part to our consumers’ spectrum to enable him or her to make a better choice. And which we’ve seen in the business also – for example people who actually become a part of the ecosystem they have better repeats,they have better cohorts. I think that’s where we’re focusing on as a company. And those are the key three pillars to OZiva. 

 

Sanjot:

Got it. Very good. Maybe if we go a little bit deeper for a second on that last pillar I know we’ve done a lot of work on especially community building and events and even through this sort of Covid period we’ve continued that online. Maybe talk a little bit about that, like how you view that piece as like you mentioned integral piece of the business?

 

Aarti:   

I think the way we look at the businesses as we said there could be a million people buying OZiva but could there be hundred million people whose lives are getting affected or impacted with the help of the content that we’re building. I think that’s the way we look at that entire vertical. And a couple of things and very interesting things that we’ve tried in the last one year -- so, OZiva TV where we keep producing different content pieces around whether it’s through experts, right, or whether it’s through,  and we’ve gotten a very good success rate the way people are liking the content or not. I think that’s very important for us. And also we conducted – we’ve started virtual events and we conducted a course to virtual walkathon, you know, a runathon event and it was predominantly focused on women fitness or health. So it was a virtual women’s walkathon, runathon. We saw more than thousands of women participating in the first event itself which was tremendous. I think that’s not the kind of response that we were expecting in the first go. But this is – and a lot of the participation was coming not from the tier one cities, it was coming from all across India, different parts of India. Which is where we realized that – yeah, that there is a quest to actually live better -- like it is there everywhere. It is not restricted to metros today, that phenomena. And it’s only about who can speak to those consumers and be a part of their lifestyle. And I believe that OZiva will be the brand that would be actually a part of like that change millions of lifestyles. Not in India, I believe globally over a period of time. So I think that’s the focus. 

 

Sanjot:

Very cool. Actually there’s one more question I have for you guys. When you started the business and I know you guys went through lots of pivots and lots of ups and downs. When did you first know that you were on to something special or something big and this might be a successful business?

 

Aarti:   

I think there’s no one aha moment, right, it’s just that you kind of are running the show day in day out and figure out from your initial cohorts or consumers are they really liking or appreciating what you’re building or not. 

 

So speaking to consumers in the early days, speaking to our customers in the early days was an importantfeedback because if you see that we were the first ones to launch a product called ‘Protein and Herbs for Women’. So it’s a health drink that is specifically made for women which didn’t have just protein, it had all the micronutrients. It had a lot of herbal extracts which has been hormonal balanced. 

 

A problem that we figured out was an important thing through our initial days of running Fitcircle. Becausethere were a lot of women coming on for diet consultation and we realized that it’s a big problem for them. And is there any product today that’s solving for the macro micro nutrients as well as this concern. There wasn’t and that’s where we said, okay, let’s launch it and let’s see how it kind of works. And today also I think we build that category over a period of time. And I think that’s what we believe in, right, it’s predominantly how can you create categories. We today – I think on Amazon more than 4.3 plus rating, I think that has gotten good amount of love from the consumers concerned. And I think initial days our feedback helped us and then we’re launching products that we thought could be helpful for our customers. I think that’s how -- 

 

Mihir:  

And maximum of our products are through our consumers’ insights only. So even the hair and the skin category was coming from the consumer. The same set of consumers were asking for better products in those categories – so we did some innovation in those things and yeah, that’s how it went. 

 

Sanjot:

Let’s spend a minute on the business and the traction a little bit. I know it’s been very impressive so why don’t you tell us how the last year odd has gone for you?

 

Aarti:   

I think it’s been spectacular honestly – it’s something that we didn’t expect. And I still remember I think even before I answer that -- so far I don’t think so we’ve made a business deck or ppt. We just let the numbers do the talking. 

 

Sanjot:

I’m aware, haha

 

Aarti:   

Yeah, so I think we just let the numbers do the talking and I think we’re glad that now we’re today more than a 100 cr in annualized revenues. And it’s predominantly also making the business very, very capital efficient. So we’ve done this in a very profitable way so far and you know, what’s more important honestly is while numbers keep growing, humare liye what’s more important is predominantly the number of households that we’ve touched. So today more than a million households have consumed OZiva and that is something that is very, very exciting for us. And this is not restricted to just the tier one or the top four or five or the metro cities actually. More than 70 percent of our consumers actually come from beyond metros. And which is veryinteresting because people think that health-conscious people sirf metro mein hai they would actually want to invest into products like these. But I think there’s an untapped market or potential like beyond metros. 

 

Sanjot:

Much larger market. 

 

Aarti:   

Which is much larger as well, right. It’s a very common man, woman, like somebody like my parents or a very – you know, we both, Mihir and I, come from a middleclass family, right, so our parents or the kind of lifestyle that we’ve seen we know that we aspired for such good products, mil jaate hai, Rs500-100 invest karna aapke health mein I don’t think so that’s a big deal. Like there are lot of people willing to invest if it’s available, I think that’s it. You can’t sell fake things, right, which is where getting the kind of revenues that we have achieved from a very expanded market is something that speaks volumes about the business. And we believe that today we’ve crossed hundred but in the next five years can we cross thousand. I think we believe we can and there’s a market out there. 

 

Sanjot:

Absolutely. And I think as always you were very modest -- not only have you crossed a hundred you’ve grown more than 4x in under 12 months, right, even through this very difficult period. And I think again that speaks volumes for both your capability and the business strength. And the second point I think you mentioned -- which is very important as well it shows the depth of the market in tier 2 India -- which has always been a question mark especially for new age brands, especially for brands of companies that are catering to sort of classically Western problems, what people think are Western, but it shows that India is now changing. They’re both aware and looking for a solution and there’s affordability which shows in the profitability of the business. 

 

Aarti:   

Yeah. Indeed. Yes.

 

Sanjot

Very cool stuff. I guess question to both of you – maybe start with Aarti. As you look ahead and towards the future what’s your vision, where do you see this brand and company going?

 

Aarti:   

So I think honestly it is difficult to say, right, it has evolved over a last couple of years is what I’ve seen. It goes back to the previous question that we were talking about, right, that we – what do as a company want to do. Like what do you want to do? And which is where we want to empower every seeker’s relentless pursuit of better. And in the health and fitness space or the health and wellness zone that we are in. And there are three pillars to it. We talked about nutrition and we spoke about physical wellness, right, we spoke about mental health. I think as a company over a period of next – we don’t have a five year plan honestly because we invested in it for I think the longest amount or number of years that are yet to come. And we look at it that we should have solutions for our consumers in all these three buckets. Whatever can make their life easier and convenient, right, and I think that’s where we would launch more solutions in that space. 

 

Sanjot:

Got it. Maybe before we wrap up any advice for young founders that you might have?

 

Aarti:   

You know, this is a tricky question. 

 

Sanjot:

Yeah.

 

Aarti:   

Because I think we still also are very early in our journey of entrepreneurship, right, it’s been seven years now. 

 

Mihir:  

Yeah, it’s been seven years and the only thing which I would like to say that, you know, perseverance is the key. Believe in yourself and be in the game. It’s last man standing for me like you have to be in the game. Eventually you will get success, I mean, success can be different for different people, parameters can be different, but what you want to do you have to day in and day out don’t give up. That’s my mantra. 

 

Aarti:   

Yeah. And I agree with that. Like I think – simple. I think honestly, we’re not the smartest people. I would like to say that – you might say you’re very humble. You keep saying that you are humble and modest but I think it’s the fact is like, you know, I think perseverance has worked the most for us as compared to -- 

 

Mihir:  

And building the team. Right team, right set of people initially and believe in them and make them believe in your vision. You know, that’s something which is the key.

 

Aarti:   

Yes, I think that’s a very good point because talking about the team we’ve pivoted twice now, right, and OZiva launched like four years back but it’s been seven years to the entrepreneurial journey. And the first three people who were as part of the team are still there. That is what -- the belief is not in just the idea of how you’re doing but their belief is in why we’re doing it, and eventually business models can be cracked. So the team needs to believe in why rather than how. 

 

Mihir:  

Your why needs to be clear and how and what -- 

 

Aarti:   

Will keep changing.

 

Mihir:  

Will keep changing. 

 

Aarti:   

Or evolving. Yeah. 

 

Sanjot:

Very cool stuff. Thank you, guys, thank you for being so forthcoming and doing this. 

 

Aarti:   

Lovely to be here. 

 

 

 

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