In this episode of The Balls Of Steel Show, our host Sarthak Varshney gets candid with Abhijit Bhattarchrya and Neha Gahlaut, co-founders of One Green, Asia’s largest organic e-marketplace. In this conversation with Abhijit and Neha, they share their insight on building the largest organic platform in a short time, along with the challenges they overcame in their journey. One Green is not only profitable but a revolution in itself in the Indian market as they quoted and we couldn’t agree more.
WHAT IS THE BUSINESS THAT YOU ARE DOING BECAUSE OF WHICH WE CAN SAY THAT YOU HAVE GOT THE BALLS OF STEEL?
We are in the business of facilitating people towards living a conscious life. The business is in the e-commerce space. We have built Asia’s largest curated marketplace for everything pure, safe, natural, clean, conscious and sustainable.
Our business is our relation with the customers that go beyond transactions and is a lot more emotional. People have valiantly supported our vision, and the market has been kind too. We have been fortunate enough to get the right set of people, partners, customers till now.
Being Asia’s largest market, we have more than 150 brands and five thousand products listed. It makes us massive in this place, especially the curated marketplace.
NEHA AND ABHIJIT, PLEASE ENLIGHTEN ME ABOUT YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION.
After we became parents, we realised that we had to take responsibility for our child’s welfare, health and everything. Consequently, we started transitioning and took up a very conscious lifestyle.
We were being very particular about the kind of brands we were buying. In the process, I saw myself struggling to find these brands which were sustainable, safe and credible. I was spending hours and days on Google, finding the good brands. Yet, I was unable to figure out what to buy.
So these two things became the pillar of our startup, i.e. having everything under one roof and having brands that have validated claims, on One Green.
Everything interesting in life comes out of challenges. If one is determined about having a challenge and solving it, one will probably come across it. And that’s what probably happened with us. The first challenge was getting everything in one place, and the second was the validation part.
If you were to buy a plant-based protein shake from any existing market places today, you would never know whether it is really plant-based or not. The segment sells on trust that has categories like food or personal care. There is a lot of your life and your environment at stake when you use products like these.
However, India doesn’t have store-level validation where your stores validate and verify the claims that brands are making. If you go to the market, you’ll see thousands of such brands claiming they are organic, chemical-free, etc. However, there is no verification of their products, and it isn’t easy to do so.
It was the beginning point where we said we want to build something that helps us do that. Eventually, it led us to build our in-house black box called the One Green Index.
A lot of AIML internet crawling is put into it. There are multivariable factors that ascertain whether a particular brand and its claims are genuine or not. We have a base score set. If the score is higher than the base score, we know the brand is true to its claims. In addition to it, we have two manual interventions.
One is a certification check. Here we check all kinds of certifications that these brands have to back their claims. And then we have some in-house specialists who further go on and do the label reading and verify. It’s a very rigorous process we follow.
Through such a thorough process, we want to assure customers that every brand they find on One Green is genuine. I think we are the first ones to do this in this aspect and at this scale.
PLEASE TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION, ABHIJIT AND NEHA ARE YOU GUYS BOOTSTRAPPED OR HAVE YOU RAISED FUNDING?
We are a bootstrapped business. We did not reach out to many people because it was essential to have a PMF ready.
It has been our fortune to have the right set of people mentoring and backing us. We have Ankit Nagori and Ankur Warikoo with us. Ankur was Neha’s senior in college. He and I used to go to debates together. Ankit was my boss at Flipkart, and I was very close to him.
These are the guys backing us, and then there is this whole set of mentors guiding us on the right approach, and one of the approaches has been to move bootstrapped as much as possible.
Since we are scaling, we have had fruitful conversations with quite a few entities. A lot of them are ready to be a part of this revolution.
Now Neha and I are deliberating on who could be the best partner to go ahead with. Raising funds is not just about the capital but also about mentorship, guidance, and people who could help participate in further rounds. A lot of those variables are coming to play. I think the only one-sentence answer to that would be we are slightly in a happy space.
VIA THIS CONVERSATION, ABHIJIT AND NEHA, PLEASE TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT YOU GUYS, HOW ARE YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES HELPING YOU TO BUILD ONE GREEN.
I have been a consumer insight specialist for all my sixteen years of working life. So, I am thinking about consumers all the time. I am very grateful to have worked with some big names in my initial years of MR.
To begin with, I worked with Kantar, Nielsen and some amazing brands. I was with Loreal for almost five years. There, I looked after the skincare and makeup business for Loreal India. I worked closely with women who happen to be our core target group of One Green as well.
The whole experience has given me a rich insight into how women think and click when dealing with them, as they are the key decision-makers. We have to make sure they are on our side and that we understand them. So that they can engage with us more. I bring in the whole consumer insight into the business.
I think Neha brings a sense of balance in business. She has the ability to understand situations better and act accordingly.
I started my journey with Viacom MTV as a brand, and the channel provided me with the ability to think out of the box and audaciously. My baptism into the digital space happened back then, around 2004-05. I worked with Disney. It taught me to have a very tight vision and work towards it. Then I joined Flipkart in its early days.
I had the fortune to work with the stalwarts of Flipkart and build the brand that took the whole e-commerce ecosystem from 40 million to 80 million online consumers in India. It was a great experience.
Post that, I have been in e-commerce for almost a decade. I was responsible for launching LazyPay in India for Naspers and PayU. I launched OkCupid for Tinder in India and built Koovs as a fashion brand in India. My final stint was with Reckitt, where I build the entire D2C business for them and for their top three brands from the ground up.
I have been fortunate enough to be in the early movers of e-commerce as a space. My ability in this business is my expertise and experience combined with Neha’s balance.
NEHA AND ABHIJIT TELL ME WERE THE SEEDS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP SOWN IN YOUR CHILDHOOD ONLY, OR IT WAS A NEW THING FOR YOU GUYS AS WE MOVE AHEAD IN THE CONVERSATION?
Both of our parents are in government jobs, and both wanted us to become doctors or engineers. My dad was in the Air Force. He even tried to convince me to become an Air Force pilot, but God had other plans for us.
We had no connection to this world of entrepreneurship. After quitting Loreal, the bug of entrepreneurship bit to me when I opened my own restaurant, a small cafe in Bangalore. The work was very satisfying and gave me a lot of flexibility with time, and I enjoyed doing it.
I come from a middle-class family in Calcutta. There was no seed of entrepreneurship in my family at all. If a stroke of luck had had it, I would have become a doctor. I aspired to become an author, and I am a published author. But this Bengali in me makes me slightly maverick where I have always aspired to do something of my own, do something different, and that got me here.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE STRUGGLES IN YOUR JOURNEY OF STARTING A BOOTSTRAPPED COMPANY AND RAISING KIDS?
I think between Neha and me, and there are two husbands and two wives. We can swap being two husbands and two wives most times, and we have done that on many occasions. There is a good sense of balance between us.
Bootstrapping hasn’t been easy. Without a job, a certain lifestyle, kids, responsibilities, both at home and in financials is tough. You do have occasional sleepless nights, but what matters is that whether your worry is greater than your confidence or your confidence is greater than your worry.
In contrast to our worries, we have been confident of what we have been building and what we want to build. We had our share of worries with so much ambiguity, not just with financials but also from health and family perspectives.
We had taken on this journey, not at a very suitable time. But we have found a way through it, and that’s more important, and that has happened due to our parents, family supreme support.
More than understanding, they back us, including our kids. However small they are but today’s kids are very sensible and smart. They understand things happening around them.
As Abhijit said, it hasn’t been easy at all, but we always believed in ourselves and what we were doing. There are times you struggle with situations and deal with them, but then you need to know how to come out of it.
You need to have each other’s back and faith in the system that you have created. Otherwise, it’s tough, and in these circumstances, when everything is happening out of home, there is no difference between day and night, weekday and weekend. Have some routine, some system in place and believing in oneself, their abilities are significant.
It would help if you had your personal financing in place before you dive deep into a bootstrap startup or something like this because it will not be easy. It can also take a toll on your personal relations and personal equations.
It’s important to do that calculation, have your excel sheet ready before you get into something like this. The work is very challenging, but at the same time, the whole high you get is something you cannot imagine or dream of.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST STRUGGLE IN YOUR JOURNEY, AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM IT PLEASE TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION, ABHIJIT AND NEHA?
For me building the product was the biggest struggle. In India, finding the right set of people is a big struggle. One piece of advice to all reading this article is that if you ever want to build your own store, please go for a custom build website.
Don’t look for developers for Shopify; you’ll be taken for a ride, and it will make you go crazy. This is coming from me, who has at least 40% knowledge of products and technology.
99% of people have minimal knowledge of products and technology, and it is a massive challenge. Everything is manageable, but not this. Things do work out in the end, but the journey is tiring.
There was a struggle between the management of the house and the business. It would help if you had certain routines to manage everything.
MOVING TOWARDS THE END OF THIS CONVERSATION WITH YOU, ABHIJIT AND NEHA, WHAT IS THE BUSINESS MANTRA THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH ALL?
For me, the business mantra would be don’t think of an idea and build a business; think of a problem and build a business. All successful businesses are insights out of existing problems or problems they have envisioned.
Stay focused, and don’t give up. It may sound rhetoric, but I have seen it with us. This whole journey of building something of your own is not an easy one. It has been just a year, and our journey will be even more challenging from here, and we have signed up for that. We keep telling each other not to give up or get bogged down by all the lows we face. It would be best if you went with the flow.
Through this conversation, Abhijit and Neha told how they built the platform One Green that is becoming the need of the hour with this rapidly changing world. With their consistency and hard work, they have managed to be a top-level startup in their domain. We hope you learned something gainful from this episode of The Balls Of Steel Show.