How certain are you of your goals, do you find your existence pointless if you didn’t achieve what you’ve thought of. In this episode of The Balls Of Steel Show, our host Sarthak Varshney gets in conversation with Yashraj Jariwala of Shaivaa Algaetech, who talks about his faith in his idea values it.
Yashraj came back to India after pursuing his Master’s degree sheerly to be with his parents and do something in his home. He says that he finds his existence pointless if he doesn’t achieve what he’s thought of. Through this conversation, Yashraj has redefined what conviction and faith in oneself are like.
WHAT BUSINESS ARE YOU RUNNING BECAUSE OF WHICH WE CAN SAY THAT YOU HAVE THE BALLS OF STEEL?
The name of my company is Shaivaa Algaetech. We are a core micro algae tech company. Microalgae are primitive forms of plant cells that grow in water. So, if we look at the evolutionary hierarchy of plants then, they come way beyond the actually evolved plant.
Our business’s whole idea is that we isolate such micro-algae, and we conduct research and development on them. We try to extract a compound of high medicinal value and high value in products such as cosmetics or animal feed. We try to pull those components and sell them as formulations to different companies as and when the need arises.
Also, there is an alternate protein market that we cater to. These days it is picking up since the alternate meat market is in demand. Well, that’s the whole business we are involved in. Right now, we’re dealing with a particular breed of algae, but with time we have expansion plans.
TAKING THE CONVERSATION AHEAD YASHRAJ, WHY DON’T YOU GIVE US A DEEPER INSIGHT INTO YOUR JOURNEY, FROM THE BEGINNING TO THE POINT THAT YOU ARE AT?
This takes me back in time, three years down the lane, I was pursuing my Master’s degree from John Hopkins, USA. Every day I used to wake up with one thought which said that what after this? What am I going to do after this? At that time, I need to do something that is environmentally beneficial while getting me good revenue.
I thought of doing something different and groundbreaking. This is the business that is influencing other companies like- food and fuel. These two businesses empower the world at this point. That brought me to think that why not micro-algae because they are the basis of earth. They account for 70% of the oxygen.
I was in a confused state of mind. There is a general state of mind that people think you will settle there obviously when you go to the US because people think that the earning would be in dollars, etc. However, for me, it was different. I wanted to come back to India because I am very attached to my parents. I wanted to support them like they’ve done when I needed it.
So, at the end of 2018, I had decided to come back to India. The other thing I had decided upon was a plan by the end of 2019 regarding what should I do on returning home. So, at last, I arrived at the idea of starting a business and wanted to lay a foundation.
I came back to India in January 2019, and as soon as I arrived, I started meeting people who are in the field and have general know-how about things. That’s how my journey began, and right now we are working at lab scale and pilot scale, we’ll be moving to promotional scale in October of this year.
SO, YOU WENT TO USA FOR YOUR MASTER, BUT HOW WERE THINGS BEFORE THAT, HOW WAS THE EARLY STAGE OF YOUR LIFE?
I honestly don’t see myself as a talented person, you know. And I am not a geek. Also, I don’t have any special abilities. I would call myself an average person, but one thing that distinguishes me is that I believe hard work is everything.
Since my childhood, I haven’t been home much. I studied in a boarding school in Panchgani, the school where Taare Zameen Par was shot. They have a high school and a junior college there. I joined that school in 7th grade, and it made me what I am today. All the values that I have learned everything are from that school. All my teachers were great, but one of my teachers, Mr Vivekanand, was excellent. I’ll always be grateful to him no matter what I do.
One thing was always clear in my head that I wanted to do biotechnology because nature fascinates me. I believe that there are a lot of things that we need to learn from nature. So, for my further studies, I went to Pune. I pursued my Bachelor’s from DY Patil Biotechnology Institute Pune. That was where I got this inclination to do something with biotechnology. Earlier I had this inclination of working in bacteria and enzymes, but later I found my interest in micro-algae.
MOVING AHEAD IN THE CONVERSATION YASHRAJ, YOU PURSUED BIOTECHNOLOGY, SO WAS THAT YOUR PERSONAL DECISION OR WAS THAT INFLUENCED BY YOUR PARENTS?
The decision of choosing biotechnology was solely mine. My parents did never influence me on that bit. They have always been quite happy with my decisions in life and doing what I like.
I really liked biology since school so thought of further pursuing it. Also, I did never want to be a doctor because I believe that you really need to have a different mindset for being a doctor. I didn’t have this mindset. Biotechnology happened for me for the love of nature and the spirit of how can I enhance human life.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT FROM YOUR FATHER, IT IS OBSERVED THAT PARENTS USUALLY TAKE THEIR CHILDREN WITH THEM TO SHOW HOW THINGS ACTUALLY WORK SO WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR LEARNING?
If I look at my father, he is my ultimate mentor, I would say. It would not be wrong to call my father, my best friend. He has helped me throughout my life, gave me advice, and been there for me. Actually, both my parents have stood as pillars of strength with me. It’s been two years that I have joined the office and before that my father has never forced me to go with him to the office.
He did never force me into anything. This is because he used to say that responsibilities will fall on your shoulders when you grow. So, he just wanted me to enjoy my life as I wanted. My mother is a housemaker, and 90% of the things I have done in my life are her. I can’t even imagine my life without her.
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST LEARNING IF I TALK IN TERMS OF BUSINESS PLEASE TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION YASHRAJ?
From a business point of view, my father has always taught me to own up to your thinking, your idea. Also, another thing I’ve learned from him is to take bold decisions in life in terms of investment or in terms of taking any idea forward.
If I talk about my business also, I don’t think that anybody would have easily backed up an idea like this apart from my father. My father was the first person to give me a green signal to go ahead with my opinion. He was more than optimistic about this idea.
Because of him, I understood that we have to take risks, calculated risks in business. He always makes me understand that you have to take bold and quick decisions in business.
HOW HAS SOCIETY BEEN TO YOU SINCE YOU CAME FROM A PRIVILEGED BACKGROUND? SO HOW HAS YOUR STRUGGLE BEEN LIKE, WE ALL HAVE BEEN IN THAT PAHSE OF STOP TAKING MONEY FROM PARENTS AND STARTED MANAGING THINGS ON OUR OWN?
So, I have been in that phase where I didn’t take money from my parents. I believe once you are 20, you are capable of taking care of yourself. Unfortunately, because of the Indian set up and Indian environment, we are emotionally interdependent. Financial independence doesn’t happen early in our culture.
For me, I had to take the help of my father. I couldn’t have started my business without my father’s support. To be honest, I think that the algae business is not something that people would like to invest in so quickly. There is a lot of technical nitty-gritty in this business that a layperson might not understand. I’ve spoken to 8-10 investors till now, and all of them want to understand what the algae business is basically. In algae business, the technology you use is the defining factor for your business, and I cannot share my technology with anyone.
So, investment for my business is something that I am currently dependent on my parents. I wanted the seed money to start with the pilot phase of my project. And, I sincerely hope that by next year, I’ll be capable enough with inflowing revenue, to pay back my parents. I am pretty sure that my father will never accept money from me. But, I reckon it is my responsibility and duty to pay him back for whatever he’s done.
TAKING FORTH THE CONVERSATION, YASHRAJ I REALLY WANT TO ASK THAT WHERE DOES YOUR CONFIDENCE COME FROM?
I think that my confidence lies in believing in me. Every day I wake up thinking of making my company the most significant algae producing company globally. Other than that, I don’t find any point in my existence if I cannot achieve my goal. There have been days when I’ve thought about how this will work and how I will make things happen. But then the new day comes, and the hard work continues with a new beginning.
I am also very thankful that I’ve gathered a good team of researchers and industry experts. These are the people who have worked on algae before, and they are ready to make this dream an actual reality. I understand that there is a long way to go, but we still have 5-6 years or maybe more to make things fall in place. But that drive has to be there, you know.
WHAT I’VE UNDERSTOOD FROM THIS CONVERSATION IS THAT, YASHRAJ, YOU’VE TAKEN A LONG SHOT IN THESE TIMES OF THE PANDEMIC AND YOU’VE KEPT YOUR MOTIVATION HIGH, HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEEN WITH THE INVESTORS?
So, till now, I’ve met 8-10 investors. When I put down my business pitch, and when I tell them about the numbers and the business’s scope, their first question is, what is the technology? Everything narrows down to the technology which we cannot share.
If any investor that is ready to place their faith in us gets in our way that would be great. We can work our way around signing a non-disclosure agreement, and that’s how things can pan out. But sadly, till now we haven’t met anyone of that sort. Investors always want to make sure that their money is in the right place. They always look for scope and the intricacies of the business before investing. But in our case, our technology is everything, and we cannot disclose it quickly during a pitch.
I always feel that my product is different, especially for the Indian market; people wouldn’t easily understand what we are trying to do or why we are trying to do this. The demand that we cater to is a very niche market, and I understand the struggles. But what keeps me going is my belief in the potential of my product. Probably, they don’t believe in the product as I do. But I believe in my development, and I have to keep going. I have to prove them wrong and show them that a product like this can succeed.
WAS THERE AN INSTANCE WHERE YOU FELT THAT THINGS HAVE BEEN FALLING APART AND YOU ARE SHATTERED, WHAT WOULD THAT BE, ALSO HOW YOU BUILT-UP YOURSELF?
Nothing is so significant, but I can recall one instance when we were looking for suitable land for our algae production project. Algae needs seawater condition to grow.
So, all the surrounding seawater is almost owned by the government. When I requested to lease it out, I had to run errands from one official to the next. I just circled their offices. It seemed as if nothing is happening for me. It took me 3-4 months to clear everything, and I had to visit many offices, including the Marine Commissioner’s office to the Revenue Department. I was directionless and disappointed together at that time.
SO TAKING THE CONVERSATION AHEAD YASHRAJ, ARE YOU A MONEY MINDED PERSON?
I wouldn’t particularly call myself a greedy person, but yes, I am a money-minded person. In my opinion, money is important and a major driving force. Money is important to have a decent lifestyle. It is best not to talk about it much because everyone has a different interpretation of money, but it is an integral part of our lives.
Money is essential to run any business, and any business must make money or some profit. For instance, look at all the business giants, they make themselves billion or trillion-dollar companies to maximize profits. The only thought that strikes me is how much money goes around the world.
I don’t align with the divide between the haves, and the have nots. We need to strike a balance; the balance is not being maintained in the world anywhere, and I don’t see that happening any soon. I want to help and benefit the people equally who have helped me make profits.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST STRUGGLE WHILE SETTING UP THIS COMPANY?
My biggest struggle apart from acquiring the land has been the technology in developing algae. Microalgae are a susceptible organism, and it needs a lot of nurturing, probably a 6-month-old infant. It requires constant monitoring, correct temperature, correct lighting and a stable environment to grow. When you’re doing it at a pilot-scale, it is still manageable, but the production scale makes it difficult. `
We are still facing many challenges, but more than that, we brainstorm ideas to get better at them. After a day of discussion and discourse, we find a solution to our problem that is like the best feeling.
HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE OF TEAM BUILING WHEN YOU WERE FINDING SCIENCTISTS TO GET ON YOUR PROJECT, HOW WAS THAT EXPERIENCE?
Well, that experience was also good, I can say. I believe that every company needs the required workforce that makes the company great and one of the best in their field. Our principal scientist has joined us 6 months back, he has almost 10 years of experience and has become a major driving force behind our endeavour. We have a consultant who is based out of Chennai and is a pioneer in our field. I am really grateful to have such distinguished people in my team.
It was not difficult to convince them, though, since they also see India being a hub of micro-algae cultivation. This is because of the vast diversity in terms of the ecosystem of our country.
MOVING AHEAD IN THE CONVERSATION YASHRAJ, IS THERE ANY FUNNY INCIDENT THAT HAS HAPPENED WITH YOU IN YOUR JOURNEY TILL NOW?
So, there is one incident that I can think of. It was when I was scouting land for my project. There are these agents to acquire land you know, so we had also appointed an agent for our purpose. Every time we went to see a potential land piece, we used to be like no, ye nahi chahiye, (this is not what we want). After his disappointment, he roughly showed us 10 to 15 land pieces.
He finally asked us ki apko karna kya hai zameen par (what do you want to do with the land) and asked us about the project. We told him about the product that we want to work around algae production.
We call algae ‘level’ in Gujrati, so he suggested we visit his village itself after thinking a while. Further, he said that there is a small lake in their village full of algae. He asked us to collect algae from there and said ‘level ke liye jagah ki kya zarurat hai’ (there is no need for a piece of land to get algae). His eyes actually lit up, and he thought even he would be able to make something out of this project.
YASHRAJ PLEASE TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION THAT WHAT ARE YOU MONEY MANAGEMENT PLANS?
So, we haven’t done 100% financing on our own, we also have taken a business loan to kickstart this. We also managed to get a grant of about 25 lakhs from the Gujrat Biotechnology Department.
The initial cost of our project is ranging somewhere around 1.5 cr. We are looking forward to a loan and are in talks with the Biotech Department again. Once we touch the revenue of about 5cr, our status will be changed to a biotechnology unit.
After that, we would be able to avail, a substantial amount of capital grant from them. Once that happens for us, almost 60% of the project would be financed using the government grant itself.
REACHING TOWARDS THE END OF OUR CONVERSATION YASHRAJ, I REALLY WANT TO ASK YOU IS THAT WHAT IS YOUR BUSINESS MANTRA?
My business mantra would be “the grass is greener where you water it”. Keep holding on to yourself, and you’ll be the best version of yourself.
What an insightful conversation was this where Yashraj changed our perspective of grass being greener on the other side. Yash has become an epitome of hard work and self-belief. He’s put his heart and soul in his dream that he won’t settle before he makes his plan a global icon. For more such inspiring and determined stories listen to The Balls Of Steel Show. Stay Tuned.