Sometimes, the solution to a personal problem can also inspire you to start a business. That’s what happened when sister-duo Jayanti and Shalini Bhattacharya discovered the benefits of hemp.
The sisters were on the lookout for healthier solutions for Shalini's back pain when they stumbled upon hemp, a sustainable plant. Always striving to live a zero-waste life, the duo thought, ‘what better way of creating a sustainable world than to promote a planet-friendly plant?'
Cue – the inception of their hemp-based food brand, ‘India Hemp & Co'.
India Hemp & Co is a Bangalore-based hemp brand that strives to offer high nutrition products and build a community around it. When the duo came up with their business idea, they knew that having an online store was a no-brainer. But with so many platforms to choose from, how do you find your perfect fit?
After an extensive google search for ‘the best platform to buy a domain’, Jayanti found Shopify. With its easy-to-learn interface and self-study resources, she built the brand’s online store on her own.
Once the store was set up, the sisters focused their efforts on branding and marketing their products. This wasn’t easy as paid advertising wasn’t accessible to hemp brands even when they had all the licences in check.
While looking for ways to get their brand on the map, Jayanti serendipitously stumbled upon a Shark Tank India advertisement in the Economic Times.
Without putting much thought into it, she filled out the registration form for Shark Tank India. And the rest, as all Shark Tank viewers know, is history.
We talked to Jayanti, one-half of the founding duo of India Hemp & Co, about their Shark Tank India journey and the role Shopify played in it.
Interested to know more? Then, read on.
Also read: Our detailed case study about the brand’s inception and how they built a community by raising awareness about hemp.
Kicking off the journey and busting myths on Shark Tank India
Fans of Shark Tank, the sister-duo wondered if it was too early for them to apply. They took a leap of faith though they were aware of the misconceptions attached to their star ingredient.
Jayanti revealed that the application process was exhaustive right from the start. The application form itself was 18 to 20 pages long. The brand had to provide 3 years of several financial metrics and data points during the process, and found Shopify reports and Shopify analytics extremely useful for fetching the relevant numbers and conducting analysis.
After applying for the show, the brand had multiple online and face-to-face interviews along with submitting documentation and certifications for verification.
Approximately 66,000 brands applied for the first season, out of which only 198 were shortlisted, and only 97 brands’ pitch was telecasted.
“It took a lot of grit, hard work and luck to be able to make it to the televised rounds. But it was an experience of a lifetime”, Jayanti exclaimed.
With restrictions on online advertising for hemp, the brand had to explore offline marketing tactics to reach its audience. The duo knew that taking India Hemp & Co on national TV would do wonders in boosting its reach.
Not only was this a nationwide platform, but entrepreneurs also had the opportunity to showcase their brands in a primetime slot, which would otherwise cost crores of rupees.
While raising capital was definitely on their minds, another key reason for appearing on Shark Tank India was to bust hemp-related misconceptions and shed light on hemp’s health benefits and provide exposure to India Hemp’s products.
The toughest part for Jayanti while preparing for the pitch was explaining hemp and its benefits given its complexities. And doing that in Hindi was an added challenge.
Jayanti shares that her fluency in Hindi was below average, but Shark Tank India requires Hindi pitches due to the television viewership. Jayanti recognised the language's nationwide reach and brushed up on her Hindi skills to explain hemp's value as best as she could.
The Shark Tank team helped her prepare a strong pitch in Hindi within just three days.. That’s how invested the team was in ensuring that the entrepreneurs gave their best shot in front of the sharks.
Another challenge for India Hemp & Co was how every statement of Jayanti's pitch was scrutinised and verified before it was televised by Shark Tank's legal team. Hemp has recently been categorised as food by FSSAI, which means that hemp-based products can now be sold conventionally like other food products.
Sure, hemp brands would greatly benefit from this, but it takes time for people to familiarise themselves with a change. That's why Jayanti had to submit numerous documents to back up everything she said about hemp on TV.
In the tank, the Sharks had unending questions about the brand and hemp in general. Aman Gupta (Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of boAt) even questioned if hemp could be sold in markets. Jayanti defined the brand’s stance, shared hemp's benefits and cleared hemp-related misconceptions with her pitch.
Though the other Sharks backed out, Namita Thapar (Executive Director of Emcure Pharmaceuticals) was impressed with India Hemp & Co’s branding.
“Namita Thapar is an incredible person, she really walks the talk and was very well informed about all the benefits of hemp. It was an amazing experience to be to pitch to her”, Jayanti said.
When asked why she declined Namita’s offer, Jayanti explained how lowering your valuation on a platform like Shark Tank India would affect associated hemp brands too. “With the grandiose televised setting under all those bright lights, it is very easy to succumb and accept an offer, but as hemp is a growing industry we wanted to do right by it”.
But the founders have a no-shortcut-to-success policy that reflects in all their endeavours. As challenging as it was to turn down Namita’s offer, it was necessary. Jayanti had to step out twice to consult her sister Shalini Bhattacharya and IIMB mentor Gopal Rao Addanki on call before declining the offer.
Turning down the offer worked out in the brand’s favour. “I’m glad we held our own as it resulted in a lot of genuine interest for the brand”. India Hemp has been receiving a lot of queries from customers looking for a healthy alternative as well as from investors globally after their Shark Tank appearance.
As a brand, India Hemp & Co. wants to grow by building a community that wholeheartedly trusts them and their brand. To establish that level of trust, Jayanti believes that ‘every brand needs to have a face’. That’s why the founders have decided to keep the human touch intact, and in fact, they personally follow up with all customers to interact with them and address all their concerns and doubts.
Want to get organic traffic and build a community for your brand? Here are some resources to help you get started:
The Ripple Effect
Every entrepreneur on Shark Tank India has gone home with something invaluable – the experience and network they build with investors and fellow entrepreneurs! The investment offers and exposure helped a great deal too.
Jayanti expressed her gratitude to Sony and Shark Tank India team for airing the brand’s pitch on TV. She recalls how the Shark Tank India team suggested being prepared for increased traffic post the broadcast.
Thankfully, Shopify’s customer support immediately assured her that the brand's site was in good shape and would easily handle the surge in traffic. “We’ve always had Shopify’s support”, she claimed.
After the episode aired, India Hemp & Co saw around a 500% increase in traffic on the website. And it stayed like that for a whole month! Currently, it has been averaging around 2x the amount of traffic it received before Shark Tank.
Jayanti shared that loopholes in the customer journey came to the surface due to the spike in traffic, but she was able to connect with Shopify to fix these issues.
India Hemp & Co's shopify website did not face any glitches or downtime. Several participants who had built on different platforms complained of sites crashing and switched to Shopify based on Jayanti’s recommendation.
On a personal front, she was surprised at the number of people who recognized her on the street after the show. “I think I underestimated how many people watch TV. Even now, I come across people who have that ‘I have seen her somewhere’ look.”
Nuggets of wisdom for new entrepreneurs
We asked Jayanti if she had any advice for budding entrepreneurs who wish to apply to Shark Tank India. Here’s a summarised version of her takeaways:
- Take the shot, it could change your life. : “Everyone should apply. Don’t hesitate, because you can get there even when you are still in the ideation stage of your business!”
- Be open to learning: You’ll meet some amazing and enterprising people who go through similar business concerns as you. Plus, the Shark Tank team guides you through every step of the process.
- Know your numbers: You’ll be pitching to experts who are open to out-of-the-box ideas, but not irrationality. For India Hemp & Co, getting data for their valuation was easier as they had access to detailed reports through Shopify analytics.
- Prepare for the exposure: As long as your pitch is televised, you can expect an increase in your reach. The exposure your brand could get with being on a national TV channel can’t be put in numbers. Jayanti even has her own meme now!
- Don’t compromise on your/your brand’s worth: Most importantly, be passionate about what you do, and never stop believing in your brand’s true potential. You represent your team and community along with your brand. It’s essential to accept an offer that resembles your original valuation and benefits all.
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Going against the grain, responsibly
From starting a hemp-powered kitchen to being a finalist on Shark Tank India and scaling the business through it all, India Hemp & Co has experienced tremendous growth as a startup.
The brand continues to inspire change by creating plant-based nutritional products that support the idea of a healthier, sustainable world.
Though available on almost 30 marketplaces, the brand continues to have a fantastic online journey with Shopify. Whether it was multiple lockdowns or a traffic surge, India Hemp & Co always had a stable platform to rely on. “Shopify is that steadfast support you need when everything else is falling apart,” Jayanti shares.
If you have a unique business idea and are looking for a reliable partner to help you establish an online store, look no further. Shopify provides you with tools and resources to create your store with little to no tech experience.
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