Vinita Jain has always been fascinated by ayurveda, even as a curious child growing up in the himalayan tea estates
Being a woman entrepreneur is not easy today, so one can only imagine the steep climb it would have been in the 90s. “I strongly believe a woman needs to be focused on her goals and oblivious to the biases she faces, to succeed in life,” says Vinita Jain, founder of the Ayurveda brand, Biotique, which opened for business in 1992. Better known as the “Queen of Herbs”, Jain grew up in Kolkata but was a frequent visitor to her grandparents’ plantations in the hills of Assam and Darjeeling. “I have fond memories of spending time at my grandfather’s tea plantations, and that is also where I learnt the ancient science of Ayurveda, from Sanskrit texts in Samhitas,” Jain says.
She recalls how she had always been inquisitive about medicinal plants and herbs that could magically enhance the body. “If you ask me when I started on this business, I would say it has been forever. I was only seven or eight-years-old when I used to study about medicines, which always fascinated me,” she says. She was also inspired seeing the health of her grandparents in their seventies, whose skin glowed radiantly, like it did when they were in their twenties.
Jain poured through Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Vagbhata’s Ashtanga Samhita but she was also lucky to have lived around practitioners of this ancient system of medicine. She says that she learnt her first lessons from the “Himalayan gurus” who dwelt in the caves of her family’s tea estates. “Even as a young child, I was fascinated by spiritual living,” she says.
She remembers helping her family and their gurus plant medicines at home and supplying them to workers, as there was no hospital near by. “The nearest hospital back then was 500 miles away,” Jain says.
While her early days were spent learning from gurus, Jain knew that she needed a formal education in commerce to start a company of her own. She did her bachelors from University of Delhi and then her masters from Stanford University. “After my education in marketing and biotechnology, I combined all my childhood knowledge of the ancient Vedas with what I gained from my formal training, and founded Biotique,” she says.
Of course there was resistance, like everyone faces, but Jain says “sincerity and authenticity matter the most”. She believes that if one looks at anything as a problem, then it remains so. Thankfully, she had the full support of her family. “When I think of the initial days of Biotique, I can only recall positive happenings. The products we were selling were very new to the market. From their efficacy to their smell, everything that Biotique was producing was met with absolute success,” she says. The brand uses cold extraction process, which preserves the active ingredients of the product, and it combines Ayurveda with biotechnology, one of its other unique selling propositions.
Before opening to the Indian market, Biotique opened its doors to the Swiss one. There is a research and development wing in the Alpine country, and also a team that coordinates the brand’s global exports. Biotique set up its first retail store in 1992 in Khan Market, New Delhi. Here the biggest challenge was to win over clientele to a new concoction of Ayurveda and modern science. Jain believes that India, in those days, was enamoured by the western culture. “The way ancient science is celebrated today, it was not back then,” she says. It was a challenge but it was also an opportunity. It made Biotique the pioneering brand in “advanced Ayurveda”, featuring the best of both the worlds.
“Biotique attracted a fan following, and they swore by their favourites such as Morning Nectar, Saffron Dew Cream and Dandelion Serum. India had not seen products like these, which smelled great, were chemical free and were sold at such an economical cost. We were one of the first Made in India brands at that time,” she says. They have two manufacturing facilities in Paonta Sahib, in Himachal Pradesh.
What always worked in the favour of Biotique was that it had a strong retail presence. Jain started her company with a handful of people — it was only a team of six ayurvedics and two Swiss doctors — who helped her sell the products at all the major chains.
The brand grew and found space in supermarkets, then hypermarkets and then standalone stores pan In-dia, with a major focus in Delhi and Mumbai.
They started with having one store in Khan Market and today they have 3,000 standalone stores; more than 2,000 stores in-stores (pan-India) and are selling at more than 200,000 multi-brand outlets. “We plan to double this number by 2020,” she says. “We are planning and also have started to work on opening at least 100 company-owned retail outlets by the next fiscal. We are attempting to reach up to 75 Indian cities with deep penetration in Tier I and Tier III cities,” Jain says.
Biotique is a zero debt, 100% privately owned company. “I did not want to seek financial help from anywhere,” she says. Therefore, growth has always been funded by internal accruals, though there was interest by private equity players. “My life savings had gone into opening that one store in Khan Market. The growth has always been done on a small scale. It has been slow and steady.” Biotique today has the capacity to fuel its growth with revenue growing 40-45% year-on-year. The company is valued at $1.5 billion.
Jain credits her success to the loyalty of her customers. She says keeping their interests at heart has worked best for the brand. Additionally, the strategy of catering to all segments of the society and providing value to stakeholders is a philosophy they have followed, for 25 years now.
Soon after she started the company she got married and became a mother. Balancing domestic responsibilities has never been a problem for her, she says. “Managing work, family life, health and beauty together is important for one’s happiness and internal well-being. I have been able to do it always,” she says.
There are certainly days when things do not work in her favour, and there is the resultant stress. “But, I keep telling myself to flourish no matter what the situation is,” says Jain.
Biotique is constantly looking to innovate. “Our aim is and will be to create unsurpassed ethical skin care for the future, a life time programme that does not cover up skin problems but eliminates them and preserves youth for a lifetime,” she says. Jain adds that global expansion will be their focus now. Apart from this, the brand is also planning to launch a professional make-up line by the next fiscal. They are also planning to enter beauty services by 2020, providing treatment to consumers through skin clinics.
“We started with a team of six people then slowly the number grew to 30 in a year. Today, we have employed 20,000 women across small villages in India, to help them become financially secure. They earn #200,000 or more in a year,” she says.
Jain has revolutionised the beauty industry and now she has set her sights on newer territories. Her determination and an endless fascination for natural wellness remain her trusted aides. β