A responsible brand and a responsible founder is what we would describe Namrata Agarwal and her venture Vishisht lifestyle as. Leaving a stable job and following her passion Namrata has had her share of ups and downs that every entrepreneur and startup goes through but the vision with which she is operating and her ever optimistic view is what we believe makes everything worth it.
Established in 2018, Vishisht lifestyle is a sustainable, eco-friendly and 100% natural brand that has been producing high quality skincare products suitable for all skin types regardless of gender and age. We were really amused by the small yet major impact this startup has been creating.
Read on to more about Namrata and her venture Vishisht Lifestyle!
Can you tell us about Vishisht lifestyle?
Vishisht lifestyle is a sustainable brand established in 2018 that offers all-natural daily use skin care products. All our products are pure, 100% natural and safe with absence of use of chemicals as well as patch tests on animals. Now, we are also trying out vegan versions, we currently have 10 to 11 100% vegan products. Apart from this, we are completely plastic-free. All the products are packaged in recyclable jars and shipped in paper-based plastic-free packaging. So everything customers get in a courier box is reusable and recyclable. We want to make sure that from our side the waste is as minimum as possible and that’s the goal of the company.
What inspired you to start the Vishisht lifestyle?
I used to work in a multinational company before Vishisht as a certified public accountant. I was well paid as well as happy but deep down I always had this thing to start something of my own, despite my little knowledge of startup culture. One summer when working in Hyderabad I developed skin rashes, I applied lots of moisturizers, different brands, different formulas but nothing helped.
That is when I started researching skincare products and that is when I came to know about natural skincare products and the need to use the right ingredients in the right quantity. I started experimenting and creating my own product, using it on my skin and giving it to all the friends and family members for use. It worked well for everyone and I received very good feedback and that moment I knew that this is what I am meant to do, so after researching for 1 and a half years, I launched our products in the market, to a larger audience.
Starting and running a startup isn’t easy. Can you walk us through your 1 and half year of behind the scene journey?
I knew everything wasn’t going to be easy. So, I proceed with things practically rather than being impatient. I didn’t immediately leave my job, I took out time during the weekends for research and experimentation. Then after having the basic understanding of products and markets I moved to Bangalore where I started visiting vendors, asking for raw materials, selecting a jar over the weekend while working for the company. Then I shifted my focus to the legal aspects from company registration to GST and other legal work. With a stable income it was easy for me to finance in the company but to speed things up and to ensure my attention was undivided I decided to quit my job in January 2018 and started working full time in my business. This is when I realized that there are a lot of other work like designing websites, photoshoot to be specific that I had to work on. It took 5more months than what I had initially planned to launch Vishisht. Those 5 months I would say were the most difficult time of my life.
So, it wasn’t a facile journey, there were hardships but at the end it was all worth it!
Making skincare products was a completely new area for you. So, how to start making and formulating them?
Very true! I am not a formulator and don’t have professional degrees in this field, so I decided to start small and use the benefits that the ingredients offer. For instance, argan oil helps work for hair problems and coconut oil for the skin. So I studied those benefits and started formulating products.
The very first batch was too oily, greasy on the skin and the consistency wasn’t good enough. Then I started writing down the ratio of ingredients used and took feedback from friends. Some Lip Balms were too runny, we kept doing 2-3 test runs of products, changed formulas, and created the final best product. In the beginning after 5 months , I finally arrived at basic ten products which worked, lasted for years with the formula with perfect consistency. So, the test and trials and creating a checklist worked for me.
What is your team size? What’s happening in terms of marketing, productions?
We have a very small team. I have a brother who has been helping me in business development, getting leads, and contracts. Similarly, a cousin of mine looks at marketing. We don’t have permanent staff as of now but we do hire freelancers on a need basis. We also have some staff who work on a casual basis and support me with packaging, production whenever required.
In terms of production, we produce in batches, so the products are prepared once a month. Regarding marketing, we have a website of our own and have listed into over 30 marketplaces and other websites who sell similar products and match our vision. We have also started consignment. There are stores in Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore who have been selling our products in their brick & mortar store. Slowly we are getting offline as well not on our own but partnering with people who have stores of their own.
Since your products do not have chemicals and preservatives, this means they don’t have a long shelf time. How do you ensure quality maintenance?
Yes, our products last only for a year as we don’t use any chemicals. What we do is we sell the products in small quantities, that is our products come in 20 gm and 40 gm bottles which lasts 3 to 6months, so the problem of shelf life is easily mitigated. Even from a production point of view, we don’t produce huge quantities. We prepare them in fresh batches and try to clear off those batches first before we move on to next.
What about the complaints, how do you deal with them?
Rather than complaints, I’d say we receive constructive feedback here and there. Also, I feel it is more to do with the perception because some of our clients love our hair serum that contains rosemary essential oil while some others don’t like its smell.
Also few customers have pointed out price things, they find the products a bit more expensive than those available in the market. But since we are a sustainable and 100% natural brand we cannot bring down the price. However, we make sure that the quality of our products justify the price. Moreover if you look into the long term, our product is far cheaper, as our lip balm priced Rs.249 lasts for 3 to 4 months whereas a Rs.90 price lip balm available in the market lasts only 15 days.
Is your company self-sustaining in terms of its revenue or you’re putting in the money to the business?
We were self-sustaining before the COVID crisis, now things have gotten tough. Our business was shut down for almost 4 months so that savings that I had from my previous job was also drained. Then to keep the venture afloat I started taking part in startup competition, Facebook startup grant being one where we were able to win a grant money of INR 63,000. The grant really helped us get back on track.
Also as of now, we have been getting inquiries for bulk orders but we have not been able to grab this amazing opportunity due to lack of funds and cash flow. So, for now we are looking to participate in startup competition and generate some funds. We are also looking for investors who are willing to invest in our venture.
What are your future plans for the venture?
The short term goal is to expand our product line and come up with products that our customers have been requesting. Also, to increase our market exposure we are planning to reach out and approach zero waste stores and eco-friendly stores to showcase our products.
How did you discover Shopify and what makes you prefer it over other platforms?
Actually it was my brother’s and some of my friends’ suggestions to switch to Shopify. Initially I was using another website builder for our website and the service to be honest was not up to par. It was horrible in terms of SEO. So, I made the decision to make a switch and till date it has been a great experience, they have superb content and top notch customer service, I frequently receive emails and tips on SEO which has been a great support.
Based on your experience, do you feel there is any difference because of one’s gender in the field of entrepreneurship?
Honestly speaking I have been lucky in this aspect. I have never found gender related disparity when working. Also there has been a lot of changes in our nation and the world as a whole. In our country, there are lots of schemes available for women entrepreneurs only. Startup India organized an international women’s day workshop just for women entrepreneurs. So, based on my experience I’d say women in our country are getting tons of opportunities, there are seminars and events being organized, many websites supporting women entrepreneurs.
What are the top 3 challenges that your company is facing right now?
The very first would be working capital, I feel that we have missed out on a lot of opportunities because of lack of funds in our bank account.
The second is the brand awareness. We do get incredible feedback from the customer and also have a good customer retention rate. But I still feel that there is a large segment of people who are not aware about what Vishisht actually is. We are more than a brand, we are a sustainable and ethical venture, so making people aware about our core values and the vision we are operating with is tough.
Can you provide us with a rough estimation of your total customers?
Based on our data from Shopify we have a database of 500 customers who are our active audience who not only purchase from us but also follow our newsletter, social media and actively engage with us. Also, since we partner with other concept stores and have our products available in a number of offline stores, the number is definitely more than this.
Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?
Yes, I do consider myself a social entrepreneur. We are a conscious producer of personal care products and we make sure that we are responsible for any kinds of harm to the environment. We are conscious right from the production, to purchasing raw materials from the local vendors to ensuring minimum carbon emission. We also make sure we don’t generate waste, everything that comes in our company is reused and recycled. So, based on this I do consider myself a social entrepreneur.
Who are your potential customers? How would you like to pitch your product to customers?
Our products can be used by anyone and everyone. There is no limitation on that. But in terms of understanding and use of the internet our potential customers are people in the range of 18 to 45 years of age who are very active on social media. On top of that, I feel the people who are more eco-conscious, eco-warriors would make an effort to buy from us.
And to people who aren’t eco-warriors yet, who are a bit skeptical I would like to say that I totally understand where you are coming from and a few years back I would have felt the same. But believe me using eco-friendly and sustainable products is a bliss. Plus you are doing your part to save our environment, so it’s a 100% win-win.
Make sure to check out their sustainable and handmade skincare products and maybe add some to your daily skincare routine too!