The story of Herbal Strategi is the story of one man’s determination to overcome challenges and find a solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem, not only for himself, but also for the greater good. Mr. John Thomas is the founder of Herbal Strategi. He is post graduate in Aquaculture and post graduate in Business Management. We are publishing an interview of Mr. John.
Q.: Please tell us about the Product / Solution.
Ans: We brought in products in the market place based on feedbacks received from customers. Within a span of 5 years we bought in 55 products in the categories of Herbal Repellents, Herbal Cleaners,Herbal Fresheners, Herbal Hygiene products, Herbal Fogging Solutions and Herbal Pet care products
Q.: What is your USP?
Ans: We are the only company selling high quality Herbal products in the Home Care segment. Strategi was born in 1991. It started with just me and my partner. Initially, we traded in whatever we could and made small profits, but post 1993 saw good tidings. We saw an advertisement. A Swiss Trading firm, Louis Dreyfus (dealing in Coffee), was looking for associates and partners in Bangalore. Hundreds applied and we were one amongst them and our 14 years journey of Trading began. We fared well and soon we were given the additional charge of Uganda. We were at our peak and dealing with 10,000 tons of coffee yearly. All along, the coffee trading were the bread and butter for us.
In 2006, the agency started their captive BPO centre and we were also handling this division which entailed knowledge process outsourcing. After representing them for 14 years, they wanted to establish themselves in India and as a result we lost the agency in 2008. My partner left Strategi to join the new entity and I stayed on as I did not believe in getting into an employment again. At that time 99% of our revenue was from Coffee business. When we lost the agency, we had no business to do and was looking to start a new business focusing on manufacturing. We had no money with us. There was lots of stress as there was no revenue coming in.
The year 2008 was tough as I was wondering where to begin next. It was stressful for me to sit idle, after having worked for so many years setting up new things. I started having self doubts. Around this time, I developed upper respiratory infection and a severe attack of asthma. At the time of discharge doctors suggested to me to stop using the chemical vaporizers and told me to use mosquito nets which I wasn’t keen as it makes me feel claustrophobic. I started looking for alternative remedies but could find none on the internet. I contacted my colleagues at the Punjab Agricultural University where I graduated. They told me to visit CSIR-CIMAP which was one of the frontier research labs of CSIR, Ministry of Science and Technology, Govt. of India. I met up with the scientists at CIMAP, Lucknow and told them that I need a spray which sprayed in a room should keep away mosquitoes for 8-12 hrs. They gave me 10 formulations to be tested in the field. They told me that there are over 400 breeds of mosquitoes in India with each state having 150-200 breeds. Kerala is the only state which had all the 400 breeds.
I was advised to do my field research there. After doing field trials for over 18 months we came across a formulation which acts on 91% of the breeds. I was excited but wanted to doubly check whether the consumer was looking forward to a Herbal repellent. From my research I came to a startling observation. 70% people, strangely, are not bothered about the adverse affects of repellents with harmful chemicals. However, out of the balance 30%, 65% were new age mothers who were paranoid and knew that chemicals were harmful to humans, doubly more on infants. I had to now come up with an alternative solution for people in living a healthy life. We also found that most of the Herbal companies were in the Personal Care and Health Care segment and there were no players in the Home care segment. We saw an opportunity and immediately bought on an exclusive basis the technology from CIMAP for developing the Herbal Mosquito Repellent Room Spray.
We came to Bangalore and applied for the Ayush license and launched our first product JUST SPRAY in July 2011 in Kerala. We were excited but were nervous as we did not have any manufacturing experience. In December 2011, 6 months after we launched in Kerala and to our dismay the product stopped working. We incurred huge losses in taking back the products. We found out that the suppliers of aromatic oils started adulterating the oils after the 4 th batch of supply. We also noticed leakage in the spray pumps. At that time I was dejected and wasn’t sure whether we should really move forward knowing very well that marketing is going to be a uphill task especially in this case where we will be competing with all the giants in Home care. I decided to move ahead against all odds. We stopped marketing activities and went to look for reliable vendors to supply our aromatic oils. We tied up with CSIR-IIIM Jammu to do quality control of our aromatic oils. We also tied up with reputed vendors in North India. We sorted out issues with leekages and relaunched our product in the South in July 2013. I gave my cell number everywhere and customers started calling me to give feedbacks and ideas of new products.
We had 2 products in 2013 but we now have 55 products in the Home care segment and our core philosophy is that all our products are 100% natural. Each batch of raw materials undergoes rigorous tests and is certified at CSIR-IIIM Jammu. We are an ISO 9001 Certified Company and our products are manufactured under license from the Ministry of AYUSH. We are PETA certified and our products are 100 % Vegan, free of artificial ingredients, and not tested on animals. We believe that it is possible to ensure good health, a clean home, and a healthy pet without the use of harmful chemicals.
Our products fall under six categories:
- Herbal repellents.
- Herbal Cleaners.
- Herbal Fresheners.
- Herbal Hygiene.
- Herbal Fogging Solutions.
- Herbal Pet &Animal Care.
We shall soon be adding many more segments to our kitty. We are totally customer centric and have direct interaction with them. It is the feedback we get that help us to come up with more innovative products. We are now present in Supermarkets, organic stores in almost all states and have a strong presence in the digital space.
In short, I would sum it up as, I was second time lucky as an entrepreneur. In Herbal Strategi, I have found my true calling. It saw the combination of my knowledge, experience across the years in different businesses and overall my entrepreneurial spirit that has helped me set up this unique product with one objective – To bring to customers high quality herbal products that are free from the chemicals we use in our daily life.
Q.: What were your assumptions when you entered the market, learnings that you have?
Ans: Our customers are middle class and upper middle class. I thought distribution was easy but it turned out to be the toughest challenge. To place a product on the retail shelf was tough and to retain shelf space was tougher.
Q.: What has been your biggest failure as an entrepreneur and what did you learn from it??
Ans: Took quality for granted from suppliers which was my biggest mistake. We learnt a bitter lesson.
Q.: How are you pricing the Product?
Ans: Our prices are 10% higher that the chemical competitors.
Q.: Since inception, give us a sense of the value of business done by your venture?
Ans: We sell an average of 95000 units per month and growing at the rate of 40% year on year. We have around 12000 visitors visiting our website every month.
Q.: Is there any interesting success story? If yes, please write about it. ?
Ans: I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur when dissatisfied and frustrated by the wide spread nepotism in office in the early days of my professional career in Marketing. No new venture is easy and for an entrepreneur, there are multifarious challenges. It is only when one faces the challenges boldly, that one can taste success. My ‘aha’ moment has been small steps and strides I took in setting up my enterprise and the joy it brought me when I saw this dream take shape. ‘Ouch’ moments were when I faced daunting tasks, failed some times, had self doubts and occasionally was let down by people close to me.
Q.: What is the big picture of your startup?
Ans: Yes .More and more people are eager to shift out of chemical products. In the years to come we will see a significant group of consumers shifting to Green products. At that point we will have an advantage.
Q.: What is the insight that you have about this market, which no one else has? Uniqueness about your Startup.
Ans: We are leaders in the Herbal Home Care segment. There are no Herbal players in this segment.Q
Q.: Who do You Perceive as Your Competition? How do you differentiate yourself with them?
Ans: We do not have competition. The other so called competitors are chemical based products.
Q.: What message do you want to convey to fellow entrepreneurs?
Ans: Have perseverance in whatever goal you wish to achieve.
Thanks John. Best wishes!