Entrepreneurs: Vikram & Surabhi
Business Name: Happy Jars
Welcome to Entrepreneurs of India #startupstories episode 101
We live in times when the quality of food we consume is under scanner. There are a lot of products available both offline and online that fall under the natural category. But are they really good? The question remains.
But the story of Happy Jars is quite different. At the helm of Happy Jars is a horse rider, who is keen on sports and fitness. So as a health food brand, it does not make any compromise on quality.
Using only natural ingredients, and with zero added oil, sugar or preservatives, Happy Jars makes a delicious 100% natural range of products. The brand is tailored to a fitness-conscious audience that looks for natural food options, especially for natural sources of protein and good fats. Run by a husband-wife team, Vikram and Surabhi, Happy Jars, an expertise in all-natural nut butters (peanut and almond), is based in Delhi.
How did this duo make Happy Jars one of the most reliable health food brands in the country? Let’s find out now!
1) How did you get your idea for this business?
Happy Jars is a passion project that was started by Vikram, a passionate horse rider and equestrian show jumping national-level competitor. Nutrition and fitness have always been important in Vikram’s life and he loved peanut butter from when he was in school.
Horse riding requires a high level of fitness and protein was an important part of Vikram’s diet. He was looking for a healthy peanut butter on the shelves, but didn’t find a natural version of it.
So he started making his own. After loads of great feedback from friends and family, and lots of tweaking to make the perfect recipe, Vikram decided to turn it into a business. He started it off in our kitchen at home. He used to buy the raw material locally, make the peanut butter and then put it into store-bought jars.
He piloted the product for more than a year, just to make sure it was worthy of being a business idea. In February of 2018, I joined him on Happy Jars and we committed to making it big.
2) Why is “now” a good time for this idea to exist?
Indians are becoming more aware of the need to stay fit. Whether for weight loss or general good health, we are increasingly incorporating the habit of exercise into our lives.
As witnessed by the number of gyms mushrooming across centres, and the rise of popular food disciplines such as Keto and Gluten-free, health and fitness is becoming a hot industry in India. Nut butters are a particularly good source of plant based protein and are now widely recommended by nutritionists and gym trainers as a part of a balanced and fitness-oriented diet.
Happy Jars is a perfect fit for this audience and this changing mind set. We’re right where all the action is.
3) What was the reaction from your family when you first decided to become an entrepreneur?
Excitement and loads of advice. Both sides of parents were thrilled that we had decided to try our hand at business. We talked through the idea and our ambition with the entire family and they’ve been nothing but supportive from day one.
It is of course scary when a husband and wife team both decide to jump into entrepreneurship. The question of ‘will we have food on the table’ is suddenly a very real one and that was a fear for the both of us at first. The family was very confident in our abilities to make it work and if it wasn’t for their constant nudging, we would have had a far rougher time so far. Both sides of the family have spent hours discussing our business with us – we’re very lucky to have so much encouragement.
4) What was your biggest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?
I don’t think there are mistakes in such an early start-up stage of a business. Very often you’re learning on the job so there’s no way for you to know what’s right and wrong. I read a great book that describes how we tend to categorise decisions as good or bad basis their outcomes. If you make a decision and something bad happens, we call it a bad decision. If something good had happened, we would have called it a good decision. Hindsight is 20-20. But in reality you can only try to make logical and sound choices.
We learn something new every single day at Happy Jars. Both Vikram and I are from Marketing and Business backgrounds and food manufacturing, supply chain and retail sales are new areas for us. What we make sure to do though is abandon bad choices early on and make the best of every situation we face. For example, we bought a 300kg batch of peanuts from a vendor. Turns out they were not of the variety we needed and he refused to take them back. So while we went ahead and ordered a fresh batch from another vendor (without being frustrated about this set back) we are now selling the earlier batch off to local retailers. There’s always a way to make it work when you want to find one.
5) What is your biggest obstacle in the next 12 months and how will you overcome it?
I’d say our biggest challenge (not obstacle) is customer acquisition and achieving scale. The FMCG industry is known to require large marketing spends and slow-burn awareness strategies in order to acquire customers. As a bootstrapped start-up, we’re trying our best to achieve this without burning a hole in our pockets. We’ve done this by being sharp in our audience focus. So instead of trying to reach 100,000 mildly interested people, we spend our time finding 1,000 wildly interested people who we know will buy into our product and brand philosophy.
In the last few months as well, we’ve hand-picked the retail environments we want to be in and we’ve gone after them aggressively. That’s how we’re enjoying double digit growth rates month on month.
6) What habits contribute to your success?
Discipline: Vikram and I both wake up at 5am to work out, three times a week. We’re at our factory at 10.30 every day and we keep to a similar routine every day. Given the hectic days and long hours, it is essential to be disciplined about every aspect of work and personal life so that you get the maximum out of your day.
Living the life of our customer: Given our intent to focus on fitness oriented individuals, we now live their lifestyles as much as possible. We eat healthy, sleep on time and think ‘fitness’ all the time. Nut butters and protein have an even more important role in our lives and diets now, making it easy for us to see how we can cater to our audience with these products too. To sell to people, you should walk in their shoes and know how they feel when they interact with your product.
Forgive & forget: As a small business, there are many times when you’ll feel like you’re getting the raw end of the deal. Many people won’t trust your word or intentions, and sometimes you end up building an apathy towards other people. Don’t. Forgive the anger and move on to a new day. It doesn’t help at all to stay frustrated.
7) If you had the opportunity to start this business again what would you do differently?
Nothing at all. Many aspects of what has made us such a successful product have been built into the process because we approached it from a layman point of view. We didn’t think about the best way to make nut butters or the ideal machine to install. We built our own version of our business and as a result we incorporated many of our own ideas. This has helped us become different and unique by design rather than struggling to find a stand-apart message.
8) What is your favourite inspirational quote?
A ship is always safe at the shore. But that is not what it is built for. (Einstein)
There’s no gain without some risk and if you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.
9) Where do you find inspiration?
In the aisles of supermarkets. The health food scene in India is exploding. Customers are shopping for gluten-free, vegan, low-carb, healthy-fat and the list goes on and on. There is limitless potential for Happy Jars in these aisles and every time we discover a new product, we feel inspired to push further and do better.
10) What is your favourite book?
“The 2-Minute Revolution: The Art of Growing Businesses” by Sangeeta Talwar. A business book, this is very close to my heart. It narrates the corporate experiences and learning of the woman who launched Maggi in India.
She also happens to be my mother and it’s inspiring every time I open a chapter and read about how she thought and acted, to create one of India’s most loved brands. There is so much knowledge and experience in that book, that every entrepreneur and even management in corporate jobs could learn a thing or two from it.
11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Start. That is the hardest part. Taking the first step even to register a company is huge. It is a commitment that you are taking on that is the part that takes the most courage. After that, be ready to learn and unlearn every day. It’s a rollercoaster ride, but it’s one you’ll enjoy no matter what the outcome is.
Vikram and Surabhi started their business to provide a reliable product in health food segment. Their all nut natural butter is already creating a buzz among the health conscious customers across the country. Sharp audience-focused marketing helped them acquire a good customer base without burning much of their investment.
Also, their advice to fellow entrepreneurs is also worth following; don’t be reluctant to take the first step. You learn and unlearn things as you grow. So enjoy entrepreneurial journey irrespective of its results.