I believe any start-up journey is a continuous loop of learnings: Sarvesh Sashi

While the global pandemic has bought economies to a halt and massively disrupted businesses, it has also fuelled start-up dreams and we even saw several Indian start-ups achieve Unicorn status during the pandemic period. The times have never been better for the budding entrepreneurs to give wings to their start-up dreams.

The Government, too, has come up with various schemes to support its ‘Vocal for Local’ drive. A case in point is the recent Rs 1,000 crore Start-up India Seed Fund announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Start-up India International Summit 2021 held earlier this year.

Adgully is turning the spotlight on the entrepreneurs who fought against all odds to bring their dreams to fruition in our special series – START-UP STARS. We at Adgully wholeheartedly support the ‘Vocal for Local’ movement and over the next few months will be featuring all local/ homegrown businesses, brands and Apps.

Sarvesh Sashi, Founder, Sarva, started out on his entrepreneurial journey at a very young age, and by 29, he has set up a chain of Yoga studios across the country and globally as well. Instead of joining his father’s thriving business at Sabari Group, Sashi took a loan of Rs 16 lakh from his uncle at the age of 21 and set up his own studio called Zorba, which was rebranded as Sarva in 2018. He has got the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Malaika Arora, former MTV CEO Mark Mastrov, among others, to invest in his venture.

In conversation with Adgully, Sarvesh Sashi shares several insights into the world of entrepreneurship, what it takes to be successful, how to face the challenges, garnering funds and much more. 

Please take us through your journey as an entrepreneur. What motivated you to establish your start-up? What were you doing prior to turning an entrepreneur?

Well, me becoming an entrepreneur was serendipity actually. I wasn’t always clear that entrepreneurship was my goal in life. Honestly, I wanted to be a cricketer and that was a serious path I had planned for myself. But I chanced upon Yoga as I was on my journey to being the best athlete I could and it changed me so much as a person in a positive way that I chose this powerful way of life. And that made me think, what if I were to share this with the world? This final and firm thought made me an entrepreneur. 

What need gap did you want to fulfil with your start-up? What is the core business proposition?

Let’s face it, we have all been struggling with modern problems like stress, anxiety and insomnia. We may not realise it right then and there, but these are all conditions that make for severely perilous situations in our future. And the classic example here is 2020! We struggled all year through, we were stressed about finances, about health, about our jobs, dealing with burnout, all of it. And the thing that came to our rescue was movement, more specifically, Yoga.

Sarva’s core business proposition is to help create an ecosystem for individuals to explore wellness through yoga. Wellness doesn’t just include being physically active and fit or keeping lifestyle disorders at bay, it means keeping the mind just as healthy as the body. And this is explored with the Sarva app that has 70,000 minutes of yoga workouts, 20,000 minutes of mindfulness content and Live classes for 14 hours a day on the app. 

How did you identify your TG? Did you carry out any feasibility study prior to starting your business?

A lot of research went into the creation of the offerings. We were fortunate that we already had a few studios running and a user base that knew the offerings. To add to this, we had also conducted a few studies for our demographics. It was fairly simple to identify the TG then. We learned that Sarva was the preferred choice for those who have never done yoga before and hence we began to introduce more beginner friendly classes and once you go the yoga way, you don’t look back! 

What were the challenges that you faced in your start-up journey and how did you overcome them?

There is no journey that doesn’t have challenges. And if there is, then that journey isn’t half as fulfilling as this one! Firstly, I believe any start-up journey is a continuous loop of learnings. The biggest challenge we have faced is to give Yoga a “face-lift”, if I may call it that. Yoga has been perceived as a rigid form of exercise, which is slow and low intense, and only for those who are recovering from illnesses or injuries. While those are some of the benefits of yoga, these aren’t limited to just the ones listed above. We’ve had members of the community tell us that they burn the exact amount of calories in the yoga class as they do in a gym! To solve this problem, we introduced 25 forms of yoga, which were interesting, engaging and fun to do!

Another challenge that 2020 posed was that the studios were closed and hence, we overcame that by launching our app four months in advance so that people across the world could benefit from regular free yoga classes and be healthy while being at home, safe and sound. For 2021, Sarva is offering a one-year free yoga programme for anyone who wants to practise yoga, which will truly help beginners rediscover their ideas about Yoga. 

What were the clearances that you required for your venture from various authorities?

We’ve gotten clearances like:

  • MSME Registration
  • GST registration
  • Shops & Establishment registration
  • Export Import Code Registration

Besides, registrations applicable for PF, ESIC, Professional Tax for employees related regulations. We believe that due diligence should be done in every way possible. 

Funds/ finance is the prime issue of almost all start-ups. What can the industry and the Government do to address this issue and ease the capital requirements of start-ups?

Some important suggestions we could make are:

  • Direct government grants with simplified paperwork and zero % interest loans.
  • Access to venture capital investment.
  • Promote customer demand – Government authorities can work closely with start-ups and provide them opportunities.
  • Employment support schemes.
  • Tax holidays for start-ups.
  • Relaxed FDI norms to promote ease of doing business in India.

Prime Minister Modi announced a Start-up India Seed Fund earlier this year. How do you see start-ups benefiting from it?

Easy availability of capital is essential for entrepreneurs at the early stages of growth of an enterprise. Funding from angel investors and venture capital firms becomes available to start-ups only after the proof of concept has been provided. Similarly, banks provide loans only to asset-backed applicants. It is essential to provide seed funding to start-ups with an innovative idea to conduct proof of concept trials. Start-up India Seed Fund Scheme (SISFS) aims to provide financial assistance to start-ups for proof of concept, prototype development, product trials, market entry and commercialisation. This would enable these start-ups to graduate to a level where they will be able to raise investments from angel investors or venture capitalists, or seek loans from commercial banks or financial institutions. 

How is digital helping you further your business?

With compelling personalised technologies and high-quality streaming content, users now have more access and convenience to pursue their health and wellness goals than ever before. While digital fitness may not be completely replacing traditional gym and facility settings, their popularity will continue to grow favour with the public. This clear indication of consumer interest will continue to open more doors for digital fitness to become a seamless part of its users’ everyday lives. 

What were your key learnings from 2020? How do you see the start-up ecosystem progressing in 2021?

The biggest learning has been “Change is a constant”. Adapting to new technologies, WFH, managing a workforce remotely are some of the learnings I could add to the much larger learning that wellness is more than just skin deep. The pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate our growth plans and wonder what new avenues we could adopt to thrive in 2021. Personally, the lockdown posed a lot of questions about our own mental wellness as well. The lockdown and the pandemic have birthed problems and solutions of new kinds, which are turning out to be opportunities in disguise. I think the year 2020 was about resilience and temperance for all business owners, founders and leaders. 2021 is the year to restart and take off! 

What would be your message for the budding entrepreneurs?

The ABC I follow are:

  • Always ask for help
  • Be courageous
  • Core team matters

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