How do you build a Rs 500 crore business as a first generation entrepreneur? It’s a question 50 year-old cosmetic engineer Dolly Kumar, founder and director of Cosmic Nutracos Solutions, seems to have answered well.
Cosmic Nutracos is also one of the leading third-party private label manufacturers in the country, catering to larger domestic brands like Dabur, Faces Canada, HUL, Lakme, Mama Earth, Purplle, Sugar, etc.
Gaia was launched in 2009 amidst rising demand for ‘natural health products’, i.e., convenient and palatable food products and nutritional supplements. Today, their products are present in more than 40,000 retail outlets, besides a widespread presence on major e-commerce platforms. Meanwhile, Skinella was launched in 2017 as a skincare brand for teenage girls and young women with an emphasis on using natural, vegan and superfoods formulations in its products.
All these products are manufactured at the parent company’s 40,000 square good manufacturing practice (GMP)-certified manufacturing facility in Baddi, Himachal Pradesh, which is backed by a workforce of more than 1,500 employees. Their products also have a presence in markets like Singapore, UAE, Nepal, Bhutan, Cambodia, Myanmar, etc.
Speaking to The Better India, Dolly admits that she never dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur. “Coming from a service-class family, both my parents were working. My mother was a teacher, and my father was a mining engineer at Coal India, a public sector company,” she recalls.
Although she was born in Delhi, her parents’ work meant that she grew up in different locations. She eventually completed her high school education in Nagpur. Like most children of middle-class parents, she pursued engineering, but of a slightly different variety. She pursued a BTech in cosmetic engineering from Nagpur University, and began working immediately after college.
“I began my career with Herby International, a homegrown manufacturing company of hair oil, shampoo, hair dye, etc. Starting out in the quality assurance and production department, I eventually moved to sales and marketing. If you see my career graph, I have either built brands or launched them, be it Colorbar Cosmetics or ModicareEssensual. The experience I gained during my initial years was crucial. It gave me enough strength, knowledge and resilience to start something new. This is what allowed me to take my entrepreneurial plunge,” she notes.
Inspiration behind the creation of Gaia came from a chance meeting with a middle-aged woman while she was travelling on holiday. Despite investing substantial sums, this particular woman was unable to feel good about herself and maintain a healthy lifestyle, recalls Dolly.
“Also, around 15 years ago, we noticed a rapidly increasing trend of active health-consciousness amongst large sections of urban middle class Indians, a trend that had already been prevalent in the developed economies for some time. We realised that people’s need to become healthier were manifesting in several ways — in proactive regular health-check-ups, exercise (at home or in gyms and parks) as well as a shift in dietary preferences towards healthier alternatives,” says Dolly.
“Therefore, we aimed at bringing a positive and healthy change in people’s lives by meeting their need for healthy eating. Our initial research found that no other retail brand focused on only health and wellness, offering similar products. Therefore, to fill the gap, Gaia was brought into being to cater to people’s needs of healthy eating all day long, right from the start of the day to the last sip of relaxing tea before sleeping,” she adds. Dolly was the chief operating officer at Colobar Cosmetics when she took the plunge.
In Greek, Gaia is the goddess of Earth. “In keeping with its name, our products are made of only natural ingredients. Currently, we are offering over 80 products in different health categories. We source our ingredients from certified organic facilities based in different parts of the world,” claims the entrepreneur.
Nearly a decade after establishing Gaia, Dolly launched Skinella, a skincare brand catering to teenagers and young women in their early 20s. Its claim to fame is its chemical-free, vegan, and PETA-certified formulations backed by superfoods like green lime, olive extracts and Vitamin C.
“Before we launched Skinella, we did extensive market research. We went through many stores and realised that the market was flooded with an endless number of skin care products, but none of them were made for a young audience. That’s when we realised the need to launch a brand that talks to these teens who don’t want skin care products their moms use. After more than three years in research and development, market surveys, and conceptualising the right brand and product story, we finally launched Skinella in July 2017,” recalls Dolly.
Their product portfolio ranges from face washes to face scrubs, shower gels, sunscreens, body butters, face masks, lip balms, and more — all made with superfoods that are vegan and PETA-certified.
Their products are available at all leading retail outlets across India, besides a variety of e-commerce platforms like Nykaa, Amazon, and Flipkart, amongst others.
Challenges in running a business
Recollecting her initial days as an entrepreneur, Dolly says that the biggest challenge was to attract the right talent and get those people to buy into her vision. After some misses, she feels fortunate enough to have found the ‘right people’ for her venture. Some of those people have stuck by her all these years and she considers them as ‘colleagues’.
“A start-up has several challenges. At a given time, they all look big. Initially, managing everything within the limited funds was quite a challenge. To top it off, hiring good talent was a problem, too, as people lack trust in a start-up. However, that taught us a great deal about people management. Now, I feel this has become one of my greatest strengths,” she recalls.
And of course, the retail business in India is quite difficult to crack. After their products began hitting the shelves sometime around 2009-10, she remembers walking into retail stores to find out what the general perception was behind their products. Initially, there was a lot of scepticism with one retail store owner claiming, “Yeh to lagta hai aaya aur gaya (GAIA) jaisa product hai, naam bhi waisa rakha hai (This is like a product that comes today and will be gone tomorrow, and the name is also like that)”. However, as her products began to pick up traction among customers, so did the general perception around them among retailers.
Dolly feels a certain sense of pride in succeeding in an industry that is so close to her heart. What has helped her through this journey is that she has seen this industry from the perspective of an employee as well as employer. She recalls a time when women in the industry were associated with certain skill sets and judged differently from their male colleagues.
However, the emergence of women entrepreneurs, who are sole drivers of their respective businesses, is changing the dynamic of how women are treated at work. She believes it’s nowhere near good enough today, but these gender biases are breaking, according to her.
Moreover, in the midst of growing this business, Dolly has also raised a family. At no point does she believe that both tasks ran counter to each other. “My family has always been the pillar of my strength. They are the reason I have become the woman I am today. I’ve received tremendous help from my family and friends to manage everything so smoothly,” she notes.
Today, Cosmic Nutracos also has 3 full-service GMP-certified custom manufacturing facilities at Baddi, Himachal Pradesh. Dolly claims that currently, the company is growing at a rate of 30% (year on year), and is looking for “steady growth in the coming years”. “Also, in the next five years, we are looking to launch many more products for both brands. We are also in the process of launching Skinella’s exclusive e-commerce website as well,” she adds.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)