BeautySelf-Starter: Harini Sivakumar On Kicking Off A Beauty Brand That’s Also Good...

Self-Starter: Harini Sivakumar On Kicking Off A Beauty Brand That’s Also Good For The Earth

The curiosity about eco-friendly, sustainable and environmentally friendly products has gone up, and not just via advertisements but through mouth publicity as well. From veganism to plastic bans, people are enthusiastic about taking care of the environment while they indulge in their needs and interests. And one such industry where consumers are keen on shopping for environment-conscious products is the beauty and body care sector. And one brand that’s becoming the flag bearer of this incredible ethic while providing world-class skin and hair care products is Earth Rhythm.

In conversation with TC46, the founder & CEO, Earth Rhythm, Harini Sivakumar talks about staying true to your roots as an entrepreneur, what expansion means for a business and having a plan that matches your core values.

1. What’s your educational and professional background?

I was born and raised in Chennai. I did my B.Com and then went on to do an MBA in retail management. Coming from a family of bankers, it was an obvious choice to start my career with a bank and therefore, I did have a couple of short stints focussing on wealth management before relocating to Hyderabad, post my marriage. 

I was living in Hyderabad for a couple of years and then moved to Bangalore. While moving between Hyderabad and Bangalore, a lot of my time went into raising my two kids and therefore, couldn’t actively continue my professional aspirations, even though I kept thinking about getting back to an active corporate life. 

A few random sets of events resulted in me starting Soapworks India, a small home-based proprietorship company around late 2015 or early 2016 and was running it more to satiate the demand for more personal consumption along with the requests that came from family and friends. To aid me in that role, I also did a course on advanced cosmetic science and formulation.

2. What prompted the idea for Earth Rhythm?

Between 2013 and 2016, I had a few challenging circumstances that I had to deal with in my personal life, which was the main trigger for starting the idea of making soaps. While the major trigger of doing that was more due to a specific skin condition for my older child, it was more of a hobby instead of a passion back then. It was only after doing that for a year or two, I decided to convert the pet project into more of a regular or mainstream business. Thankfully, I did a lot of research and that uncovered plenty of interesting ideas and insights around what needs to be done to create a company that can embody the key tenets of being inclusive, sustainable and honest at the same time. After running this entity for a couple of years or so, predominantly as a home-based setup, I decided to scale it up and that was the culminating point for Earth Rhythm.

3. Did you always know you wanted to work in this space?

The honest answer to this is no. I never thought that I would be an entrepreneur and I keep telling myself that while I’m clearly an “accidental entrepreneur”, I want to ensure that I’m seizing this opportunity to make a tangible difference not just in my life but also for our employees. The best part about my job is that while we are doing this, we also get the gratification that we are also doing our bit to keep the environment clean and sustainable.

4. What was your first milestone and how did you get there?

There are plenty of milestones and it may be a long list. If I must share a few key highlights, the idea of moving out of a home-based set-up to setting up a proper factory was a big, bold decision that I had to take, despite the revenues being modest. I was convinced about the brand journey and the feedback from our consumers evinced great confidence that we will be able to scale the brand. Every revenue milestone, being it getting to the first lakhs and then multiples of the same were huge milestones. Quite recently, we launched a few new products like the lip masques and the hair butter and they are doing quite well, which is a significant milestone in terms of the confidence to launch more of such products in the market.

5. How do you balance the father-daughter and co-founder relationship simultaneously?

This is an easy and a difficult question at the same time! My dad with his background in running a bank helped me sort out a lot of things on the finance side, which are crucial aspects especially when you are starting off new. We have an internal consensus that when you step into the office, we are practically looking at the health of the business for every single decision and so the lines are well defined. Culturally, the type of set-up that we have in the office and the one that we want to continue forward is to have open, transparent conversations and a set-up where everyone clearly understands their roles, responsibilities and expectations. This includes the co-founders too and therefore, it’s a bit easier to balance the scales. Thankfully, we haven’t had any major challenges yet and even if we must assume that such a situation may arise, I’m sure that we can even things out when we get back home.

6. What are your tips for an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to enter this space?

Taking a leaf from my life, I would say the first thing is confidence. There are plenty of situations when you are tempted to give in and want to say the 2 words, “I Quit” but this is where one needs to have enormous confidence in your own abilities.

The second thing that I would say is that one needs to be smart and grab all the opportunities that come along your way. Like I said before, I didn’t plan to be an entrepreneur. It happened accidentally but you should be very self-aware that when that opportunity presents itself, you should know what’s coming your way and then trust your instinct to keep getting better at it. Of course, all this needs to be backed by skills and so one should always find courses or programs that can constantly help upskill oneself and provide the perspective needed to execute the job well.

Finally, one must stay true to your roots. Your origin makes you who you are, it makes you genuine and unique, while your circumstances and your life are your stories, it is your legacy. Just chase your dreams and never give up, while always remembering where you came from.

7. What were the 3 best business/financial decisions you made?

  1. The classical SIP’s are eternally valid. It doesn’t matter whether it is a downturn or if the markets are up. Investing in SIPs can never go wrong. In a perfect scenario, at least 40% of your monthly income should be going into some type of investment. It can be equity or MF’s or even a savings bank account.
  2. Take financial decisions as a couple. What I mean by that is that one should be ready to club and invest from both the people. While clubbing the income, one should also be careful in terms of planning the spend and therefore, it must be a simple equation where one can say, tuition, school fees, rents and more, will come from one person’s salary and the other things like running the household and groceries, vegetables can come from the other salary. This helps keep a tab on what gets spent and avoids overshooting. Of course, it always helps if two people are working but if not, we have to rely on some good apps or the traditional diary that brings a certain discipline to the spending pattern.
  3. Whether it is business or personal, strike the right balance around the spending. In a world where BNPL and credits are freely available, one should also be careful that they are not overindulging in a lot of things. One may get carried away in investing in a large office, factory, house or car. And while optimism needs to be, therefore, it should also be counterbalanced with the right amount of being measured, realism and keeping one firmly grounded.

8. How long did it take you to monetise your venture? What was the turning point?

The revenues started flowing in very early in the venture. It was clear that we were getting the right traction in the market but we were running the venture as a bootstrapped business until 2021. This meant that we were putting all the revenues back as an investment for the business, which helped in expansion. The two big turning points are when your annual revenue in the previous year culminates into a monthly one and that is a significant milestone. The second significant one for us now is when we got our funding recently. We have a great investor in the form of Anicut capital and they are helping us see the bigger picture in terms of scalability and growth.

9. Are you looking for funding/have-acquired investment/intend to bootstrap your business?

Yes sure, our seed or pre-series-A was a $1.2 Mn funding that we received from Anicut capital. This process will continue as and when we keep hitting more milestones. We are preparing ourselves to raise an additional round in the next 6 months or so. To run a venture, one needs good external support in the form of funding but one also needs to be very judicious about how and where they are spending the money.

10. Who are the key employees/vendors you need to secure to work in this space (the first 3 hires/vendor partnerships)?

We are a team of eight and I lead it as the CEO, taking on the leadership of the team, company vision, new product launches and more. Arun Kumar, the co-founder, manages HR, strategic planning, fundraising, budgeting, Research, CX, marketing and sales.

Our COO, also a co-founder, Sivakumar V handles market expansion, financial KPIs, process improvements and legal aspects. Mohan Kumar, the CFO, takes care of acquisition/exit, M&A, reporting, accounting and bookkeeping while the Procurement Specialist, Rahul Jain looks after the inventory planning, procurement and vendor management. Nitin Kansal is the Head Of Growth and does digital planning, budgeting, sourcing new channels, targeting and messaging. Lavanya Jain manages Brand Marketing with responsibilities like brand building, PR, community management and social media. And the Head Of Sales, Suchitra Mohan tackles revenue generation, channel management and creating new revenue streams.

11. How do you intend to scale up/expand your business in the next 5 years?

In terms of the future, it’s very clear after the pandemic that we are not good at predicting things, however, one needs to be equally optimistic about the future. We want to remain focused on our journey and a few of our priority items would be to focus on team building, managing them in the right way, keeping a culture of innovation and being as close to the customer’s as possible.

We have an interesting pipeline of new product launches planned and according to our internal research, they are potential game changers and we are betting big on them.

We will continue to build on the culture and ethos without worrying about the revenues. We believe that the revenue will automatically happen and we are very confident of growing.

12. How has your business pivoted after the lockdown and in light of the pandemic?

The lockdown did have an impact on the business. More than the lockdown, during the second wave that was severe across the country, a lot of our team members were either directly affected or had their families and friends, right in the middle of the situation. 

One of the very early lessons from the COVID-19 situation was that we wanted to get ahead of the curve and started planning our inventory and raw material procurement well ahead of time. We decided to take a bit of a risk and decided to stock up for any subsequent lockdowns and that helped address the concerns around production, however, we couldn’t help with the deliveries as it was a challenge with our partners especially for a few cities that were more impacted than the rest. 

I think the whole pandemic has also made a huge shift in the consumer’s mind, and there is a lot of emphasis on personal hygiene. The demand hasn’t dipped and a lot of the D2C brands are doing quite well, thanks to the huge digital adoption in the country and this isn’t a fad but will be the trend moving ahead in the future too.

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We spotlight inspiring women who are entrepreneurs or have skill-based passion projects and are willing to share knowledge, advice and tips about getting started in the space. Each Self-Starter’s story will be highlighted in a prime slot on the Homepage for a whole week, after which their story will appear under the ‘Work’ category on The Channel 46.

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