Actor Pooja Bedi believes that there are many similarities between acting and entrepreneurship.
“Both require hard work, networking, discipline, and team spirit. Acting requires you to spend on yourself to grow your business; entrepreneurship requires spending on others to do so. But acting doesn’t have a daily routine; entrepreneurship does,” says Pooja, actor and Founder of wellness startup Happy Soul.
Recently seen in the Netflix original show Masaba, Pooja began her acting career in 1989. She went on to appear in movies like Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee. Today, after founding a startup, Pooja delineates the difference between both fields: as an actor, she played fictitious characters; entrepreneurship brought her face to face with hard reality.
In 2020, Pooja launched her Goa-based startup, Happy Soul, a multi-vendor ecommerce portal that aggregates the best of wellness products, services, and experiences.
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Speaking of why she decided to start Happy Soul, Pooja explains that as columnist for a national daily, it had become obvious to her that people wanted to evolve, grow, and be the happiest, healthiest versions of themselves. But they didn’t know how.
“They need to be guided inwards and outwards. Whether it's emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical wellbeing, there is so much confusion and suffering. It needn’t be so. You are a culmination of what you eat, think, inhale, apply, and feel,” she says.
Pooja says Happy Soul is a “wellness wonderland” that gives people an easy option to “change their food and personal habits; to choose practitioners who can aid them to introspect, learn, heal, and transform; and indulge in travel experiences that take their wellness journey from strength to strength”.
Speaking of her foray into the wellness space, Pooja says her grandfather, Baba Bedi, was a renowned energy healer, and her Buddhist grandmother, Freda, was an ordained nun. Her mother, Protima, was well versed with the teachings of Osho, J. Krishnamurthy, and psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.
“I grew up with a healthy understanding of wellness being holistic, and inclusive of mind, body, and spirit. My decade-plus of research, study, and certifications in the fields of various metasciences, quantum physics, Newtonian physics, human brain, and psychology led me to amalgamate all that information into workshops and courses,” she says.
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What does the platform do?
Pooja’s entrepreneurial venture is based on dissemination of this knowledge through various verticals like ecommerce, retail, wellness centres, travel, blogs, online coaching, products, festivals, and more.
She says many products in the market claim to be organic and natural, but are not. Happy Soul ensures careful scrutiny of product certifications and ingredients, and differentiates between natural and certified organic. The team awards badges to each product on the website, making it easy for customers to make informed choices.
The team lists the best practitioners in fields such as energy healing, psychotherapy, nutrition, and fitness along with travel destinations that specialise in wellness tourism.
Pooja says the team has also set up its first retail venture in Goa and has opened up a franchise model for the same.
Happy Soul is focused on #vocalforLocal, so that they can empower customers and Indian brands and made-in-India products. The series of grassroots empowerment products also help nurture and generate revenue for village-based organisations.
The wellness startup currently follows a drop-ship model and charges the vendors a percentage of every sale. It is offering discounts at present, but charges a small fee for shipping.
"Our maiden retail venture is performing beyond expectations despite the pandemic, lockdown, and non-season time in Goa. Wellness is a biggie for people today, and repeat customers are a sign that our curation and product quality is of fabulous standard,” Pooja says.
She adds that all the fame and goodwill accrued over the years has come to good use. She explains she has over a million followers across social media, and that they can “potentially be diverted to Happy Soul”.
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The challenges of starting up
Pooja says the biggest challenge has been a mental and lifestyle shift.
“In the entertainment world, you just walk on and off a set with a chunky cheque. Here, it takes months and years of investment and effort to grow a business. The rewards come in much later.
"Earlier, I was my own business and had managers who seamlessly navigated my schedules. Now, I’m wearing a corporate hat and dealing with teams, HR, rents, multitasking, and overseeing departments and their work assignments,” she says.
The founder says dealing with government compliances and protocols has been daunting.
“I can say from first-hand experience that it’s not at all investor and startup-friendly. From registrations to bizarre GST structures and panchayats and other permissions, so much time, energy, and money is simply unnecessarily wasted,” she says.
She offers an example, stating that two GST numbers are needed – one for ecommerce and one for retail. “Now, a new law for multi-vendor ecommerce portals says we need a GST number in every single state our vendors are based in. It’s tedious. I keep a positive state of mind and march forward, with the knowledge that hard work is not optional and worry doesn’t solve a thing.”
Teamwork makes the dream work
Pooja says her journey has led her to realise that a company is only as effective as its team. She aims to motivate her team, but also run it with “an iron fist in a velvet glove”.
The Happy Soul team has a points system. An employee gets a negative point for issues such as lack of diligence, delays in a job, or slackness. Five such points are a red flag.
“Five red flags mean salary cuts, demotion, or termination of job. We also have plus points for extra effort (like working from home), coming up with ideas, and performing over the scope of their work. These are rewarded with salary raises and promotions,” Pooja says.
The team used the time during the lockdown to work from home, and launch ecommerce operations.
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The wellness market and the future
Happy Soul has just started sales on its website, and is looking at steady growth until the end of this year.
The wellness and healthcare segment is fast growing. A FICCI report quotes a recent study by Stanford Research Institute International that the global wellness industry represents a market of nearly $2 trillion as opposed to the Indian wellness industry, which is a $9.8 billion market.
In June this year, Zomato Co-founder Pankaj Chaddah announced the launch of his new mental wellness startup Mindhouse, which offers different guided meditation sessions and techniques.
Curefit also announced the launch of its digital classes in March this year, and started monetisation last month.
Happy Soul is now looking to hire people across various roles. Pooja, who has invested her savings and taken bank loans to start the company, says she is applying to startup schemes to avail benefits available under them.
“We are going to produce our own line of products, including massage oils, incense, candles, spices, and more. In addition, I am looking to launch a series of wellness spas across the country.
“These spas will focus on holistic wellbeing and host wellness festivals (when on-ground events become a reality again; else virtually. We are in talks to create a similar platform in the UAE, and are eyeing the UK and the US by next year,” Pooja says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)
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