Nihaal Mariwala is the young & dynamic founder of Setu.in - a homegrown brand that delivers advanced solutions to strengthen bodily functions, to solve & check conditions induced by present-day lifestyles. A Cornell University alumnus, he personifies the image of an Indian entrepreneur whose efforts are best described as "world-changing".
India Needs To Eat Healthy.
Editor's note: We at The Times Blog are deeply affected by the rising ignorance about the risks associated with a high-sugar, high-carb diet that a vast majority of India seems to be running on. In times like these, voices like Nihaal make for some serious relief. So thank you, Nihaal, for participating in this interview.
Nihaal's company (Setu.in) was born out a long tradition of expertise in the natural ingredients space. The Mariwala family has long been present in the food, beverage, agricultural commodities and the plant-extract businesses. With more than a 200-year history of purchasing and trading in natural extracts and about a century of expertise in extraction and manufacturing techniques, Setu was born to address new age problems with new-age natural products.
Modern lifestyles, come with their own set of challenges like blue light exposure, stress, bad diet, resulting in the development of a number of ailments such as eye fatigue, indigestion and diabetes (even premature death).
This is an Exclusive Interview with Nihaal, as a part of the #TimesStories initiative by The Times Blog.
Setu.in operates in the natural foods sector. What inspired you to launch a business in this domain? Was it the family business urge, or something more?
After working closely with many brands in the space - particularly in the US, I began noticing white spaces in the Indian market. Today, big pharmaceuticals and Ayurveda companies dominate a huge chunk of SOV (Share Of Voice) within the Indian consumer segment. We believe that there is an absolute vacuum where a relatable, consumer-friendly, efficacy-oriented brand can come in and really shake things up.
We believe that digital is the greatest enabler to take on these bigger and traditional businesses. I see Setu scaling up, into a large and premier brand-of-choice for the young, urban Indian consumer and their daily healthcare needs.
When did you launch Setu.in, and what challenges did you face initially while going about it?
We launched Setu.in in September 2017. Right at the start, our challenges were more on the regulatory front - I had my knees deep in company accounts, company charters, tax registration filings, securing FSSAI approvals, and last but not the least - getting listed on Amazon!
Customer "acceptance" largely remains a challenge, still - even with a visible increase in awareness. Regulatory issues may be the largest foreseeable challenge, but public awareness and education are equally important milestones to watch out for. So far, we have been able to overcome this by investing heavily into creating awareness, and by educating our customers on both the basics and intricacies of nature-sourced nutrition.
How did your family react when you told them you wanted to launch Setu.in?
My family has been incredibly supportive, every step of the way. As children, we were always encouraged to take risks, and to be perfectly candid, I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive team, at home or at work!
How important was the acquisition & targeting of a niche audience for Setu.in? How did you go about it?
It is very important to us. Right now, our product and category targeting is still too broad for my liking. We are continuing to zero-in on targeting and acquisition of the niche 28 to 42 (age) segment of Urban indian professionals. We took a conscious call of going in digital-first, so that we could refine and sharpen our targeting and messaging before scaling it up to the levels of a mass-market product.
Was there ever a time when you felt overwhelmed and unable to continue? What made you continue? What kept you motivated at your worst moments?
Oh, that happens... like once a week! My dad’s undying energy and failure to be intimidated by anything is what keeps me motivated.
Any specific influences who have motivated you in your business skills?
Nah! See, there are so many unbelievable entrepreneurs in this country and around the world, that I am inspired almost equally by a gentleman who runs his own kirana store as I am by someone like, lets say, Vijay Shekhar Sharma.
The one thing I have learned, is to have a deep respect for any entrepreneur, regardless of the scale of their business - because running a business is an incredibly lonesome and risky journey.
What are the Top 3 Business Takeaways that you did not know when you first started out?
1. Premium positioning pays off in health and food related industries.
2. India is the land of the past, present and future. There is no need to look beyond our borders for entrepreneurs looking to create businesses of serious scale.
3. Be agile - nothing is constant, the landscape is constantly shifting. The key is to be calm in the face of any adversity. After all, its just money!
What advice would you give to your ten-year younger self, if given an opportunity?
I would have recommended being less of an angry young man when I started out - I feel as if I’ve mellowed down a lot? I have become a lot more flexible than I have been in the past, after all.
Any words of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs in the natural foods business?
Frankly... I think the food and nutrition businesses are pretty crowded today. We are still working on identifying our own niche. If you are able to do that effectively, things will be good!
How much of a role does consumer marketing/publicity play for Setu.in? What are the key challenges that you have faced so far?
One of our key business aims is to not just capture market share, but to grow the segment itself. The Indian nutraceutical market is skewed today, either towards traditionally well-known Ayurvedic ingredients, or towards heavily-advertised food supplements, promoted by Pharma majors.
In such a scenario, a consumer's buying decisions are mostly influenced by either recommendations or perceptions but what's missing is the integral role that their personal knowledge plays in buying such products.
Our key objective is to build awareness and knowledge among urban Indians about ingredients and modern lifestyle issues which will enable them to make informed decisions about which supplements to take. Only information and awareness can build this segment beyond the very few growth pillars in this industry. That is precisely what our consumer marketing efforts are focused on.
Is there someone whom you wish to thank on The Times Blog's platform?
I need to thank Mr Rajeev Bakshi (former CEO of Pepsi and Metro). He is a trusted advisor and an extremely reliable sounding board for our ideas. I wouldn’t have made it five steps without his (Mr Bakshi's) inputs.
The Times RapidFire
Name One book that you would recommend today, without blinking.
Answer: Dream Big - The story behind 3g capital
An original quote for your loyal customers?
Answer: Thank you for being our loyal customer! We look forward to making better stuff for you.
Do you operate with goals, or systems? Pick one.
Cricket, or no Cricket?
Print, or Digital?
And finally... what comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘The Times Blog’?
Answer: "The Speaking Tree"