Sarvesh Shashi launched Zorba in December 2013, with a rather ambitious goal to boot - building a happy world. His first studio kicked off in the basement of Dewa Towers at Mount Road, Chennai, which presently serves as their headquarters. In the meantime, Zorba has grown to bring 9 cities and more than 30 centers under its holistic healing umbrella. Sarvesh’s baby is on its way to fulfil the larger goal, after all!
Sarvesh says 'Namaste' as he churns his heart out in a candid conversation with The Times Blog, as a part of The Times Blog - Stories initiative.
What prompted you to launch Zorba?
I think yoga is largely misunderstood.
It is not just about meditation, performing a perfect suryanamaskar or about wearing an orange robe and going to the hills. It is way beyond all of that. Yoga is the true unification of mind, body, and soul.Yoga is a lifestyle choice.
Even as you are reading this interview on the Times blog, you are subconsciously uniting your brain with your eyes, trying to understand and make sense of the words in front of you. This is yoga too!
Yoga was born in India, and has been a gift to the world. The irony is that the Yoga industry still remains highly unorganized in India. There are a very few structured organizations when it comes to a commercial yoga studio setup.
After practicing years of mindfulness and experiencing the benefits of yoga firsthand, at the age of 21 I decided to turn my expertise into a business. There are more than 600 million people under the age of 30 right now, and we came up with more than 25 forms of yoga to make it appealing to this demographic. Yoga forms such as basketball yoga, aerial yoga, danda (stick) yoga, insight yoga, paddleboard yoga, etc were introduced, thereby making yoga both interesting and fun, and the change showed.
The initial attendees were all 45 plus, and we managed to bring the average age down to 20-25 with our new introductions. Another thing that struck to me as a devastating statistic, was the increasing number of suicides and cases of clinical depression. I sincerely believe that Yoga is equipped to handle these issues, and we launched Zorba to do our bit in this long process of evolution.
When did you launch, and what problems did you face in your early days?
We started our first studio on December 1st, 2013. The single biggest challenge was getting people to accept that yoga was more than a hobby that needs an hour's worth of practice.
Back in 2013, less than 1% of India was into fitness. And inside that 1%, the number of people with faith in yoga, was even lesser. That was a challenge too. But we're doing okay now. India has seen a dramatic shift in consciousness regarding health, nutrition, organic foods, environment-friendly lifestyle, etc - and that keeps us optmistic about our prospects.
How did your family react when you told them you wanted to run your own business?
They were very supportive. My mother runs citywide operations for us at Zorba.My sister, my brother, and my father have also been extremely supportive and full of encouragement for my vision.
How did you go about finding the right audience for Zorba?
Yoga has always been considered a commodity or a product that was either given for free, or reserved for the elite who could afford premium at-home yoga instructors. We injected a lifestyle quotient into the entire affair, spanning amazing locations, fantastic interiors and brilliant trainers.
We built our spaces in adherence to the 5-senses rule. We designed a training academy that continues to churn out phenomenal instructors, who get trained both in the technical aspects of our regimen as well as our culture, and the lifestyle that we offer. Our value proposition at the end of the day is much larger than just yoga. Yoga is the delivery mechanism, but what we deliver is an emotion, an experience. So we've crafted everything - starting from our studio experience to the classroom sessions, to our apparel and merchandise, with great care, to keep aur audiences happy and on their feet!
Was there ever a time when you felt overwhelmed with your business and unable to continue? What made you continue? What kept you motivated at your worst moments?
The only thing that motivates me and keeps me going, is the happiness that we see in people’s faces right after a yoga class. Their love, kindness, and gratitude towards our company and our team when they say, "I have changed for good, and I thank Zorba for this"... that's what keeps not just me, but all of us going.
There definitely have been some tough times when people did not understand what we were trying to sell, and for some people it was only about losing weight - which is neither our USP, nor our product.
Who are you most influenced by, and what is your takeaway from their words/actions?
There have been two prominent influences in shaping me to be the person I am today - Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar and my Guruji.
- Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar (The Prince Of Udaipur) - He taught me to be humble and to remember that every milestone you achieve is not the end, but the beginning of a new one.
- My Guruji- He said, "Be the light unto yourself. You are your own master. Learn to applaud yourself for all the good that you have done, and take responsibility if you fail."
What are the Top 3 Business Takeaways that you did not know when you first started out?
1. The most important thing in a business is your team. You take care of them, and they take care of your business.
2. If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room. You've always got to let people grow. Sometimes they might not agree with you, but the thing to focus on is the growth of the business, and not your personal ego. Give freedom to the team and they will do their 100% to make your business grow!
3. You can never finish 'knowing' anything. Always be curious to learn new things at different stages. There have been times when we've had to unlearn things, let go of certain prejudices, and start afresh for the greater good.
What advice would you give to your ten-year younger self, if given an opportunity?
Dear Sarvesh Then,
Live life fully each day. Everything happens for a reason, and that reason is that the absolute best which could have happened for/to you, will happen.
As Steve Jobs rightly said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.”
Any advice to aspiring startup founders and entrepreneurs who want to make it big in yoga and holistic fitness?
Believe in yourself. Be 100% honest and loyal to yourself, your team and your clients. Focus on the three D’s - Dedication, determination, and discipline.
Everything else will fall into place.
Is there any new product or tech (that doesn't exist today), which can help you with your business goals?
Umm, artificial intelligence in Customer support...?
I could use some smart business intelligence tools for yoga, that are both simple to use and easily accessible for a common man.
I'd love some software that you can use to predict depression or stress in your mood, by monitoring the way you act, talk or surf the net - and then maybe help you acknowledge and solve the problem.
The thing is, many people who suffer from from these illnesses don't even know that they're suffering in the first place. Something that helps identify and acknowledge these issues is definitely going to help our larger goals!
Is there anyone you want to thank?
I want to thank the entire management team at Talwalkars, Mr. David Giampaolo, my friends, my family, and Vignesh.
They have all contributed, encouraged and supported towards what Zorba has become and what it is going to evolve into!
Have you faced challenges in getting PR for your business? What were those challenges, and what kind of solutions excite you?
I think marketing, brand positioning, and PR are key factors for any business. Marketing is not defined by how a customer interacts with your brand, but how a customer uses your brand to interact with their friends.
If this happens, your product or service has done the job of getting inked into your customer’s mind. Our key challenges lie in finding people with the right balance of corporate knowledge and an understanding of our brand ethos.
Like I have mentioned earlier- I want to drive a deeper understanding of yoga among potential clients.
Aside from our questions, is there any heartfelt insight/story that you wish to share with The Times Blog's readers?
"You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards."
These lines have developed the story of my life. Being from an affluent business family, I was expected to join the family business and take it forward, but something in me knew that my path lay elsewhere.
At the age of 17, when my father could no longer continue his yoga classes, he asked me to take up the classes on his behalf. I was overflowing with questions about consciousness, the "third eye", and mindfulness. So, I asked him (my Guruji), half expecting to uncover the ultimate path to enlightenment.
Instead, he said, "If you think I can enlighten you, you are a fool and I am a bigger fool to have promised you such a thing!". I was dumbfounded by this simple and honest answer. He became my guiding force of light and through him, I was able to internalize the true principles of yoga for the next three years. I had to practice multiple sadhanas to understand the bliss of Yoga in exact measure. Yoga helped me focus, and to sculpt my life the way I wanted it to be. It gave me the power to really achieve and break the stereotypes that society had set for me. It took me off from the race that everyone was running, and let me design my own track that brings me closer to the destination that I have always sought - happiness.
At 21, I just decided to take this recipe for happiness and spread it to the world around me.
The Times RapidFire
Name One book that you would recommend today, without blinking.
Answer: Suppandi Joke - as published on Tinkle magazine
An original quote for your loyal customers?
“Zorba is my happy place, and my second home.”
Do you operate with goals, or systems? Pick one.
Answer: Systematic goals.
Cricket, or no Cricket?
Print, or Digital?
And finally... what comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘The Times Blog’?