The Tea Sommelier

Bala Sarda, Founder, Vahdam Teas, details the company's bid to bring a digital disruption of the tea business

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With a vision to create India's first home-grown global tea brand by leveraging technology, 23-year-old Bala Sarda from Delhi started his own tea brand, VAHDAM Teas in 2015. The company has expanded to 80 countries since, sourcing over 150 tea plantation. The company is valuated at over INR 700 crores, securing INR 174 crores in Series D funding. The young entrepreneur behind VAHDAM believes that at the end of the day, everything boils down to how effectively you have built your brand. For building a brand that people buy into, Sarda says that leveraging online channel for D2C business has been a primary contributor to its success.

Bala Sarda, Founder, VAHDAM Teas

"We decided to enter into the market by being a digital-first brand because of the multiple benefits it offers. With the power of the internet and a strong supply chain, you can reach out to the world. Digital lets you micro target and compete with the bigger conglomerates. I saw an opportunity to take India's finest teas & superfoods to the world through the internet, with a much lesser cost and a new age brand," he says.

VAHDAM shipped their products to 50 countries in its first year of operations. This would not have been possible had it not been for the internet and the fact that it is a digitally native brand, Sarda mentions. "The idea is to build a brand resonance online and ultimately become an omni-channel brand."

Sarda opines that, while being an unfortunate occurrence, COVID-19 has been a boon for e-commerce adoption globally. Due to the pandemic, there has been a drastic shift in the overall market in India from the time VAHDAM began, especially post the pandemic. "I've seen a massive change in mindset. It is making consumers realize the convenience of ordering online. There is likely to be an impact on brand and product choices being made and this impact may break longtime purchase habits irreversibly," he adds.

VAHDAM's business has grown by 110 percent during the pandemic. They plan to touch INR 500 crores in revenue by 2024. In order to properly utilize the opportunity the pandemic presented for the business, Sarda shares that the company reorganized their priorities, concentrated on their best selling products and decided to scale them up. It helped us to capture a bigger share. "With a huge shift to wellness and immunity-boosting products, VAHDAM has been constantly innovating and trying to cater to the growing demand," he asserts.

This wave of an increased market, a plethora of young brands are also coming up in the space. For Sarda, establishing a tea centric brand back in 2015 pitted him against competition primarily in the tea industry. "The tea and wellness category was even more crowded and cluttered, hence differentiating the brand and making available an exceptional product was super critical. That is what we focused on right from day one," he highlights.

Moving forth, VAHDAM's core focus is to go deeper, enter new geographies, increase customer base, be digitally focused but also be an omni-channel in the long run, build awareness, recall and trust with the customers and diversify into other relevant product categories'.

Quick facts about Vahdam's business

· Best seller: Range of Herbal & Green Teas

· Total SKUs: Over 250

· Team size: 500 (150 white-collar & 350 blue-collar)

· Repeat customer ratio: 35-40% of our monthly revenue comes from repeat customers

· Online platform resulting in maximum revenue: Marketplaces

· Turnover for FY 2021-22: ~195 crores

· Split between offline and online sales: 10% offline, 90% online