Ghazal Alagh: The Boardroom Mama

By saying yes to Shark Tank India when she was pregnant, Ghazal wanted to bust the myth that if one is pregnant, things need not slow down

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Many working mothers often end up quitting their jobs after having children. (The reasons are plenty, and that's a story for another day.)

But for Ghazal Alagh, co-founder and chief innovation officer, Mamaearth, motherhood was the first step towards building a great career and a great business. The desperation to get the best of everything for her child, just like every mother, paved the way for launching Mamaearth. “Motherhood kind of changed my life forever, I would say,” she said during Entrepreneur India’s Digital Cover interview for May 2022.

Alagh and her husband and co-founder, Varun Alagh, were looking for chemical-free, safe products for their just-born son and could not find anything here in India. “We were importing the products and after talking to a lot of friends and family around I realized this is not just my problem, a lot of other parents were doing exactly the same. And, importing products is not convenient,” she said.

She also shared that it was not just about having to spend more for importing those products, but she also had to ask friends and family who were traveling abroad and keep following up with them to get those products. Often, by the time the products would reach her, they would have a shelf life of two to three months remaining. So, more than half the products used to expire. That’s when things turned around for the couple. “It started as a problem for us that needed a solution. And we were more oriented toward solving that problem. We had not even thought about how big we wanted to become,” she said.

The launch

In 2016, the couple launched Mamaearth to offer 100 per cent toxin-free and natural baby care, skincare and hair care products. The brand today caters to all personal care needs of young, aspirational and increasingly conscious Indian consumers as well. It has so far created a product portfolio of more than 140 products and has reached over 5 million customers in 500 Indian cities servicing 14,000 PIN codes. It also claims to be the fastest-growing FMCG startups to hit a INR 500 crore run rate in India.

However, looking back a bit, when the couple started out, the brand did not even have a D2C channel for the first six to eight months of launching and were only available on marketplaces. “Now why did we choose marketplaces instead of retail stores at that point in time? We did not. Nobody wanted to keep us in physical stores. It's as simple as that. We realized that in marketplaces like Amazon, Nykaa and Flipkart, you have to list yourself and then it all depends on the kind of pull that you get, from the consumer, said Ghazal.

She also realized early on that customer acquisition is not very cheap and that is not going to change. However, bleeding money was not an option. “But, we realized that content pulls in a lot of people's attention. Educating consumers about your product attracts a lot of consumers and if you're able to present them with certain content that they understand and relate with, they will buy into your proposition,” she said.

Even today, the brand’s USP lies in listening to consumers and designing products accordingly. “At that point in time, I had personally spoken to around 700 moms to understand what their problems were, the kind of products they were going for and what it was that they were not getting from the products that were already available in the market,” she said.

With those insights, the brand launched the first six products in baby care and then educated consumers about toxins. “We worked with a lot of bloggers and influencers just to talk to their followers, etc. Put the message out that these are certain ingredients that are there in the products that you guys use every day and must be avoided because some of those were cancer-causing,” she said.

To make people believe in a new brand like theirs, they also got certified by MADE SAFE, a non-profit based out of the US, which reviews every ingredient of the product and certifies if it is safe, not just for human skin or the baby skin but the for the environment in general.

Building a stellar team

The founders dedicate their success to the people they have hired so far. “Everything has been managed by some amazing people who are leading all the initiatives. And I don't think there is any other way possible. If you want to grow, you know, to a certain scale in science. You have to be comfortable in one stepping back and letting others take charge,” said Varun.

He also added that one has to go out and hire the right people who they think are smarter than they are and can actually do it better.

The founders are today proud that the quality of leaders, the diversity in leadership and the experience that they have been able to attract, have given them peace of mind that everything is in safe hands. This also gives Ghazal and Varun more time to focus on horizon two and three initiatives that they need to take to keep the business going. For instance, what they need to do 12 months or 3 years down the line to get the growth going.

Keeping work and home apart

Ghazal believes it is not easy to keep home and work apart. However, she likes to focus 100 per cent on the task at hand.

“When I'm at work I try to be at work. My full attention and focus are on completing the priority tasks for the day so that when I go home, I don't have any burden from here that I take with me. So, when I'm home, I'm completely devoted to my family. Be it, my parents or my kids, they have my 100 per cent attention. And then, once I have taken care of them properly, put them to bed and then I and Varun have some of our time left, probably an hour so, and that's the time we either read or we end up discussing work again or checking emails or talking about horizon 2 or 3 initiatives,” she said.

The Shark Tank moment

When the Shark Tank India opportunity came to Ghazal, she had just found out that she was expecting a baby again and like any other mom, she was skeptical too to take up this additional responsibility. “I had my priorities aligned, and this came in as an additional thing while I was trying to come up with three new brands. So, initially, I was hesitating from entering the show,” she said.

What made her agree to it later was the thought that this could inspire so many mothers and pregnant women. She wanted to bust the myth that just because one is pregnant, things need not slow down. “By saying yes to it, I wanted to send one message out that life and work can go hand in hand. It is not like you have to give up on something to take your family forward. The two need to go forward together. And if I am pregnant, and I'm taking on this additional responsibility, a lot of women might get inspired to not give up and I think that was what got me to say yes to the show,” she said.

Not only did she send that message out, but Shark Tank India also made her more popular than ever, increased the brand reach and also gave her an opportunity to invest in many promising businesses.

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