12+ One-Of-A-Kind Indian Startups That Are All Set To Change Our Lives For The Better
By: Avinash Kumai on Apr 27th, 2016
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There are startups opening right, left, and center these days, and we think there are a couple of reasons behind this. One, the internet is changing things and we all know it, and two, the new generation believes in following their heart and doing things a little differently than past generations.

Let's look at new companies (in no particular order) that are changing the way we work, play or do business in 2016.

BASE 501, Founders Shefali and Harshal Desai
Image credit: BASE 501

The Desai duo kick-started this Mumbai-based design firm in April last year to make designs that had a purpose, and not just beautiful structures using Photoshop. This brother-sister duo also wanted to showcase how good and meaningful designs can affect and educate people.

“We wanted to create a hub for design, a ‘base’ so to speak, and since we were working out of our apartment 501, it felt apt to name the company BASE 501, as a constant reminder of our origin and reason to exist,” states Shefali.

Having prior work experience in digital agencies, there were a few naysayers, when they eventually started out, since neither of them had enough experience to establish potential industry contacts that we could reach out to during the first year. But will fire in their bellies, they gave it a shot and the experience was rewarding!

The USP, you ask? “BASE 501 is a multi-function design company. We work with clients across all their requirements, be it print, branding, animation, digital and social media,” clarifies Shefali. 

“And what makes us different from an agency or a studio is, for us, each solution is client-customised. The same idea is never repackaged and offered to someone else, even if they are similar,” Harshal butts in.

He says, “It is a time-consuming and labour-intensive task, but the result is worthwhile.  As a company, to ensure overall satisfaction from our clients and our precious team, we focus on keeping things simple, happily saying no to dozens of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.”

"BASE 501 also does not believe in competition. We adore collaboration,” Shefali ends.

The duo wanted to be taken seriously (in their embryonic years), and that was their only challenge. They remember having each other, a website, and two interns working from their living room. Despite their past experiences, BASE 501’s had nothing on its portfolio. Shefali recalls instances where clients did not find merit in past work experience, equating it to previous agency’s execution, and not their own.

“We spent the next few months investing all our free time, a lot of late nights crafting ‘concept mock ups’ of work to show our skills and eventually have some amazing projects with clients who gave us a chance,” she recollects.

That said, you would now be amazed to see their client list – National Geographic, Animal Planet, Celio, Old Spice, you name it, they have it! “Overall, we wouldn’t think any experience has been bad. There have been growing difficulties of course, but either way, we learned from it and accepted the challenges, solving them with our speed, wit, and courage to be flexible to change,” says Harshal, who has learnt things like accounting, marketing, drafting legal contracts, approaching clients, finding designers, because of the job's nature!

They recently moved into a bigger office space and are in the process of expanding the team, seeking out projects from bigger clients, and adding more to the list of their in-house capabilities. 

Morning Fresh, Founder, Mitali Tandon
Image credit: Morning Fresh

“We started doing research on Morning Fresh in 2014, and got into the market in the end of 2015. Our parent company, Sericare, founded by my father, is a pioneer in the field of sericulture, using silk as a bio-material for our products. Our researchers found out that certain amino-acids in the silk protein resembled a particular naturally occurring liver enzyme,” recalls Tandon.

She was quick to gauge that people could actually benefit from something like this. As binge drinking is on the rise, there is a proliferation of bars and restaurants in the city and youngsters are increasingly leading a fast-paced life, Morning Fresh was developed as the only post-drinking solution to help relieve customers from the after-effects of alcohol consumption.

“Most people rely on home-remedies/ informal methods. Our target audience is also very health-conscious, and we were particular about keeping the product natural, portable and easy to consume,” adds Tandon. 

“The USP of the company is that it has created the only post-drinking solution for alcohol detoxification that contains silk proteins. We have filed for a patent, too. Additionally, the versatility of the product and its ability to appeal to various age groups (21+ years only), genders, professions and event types, gives it a large scope for growth and scaling up,” she clarifies.

Since this is a unique product, people in this firm make sure their advertising and marketing is quirky too. For instance, a new kulfi-flavored Morning Fresh was released during Holi. It was an instant hit! Then, there was the April Fool’s Day prank in the avatar of ‘HydroFresh’; a natural, fat-free, carb-free elixir proved to keep you hydrated through the summer. (It actually contained clean drinking water!).

Tandon also fills us in on the challenges she dealt with putting it on the shelves. There were three aspects to this. One, product: A lot of back-end scientific research and extensive product development was required including testing and finalising formulations, added with consumer behaviour and market size. Two, consumers: They were really addressing consumer mind-sets, so part of the challenge, has been to educate customers about the product USP’s, and to have it be successfully included into their routine/everyday life. And the third and the final challenge was being a woman: “I think being a young, woman entrepreneur in the F&B space has been challenging. Women in business are judged too quickly. I remember visiting the first liquor outlet where we had stocked Morning Fresh at, and I spent an entire weekend, along with sales promoters, talking to customers and selling the product. All the staff at the store where male, including our promoters, and they were shocked and found it odd to have me visiting. I was out of place. When customers started coming into the store and asked for the product, things settled down and they realised that I meant serious business,” she says, laughing.

In the future, she would like to see the product becoming synonymous with responsible drinking and waking up fresh after a long night of celebrations. She would also like to take the product to international forums shortly, and believes in spending time in getting her hands dirty, believing in herself, being patient and keeping an open mind.

Art&Found, Founder, Aditya Mehta
Image credit: Art&Found

This quirky new art platform saw light about two years ago. What started off as an idea to bring together the growing artist community in India, gradually grew into a curated platform to discover beautiful art by emerging Indian artists from around the world.

“The last six months or so have been crazy from talking to the most talented artists hiding in our agencies, design houses or as freelancers in their homes to constantly improving the user experience on the website, which is only going to be better and beautiful as we look ahead. What lies ahead is uncertain, yet exciting as we prepare for everything from featured collections and lovely newsletters to artist interviews and gallery exhibitions. Paul Graham’s advice to Brain Chesky was to build something 100 people love and not something one million kind of like. Starting with our artists, "I think we have 100,” Mehta tells us. 

Working as a Senior Art Director in agencies like Ogilvy & Mather, Mehta had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented artists across the creative industries, some of who also happen to be his friends. This gave him perspective into a disorganised artist community that deserved better intrinsic and monetary value. Art&Found, he tells us, "was born with a need to empower the artist community". “I love art and want to do up my walls with beautiful art but why does art have to be so expensive?,” he quips.

Further, Art&Found is and will always remain curated and an invite-only platform, and the focus will only be on Indian artists, in India or abroad. The firm wants to make the process of buying art easy for a new generation of art collectors – and this is definitely their USP.

Mehta also feels that the online art market is hot, yet cluttered, with a number of platforms doing pretty much the same thing, but he would like to change that with Art&Found.  

The Prophets, Founder, Trigam Mukherjee
Image credit: The Prophets

The seed for this creative public relations firm/management company was sown when founder Trigam Mukherjee was handling public affairs for Member of Parliament, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and was also responsible for marketing and planning events for Indigo 91.9, Indigo Live and Indigo Live Music Bar, few years back. “I have been working in various organisations for over 15 years, and every day has been a learning experience – especially with my last firm (Indigo 91.9),” he recalls. He remembers getting back home from work one evening and toying with the idea of launching his own little startup – more of ‘a start-up for start-ups’, as he calls it. He started The Prophets in May 2015 with just one client, who apparently conned him over the next three months. (let’s not get into the details of that, shall we?). “I guess I needed that, to understand the environment of businesses I work with,” he states laughing.  

A start-up for start-ups, The Prophets undertake PR assignments, helping young and dynamic brands develop their communication strategies. It’s true when Mukherjee says, "While a lot gets written about the start-up sector, most of the news revolves around major players like Ola, Uber, Flipkart, and Snapdeal. It does not really add value to the home-grown start-ups, even though they may have a significantly convincing story to tell," he says. He helps such start-ups tell their story.

“We are deep-rooted in the ecosystem, and understand start-ups better. We add value to every brand that invests in our service. We have set a cap for the number of clients we work with at any given point of time to ensure that we spend enough time on each,” he reflects. 

Calling themselves the 'start-up for start-ups' came with its set of challenges too. “Founders of tech start-ups are extremely intelligent people. While they understand technology better than many, PR is an area that is fairly new to them. That can be challenging at times. Another challenge is to find the right talent in public relations,” says Mukherjee. In a few months of starting his firm, he found that it’s important to evaluate a prospective client before taking on an assignment, especially at a time when every other person wants to own a start-up!

Right now, the firm is working with a brand new mall called VR Bengaluru, exclusively managing their events space and activations. Besides that, they are also planning some high-profile gigs across the country.

Baba Fattoosh.com, Founders, Devesh Varshney and Harsh Vardhan Bansal
Image credit: Baba Fattoosh

In the year 2014, Devesh Varshney, the founder of this neat food delivery firm was busy travelling between Bombay and Bangalore researching on peoples' preferences to understand, what the customer actually needs, as opposed to what’s available in the market. After surveying over 700 people working in CBD (central business district)  areas in both the cities, Varshney realised that there was a huge gap in what is available in the market and what people living away from home actually want to eat. Customers were really excited about new food spaces in the city selling burgers, rolls and other cuisine, but the order ratio of these products are short-lived.  

“We realised that people living away from home already have plenty of options. Their main struggle is to find something that they grew up eating, something that suits their taste, something that’s sustainable and affordable. And today, that’s exactly what defines our product – dal, subzi, roti and chawal at a pocket-friendly price of less than 150 bucks! No matter how much you experiment with food, at the end of the day people prefer their ‘desi diet’ to satiate their hunger,” Varshney points out. And this is how Baba Fattoosh was launched on June 1, 2015.

"The brand is a humble effort by a team that thickly associates itself with food," he says. An endeavor about creating brand value, that people are able to connect to, and are able to rely on - that is what Baba Fattoosh is all about. In simple words, the start-up wants to be the go-to guys for simple, home-cooked food.

However, starting out was not easy. They had a tough time building a team, people who can look beyond short term goals and be dedicated towards building a dream. “With the limited resources a start-up has, we somewhere rely on people a lot more than a normal company,” reflects Bansal, adding, “Someone not turning up for work or deciding to head back home without giving a notice really leaves us in a soup. It’s one of the most painful things to watch. Thankfully, after almost ten months of a grind, we finally have been able to stick with people, who we feel are equipped to take this start-up to another level.” This, with a growing customer base, keeps this firm grounded.

Like other companies, Baba Fattosh too has learnt many lessons, but these are the ones the firm lives by: Life always gives you more than one chance. You are where you are for a reason. Your team is your priority. It’s rare that you find people that are willing to take that extra step for you. When you find someone like that, hold onto them with both your hands. As long as your decisions are customer-centric and rationally correct, you can’t go extremely wrong. So, when in doubt, be a customer, and ask yourself “What would I want?” You’ll know what direction to think in.

They plan to cover all commercial pockets of Bangalore by September, 2016, expand to a new city by November this year, and rope in a fitness module to go along with their food-ordering platform as well.

The Dress Bank, Founder, Deepa Kalro
Image credit: The Dress Bank

It’s a fact that fashion trends keep changing by the minute, and in this day and age of online platforms and affordable clothes, people don’t really want to spend more on fashion. They do want quality, but what is quality if you can’t swap out and mix and match clothes, eh? This is where this fun company comes in.  

The Dress Bank, a fashion rental company, started about eight months back. The inspiration for the firm came about when people with a closet full of clothes told Kalro and her team that they have nothing to wear! “A shared wardrobe is a open secret that all celebs have been swearing by for decades,” she states. She decided to operate on the same principle.

The Dress Bank visits every nook and cranny to look out for clothes that are trending in markets everywhere. You can choose from dresses (make that 1000-plus dresses and counting) to accessories – they have a never-ending list of what you can wear. “At The Dress Bank, for every 10 designer outfits, you pay the price for one, additionally receiving accessories and style tips from fashion designers to complete your look, without having to worry about the fit or hygiene of the garment,” explains Kalro.

The challenges? “Renting clothes is a fairly a new concept, and people have their apprehensions about anything new/ any change that comes about. We were always showered with questions like - Is this hygienic? How many days can I keep it for? What if there’s a minor stain? Why are your trusting me with it? The key was to patiently answer each of them, till the client is satisfied and put you on their speed dial,” she says with a smile.

Kalro sees a huge opportunity for the shared business economy, and she wants The Dress Bank to be the household name for fashion rentals. They will be looking at approaching investors too.

Quench, Founder, Puja Singh Nadhani
Image credit: Quench

Only about ten months old, and this Bangalore-based fashion label has already earned a name for itself and has clients that swear by it. Nadhani (the founder) recalls conceptualising it while still in college, studying fashion and design, at least the name, or so she thinks! 

Visit the website and you will notice right away that the designs are simple and minimalistic, there is no clutter, with great attention given to detail like the cut, fit and finishing. “Our clientele comprises of unapologetically achieving woman from all walks of life. Women who values themselves and believe in the power of learning and travel,” reflects Nadhani. 

She also tells us that the USP of the brand is "the ease of wearing that comes with their designs, apart from the fact that they maintain a strict limited number per design to maintain the exclusivity of the work."

Nadhani tells us about the one important point that she has learnt after starting starting the firm - paperwork! “Documentation involving your company at the nascent stage can be a time-consuming and frustrating thing, especially in the beginning, when you’re trying to set up every process and your team is small. The legal and financial part of the paperwork should be well read, thought of, right at the beginning, for a smooth business operation ahead. It’s necessary,” she quips.

At the moment, they have just moved into a place which is bigger and better in terms of their new requirements, added some new members to the team, and there would be a few more additions soon. 

Curricooler, Founders, Manasa Ramakrishnan, Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan and Aritro Bhattacharya
Image credit: Curricooler

Sometimes, all you need is the right conversation to put things into perspective. This, folks, is Curricooler’s story. “We (my husband Aritro, brother Madhusudhan and I) were sitting and discussing about the Finland education system, and how they had decided not to teach subjects, but teach topics that children needed in their lives,” begins Manasa, adding, “We then discussed about the Indian education system and what was lacking in it. We learn a lot of things in school, but have no idea how to apply it. We end up following our head and not our hearts. We get into career paths due to peer and parental pressure, and regret this decision after 10 or 15 years, after spending approximately Rs. 10 lakhs! We wanted to change that, and that is how, on November 14th, 2015, Curricooler was born,” she explains.

The brand is all about exploring your career, and the founders believe that exams and grades do not determine everything in life (that's true!) “If a child likes architecture, for example, we help him/her in understanding his/her passion, talk to mentors, read and learn about fields related to that passion, weigh the pros and cons and then slowly take it up as a career,” states Madhusudhan.

Their USP is to help every child complete the full learning cycle. They do not believe in psychometric tests. “There are over 22,000 careers in today’s world, and most of them are inter-disciplinary. So we help them find a course, find a mentor, chalk a way to express this talent, collaborate with like-minded peers, make the learning more experientially (through internships and shadowing programs),” relates Bhattacharya.

The challenges? “The education sector has a lot of gaps, and bridging them is cumbersome. What works with one child never works with another, and we learned this the hard way. With a lot of mistakes, experimentation, we literally worked on a trial-and-error basis. Things are slowly falling in place now. We struggled with prioritising work and finding the right kind of mentors. Marketing and funds management were a few other things we struggled with,” Manasa states.

However, if they are struggling at one end, they are learning on the other. They feel that they have created something unique, though they always knew that the journey was going to be tough.

Over time, Manasa has  also realised that parents, students and teachers were waiting for something like this and are open to the idea. “It’s just our duty to reach out to them and spread the word,” she ends.  

Currently, the team is trying to build an excellent mentor database, with unique internship and shadowing programs already on the site. They also wish to tie up with schools and colleges in the future and build a year-long career exploration program known as – A.C.A.M (A Career A Month). This will include online courses, guest talks, projects, internships, shadowing programs, quizzes, collaboration, mentoring and competitions.  

Yakoooh, Founder, Tsering Dekey
Image credit: Yakoooh

Yakoooh is all about things in the Himalayas. As their tag line defines – ‘The Himalayan Stop’, it is the only website that focuses on providing a market platform to all business in the Himalayan region, no matter what product or service they cater to.

Yakoooh went live in February this year, but the idea was there in Dekey's mind for a long time – right from the days she was working on PR projects as a freelance, three years back. “I noticed that, many of Himalayan businesses are not comfortable or even familiar about businesses online,” clarifies Dekey.

“I remember meeting many business owners who wanted to go beyond traditional businesses, but due to lack of knowledge or experience they are holding back. This is when it struck me! I also notice that many small business owners especially handicrafts seller’s, the business are highly based on seasonal revenue and during season they can earn from their crafts, and if you look at the situation of seasonal seller, in these places is really low, and online platforms can bring sustainable business opportunity for the crafts makers in the region despite of weather is off or on season,” declares Dekey.  And since there are not many startups or the people doing this sort of business in her community (The Tibetan Community), it was hard to get mentors or someone who she could seek guidance in terms of legal, strategies in the initial stages.

Currently, Yakoooh is in the initial stage, and is focusing the businesses in Himachal Pradesh, especially in Dharamshala. Once that’s taken care of, she will move to places like Dehradun, Ladakh, and more.

Pastels & Pop, Founders, Aarti and Akanksha Chhabra
Image credit: Pastels & Pop

Their passion for designing brought Aarti and Akanksha into the design industry. “For our sister Neha’s wedding, we designed all our outfits from scratch. The positive response we received was what triggered off the genesis of our label,” says Akanksha, adding, “What makes it even better is having my sister, Aarti, as my business partner. Creativity runs through her veins and finds its way into her hands, which is why she’s amazing at sketching and art. Our mutual interest in fashion led us to start Pastels & Pop.”

With bigger bands taking the cherry in the footwear market, traditional brands are somehow lost in the race; this is why reviving them is so important. And this is exactly what Pastels & Pop does – giving the great Indian jutti a fresh twist while retaining its ethnic aura, and making sure that comfort is not compromised. “Our juttis are an expression of Indian heritage and ethnic design. Handcrafted locally, the jutti encourages our local artisans to leverage their craftsmanship, while keeping our heritage alive,” adds Aarti.

Further, what makes their collection eye candy is the fact that their pieces are versatile, cater to ladies of wider age groups, are elegant, and are suitable for any occasion.

They also had their set of challenges, though. The most challenging part of starting this brand was finding the best craftsmen, fabrics and raw materials. “We wanted artisans who fit the bill and who could transform our designs into exquisitely crafted juttis,” the duo replies.

Things got better when they started receiving love in the form of e-mails, messages and calls from their clients stating how much they love the brand.

In the future, the duo plans to craft as many stunning designs as possible and expand their reach into the world market.

Pastels & Pop was started in June, 2015.

ABEsquare, Founder, Arvind Kadam
Image credit: ABEsquare

Like many great stories, this story begins with the absence of an essential. The founder of ABEsquare, Arvind Kadam, was surprised by the lack of furniture that he felt was contemporary, stylish and affordable. Stylish and modern furniture was only being sold by boutiques, and that too at a price point beyond the reach of most people. This is when he began a pet project, which blossomed into ABEsquare.

“The firm's USP lies in its unique designs and the process by which it reaches the end user,” Kadam enthuses. Further, he says, “Only the highest quality of wood is selected for each piece and is sourced from vendors who understand the needs for sustainability. The entire manufacturing process is carefully scrutinised and close attention is paid to detail at every step. Finally, at the time of delivery, ABEsquare ensures that the product has been carefully polished and is delivered to the customer’s satisfaction.”

When asked about the challenges they faced while they started this firm, he says,“We had to select vendors a workshop that was most suited to our needs. Managing the quality of work was also a difficult process, and setting a standard for excellence took time and energy."

"Trying to organise this largely unorganised sector proved to be another challenge. Then, there were things like determining a price point that was best suited for the current market, creating categories were also there. We also realised that while the customer may always be right, the customer may not always be the most practical. For example, one of our orders was for a dining table, from a wonderfully polite gentleman who forgot to mention that neither would his building’s elevator nor narrow stairwell accommodate the table that we needed to move up three floors. After a few misguided attempts at manoeuvring the table up the staircase, we realised the only practical solution would be to dismantle the joinery and transport the table piece by piece. Our client was more than pleased, as a competitor of ABEsquare that he had ordered from before us had left his newly purchased table near the staircase and left,” Kadam points out.

He also tells us, "building a brand for this kind of product takes time as one of the determinants of the quality of furniture is its durability and that can only be tested over time."

For the future, Kadam envisions a time when the customer will have the power of designing in his own hands.

ConsumerUno, Founders, Aashish Krishna Kumar and Siddharth Santosh
Image credit: ConsumerUno

Most companies are formed out of need, while others have a ‘desperate need’ in front of them. This firm had the latter story. I remember going to a restaurant with my close friends in Chennai where I was served non-vegetarian pasta instead of vegetarian, the experience was awful, because I am a staunch vegetarian, I am a lawyer, and didn’t know what to do and how to make the restaurant realise that they were wrong,” remembers Kumar.

This is when he also found out that they were many people like him who are given the ‘we are extremely sorry sir treatment’ and no action is taken. This is how ConsumerUno started.

ConsumerUno is a web-based platform to assist in resolving consumer issues. They have a four step redressal mechanism through which consumers can resolve their problems. “People face tones of consumer issues, but let it go because they don’t have the motivation to go to court because it is burdensome, time consuming. This is where we step in,” states partner Santosh. The steps are simple too. All a person needs to do is key in his/her contact details, draft the complaint, and send it via ConsumerUno, the rest will be taken care of.

All said and done, the biggest hurdle they faced was with technology. “We are zero when it comes to handling technology, and we felt lost with regard to that. However, we found trustworthy techies who helped us out, so we are glad the operations are running smoothly,” regards Kumar.    

Through this venture, they also found out that entrepreneurship isn’t as fancy as what one thinks it is. “One only reads stories of success through and through and completely forgets that to every success stories there are 98 failures. Market research, evaluation of your idea, jotting down a market map, talking to many people about the idea and accepting criticism with an open mind is the most important,” ends Kumar.   

The duo is currently on phase one of their journey in and aim on creating awareness among the people of India. Further, they would like to collaborate with a firm that specialises in marketing to take their brand forward. 

Mobmerry, Founder, Krishna Prasad
Image credit: Mobmerry

In the sea of online discovery sites, here is one more, but with a twist! Launched in October, last year, Mobmerry is a lifestyle and mobile commerce platform for consumers and offline retailers, which caters to categories like food, fashion, wellness, and more.

“Mobmerry aggregates and curates lifestyle products from offline retailers and creates a personalised mobile commerce experience based on an individual’s taste and preferences,” founder Krishna Prasad reflects.

The site was stated with the idea of launching a solution that would bridge the gap between offline retail merchants and consumers and currently has over 40,000 app downloads, 60 merchants on-board, 210 online transactions, 3000+ walk ins, 40+ media mentions, and this is just the beginning.

Indian Institute of Digital Education, Founder, Karan Shah
Image credit: IIDE

Indian Institute of Digital Education (IIDE) is the brainchild of the team that worked on Goodlife Education. A platform founded in 2013, it conducts short-term certificate courses in association with various colleges across many fields. Currently, it is associated with 20 top colleges of Mumbai, filling major educational gaps in the Indian educational system like inter-discipline training, introducing new-age education and practical application of the existing curriculum. 

IIDE was started in March this year, and is India’s first school that supports digital aspect of every business, providing six to a-year-long graduate program to create professionals in the digital space with a vision to empower India with digital skills, in order to create or be a part of solutions solving world problems.

“The Indian education system is not catering to the evolving digital industry enough, which requires skilled manpower at lighting speeds – this is where IIDE steps in,” clarifies CEO Karan Shah.

Challenges? “Hiring the right people, certification and competition were/are the key challenges, I think,” he says.

The firm plans to conduct courses online so they can reach out to more people and they have planes of opening branches across four different cities within two years, as well.

Which one of these start-ups inspired you the most? Let us know in the comments below!

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Avinash Kumai
Avinash is a dreamer, a music connoisseur and is constantly seeking new things that catch his fancy. Enjoys the silence of his one-bedroom-apartment and loves cooking alone. He prefers genres like rock and blues, and is obsessed with what an instrument can do if it's in the right hands. His all time favourite jams are Comfortably Numb and...   Read more
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