I’m pleased to introduce Puneet Nirogam Aggarwal, who runs Nirogam, a wellness marketplace. With pleasant demeanor and a fantastic story to tell, Puneet is one of the early visionaries in bringing age-old ayurvedic treatments to the patients.
Puneet is extremely passionate to bring out the folklore remedies and products with a proven formula but unknown to the world, and make it reach the beneficiaries.
Read on to know more about the 13-year old journey of Puneet and the humble origins of 2- year old Nirogam, which is ready to fly now!
1. Tell us about the early phases of life and business, and your first tryst with Ayurveda.
After I completed my B.Com, I was in a phase when you want to venture out on your own. My dad had a company of Sheet Metal Fabrication Components, and wanted me to join in. Being uninterested in hardware metal fabrication business and equally inclined towards computers, I decided to do something around Infotech/Computers.
I started off selling web hosting to people who want to publish their websites. In this process, I got in touch with a doctor who had discovered an active molecule from seeds of Bitter gourd (Karela) which can treat diabetes, and it could mimic insulin. Her invention was big and she wanted the world to know through her website. I published the website for her, and soon people started inquiring on where they can buy the products. At that time, all she had was a prototype. The doctor was market ready with the medicine couple of years down the line, and wanted me to market and sell her product.
I rejected the offer initially, only to be re-sent by my Dad for a further negotiation with the doctor. We finally started a website and put up her ayurvedic product on sale. We started with 30 bottles.The First month – May 2000, we sold 12 bottles. The next month, sales increased to 30. In the next 2 years, we reached a peak of roughly 800 bottles a month. For about 3 years, we sold only this product. Initially, we did not have a payment gateway and handled the payment through overseas cheques. After an year or so, we got the payment gateway and it eased out a lot of things for us. All I remember was, we slept when people ordered. We used to check the orders in the morning and me & My Dad used to dispatch the orders. The business ran from the basement of my home in Faridabad. The product had great efficacy, and we had a lot of repeat orders.
2. When did you start to diversify your product offerings?
While we did extremely well selling Gourdin, an MNC Pharma Major wanted to do some clinical trials and acquire the technology behind Gourdin if everything went well.
This made us realize that, we cannot survive on Gourdin alone. We consulted with our relatives, who were in the business of herbs in Punjab and decided on few other products which we could sell on the website. With every packet of Gourdin, we started sending out free samples, explaining the use of the products.
In the next couple of months, our sales got diversified. Gourdin was still 80% contributor to the revenues, but we reached a stage where the company wouldn’t die down if Gourdin went off the track.
Later, the talks did not materialize, but it did help us diversify and grow our business.
3. When did you realize your passion towards Ayurveda?
As I shipped bottles of Gourdin, I frequently found myself asking – ‘What am I exactly doing?’. One thing I realized was my passion to bring out the folklore remedies and products with a proven formula but unknown to the world, and make it reach the beneficiaries.
Next, after hearing about a herbal Cancer Remedy from a few friends, we approached a doctor in Jaipur who made an Ayurvedic Formula for cancer, and convinced him to sell through us. We made an exclusive website for this herb, and sold around 500 bottles a month.
This became our 2nd topseller, after Gourdin. Similarly, we sold Muktavati (herbal formulation for BP control) and this had a very positive effect on people. Today, this is our bestseller and sells around 5000 bottles a month. All sales came from the website. I handled the technology part and did SEO for the website myself.
My Dad handled the logistics part. Most of our sales happened from US and UK, the two biggest e-commerce markets around that time.
Being a techie, I had Google Alerts for anything related to Herbs and Ayurveda. One day, found out through Google alerts that Salacia was tested in Ohio University to be beneficial in diabetes. We thought, why not ride on this news – why can’t we make it? We immediate got it manufactured by one of our pharmacists and got it online. We had the first mover advantage and orders started pouring in. At a point, we were running behind the schedule for delivering Salacia.
4. Did you face any problems dealing with Overseas Markets?
In 2008, US economy was struggling and their Government tried to curb the imports. USFDA seemed to be biased towards Pharma Majors, who always discouraged Alternative Medicine. Soon, the products started getting intercepted by customs, and they tried to block it with various baseless reasons. All our products always accompanied proper documentation, but it couldn’t come to any rescue. One of the articles in one of the medical journals claimed that herbal products had heavy metals, the whole industry got hit along with us.
That was a lean phase and a lot of introspection happened at our end. We realized that, this might not last long and alternative plan should start. For 2 Years, we were in the dilemma of running the business or not. But, what will we say to these on-going customers who are consuming our herbal products for their medicine?
In 2010, we decided to stop this business as we cannot play with people’s health as the exports are totally dependent on US policies. If US is not going to encourage Ayurveda, we are a very small fish in the ocean to try and fight cases.
5. When did you come to Bangalore and why?
I came to Bangalore as a sabbatical. When I came here, the startup eco system in Bangalore made me realize that the time is ripe enough to tap the Nutraceutical space in the domestic market. Ayurveda had started to evolve in India. People are buying up-market fancy products, they are concerned to prevent disease rather than to cure it. Nutrition with Prevention was the new mantra.
We started Nirogam with Muktavati and 20 other products of our own brand. The biggest challenge has been to get a payment gateway for herbal products. We currently have around 1100 products, out of which 50 are private labeled and are contract manufactured. Being very new in the domestic market, I’ve realized that the biggest thing missing in the nutraceutical space are products for theailments for which there was no conventional cure.
Nirogam has grown from a team of 3 to 12 people. It’s tough to scale the company when you’ve been working all by yourself. Bangalore trip taught me delegation well.
6. What’s next for Nirogam?
We are still a startup, when it comes to Domestic market. We plan to increase products in our own brand, and sell specialized consultations. Being one of the few people in India with the right mix of Technology & Ayurveda, we plan to use our experience in finding cures in areas such as Infertility, ADD and women’s health.
It’s not the money that drives the business. If you do good things, money will follow. When we formulate products, we always focus on the “Why”. None of the medicines we’ve manufactured for Diabetes etc is because there is a big market and we can throw some product in there, but because we want to help diabetics manage their problem effectively using natural and alternative forms of medicine
There are so many problems for which modern or conventional medicine, still does not have a cure, or treatment. If doctors are not giving you answers, you have to do something about it.
7. What were your learnings in the 13 year old journey?
1. Ayurveda is a very crude industry. More clinical research is needed, and packaging has to be improved. Ayurveda needs to be re-packaged to gain mass acceptance.
2. There are so many ailments there are no treatments/ help available. And online is a big market where people are trying to discover the cures. Today, when you have a problem –people Google it. We need to be there where people are searching. Marketplaces are good when you know what you exactly want to buy.When people don’t know what to buy, they are looking for answers.Nirogam focuses on providing answers.
3. You are your own doctor. If you think you are sick, you will be the first one to know. Everybody should aim for prevention, rather letting it happen. Ayurveda preaches Prevention, by keeping doshas in balance. There’s no harm in trying preventive care.
8. Few words about therodinhoods platform?
For me, it is a platform for people who don’t have a mentor. With Rodinhoods, you get a whole bunch of good friends, who are completely selfless in their giving and you post one problem and you have so many answers with different and neutral perspectives to the issue. That is TRHS for me, and I call Alok as the Wisdom Czar. It is a selfless platform.
In Ramayana, we have something called ‘Prashnavali’. You take the Sampoorn Ramayana, and you close your eyes and it will give you a letter and page number. Go to the page no in Ramayana and read the shlok and it is your answer.
I consider trhs as some sort of Prashnavali for life – It always tends to give you some bit of learning which relates to the question you want an answer. Pick any answer and it will try to teach you something. Today, I’m working with 3 rodinhooders for Nirogam on contract basis. I never question their credibility because they are ‘rodinhooders’.
Saraswathi is the co-founder & chief editor at TheTechPanda.com,digital media catering to Indian Startups & Entrepreneurship. While maintaining a day job and a busy home , her mind is nothing short of a jungle. A strong believer in karma – Do good or bad, and it will come back to you, many-fold.
Read Puneet’s #goodluck story of how he started Nirogam!