Choosing the unconventional
Born to parents who believed in the importance of wearing many hats, Agnim had a fascinating childhood. From a young age, his parents encouraged him to make learning new things a habit. “I still remember how I’d come back from school and then immediately leave for my Sanskrit classes. In the evenings, I had my music classes. My parents made sure I was an active child,” recalls Agnim.
In the early 2010s, the influx of careers in engineering and medicine arrived, and there seemed to be a path that most good Indian students followed. Taking admissions in dummy schools to study for JEE in Kota suddenly became popular. Agnim, too, decided to give it a try, but he knew that his heart lay in the arts.
“I had lived away from my parents for many years during my time at the Scindia School, Gwalior. This time spent on my own shaped my personality and enabled me to have original thoughts. It encouraged me to develop a sense of self-image and expression through the arts. My training in Indian classical music as a violin player brought out the artist in me and I wanted to pursue it further.”
But young Agnim could not articulate how he would go about it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a roadmap he could refer to, and there weren’t many people at the time who were pursuing non-traditional careers, especially in the field of arts and music. Questions like “How would I make a living”, and “Was it the right choice?” popped into his mind. And so, to honour his love for design and tech, he went to pursue architecture after high school. If not music, for Agnim, designing was what came closest to what he loved doing.
While studying architecture Agnim was exposed to the vast world of science and tech that complemented it. “I learned about the math and the science of structuring a building. The importance of combining functionalities and aesthetics,” explains Agnim.
“Our professors gave us really interesting problem statements. There was a thrill in being challenged to solve a problem and come up with the right solution. It opened up my mind and inspired me to have a 360-degree approach to things. After completing our projects, we had to present our projects to juries, like an entrepreneur pitches to investors. That really drove me to go in-depth into things.”
In the final year of his college, Agnim came up with a start-up idea that would help professors and students alike. He created an online repository where students could store their theses - something that educational institutes struggled with keeping a record of. Although the idea could not be fully executed at the time, it introduced Agnim to a newfound entrepreneurial side of his personality.
After completing his education, he travelled extensively and worked with international clients. He had a hunger for learning. Architecture firms from Australia, Malaysia and the USA proposed lucrative offers for him to join them. But Agnim was determined to work with only one person that had been his singular source of inspiration: Bjarke Ingels, the celebrated Danish architect.
“I applied year after year but could not get through. It was my dream to work with him. And I badly wanted to impress him. So, I created this page on Facebook called Sqr Factor where I’d post funny and engaging content about architecture and renowned architects.”
On starting up Sqr Factor
Sqr Factor started receiving a great response from the architecture and design community. So, Agnim with a few of his friends decided to make a website and turn it into what he calls ‘The Voice for Architects’. Soon, the platform became a hub for young architects where they would participate in competitions and connect with agencies and organizations.
Things were going well. With an immaculate office in the heart of Bangalore and a team of sharp, talented members, Agnim was set to take over the world. He networked, actively seeking help and advice. Investor deals were in talks, but due to unforeseeable reasons, investments did not come through. After months of trying to make ends meet, with a heavy heart, in June 2019, Sqr Factor had to shut down operations. Apart from the team, a figure that was instrumental in Agnim’s journey of building his first start-up was his professor Jaisim Sir.
“Jaisim Sir gave me all the possible support and words of advice that was possible. He knew I was ambitious and passionate about building Sqr Factor. And when things didn’t go the way we had planned, he was there for me, asking me not to be too hard on myself. He’s been my inspiration.”
Agnim also reminisces the time spent in Bangalore working on Sqr Factor as a period of disconnectedness from his family. “My parents were in Gwalior and Stuti was in Goa. We all were updated on what was going on with each other but didn’t feel involved in one another's lives,” adds Agnim.
Returning to the roots
Around the same time, back in 2017, Amrutam suffered major financial losses. Agnim knew things weren’t well at home. His father refused to go out which was unlike him. Later that year in December, his mother called him, worried. She urged him to come home to be there for the family.
“I was a bit frustrated when I came back to Gwalior. I felt like I was being asked to put my dreams on hold. I had sacrificed a lot to get where I was. There was probably a depth of things that I wasn’t able to fully comprehend at the time. But I knew my family needed me. And it was my turn to show up for them.”
In the first few months, Agnim was not sure how he could contribute. He would wake up early and go cycling. Upon returning he would join his father for their morning tea. It became a ritual of sorts that created a space for conversations that sparked ideas. During these hours spent talking, Agnim learned the nuances of running a business like his father’s.
“Since we were manufacturing Ayurvedic medicines, we were heavily dependent on doctors to prescribe them. With retailers, there was a constant beef because we had to constantly incentivise them,” explains Agnim. The payout cycle was also excruciatingly long which further hindered the organization’s cash flow. Overall, there were a lot of external factors that influenced the business.
“With my work at Sqr Factor, I gained the insights and tools required to sell online. I had sold services that didn’t really have a cost. I knew if one could sell something intangible like a service then we could sell a product, too - something that people could see, touch and actually use to see the results for themselves.”
On starting a new
Agnim pitched this idea to his parents and they agreed. In February 2017, Agnim hired a designer and began working on the rebranding. Stuti, his sister, joined him later in April. Together they worked on the product details and aesthetics. While Agnim wanted to focus on the wellness range, Stuti insisted that they rebrand and introduce Amrutam’s personal care range as well. After working on the basics, Agnim created a website for Amrutam that went live in July 2017.
“I understood the importance of data very early on,” comments Agnim. As a designer, he also knew that it was important to ensure that the products and website looked visually pleasing. One thing he didn’t really have to worry about was having a product differentiator that was crucial to the success of any brand. And that was Amrutam Kuntal Care Hair Spa - world’s first Ayurvedic do-it-yourself at-home hair spa.
“I remember we clicked our product images on iPhone and put it on the website. Social media at the time was really picking up and we got started with posting content across platforms and writing blogs. Slowly, we started investing in Google and Facebook ads as well and since 2017, Amrutam has only seen growth.”
In 2020, when COVID happened and people shifted to buying online, growth really picked up for Amrutam. Publishing houses and media started noticing the brand and it got recognition from celebrities and entrepreneurs. Journalists wrote articles about Amrutam’s 240% YoY growth. And it would not have been possible without Agnim, now the Principal: Tech & Growth, who helped scale his parents’ business globally.
On music, tech and travel
Aside from work, Agnim enjoys jamming with friends and playing guitar or violin. In keeping with his love for music, he also helped shape the Amrutam Raga Project - a docu-series documenting the lives of seven local musicians from Gwalior.
“On Regular days I like to explore and listen to Indian Indie artists. And on the days I want to focus and get things done I switch to Mantra Playlists and listen to Krishna Das, Deva Premal, Shantala, Sounds of Isha, and Brahmins among others. Artists like Hozier, Arctic Monkeys, Lana Del Rey, Ben Howard, Daughter and others have been a few of the favourites which I haven’t had a chance to listen to for a while now. I’m also enjoying the music by upcoming Indian artists like Osho Jain, Anuv Jain, Aditya A, Anupam Roy, Dream Note, Ashu Shukla and more.”
PS, scroll till the end to check out Agnim's fave playlists!
An early bird since childhood, Agnim starts his day on his yoga mat, setting an intention and tapping into the energy. His morning tea is a sacred part of his day that he continues in his Bangalore home. The first half of his day includes getting his to-do in order, followed by meetings and the day finally ends with self-learning and connecting with like-minded people and founders.
Agnim also likes researching the latest technological trends. One could always find him nerding out on updates in the D2C world! Having inherited his love for travel from his parents, Agnim also takes immense pleasure in experiencing the cultures of different parts of the globe. Last year, he went on a family trip to Ladakh to share the joy of immersive experiences with his parents.
“My parents have influenced me deeply. I am in awe of my father because even in his 50s, he is supremely passionate about Ayurveda and has a futuristic vision. He had told me very early on, even when Ayurveda was not as popular, that people would eventually come back to it. My mother on the other hand has always been a big believer in the Universe. Her belief is just unshakeable. She inspires me to have faith and surrender to the Almighty.”
Although Agnim followed a completely different career path, he feels like life eventually comes full circle. Ayurveda was not his first preference, and he admits that he didn’t know much about it when he started. But he was raised with Ayurvedic values and principles and with his work at Amrutam, he is learning about the science of life every day.
In the time that lies ahead, Agnim is looking forward to launching Amrutam’s app which will integrate the telemedicine and e-commerce platform. Amrutam recently went live on Shopify and Agnim is excited to see the future of Shopify ads in India along with Pinterest ads. Lastly, he wishes to travel more and visit his friends in Italy and Germany.