Our journey from building Amrutam for six years to appearing on national TV in front of 30+ million people. What a roller coaster! Here is my honest attempt at sharing my experience of taking Amrutam to Shark Tank India.
Usually, words flow out of me, but this one is going to be tough, I am aware. In 2017, when D2C wasn't a thing, and online business was still not taken seriously [in at least tier-2,3 cities], we pledged to go online and sell products only on our website. We wanted to build a community of people.
Hold on, a couple of years before that - 2015, when I was in the second year of my Master's degree in Clinical Psychology at TISS and working day and night on my application for my dream university - the University of Edinburgh, I didn't know I would be writing this post and talking about featuring my family’s business of making authentic ayurvedic recipes in Shark Tank. Shark Tank India wasn't something we speculated about eight years ago.
Exactly in Feb of 2016, I had my offer letter and scholarship award from my dream university. I couldnot go because my parents lost their source of income and were struggling to run Amrutam [a manufacturing company of herbal products back then]. I had no attachments with my family business at that point or any intention of joining it.
Going back to the roots
I felt lost and enraged when I couldn't go to Scotland - something I only share rarely. It was a dream snatched away from me. Then, I moved to the Himalayas and started a therapeutic community with a revenue model of a backpacker hostel in Jagatsukh, a small village near Manali. Running a hostel was my MBA degree and taught me more than any course books could. But spending too long in the mountains took a toll on my mental health and I moved to Bangalore to deal with my clinical depression. The organisation where I went to seek therapy offered me a job, so I decided to work for them hesitantly for a few months.
Slowly, it sunk in that my family had been struggling financially, and my father was battling depression, too. They needed my brother and me to return. The rest is history.
Cut short to almost six years later, and Agnim, my brother and I run Amrutam as an online wellness community and ayurveda business.
The beginning of the Shark Tank Journey
When last year, Season 1 came, many people told us to apply. I did not imagine one year later, here I would be , telling the world Amrutam came on Shark Tank India. It is still sinking in.
It was a ten-month-long journey and multiple rounds of applications. First, the written application, then the video application, followed by an in-person interview. Getting a call for the final pitch in Bombay, then hours of phone interviews, and finally, a video shoot in Gwalior. Just typing it all leaves me feeling overwhelmed.
The day that we, Amrutam, pitched aired on Shark Tank India, 20 February 2023, I found an Instagram story I posted three years ago. It said -
Usually, we think, "we should have resources, then we will commit."
However, the truth is the greater your commitment, the greater the resources that will come to you automatically! You don t have to sit and worry about how you will get the help.
When you intend to do something, resources flow in - when needed... and in the required amount.
It's the optimal and most suited message for this experience. We kept going, and on our journey, we found this opportunity and thought of giving it a shot.
When Agnim applied, we got a response saying the Shark Tank India team had shortlisted us in the first round. It felt unreal. Undoubtedly, we deserved it, but it still felt like a dream because there was no validation when we began. Here we were, shortlisted for a nationally popular show.
We kept following the process, one round after another. We were working pretty damn hard on moving our website from Wordpress to Shopify, simultaneously building our app and defining the organisational structure. A lot was happening, and we kept taking baby steps in the background.
The good news
I have always been a traveller, which is a big part of my life. That came to hold as well. I remember planning my first trip of the year 2022 in August end. More than half a year had passed, working and learning at IIMB while participating in the Goldman Sachs 10K program and setting up my new home in Bangalore since I moved in early 2022.
The night I was about to leave for Kodaikanal, Agnim received a call from the team saying we had to be in Bombay for the pitch round, where the final shoot would occur. I had to cancel that trip, of course. We booked tickets for Agnim and me from Bangalore. Our parents came to Mumbai from Gwalior. As a family and partners, four of us spent roughly a week, from early mornings to late evenings, at YRF studios.
We had to be in a huge hall covered with black cloth from all sides, with plastic chairs and a tea/coffee counter at one corner, a little bit like a labyrinth of tiny alleys and blinded spaces. We rarely saw natural light, but it wasn't bothersome. There was quiet in the chaotic waves of creativity and entrepreneurship. There was a well-functioning organisation in the face-value perception of anarchy.
Reflecting on the past
We were well-fed, and there were long hours of sitting and waiting for our turn to present our pitch to different teams. In those empty gaps, we reunited as a family. We relived so many moments from the time we started working on building Amrutam.
Five years had gone by, and there hadn't been a time like this when each of us got to tell our story individually, and it felt so cathartic. So many unsaid things popped up, and it felt therapeutic to acknowledge them. Agnim and I discussed about the time when we let go of our startups and our dreams to come back to Gwalior to save the family ship and sail the family business.
Also read: An Personal Interview with Sh. Ashok Gupta
We talked about our father's loss when he was removed from his own distribution business he had created for another manufacturing company. Our loss seemed too small compared to what he lost - something he built for 25 years. The possibility of realising our dreams felt certain when discussing our visions collectively, as a family.
Chasing the purpose
There were silences and conversations, and learnings and challenges. It was bittersweet and serendipitous at the same time - to watch our father write, learn and practise his pitch. The whole team adored him; some started calling him Papa, too. He became Amrutam Papa for so many people we interacted with that week. How can I not mention the THC brothers, who made us laugh so our stomachs hurt? The memories we made even before we pitched will be there for a lifetime.
That whole week made me realise, for the first time, that it was incredible of my brother and me to leave everything behind to come home to family. Our parents were determined and resilient despite hitting rock bottom and how.
Also read: A Personal Interview with Agnim Gupta
And yet, when we did, we didn't give ourselves enough credit for years to appreciate what we had done. Those are the family values we grew up with. We created our lives from scratch in Gwalior. Something that I can only reflect on in hindsight.
I remember the rehearsal day when we entered the main set for the first time. It felt magnificent when we went inside and stood at the spot - our feet strictly at the peacock's tail.
When we stood there, there was nervousness. But at the same time, the team had prepared us so well that none of us panicked about being in front of the Sharks with all the lights and cameras, glitz and glam.
I remember worrying about a few things before we went to sleep the night before. I recall telling myself that the only thing I control is my actions. The rest is not in my control. So, all I can do is focus on giving my best and leave the rest to God. That thought has helped me several times, especially when there's too much uncertainty.
The next day, we reported early morning at the studios, dressed by 11 am and then waited for our turn the whole day. The team called us to the stage set in the evening. I remember all of the startups with us, no matter the age, hearing each other's pitch so many times that we had it all memorised. It felt like we were all back to school, awaiting our turn to perform at the annual function! The green room empowered and united us - the founders from different parts of the country.
Also read: A Personal Interview with Stuti Ashok Gupta
Meeting the Sharks
We finally went in and greeted the Sharks; it was the quiet space we had been to since a week of the hustle and bustle. Our pitch went on for about an hour and a half or so. It was intense. My father, someone in his 60s, spoke about battling depression. People in his generation don't even acknowledge it exists. His story of building up from scratch was heartfelt.
The validation we received for the authenticity of Amrutam products was heartwarming. Sharks emphasised how it is such a big deal to leave behind the lives Agnim, and I had created to support the family and our parents' vision.
There were intense discussions on our company structuring, which was why we were not offered a deal. Well, we did what we knew the best - build a wellness community of people and bring them closer to a healthy lifestyle. I remember telling the Sharks how company structuring is just a tiny glitch in the big picture and can be resolved quickly.
A seasoned full-time investor would understand that far better than entrepreneurial Sharks who don't have enough time, bandwidth and resources to invest in anything vaguely complex. We may have been too honest, as quite a few businesses on shark Tank got funded despite having precisely the same company structure as us.
An unexpected exception
I remember coming out, and so many people from the Shark Tank team working with us that week came to meet us. Teary-eyed, they came and hugged us, touched Papa's feet and told us how emotional everyone was - behind the scenes. It was so much to process. Stimulus after stimulus, we barely got time to reflect after the shoot ended until we returned to the hotel.
The Shark Tank team made an exception for the first time; they called us and asked us to return to the tank again. Sharks wanted us to come back, they told us. It was a tough call, but we decided not to go back. We knew we had given our best and felt content despite the outcome.
The aftermath of rejection
Agnim and I flew back the same night. This was when it started to sink in. It took a significant toll on our mental health. For almost five days, I slept, ate, and cried. I didn't even know why I was crying. Of course, I was upset that we were not given any offers. Still, more than that, it felt like we failed despite doing everything we could with our limited resources.
It all fell too gloomy and dark, and that was an episode of hopelessness. Agnim contacted several founders, mentors and investors to discuss the company structure, while I mainly withdrew from the world.
We built a solid business of 3.5 crores with 50% repeat purchases without external investments from scratch. More than 1,00,000 people have benefitted from the goodness of raw real ingredients and our authentic recipes. Our products are unique and hold true ayurvedic healing principles in it, and it has been validated by people from 40+ countries apart from India. And yet, something like a company structure became a road blocker. We didn't know how to go about it.
Well, I need to take rejections better. And, this I didn't. However, after venting and ranting to my close friends, I realised I still wanted to continue building amrutam. I love my work and the value I'm creating in people's lives from it. So I bounced back quickly.
A glimpse of Gwalior
Just a couple of weeks later, we got a call. The Shark Tank team wanted to interview each of us individually again. So we did that.
During Diwali, they sent a team to shoot our home, Amrutam factory, Amrutam Vatika and document papa's journey. Two days of a hectic shooting schedule was so refreshing. It renewed our energy to work.
Also read: A Day at Amrutam Factory and Vatika
Once the shoot was done in October, we were left in uncertainty. There was so much anticipation and apprehension. We were curious to know whether we would get aired or not. We were curious to know when it would be aired if we did. Nothing.
Another good news
Four months later, we received an email saying we might be aired. Not much to hold on to, but one inch closer. On 18 February, Saturday, it was Mahashivratri. We had been fasting since morning. We were playing Catan, a strategy board game when I got a WhatsApp call from an unknown number.
I recognised the voice instantly. "Congratulations, I have good news. Amrutam will be on Shark Tank India on Monday," he said. Agnim and I were elated. We called our parents, who were in the temple, just about tostart the second Abhishek out of the four done in four pehers of Mahashivratri. It has tremendous spiritual meaning for us as a family, and there couldn't have been a better day or time to receive this news.
Finally, the day arrived. We informed all our teams - factory, office and remote contributors that we will hold a townhall meeting virtually at noon. Everyone joined - the factory people with Papa, the office people with Mummy, and the rest of the remote team. We shared the news and celebrated. There were a couple of experiences shared and sentimental toasts (non-alcoholic). Right after our call ended after an hour, the Shark Tank team sent us an image of the three of us with the communication to be put out.
Also read: Amrutam Raga Project
The minute we shared the news on social media, the love poured in. My classmates from middle school, people I met during travels, guests I hosted in my hostel, and so many people from different walks of life that I hadnot been in touch with - shared an IG story too. It was a special feeling to make everyone proud. It feltsurreal to represent Gwalior. The queen - Maharani Priyadarshini Scindia, shared about Amrutam coming on Shark Tank too. It was so overwhelming- the good kind.
Of jitters and anticipation
Agnim and I discussed how we would want to avoid watching the episode live. There was a part of us that was afraid. We are very self-critical regarding work and were scared to face it. But I remember a friend said on WhatsApp, "take it lightly, own it and watch it with a big smile :)."
I still wanted to watch it. But two of my closest friends surprised me when I returned home from the gym with a cake. They are the reason I watched the episode live. And I enjoyed it thoroughly once the initial jitters settled down. Things I learnt in my Vipassana course helped me, too. It is all arising and passing, after all.
The final episode airing
I love that they showed us in a such honest and positive light. Our story reached every home and so many people from different generations connected with our struggles and how we overcame them. What we lived for so many years was well-summarised in just a few minutes. They did justice to it. That's the nature of work. It is challenging to cut short 90 minutes in just 15 and show everything with the correct context.
Our website traffic shot up. At one single point in time, there were 10,000+ people on our website. People started showering us with orders and queries, and the energy has been so high since our episode aired.
I genuinely looked forward to watching Gwalior, our fort, home and factory. We spent two beautiful days shooting, and I was so curious to watch it. I wonder why they didn't show that. I wish it would come out at some point. It would be a visual and emotional treat, I promise.
To put ourselves out there was way out of comfort. Yet, we did it because of your love, unbeatable cheerleading and constant belief in us. Your energy is the fuel that makes us do the impossible. We couldn't have done it without you. 'Thank you' isn't enough for the gratitude I hold in my heart.
A heartfelt thank you
If you've not watched the episode, please do it here. A special Shark Tank offer is going on, ending soon. Make sure you pick up your favourites. Please engage with our posts here and continue to put your faith in us. There's a long way to go, and we want to take you along on this journey of making authentic Ayurveda accessible globally. We are working towards bringing people closer to a healthy lifestyle and this is an significant milestone in reaching every household.
PS - All I want to do is take a moment to pause and tell my teenage self [who used to watch the US Shark Tank] that I came on Shark Tank India. :)