Vinita Jain founded the Biotique range of ayurvedic beauty and health products in collaboration with a Swiss company. According to Jain, Biotique is a combination of the 5,000-year-old science of ayurveda and 21st century biotechnology. In an interview with India Knowledge at Wharton during the 2010 Wharton India Economic Forum, Jain talks about how she set up the business, the challenges she faced and her plans for growth. She explains that the idea is to go beyond just selling products to offering the consumers a holistic experience in health, beauty and wellness. Sharing her own experiences, Jain says success is not gender related: It comes from being passionate about what you do.
An edited transcript of the interview follows.
India Knowledge at Wharton: Could you tell us a little bit about your company and the Biotique brand?
Vinita Jain: I founded the company in 1992. Basically, Biotique is a unique blend of the 5,000-year-old science of ayurveda with 21st century biotechnology. We bring to the consumer health, beauty and wellbeing products which are highly efficacious and all based on the best of the East and the West. The ancient science of ayurveda, yoga and meditation blended with 21st century biotechnology. So in that [sense] Biotique is truly a unique brand globally because it combines East and the West, the ancient and the modern and brings to you a platform for total health, well-being and beauty.
India Knowledge at Wharton: In addition to your products, do you also offer any other services, such as spa services?
Jain: We do treatments and we are also coming up with a holistic treatment center in Delhi. It’s in the process [of being set up] and is likely to open this financial year.
India Knowledge at Wharton: So you are extending the brand to different channels?
Jain: We want to go to the next step where the consumer can experience health, beauty and well-being through our products. We want to get into the service/experience aspect of health, beauty and wellbeing.
India Knowledge at Wharton: Your products are sold globally. Which is your biggest market?
Jain: Thereis a growing awareness about ayurveda, yoga and meditation and [that] the benefits of prevention are better than cure. In terms of sheer population, India is a very large market, followed by Europe.
India Knowledge at Wharton: Although the chief consumers of cosmetics tend to be women, a lot of these companies are still headed by men. What has it been like for you as a woman? Do you feel it was an advantage or a disadvantage when you founded the company and started to compete in that space?
Jain: I don’t think it’s about gender. I don’t think it’s about being a man or a woman. I think if you are good in your field and if you believe in yourself, if you have the confidence and you deliver good results or highly beneficial products or you are just doing what you do well, [then] I don’t think that gender should matter. Even though I come from a very traditional Indian background, in all fairness, I have never experienced that, “Oh I am a woman, so maybe I am not supposed to be doing that.” I have never experienced the gender [issue] because I was passionate about what I did and I had the confidence and belief in myself that if I put my heart into something, I will be able to come up with the right formula. That’s the belief I always had. And I always tell everybody that just put your heart in it and you will know the direction.
India Knowledge at Wharton: A lot of the research and development for your company is based in Switzerland and you are blending ayurveda from India and R&D in Switzerland. Why did you choose Switzerland and what’s the advantage of that?
Jain: When I founded the company, biotechnology was a little known word in India and globally. And there was this company in Switzerland that was doing a lot of innovative work in biotechnology, so I think they were the pioneers. We already had the 5,000-year-old ancient ayurvedic heritage, so we went to this pioneering [biotechnology] company and merged the two concepts to create Biotique. Biotechnology today is a buzzword and it’s a very chic word but 15, 18 years ago, nobody knew about it. It was just a matter of merging two aspects of two different continents.
India Knowledge at Wharton: Just as you said, botanical extracts and biotech are buzzwords now and everyone is in the game. How do you differentiate your products?
Jain: We go to the base level — right from the seed, to the type of soil, to the organic fertilizers. So from that level we grow the crops and we see that the active ingredients in each of the herbs are tightly monitored.
India Knowledge at Wharton: You mentioned you go backwards into the supply chain to look at where the plant is grown? How do you do that and what are some of the challenges in doing that?
Jain: Fortunately in India, we have a lot of natural resources. We have a whole team of people [in the company] who actually go out and gather a lot of forest-grown herbs which are then organically grown and pesticide-free, because in the forest, there are no artificial fertilizers and pesticides. We have a team of people who look into this.
India Knowledge at Wharton: Can you tell us a little bit about the process you had to go through for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the U.S. and its counterparts in Europe. What were some of the surprises or challenges of that process?
Jain: Actually, we did our work before we went into it. We didn’t want to be surprised, so we did a lot of research prior to the application. I was myself involved with a team of people so that there were no challenges and surprises when we were doing it. It’s best when you go in for an important process — an approval or important standardization — that you really gather a lot of domain knowledge and study it. Also study which companies did it right and which did it wrong and what did they do wrong and what you can do to avoid those problems. That’s the mindset we had prior to taking on the project — we were thoroughly researched on this aspect.
India Knowledge at Wharton: Let’s talk about the consumers for your products. Consumers in different countries interact differently with cosmetics. Since your market is global, do you position your products differently in different markets?
Jain: What we position is the true value proposition of a product, which is inner glow and well-being and balance. Ayurvedic sciences present balance in nature and harmony, so we present what our basic values are. And I think depending on the customers, whether they want to have that value proposition or it is attractive to them, people go for it. The value proposition is very simple: back to nature, balance of life, balance of harmony of nature, and yoga and meditation. These are things that everybody is becoming aware of but the degree of awareness is different — not only in different cultures, but even in the same country, in the same city. Somebody may be very aware and somebody may not, so it really depends on the consumer, who is the ultimate choice maker.
India Knowledge at Wharton: Do you have different channel strategies in terms of the retail stores? In India for instance, where would I find it — middle market, up market? Or in Europe, in what kind of stores?
Jain: We have different channels. In Europe, we like to focus on what we call ‘masstige,’ it’s neither mass nor prestige.
India Knowledge at Wharton: How do you hire for your company when you are looking at candidates? Is there any particular characteristic that you look for that you have found fits well with your company culture?
Jain: I think it’s all about enthusiasm, passion, merit. We do give a preference to women. In our company, we employ over 3,000 people, 75% of them being women. In our endeavor to give back to society, we support the education of the girl child and the street child. But in a professional world, it’s all about meritocracy. It’s all about really delivering results and doing your best. In the end, the consumer is not looking whether a woman did this in the company or a man did this in a company. Consumers want good products at the right price and the right value proposition.
India Knowledge at Wharton: Are you the biggest fan of your product? What would I find in your bathroom or your medicine cabinet?
Jain: All Biotique products. I mean, I just use them all. Before any product goes into the market, it goes through extensive human volunteer tests and I am also one of the volunteers. We have a panel of volunteers who test the products widely before it’s put in the market and I am on the panel of volunteers.