Starting up at 55, this woman entrepreneur runs a natural skincare startup from her home

Bindu Chopra started Ahad, a studio that specialises in natural handmade soaps and skincare products, in 2015. According to her, the startup was also started with an aim to create affordable skincare products that are natural and pure.

Bindu Chopra dreamt of being an entrepreneur at the age of 52, and five years ago she jumped into the handmade and natural soap business.

“I started with Rs 8,000 in my pocket. I had no support - neither physical nor financial - to run the business. I had it in me that “mujhe karna hi hai" (I want to do this). It was a challenge within myself. If the product is good, how come it won’t sell?” says Bindu Chopra, the founder of Ahad, a natural cosmetics startup that she runs from her home.

To begin with, Bindu converted two rooms in her home into a studio to house herbal and organic products like soaps, creams, face washes, and more. Bindu says she sources her products from her friend, who is now a business partner, and makes all the products in her kitchen.

“I am a passionpreneur. I just cannot sit idle. I need to do something. So every place would give me a new opportunity,” says the 59-year-old entrepreneur who grew up moving from one city to another as her father had a transferable job.

An inspiring journey

Bindu tells HerStory that at 42, after having married her son, she decided to fulfil her desire to get further education. She was not able to study earlier due to family responsibilities. Later, she studied for four years and became a clinical hypnotherapist specialising in aura and chakra healing. She even set up her own clinic. However, she had to shut the clinic and move as her husband found a lucrative job in Africa.

While in Africa, in 2008, Bindu was introduced to a lady who sold handmade soaps. She developed an interest in these small scented and natural blocks of soap and set up a little retail business. To begin with, she would buy from the lady and sell it to others.

After returning to India, Bindu decided to get into full-fledged entrepreneurship and started Ahad in 2015 in Delhi-NCR.

Overcoming challenges

For Bindu, the desire to start her own line of skincare products was also ignited by the need to create affordable skincare products that are natural and pure.

She was also repulsed by the “fair is beauty” marketing that brands employed. She rued this beauty standard because being a shade darker than her brother would often lead to people questioning if they really were siblings. For her, beauty was the opposite of what the market propagated, and this prompted her to get into this highly cut-throat competitive market that has big and small players emerging very quickly.

According to a Nielsen report, the natural segment accounts for one-third of the personal care segment and is expected to account for 45 percent of the market share in 2020.

Entrepreneurship is a tough path. It has myriad challenges and obstacles, but building a business in such a tightly packed market is not easy. Especially for Bindu, the challenges were tougher as she was flying solo in this journey. But her never give up attitude and her belief in her products made her build a loyal customer base.

Talking about starting the business, she says, “It was very tough. First of all, my family felt it was not going to work out. They felt no one would come home to pick up products, and who would know what I was selling at home. So that was my biggest challenge - to tell them that my product was good and if it is liked by one, they are going to get me more clients and that's exactly what happened.”

She adds, “My first ten clients are the ones who made 210 clients for me today,” referring to her WhatsApp group that now has 210 women who have become her regular clients.

Bindu faced other challenges when it came to packaging and pricing. She had minimal packaging and used kite papers to make carry bags for products. She invested her money into the products rather than “wasting it” on packaging. She also had difficulty explaining to some consumers why her products were a little more expensive than everyday products. She did not have the capacity to buy in bulk and make 400-500 soaps at once, and thus, the prices were higher. Her 100-125 gram soaps are sold for Rs 235 while her creams sell for Rs 250 and more.

Bindu began with just soaps and every year added a new category to expand the business gradually. Today, she has a product range of 30 varieties of soaps, 13 creams, four shampoos, face washes, and uptans. She has also started using social media to expand her orders and courier products pan-India.

However, in four and a half years of operating the business, Bindu has never kept tabs of profits. She says that it might amount to about Rs 3 lakh.

“I am being very honest when I say I haven't saved anything. I have never kept a record. For me, if I have made a sale of Rs 20,000, around Rs 15,000 goes back into the business, and I keep Rs 2,000 for myself, and Rs 3,000 for the stationary,” says Bindu.

Not slowing down

In November this year, Bindu will turn 60. While most professionals might think of retirement, Bindu is not letting age become a barrier. She still continues to do the bulk of all the business from morning to night. She starts work at 10 in the morning, takes a 20 minute lunch break, and oftentimes it is past midnight that she finishes off work.

Right from sticking labels on the products, clicking pictures, putting it on social media, packaging, making lists, payments, couriers, communicating with customers, and more are all things that she needs to tick off every day.

"I really don't think one realises that when you handle the business on your own how much work it is. But then you sleep well because you know that your clients are loving your product and that is why you are working so much,” Bindu says.

Even though the pandemic led to her having no manufacturing and sales for three months, she had eager customers who wanted to stock up again. In June, when she started delivering again, the demand was higher than the stock, and her shelves emptied in the blink of an eye.

Sales in June covered up for the three months of no sales. Bindu has new plans and strategies for Ahad, and hopes that one day she can get investment to expand the business.

She is introducing new products like pottery, candles, and soaps designed for children for the festive season, and more.