More Than Another Terroir Drink : Kaushal Dugar

Kaushal Dugar made headlines earlier this year when corporate titan Ratan Tata invested in his venture. Teabox, which was already making bold strides, became an overnight force to reckon with in the startup space and more so in the tea industry. As he sips Mountain Rose, one of his most popular blends, a floral one handcrafted by mixing Bulgarian roses with black tea from the Nilgiris, he provides RITZ with a glimpse of his plans for Teabox and how he aims to make it a truly global brand.

“That was one of the best highlights of this year. Investment coming in from someone who is already into the tea business (Tata Global Beverages) implies that he clearly sees the value that we are able to bring.” Kaushal Dugar is referring to the investment (an undisclosed amount) that he received from Ratan Tata. Getting associated with one of the biggest names in India Inc has certainly given Kaushal a huge fillip. He plans to effectively utilise Mr. Tata’s funding, knowledge and expertise to reach out to more consumers in more geographies, especially in the North American markets. “I will look to draw from Mr. Tata’s wealth of experience in my mission to make Teabox a premium global tea brand.”

Having started in 2012 as an online tea enterprise, Teabox sources the best varieties from Darjeeling, Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu and Nepal; and has till date shipped 35 million cups (of tea) to consumers in 95 countries.

These 95 countries include the likes of Kiribati (an island in the Pacific), Iran, Iraq, Syria and more. “Yes we have shipped to remote corners of the world. To places such as the Ural Mountains and Siberia.” And that too in the shortest span of time. It usually takes a couple of months for a batch of tea to reach a customer. Kaushal ensures that through Teabox it reaches in 3 days to a week.

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So what’s the model that makes this happen? “We have dis-intermediated the traditional supply chain that calls for seven intermediaries, right from the tea producer-auction-exporter-importer-wholesaler-retailer-and finally the consumer. We do it tea producer to Teabox-consumer.” So by cutting the rest in the supply chain, Teabox is able to deliver the freshest teas in a quick manner.

To retain freshness, the venture relies on its cold storage facility in Siliguri in West Bengal, where tea is brought within 24 to 48 hours of production. “Once it enters the facility, we remove oxygen and any impurities that exist and then vacuum pack and store it at – 5 degrees.”

Kaushal credits technology for making this happen. Though the tea industry and technology have so far been mutually exclusive, Teabox has leveraged technology to bring in efficiencies. “We have utilised technology to optimise the supply chain from our fulfilment centre in Darjeeling to say New York, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong or anywhere else, and reduce the time-to-delivery and provide customers with a seamless experience. Depending on the zip code or pin code from where a person orders, our system knows which logistics partner to approach in order to ensure that the tea reaches in the shortest time span.”

Shipping to 95 countries calls for a lot. Kaushal’s biggest challenge was convincing people that tea could be sold successfully online. Secondly, it did prove to be a Herculean task to find the right people at the right budget for the right jobs. So initially, Teabox did mainly the core activities such as buying, packing and shipping the teas. They outsourced the rest of the jobs to people from different corners of the globe. Like social media to someone in Kenya, customer service to someone from Philippines, design to someone in New Zealand, SEO to a Bulgarian, marketing to an American and so on.

Moreover, to increase awareness of their presence, they indulged in a lot of online marketing. “We had to ensure that every single person who buys our teas ends up referring it to others. So besides focusing on quality, we wrote blogs and created a lot of noise online.”

Today, the business that Teabox generates from abroad is humungous, with India constituting less than 10 percent. US is the biggest market for the venture. “We want to consolidate further in North America and other developed markets like the UK.”

Though Kaushal does not divulge the turnover, he says that the venture is witnessing a significant uptake in growth. And why not, when apart from Mr. Tata, the business has attracted investments from the likes of American billionaire and businessman Robert Bass. “He was initially our customer and then became an investor and is extremely passionate about tea. When you have customers who become investors, it means that they are putting in money as they like the product and realise the value.”

Having started with his savings of Rs. 25 to 30 lakhs, Teabox has till date raised about $7 million in funding alone.

Briefly divulging his future plans, Kaushal says it is now time to get offline as well, through 5-star hotels and Michelin-star restaurants. “We want to organise tea tasting sessions in the best hotels and restaurants where we don’t just put the teas, but talk about it, provide an experience and make our brand more visible.” Will Teabox also expand presence in retail outlets? “Maybe in future,” says Kaushal.

Having grown up in Siliguri, the Bengaluru man, who has also lived in Singapore, had always dreamt of being an entrepreneur. His family is sort of involved in the tea sector, and hence tea was a natural choice when it came to starting his enterprise.

A doting father to his daughter when outside of work, besides Teabox, Kaushal is focusing on getting back into running. He used to be a marathoner in Singapore, having done two full and one half marathon. “There is nothing as incredible as running. I want to get back to it.”

Blurbs

Apart from Ratan Tata, Teabox has attracted investments from the likes of American billionaire and businessman Robert Bass

Having started with his savings of Rs. 25 to 30 lakhs, Teabox has till date raised about $7 million in funding alone