Kausshal Dugarr – Founder and CEO of Teabox shares how he took his Indian tea brand to 117 countries
BY NAMITA GUPTA
How did the idea of getting into the tea industry come about?
I come from a family that has been in the tea industry for more than 50 years, I had great exposure to some very good teas. But in all the time I spent outside India, I never got the same kind of tea. I realised that by the time the tea reached the end consumer, there was complete deterioration in its quality. The Indian tea industry is around two centuries old. Unfortunately, it is not a simple garden-to-cup equation and a long supply chain featuring a network of intermediaries, including auction houses and exporter wholesalers, leads to inevitable degradation in the freshness and quality of tea. The idea was to bridge this gap and ensure that tea consumers, no matter where they are in the world, get access to the freshest teas. When I came back to India in 2011, I realised that no one had focused on that part of the market. So, I decided to create a direct-to-consumer brand, and that’s how Teabox began.
What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?
When we started a few years back, everyone laughed at us. We were trying to bring Indian teas directly on a global level by connecting them to a global customer base through a D2C ecommerce platform. As this was a completely new idea then, literally everyone thought it would fail miserably. And today, after having shipped more than two billion cups to customers worldwide in 117 countries – we have achieved what we set out to at the start. Our partners today realise that through us they are able to get a brand visibility which earlier they were not able to get directly in front of a worldwide customer base. It took a lot of effort and persistence for us to be able to change them. I remember in one instance, we have had to visit a plantation about 18 times for them to be able to share their teas with us. Today, they work exclusively with us. It took a long time for us to be able to break those barriers.
How has the journey been since then? What have been the highpoints of your journey?
Our journey like many others before us has had a lot of ups and downs. Personally speaking, I have had two high points in my career. First was when one of our customers became an investor. This was the greatest validation a brand can receive. The second highlight was when Mr. Tata came on board as an investor. Most of us in India have grown up to admire him. Also, the fact that Tata Group owns the world’s second largest tea company – Tata Global Beverages. So it was a great feeling when the doyen of Indian tea industry came onboard as an investor.
How do you think you revolutionised the industry, stayed ahead of the game and made people stand up and take notice of your brand?
The Indian tea industry is around two centuries old. Unfortunately, it is not a simple garden-to-cup equation but a long supply chain featuring a network of intermediaries, including auction houses and export wholesalers, leading to an inevitable degradation in the freshness and quality of tea. So, the idea was to bridge this gap and ensure that tea consumers, no matter where they are in the world, get access to the freshest teas. No one seemed to have stopped to ask why. Or attempt a more efficient system. We chose to ask those questions. We did away with the long supply chain, reducing it from five stages to two, the consequence of which was that we could offer a much better tea for an even better price. This is how we have revolutionised how tea reaches our community of drinkers.
How do you keep innovating everytime and what keeps you motivated?
Our customers are our biggest source of innovation. By listening to them, we are able to understand their problems/challenges and figure out how we can innovate around that. As the tea industry is literally steeped in time, there is quite a large playground for us to innovate. We are doing this to disrupt the tea industry and positively bring a change in the lives of tea workers who are some of the most marginalised population. Having grown up literally in the estates, I have seen this very closely. A small change in their livelihood has the potential to create a huge economic impact. We believe that we have the potential to change the lives of these workers who literally toil day and night. And that is our motivation.
How do you maintain a work-life balance? What are your other hobbies?
It’s extremely challenging to maintain a work-life balance, especially when you really enjoy what you are doing. As we push the limits of the tea industry, we believe the timing couldn’t be more right for us. However, I try to ensure that Sundays are a complete off-day so that I can spend that time with my daughter. We do a small excursion for a few hours to a nature trail whenever possible.
What are some of the tea variants under your umbrella now?
Teabox is known for its fresh teas, we sell the world’s freshest teas. That’s what we are known for. But, there’s one another thing that we should be known for and that’s for our variety of teas! We have more than 150 teas from the best Indian and Nepalese tea gardens. Covering single estate teas, flavoured blends, black tea, oolong, white tea, tisane and more. Tea variants-Single estate teas from Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiris; Proprietary straight tea blends (White, Green, Oolong and Black); Proprietary flavoured tea blends; Caffeine free herbal infusions and tisanes. During festivities we make the effort to create fine seasonal blends that are handcrafted by our very own in-house experts. Christmas specials and Diwali specials are something even we look forward to. In addition to our collection, we have a range of Wellness teas that is the perfect combination of western and ayurvedic herbs. We are also proud of our internationally famous Japanese Matcha.
What are your future plans?
The future looks even more exciting as we are taking our innovations to the next level. We are talking about AI, pattern recognition and hardware. As we expand our stores, they give us a physical opportunity to test things out. In addition, our R&D team is working to bring incredible beverage led innovation inspired from other categories.