The teenage years can be assertive and rebellious and it was no different for Chennai-based Sarvesh Shashi, the CEO of fitness startup Sarva. “I was an arrogant and angry child before I turned 17,” he told ET. It was in the same year when he met his guru and was introduced to the discipline of yoga. This was the enlightening moment in Shashi’s life, after which he started to perceive life differently. He witnessed a healthy change in his personal life, in how he handled things, immaturity and saw many other behavioural improvements.
Rejecting the offer to work for his father’s business at 21, Shashi decided to do something entrepreneurial and yoga was first thing he came up with. “I saw that there are 500 million people in India under the age of 35 and at the same time, stress, anxiety, and depression was becoming a global epidemic. I genuinely wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, have yoga play as a foundation and base and act as a catalyst,” he said, adding that he founded Sarva, earlier known as Zorba, in 2013.
Fast forward six years, Sarva now owns more than 91 studios across over 34 cities in the country and has bagged investments from Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lopez and her fiancé and baseball giant Alex Rodriguez. Interestingly, this was the couple’s first investment in an Indian venture.
The millennial yogi
Mental well-being, today, has become one of the most significant global discourse and rightly so. There’s a growing awareness among people to deal with anxiety, stress and depression in peaceful and productive ways. Practicing yoga lands on top of these methods. Known to have developed in ancient India, yoga has been scientifically found to ease your minds, improve mental health, and make you strong from head to heart to toes. Experiencing the benefits first-hand, Shashi is similarly trying to transform people’s lives.
Sarva offers 25 unique variations of yoga, some of which are- danda yoga, aqua yoga, basketball yoga, lunar phase flow yoga, sculpt yoga and brick yoga. The routines involve using a prop, which forms a part of our day-to-day life. Sarva conducts these sessions in their studios, which are heavily present in Tier-I cities namely Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai.
Apart from its own studio classes, the firm indulges in corporate wellness as well. It conducts easy-to-practice 15-20 minute sessions in offices such as desktop Yoga, chair yoga, and brain engagement yoga, and others in which the employees can practice sitting in their seats.
The startup also offers its regular 25-forms yoga classes in a dedicated space within the office premises for daily yoga practitioners. In addition to this, Sarva conducts outdoor workshops of either 45 minutes or 75 minutes. They deal with day-to-day challenges of an employee and help them achieve hormonal balance, stress management, posture correction and quality sleep, among other benefits.
“At Sarva, We’re trying to build a wellness ecosystem. The aim is transformation. How can I help people transform into a better version. How does it begin as a step one from a physical aspect? How can people start off with yoga and understand the importance of self-care,” he said.
This seems to have hit off with the Gen Y population as Shashi claimed that the average age of Sarva’s customers has dropped from 46 three years ago to 31 now. When asked for the reason behind the age group, he said, “I think they are the ones who can change things and I think they need it the most.” He added that a lot of people join his studios to lose weight, but continue their classes, even after they are done with their original purpose as they love the classes and it helps them sleep better.
On an interesting note, yoga wasn’t Shashi’s first stint with fitness. Prior to becoming a millennial yogi, he was a professional cricket player. This modern “yogi with messy hair and sweatpants”, as per his Instagram bio, today has around 104,000 followers on the social media platform and is tapping the online market soon.
Shashi said Sarva will launch its digital services within the next three months. These include Sarva Live- which will stream live yoga and mindfulness classes, Sarva Interactive- an AI-powered yoga and mindfulness coach to train and motivate customers and Sarva Training- an educational platform to help existing Yoga trainers deepen their Yoga knowledge.
Sarva’s digital ecosystem will also come with Sarva Mind- a platform offering content in the form of guided meditation, mindful music and sleep stories to ensure mental wellbeing of users. It will be presented in multiple regional languages.
Sweet smell of success
Yoga also seemed to have awakened the dormant businessman inside Shashi as he talked about Sarva’s booming business, the plans to explore and comprehensively scale in India and then go global.
With more 5000 reviews in its bag, Sarva has achieved an average rating 4.8 in Google and Shashi has nothing, but heaps of praises for the people behind this milestone. With a retention rate of a little over 90% and customer base of more than 55,000, he lauded his team’s efforts and believes that it is going in the right direction.
In more appealing figures, Sarva has also set foot overseas with three new studios in London and has recently partnered with Oyo to set up 500 wellness studios across Oyo Townhouses in India by 2022. Further, it has partnered with David Lloyd Leisure Clubs, one of the leading fitness clubs in Europe, to train their instructors in yoga and mindfulness.
Adding laurels of sorts in its kitty, the firm bagged investments from celebrities such as fitness enthusiast Malaika Arora, Aishwarya R Dhanush, Shahid Kapoor and Mira Rajput, which Shashi nonchalantly said is “good” but “nothing fancy” and he is glad and grateful towards nature for everything that it has given.
While he did not disclose any revenue or funding figures, it was reported that Sarva raised nearly $6 million from the investments made by Lopez and Rodriguez putting its valuation at $20 million. Further, it was also reported that the fitness startup is targeting $15-20 million in institutional funding in the current calendar year.
Talking about upcoming plans for Sarva, the founder said, “Next year plan is largely focused on our retail business. We want to improve our store level growth, which is continuously growing. But, we want to get to the break even faster.”