Though Goa-based Varna Bhat had already founded two companies – RapidStall, an eco-friendly fabric branding company, and Tessarakt Experiential – a marketing, events and creative house, she had always wanted to start up in the alco-bev space.
A conversation with friends made her realise that India hardly had a signature drink. It led her to start Blisswater Industries, and a truly Indian vodka – Rahasya in December 2020. Produced in Goa, the sip-able vodka is priced at Rs 850 for a 750ml bottle in the Goa market.
Blisswater Industries is also planning to take Rahasya to four countries outside India. The company has now raised a seed funding of $335,000 from CC One Venture Labs, Majithia Family House, as well as independent investors Yash Shah, Co-founder Disruptium, and Sham Kishor Bhat. One of the investors has also invested in Bira.
The funds will be deployed towards expanding the company’s geographic footprint and broadening its product offering.
Making of ‘Rahasya’
Speaking of the making of Rahasya, Varna says, “You have different drinks that are there in different pockets and parts of India, but nothing that everybody from Kashmir to Kanyakumari can relate to. It is about the taste, and that was an intriguing thought. I wanted to create that and I decided to work on what should the Indianised drink taste like,” says Varna.
She adds that it was important that every sip should result in nostalgia. The team made a few blends, and when they had an 80 percent acceptance, they went ahead with Rahashya.
IAS to starting up
Varna’s venture into branding and entrepreneurship was serendipitous. She grew up preparing to be an IAS officer as she had always been a batch topper and excelled at academics. While studying for her civil service course, she was working at an organisation that had mentors from the branding world.
“We were creating a course for creative sciences, and I got into the world of marketing and branding. That was the foundation of building my first startup,” says Varna. Working since she was 18, Varna had already learnt to do several jobs such as writing a PhD thesis and selling SIM cards – while earning a masters in Business Administration.
She went to head marketing and branding roles for many organisations before founding RapidStall in 2012. The company made eco-friendly fabric branding that was being manufacturing in Bengaluru and had sales offices in Delhi and Mumbai. They also had manufacturing and sales in Dubai for the Middle East region.
“It gave me an idea of operations, how brands worked,” adds Varna. A few years after RapidStall, Varna founded Tessarakt Experiential. While the company is functioning strong, Varna wanted to always start in the alcohol beverage space. A conversation with friends made her realise there was hardly any drink in India that works as a signature drink for the country. It led her to start Blisswater Industries in 2019.
Making the vodka
Varna adds the team sources the highest quality of grain and raw materials for the vodka. “The bigger time spent was on creating the secret sauce, as that’s what makes Rahasya. There are very few people in the organisation who know what that secret sauce is,” says Varna. This ‘secret sauce’ is made separately and sent to the units.
It then is infused in the vodka and rested for 35 to 40 days, after which it goes into bottling. Being a Goan, it was easy for Varna to find the right partners for distilling and bottling.
Pandemic and the market
While the team was set to begin work and launch Rahasya in May 2020, the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns derailed the plans. They took the time to continue building the brand and made sure that the team has the plans for the next year. Rahasya was finally launched in December 2020.
“While the lockdown has been tough for all startups, we have had enquiries from retail stores during the lockdown last year. And there was the movement of the material,” says Varna.
The market for homemade distilleries and breweries is growing, with the presence of companies like Bira, White Owl, Makazia, and several others. A Goldstein Market Intelligence analyst forecasted the Indian alcoholic beverages market to grow at a CAGR of 7.4 percent between 2017 and 2030. The market is anticipated to reach $39.7. billion in the same time frame.
By the end of 2021, Rahasya will be available across Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and other states. Blisswater also plans to make the vodka available overseas as early as mid-2021.