Bengaluru-based Varna Bhat’s primary challenge in starting an Alcohol-Beverage brand wasn’t the Indian market technicality, it had to do with most people not being able to come to terms that a woman was to lead this space which had, for a major part, been male-dominated. As someone who started not one but three companies, Bhat’s entrepreneurial instinct kicked in during her post-graduation days when she tried her hand at several jobs and gained a sense of branding along the way.
Bhat founded an eco-friendly fabric branding company and a marketing, events, and creative house before she entered the alcohol-beverage industry with Blisswater Industries. Her in-depth research in the space made her realise that our country did not really represent a signature drink and that ignited the way for her to start Blisswater and launch India’s own drink called Rahasya Vodka, which is currently manufactured in Goa.
In an interview with SheThePeople, Varna Bhat discusses her entrepreneurial journey, her successful attempt at turning challenges in her favour, and how she made a niche in the male-dominated alco-bev space in India.
No stranger to start-ups
Varna Bhat is not new to the start-up world as her entrepreneurial journey dates back to 2014. However, entering the alcohol-beverage industry was another ballgame altogether.
“It was a conscious choice once the idea of what I wanted to start a business in became very firm. My first stint was at an eco-friendly branding solution company and once the seed of this idea was formed there was no looking back,” she recalls. As someone who dons several hats across organisations as a frontrunner, what empowers Bhat to keep going is the philosophy of bettering her efficiencies. The ideology that ‘you can be better tomorrow than you were yesterday’ helps her lead an organisation and enjoy the myriad cross-departmental challenges thrown at her in the business world.
“The ability to find creative solutions and the desire to always find a way to increase efficiencies keeps me going. There’s always a chance for improvement as a businessperson.”
Entering the male-dominated industry with Blisswater
The Alcohol-Beverage industry in India has seen male dominance for a large part of the decade. Therefore, Bhat’s vision with the launch of ‘Rahasya’ serves as a refreshing change. Shattering the notion of gender roles associated with a certain genre of business was challenging for her though. “In the society where we grew up, women went through many more challenges than men, and the gender gap in business was immense. While I have several anecdotes of my life on the challenges I faced, what’s been very inspiring for me is that at all junctures, my peers and colleagues, who have been in this industry for a long time came forth and supported me. There are challenges but there’s always an opportunity to turn those challenges in your favour.”
“It took a while for people in the sector to accept that a woman is running this business. However, sticking to the fundamentals of business I learnt in my previous stints made sure I could bypass these supposed challenges.”
Revolutionising the Indian market with Rahasya Vodka
Rahasya Vodka was born drawing from the mysteries and mysticism of India in itself. It was created to bring India together in a bottle, with the intention to offer a unique experience, says Bhat.
“We wanted to give everyone an understanding of what India in a bottle can be; from the smell, to taste, to look and feel everything that would represent modern contemporary Indian. We were very clear that we wanted to come into the market with something so unique and crafted in a way that would make the customers stop and take notice,” she recalls.
Emphasising the beverage sector’s growth across categories, she reflects on the evolution of the Indian consumer as well. “What we are doing is, giving the Indian consumers who are very discerning, who are very open to trying new things but at the same time want good quality products, products that are not just a value for money but also really good on quality.”
“With our drinks on the table, we are making sure that all that India has in its heritage and culture from the ancient past to the contemporary, finds a way to the forefront through our products.”
As someone who has worked both as an employee and employer, and now leads businesses, Bhat says for the Indian market to empower women in leadership positions is often impacted by the two-pronged approach. Urging women to rely on their skills and not back down despite obstacles, she says, “Women themselves should stand up and go after the position that they want, make sure that they showcase their talents. It’s integral that they also ensure people take notice of their work, their abilities, and their qualities, that’s pretty much an upstart from the women themselves.”
“The world must keep aside the stereotypical biases when hiring women and let it be more merit and skill-focused rather than gender. I am blessed to be surrounded by several who have shattered glass ceilings.”
As someone constantly on the path to innovation, Bhat ensures she takes all her employees’ efforts into account and involves everyone in specific decision-making as well. “One thing I carry with me always is to make sure that I listen to the people around me.
As a leader, perspectives you tend to hear when you stop and listen can always help make better-informed decisions.”
Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs
“For anyone to begin, it’s important to ensure you believe in the product you’re creating,” says Bhat, adding that it becomes more challenging for women. “Make sure your product or service is so good that people stand by you. What matters is women must put in the time and effort to ensure what they create is the absolute best that they can provide and be confident about it, take it to market and let people experience what they have created,” she suggests.