Pooja Kaul showed up on my social media feed on a day, which was otherwise ordinary. My attention was caught by the phrase Forbes 30 Under 30 but the person staring at me from her social media profile looked unassuming. My internet voyeurism led me to find out more about this girl and what made her make the cut. What I read was offbeat and interesting, and I wanted to know more. So I reached out to her and the CEO of Organiko had a fabulous tale to tell. One of dreams and donkeys.
Born in Bhopal, to a service class family and one among six siblings, Pooja was your girl next door. After her Senior Secondary in Science, the first turn off the beaten track was to pursue a degree in Political Science and History from Delhi University. She dabbled in social work during her bachelors with an NGO focused on HIV/AIDS. Pooja had an underlying feeling that the social sector was her calling but wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do. Against conventional wisdom, she dropped a year after graduation to explore more opportunities in the social sector. Constant support from the family and a sense of optimism that she could pursue her dreams unfettered, was the parenting experience that gave Pooja the strength to explore.
A chance internet surfing session, threw up the word “Entrepreneur” at her and she got intrigued. Some research and many conversations later, she decided to become one. She found out that the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences offers a course in Entrepreneurship and our girl gave it a shot and yes, she got throughThe course was a fresh lease of life with over 70% of time spent on field work.
And now was the time to come up with a topic for her coursework.During her research, she came across this interesting bit of information that the population of donkeys had been declining annually by over 27%. She read more. Donkeys are owned largely by the nomadic tribes and due to various factors in the last decade, their owners found the poor beast’s economic value declining and they were now becoming irrelevant. This has led to the shrinking of the population of this beast of burden from our livestock over the years.
Ancient myth and Greek culture had references to the wonders that donkey’s milk could do to a woman’s skin, including Cleopatra’s. Pooja struck upon her idea. When she presented the proposal of developing India’s first organic luxe soap made out of donkey’s milk, her peer group laughed out aloud.
Never to be the one fazed by others’ opinion of herself, she went ahead with the project. Her brother supported her through this journey and became her mentor. They would go into slums trying to identify donkey owners and were met with great skepticism and hostility from the folk. Hostility, because many suspected they were into Black Magic. I mean, who comes looking for Donkey’s milk, after all? But efforts yielded results, and Pooja managed to source her first supply of donkeys’ milk. She took up some space next to the campus, along with others from her project team, and got down to making the first batch of soaps, which she had also done in schooldays as a hobby. It was Diwali and with a stock of 200 soaps, she came to Delhi and participated in an exhibition in INA market. The concept was a runaway success and they sold out.
Campus came calling and soon it was placement season. She landed a lucrative offer and it was time to look forward to a cushy and stable corporate career. But there was an itch, that remained. She did not want to abandon her project. But what could she weigh this job opportunity against? A few soaps sold at an exhibition in Delhi? This at a time, when her other batch mates were happily giving up on their dreams and settling for the known. Turns out, the maverick that she was, she believed in herself enough to take the leap of faith. She rejected the offer and came back home to Delhi to pursue her dreams.
But there was the next problem. The sector was still disorganized and it almost looked like “There were no Donkeys in Delhi!” After some mammoth sourcing efforts, she managed to make her next batch of soaps. Herself. Armed with this and her characteristic gumption, she left home to participate in an exhibition in Chandigarh.
As luck would have it, a news reporter happened to stop by her stall and found her work intriguing. He did a column on her the next day. Their work went viral on social media and Pooja was flooded by meeting requests from celebrities and media alike.
Today, Organiko is a successful startup that she runs with a team of six people. She has seen a surge in calls from donkey owners themselves who now want to focus on the animal and harness its healing powers. Her work has been widely covered by the media and needless to say, the donkeys are grinning!