3 min read.Updated: 22 Oct 2019, 12:09 AM ISTShail Desai
After finishing their course in April last year, Pooja and Rishabh were offered a job with the Rajasthan Grameen Aajeevika Vikas Parishad. Both took up the job initially, but soon quit to work full-time on Organiko
The donkey is not among the most celebrated animals—and Pooja Kaul, 25, and Rishabh Yash Tomar, 24, are trying to change that perception with their startup, Organiko, which creates cosmetics from the animal’s milk.
After graduating from Delhi University in political history, Kaul took up soap-making as a hobby. Within few months, in 2017, she gave it up to pursue a master’s degree in social innovation and entrepreneurship from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Tuljapur. While doing a project as part of the coursework, she met Tomar, also a master’s student, and they both learned about the many benefits of donkey’s milk. They believed they could popularize it, but were not sure how to.
“Donkey’s milk has many medicinal benefits. It has high levels of proteins, phospholipids and ceramides, which help regenerate skin. After interning at Katraj Dairy in Pune, we realized that distribution was going to be a challenge, especially because nobody wanted to source donkey’s milk in large quantities," Kaul says.
They also realized the taboo associated with the animal. As a result, communities that owned the animal primarily used it for labour at construction sites.
“So, we thought why not convert the milk into something that could be used by people, while at the same time help these communities financially so that they would have a sense of pride in their animals," recalls Tomar.
Further research showed that a number of luxury brands in Europe made cosmetics from donkey milk owing to its anti-ageing properties. After all those years, Kaul’s soap making skills were summoned again.
The initial challenge was sourcing the milk. Kaul and Tomar learnt of the Lashkars, a migrant community from Andhra Pradesh that had settled in Solapur, some 50km from Tuljapur.
“They first thought I was mad when I told them I was looking to source donkey milk. We made inquiries and came to know that a litre was sold for as much as ₹2,000 in some parts of southern India. When we agreed to the price, they were happy to supply milk," Kaul says.
As part of the pilot, they invested ₹28,000 to make 200 soaps. It took them just a few weeks to sell them using social media marketing, even making a 50% profit along the way.
“We realized that it was a unique idea, one that we could consider taking up on graduation," Kaul adds.
After finishing their course in April last year, the two were offered a job with the Rajasthan Grameen Aajeevika Vikas Parishad. Both took up the job initially, but soon quit to work full-time on Organiko.
Kaul’s family insisted that she move the project closer, from Tuljapur, to her base in Delhi. For the next six months, she set off on a donkey hunt, eventually locating communities in Ghaziabad and Noida.
The opportunity presented by Kaul was lucrative enough for the communities to join hands. Their donkeys were milked every alternate day to ensure there was enough for the foals as well. In a week, Kaul would source about 20 litres at a cost of ₹1,300-2,000 per litre. She has also trained women from the community to make and package the soaps, which brings extra income.
In October last year, they launched Organiko as an enterprise and invested around ₹2 lakh. Given the festive season around that time, it took them less than two months to break even. Their customers were mainly from Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Tamil Nadu, Chandigarh and Delhi.
“The greatest joy was to realize that these animals were finally respected and their owners considered them to be an asset. They built shelters next to their own homes and started looking after them," Kaul says.
Besides, Tomar adds, a family that once earned ₹7,000-9,000 a month was now making ₹20,000-35,000. “There was no need for them to migrate anymore, which meant their children could finally have access to constant education."
In the next few months, Organiko plans to expand its skincare range, and have hired cosmetologists to work on the research. “We are looking for funds to scale up," Kaul says.
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