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Revolutionising Probiotics: Kultur’d

Having started her business after a surgery at the age of 20, founder and year 4 economics student Siddhi Tamby talks to TBNG's Moe Yin about her struggles, victories, and the small moments that make it all worth the pain.

“Am I on the right path? I’m doing something completely different…”

Siddhi Tamby is the girlboss of Kultur’d (pronounced as ‘cultured’) and a Year 4 Economics & Finance student at SMU. Based in India, Kultur’d manufactures probiotic drinks such as Kombucha, Kefir and Jun.

Image of 6 bottles loosely arranged horizontally across the table, littered with fruits and spices around. Bottles contain kefir under the Kultur'd brand
Water kefir and kombucha from Kultur'd | Photo Courtesy of Siddhi

It has been about one and a half years since operations began, but the idea first came to Siddhi more than three years ago, way back in the summer of 2018. Her moment of epiphany occurred when she was diagnosed with an ailment that required immediate surgery and a prescription to consume probiotic beverages.

“People in India weren’t aware. Even my friends and family who knew I was consuming these drinks for a while, didn’t know about it.”

Back then, the switch wasn’t easy because of the sheer inaccessibility of probiotic drinks in India. This led Siddhi to begin making her own fermented probiotic drinks in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. Noticing a remarkable difference in her immunity and well-being, she wanted to make these drinks affordable and accessible in the Indian market. Still, this idea did not take off as an entrepreneur pitch until the pandemic began.

Introducing cultured drinks in India wasn’t easy because the idea was foreign in the country. “People in India weren’t aware. Even my friends and family who knew I was consuming these drinks for a while, didn’t know about it.” Siddhi had to market the benefits of these drinks to encourage more people to consume them.

Image depicts 3 bottles of Kultur'd kombucha on a round wooden plate, with fruits and spices littered around
Kombucha from Kultur'd | Photo Courtesy of Siddhi

She sent out free drinks to over 50 families to judge how the Indian palate responded to the taste of these drinks. “Some of us liked it, some of us didn't like it. Some of us wanted it sweeter, some of us wanted more fruity flavours, some of us wanted more Indian flavours.” Thereafter, she constantly fine-tuned them.

Fast forward to this day, Kultur’d has grown to have a manufacturing factory that supplies these drinks to grocery stores, cafes and restaurants, looking to expand beyond Jaipur to the rest of cities in India.


The Unglamorous Side

Siddhi taught the process of culturing to her family so that she could do the marketing, partnership and business development remotely while studying in Singapore.

Jun from Kultur'd | Photo Courtesy of Siddhi

As one would expect, running a start-up is more than just a simple revenue and cost equation. Instead, it involves a whole host of technicalities and paperwork. Since Kultur’d is not a small informal home business, there are other complexities involved that are beyond Siddhi’s scope as an Economics student. For example, she had to hire interns and freelancers for quality control and food safety.

“I won’t lie. It's a hundred percent difficult.” admits Siddhi, candidly.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed reading this, me too…being a university student alone is tough enough, I can’t imagine just how much tougher it would be to manage a start-up on the side as well.

“I won’t lie. It's a hundred percent difficult.” admits Siddhi, candidly.

The difference between a 9-to-6 job and running a business is that work never ends for the latter. There were days Siddhi worked for fifteen hours without any results. Work eats into weekends, me-time and much more. As Siddhi spoke, I was reminded of the harsh realities of motivational quotes preached on LinkedIn – “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.

Photo Credit: (yes, you can buy this print)

Taking the unconventional path, Siddhi is always in two minds. To put in so much hard work and heart work without a guaranteed pay cheque, she constantly second guesses herself. Was she on the right track? For her, that feeling never goes away.

Often, she felt as though everything was on her. “No matter who messes up in the company, it's always your ownership. It's always on you.” The unrelenting pressure is inevitable; many times it puts her down and she just wants to call it quits.

“Small moments just make it worth it.”

Siddhi chose to take the road less travelled because of a simple yet intricate feeling of fulfillment. “It’s very fulfilling at the end of the day. Whenever I work a little hard, say, make an Instagram post; the moment I see an order coming in because of that post, I'm so happy! It's because I just spent an hour thinking of the design of a post and making it, that I got an order.”

Photo Courtesy of Siddhi

Despite all her uncertainties and sacrifices in pursuing this endeavour, she told me that these “small moments just make it worth it."


Take the Leap

It took Siddhi two ‘misfortunes’ ーa pandemic and a subsequent termination of an internship offer (before work-from-home arrangements became the norm), to begin working on her entrepreneurial journey.

Siddhi reflected, “It was pretty hopeless at that point. Because the internship itself was very important for my career goals.” Her setbacks were in fact a blessing in disguise that catalysed her entrepreneurial journey.

When asked for her advice to other aspiring student entrepreneurs, Siddhi summed it up succinctly ー“Take the leap.”

Water kefir from Kulturd | Photo Courtesy of Siddhi

She elaborated that “when we do get an idea, we sort of push it away”. People tend to think of a hundred and one reasons why it wouldn’t work out.

Instead, starting small and on the side will allow space for mistakes and a plan B. “I wouldn’t say that give it all in my business…when I started as a student, I was still focusing on my academics, I didn’t drop out. Even when I was working for myself, I was also interning at another company because I wanted to keep my options open. But still, do it.”

"Even when I was working for myself, I was also interning at another company because I wanted to keep my options open. But still, do it."

I mulled over our conversation after our Zoom call ended. Often, many of us are trapped in a vicious cycle of wanting to live up to expectations and obligations. Perhaps, it’s time for us to have the courage to break free from the patterns and restrictions we put upon ourselves. There will be sacrifices you have to make, but trust that the journey will be worth it!

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