Driven by a holistic perspective, Yash Kotak strategizes BOHECO’s positioning in the hemp industry with an incisive business sense to create an impact at the grassroots. BOHECO is an agro-based enterprise which uses hemp to create everything from pet care to nutritional products. They believe that this one plant showcases the power of nature at its best and we talk a bit more about this with Yash.
"From an organisational standpoint, perseverance I guess is the key, you keep telling your story, you keep working your way towards environmental conservation and eventually, people will open up to it, you don’t give up!"
How did you first get interested in hemp and cannabis and its less popular uses?
The idea behind BOHECO was born during our collegiate days when all seven of us co-founders used to be a part of a larger team working on social enterprise projects across India. During our expeditions to the villages during some of our projects (focused around solar rural electrification), we happened to notice the growth and utility of cannabis was ubiquitous regardless of which part of India we were in. In the same time frame, one of the co-founders happened to be in West Australia visiting family, when he was exposed to the rapid rise of hemp as a base commodity all over the country.
During our college days, we also realized that most people from our generation were focusing on the technology sector where India saw a rise of multiple startups in the category. This is when we were stuck with the thought that agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy, where it employed ~55% of India’s workforce then but contributed only ~14% to the country’s GDP, this made no sense.
Through our college expedition, we became more aware of the myriad problems that the agriculture sector is plagued with, which led to a realization that there’s a lot of opportunity for radical change in the industry and the need for a new tool for development became more prevalent. The reason most of our peers were not getting into agriculture was that agriculture wasn’t sexy (for lack of a better word) enough. What better crop to establish that than cannabis! These above reasons combined to create a larger Eureka moment, where we began to ask the right questions about why similar endeavours haven’t happened before in India and what could we do to kick-start the nascent domestic hemp and cannabis industry from scratch. For us, agriculture has always been the end and hemp and cannabis was the means to that end.
Creating a brand that is sustainable yet successful is something so many people struggle with, why do you think that is?
Creating a sustainable brand that is successful, doesn’t have a decided formula, just yet. It’s been a back and forth process of understanding how your brand fits into a user’s life and learning to strike that balance between meeting demands and timely production. In India, you could be faced with a number of manufacturing struggles, especially if you’re introducing a whole new product to the market. Which is what we faced when trying to work with hemp, and there being no preset manufacturing process or demand for the product. One thing we have focused most from a consumer’s POV is that we have invested a lot of our energy towards creating a great product which would add value to a consumer’s life and if it’s sustainable, it’s a big cherry on the top for them.
From an organisational standpoint, perseverance I guess is the key, you keep telling your story, you keep working your way towards environmental conservation and eventually, people will open up to it, you don’t give up!
How have you managed to tackle this obstacle?
We have actively engaged with people in an effort to educate. When we meet someone new, we start with the very basic, “Do you know what hemp/cannabis is?” then we tell you everything about this ancient wonder and start busting myths that surround it. Our aim has never been to ask people to purchase a hemp or cannabis product, we first tell you the story and the value of the plant, and then we leave you to decide. Re-telling this story always makes us happy, the thrill of watching someone purchase a product because they believe in it, never gets old.
"Our aim is to keep telling the cannabis story."
Additionally, we have never been too preachy or pushed our agenda aggressively because that tends to ward people off, we rather put the facts in front of them and let them decide because you don’t buy a hemp/cannabis product, you’re investing in a better future by subscribing to these products.
What has the response been from the Indian market to your brand and vision?
The response we have received over the years has truly humbled our experience. We have met young individuals who pick up medicinal cannabis for their grandparents, and parents who share a good laugh about wearing hemp clothing. Mothers are now opting for hemp nutrition and introducing its benefits into the family diet. In all of this, we’d say cannabis has come a long way from being isolated and stigmatised. The initial struggle is slowly starting to wane into a hopeful future and this is credited to how receptive, curious and forthcoming the Indian market is. There’s a whole lot more to explore with cannabis in India, we’re excited about giving this ancient wonder crop a modern-day twist, and we want it to be with you every step of the way.
You've done much more than creating a brand but you're actually facilitating an entire industry through BOHECO, what was the inspiration behind that and what has the experience been like?
Collectively, we as a human race are staring into a systemic change where gone are the days of ‘competition and monopoly’, these are the days of ‘collaboration and cooperation’. In order to bring about massive change, one needs to work as a unit and not in an individual capacity. Keeping this fundamental thought process in mind, we started paving the way forward for cannabis in India. Only when there are more organisations and individuals working towards a common cause will the regulators take cognizance of it which will definitely lead to large scale impact on the ground. There’s a common saying that ‘you can either go fast or you can go far’, we wanted to challenge that notion and say that we can go far and fast - far by staying true to our company’s vision and fast by having more people join us on that journey.
Before you go...
If you could be an animal, what would you choose and why?
The mammoth yet humble gentle giant - an elephant. Known to be the creators of the jungle and a team player that fosters loyalty amongst the herd, always calm and peaceful unless you mess with it, it's family or it's ecosystem. The elephant commands respect from everyone and even the most ferocious honour its presence.
What really helps you get into the zone while working?
I thrive on the energy of people around me so yes, surrounding myself with motivated people really gets me going. But considering the work-from-home setup these days, I love a ball at my feet - reminds me of the goals I need to score for the day.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In today’s VUCA world five years is quite an elaborate period but in an idealistic scenario, hopefully, I’ll be leading BOHECO to newer heights and establishing ourselves as a hemp and cannabis global powerhouse but rooted in India. Also, either setting up my own or partnering with a not-for-profit that’s either focusing on using sport as a means of social development OR women literacy in India. Two causes I’m personally quite passionate about.