Pioneering I-Beauty and creating a brand rooted in culture and heritage with Aavrani's Rooshy Roy

On today’s episode I’m joined by Rooshy Roy, Co-Founder of An Indian inspired skincare brand called Aavrani.

A first-generation Indian American, Rooshy grew up around her family making ancient Indian skin care treatments using ingredients like turmeric and almond oil, and through a chance encounter at business school on her second day there, she started her entrepreneurial journey with Aavrani.

Named as one of Forbes 30 under 30 for retail and ecommerce in 2020, Rooshy has secured around 2m in funding and has developed a brand rooted in Indian culture and heritage, with a purpose to inspire and empower women around the world through ancient Indian rituals.

I can’t tell you how much I loved this conversation, Rooshy is so profoundly real and raw, and she shares so much of herself throughout the episode. We talk about the importance of pioneering I-beauty and why it’s crucial that more women launch brands inspired by Indian beauty and continue to show up for south asian women around the world, finding the strength to shut out the negative talk that stops women from pursuing big ideas and the beauty of storytelling from the heart.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

Of course. And thank you for having me doing and for reaching out to a brownie. This is one of the first podcasts that I'm doing. So I'm excited to spread the word and then, of course, help and inspire whoever wants to start their own business because it's so possible. It's just a matter of community and networking, which we'll get into in a bit. Oh, yeah, I'm so honored. So let me start from the beginning. Yes. So I was born and raised in Detroit. My parents are immigrants from India, so they immigrated in the late eighties and then I was born in nineteen ninety. They came from Calcutta and were.

Trying to preserve basically whatever culture that they knew and they grew up with in Michigan, so I grew up in a very in a very interesting upbringing, very fortunate, where I had one foot in two different cultures. We had Midwest, Americana, where it was 90 plus percent white people around me at school, sports activities. And then in terms of our immigrant Bengali community, we had a very tight knit group of families that essentially became our extended family in the US since everybody really left their left their families behind in Calcutta. So it was a beautiful experience. But as a child, it was very confusing for me, I would say mostly because I didn't quite feel like I fit into either. And it was a little lonely in the sense of, OK, well, where do I fit in if I'm if I don't have the same sort of values or interests that are Prix's in the Indian community, I don't feel like I belong there, but I don't look like any of the people that I talk to about sports or at debate camp or when I play basketball. It was this interesting experience where I really needed to figure out who I was. And the best part or the worst part, I guess, was that I didn't even realize how much I had left behind or that I was unaware of myself until I started to Ronnie and I prior to starting, I pursued finance.

I worked in investment banking and private equity for six years in New York. Then I went to business school to basically figure it out. It was the most risk averse, but also bold thing I could do at the time where I'm like, I can't do this anymore. But also I don't have the balls to just quit and figure it out without, you know, being able to tell people what I'm doing with my life, if that sort of makes sense. So going to Wharton was an opportunity for me to really step back and figure out, like, wait, OK, I did the thing where I worked as hard as possible in an environment that was competitive. I am comfortable with that. I don't need to continue trying to validate who I am or my competence anymore. And that sort of inflection point gave me the freedom to explore what I do care about. And so when I got to Wharton, interestingly, I was already a little sort of discouraged by my peers in the sense that I didn't really realize a lot of people come to business school in order to get a very specific job afterwards. It's one of those things where you come in, you start recruiting right away, and then you're off into a new career track.

For example, someone could come in from, let's say, a corporate job at a Fortune 500 company, UTS Business School, as a platform to pivot into investment banking or consulting something entirely different. Meanwhile, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and it was almost like I was watching all these people who were so sure about what they wanted and that lonely feeling started coming back. But instead of letting that sort of bog me down the kind of way it had my whole life, it was kind of a it was a freedom like, wow, this is this is a good thing. Maybe it is good. I'm not thinking in this way because I've done that. I've left that like this is a real opportunity for me. And the second day of business school, I happened to meet my co-founder, Justin Silver. He's a white guy from Long Island. And just the most opposite of me, as you can picture, both physically and in a personality sense. And when he introduced himself to me and we had both worked in finance as well, a lot of people at Wharton do prior to starting, I was almost already bored by the conversation. Like, I know what you have to say.

I know like the whole charade, like whatever. I was kind of dismissive. And he was so energetic and was starting to tell me about the things that he worked on in finance with such passion in a way I never seen, like I didn't care at all about the clients I was working on in the sense of like what is what's their mission, what are they trying to do? Meanwhile, he's just so excited about telling me about building another skincare brand through the private equity firm he was working at. And I was like, wow, how did you do that? We started talking in the sense of the same questions you asked me in the beginning how like how did they get from ten orders a day to twenty to thirty it? So hard and he started talking to me about it and I'm like, wait a minute, I have never been this excited about a conversation before ever. And I don't know if you can tell us about me. I've I've adapted myself. I would say I'm still working on it, but I'm quite introverted and reserved. It takes a lot for me to sort of offer up information or sort of divulge myself right away, but I couldn't even help it with him.

I was like, let me tell you all about this skin care from my culture. Like I grew up making turmeric mass. My grandma would put coconut oil hair mass in my hair, almond oil on my knees and elbows for hyper pigmentation.

All these sorts of knowledge and beauty secrets that I was privy to growing up, I didn't even realize was special or unique in the context of the world. And because I had sort of isolated myself from Indian culture, all the good stuff like these ancient rituals that are so sacred and still so renowned, I sort of left behind as well. And so through that conversation, he started getting excited. He's like, what do you mean you can't get a ready made turmeric mask? Why would you make them? The idea of creating your own skin care, even from a cultural perspective, is very different when you want to indulge or self care these days. It's a really expensive spa day, right, with the high end technician s aesthetician, mazouz, whatnot. In India, it's a very personal and community driven effort where you're creating these treatments with the women around you, cutting the turmeric, you know, really distilling the oils to a point where you're appreciating the treatment for what it is and not just trying to consume it. And in a pocket of time, the way beauty traditionally or as I've seen it in the US. And so we were talking about it. We were so excited and he's like, we should start a company. And it was one of those things where, you know, when you say, yeah, we should fly to the moon and you're like, yeah, that'd be awesome. And then you enjoy the conversation for a little bit, you know, that it's not going to happen and it's not reality.

And Justin just had this way of following up with me. He's like, why? Why is that unrealistic? Why do you think? And I kept coming up with problems. I'm like, well, where would we start? Who would manufacture the stuff? I don't know anything about skin care. I've never worked in a consumer product, anything. All I know are the knowledge from making this stuff growing up and like, is that enough? I have no idea. And then not to mention that idea of like, well, if this was a good idea, someone else would have done it by now. Right. There are so many beautiful, amazing, accomplished Indian women out there. It couldn't be me who introduces this thing, who never wears makeup. I just told you, I haven't showered since Saturday. Like, there's no way that this person is going to be pioneering a beauty or Indian beauty. Right. And there's that a disconnect we can get into later as well. But that conversation really was the first inflection point of of Ronney where we decided to do it. We literally took all the cash that we were going to spend on business school for tuition that we had saved, put it in a joint account to get an LLC and took out student loans and started right away. This was September twenty seventeen. And the very first thing we did and first thing I did actually was Google Skincare Manufacturers us. And so just to reiterate this idea of not knowing enough or not being enough to start anything is a complete facade.

Anyone can do anything. Information is so democratized these days and I'm realizing more and more, especially for women, we are the only things in our own way. You know, the idea of, oh, I don't have the experience, like, what if you just started doing it? You suddenly have experience. Right now I'm able to say I have three years of beauty experience, but what does that really mean? Technically, women who engage with beauty have a lifetime of experience, right? They know what works for them, what mixes together these kinds of things. You don't put on a resume. Right. But they're just innate to our womanhood and our livelihood and what makes us confident and happy and the idea that that is enough and enough expertise, enough experience, enough to relate to another woman to sell a product is preposterous. Right. But at the same time, it's so true. It really is so true. And I think that's the biggest lesson I'm still learning today for the first year of business school, by the way, I know I'm when we decided to begin the first thing after we identified all the manufacturers in the US. Who could make skincare products? It was a filter system of, OK, we want the highest quality clean ingredients, and since we're not chemists, that's not something we can necessarily skimp on. We want to we'll pay the premium on that.

So we diligence over 50 manufacturers in the US to ensure that they were using the right ingredients, that they were all sourced sustainably. They were using eco friendly practices and materials, basically, so that we wouldn't have to worry about it, if that makes sense. And then once we enlisted the manufacturer, I was able to work with the R&D team in the sense of giving them the ingredients that I knew from growing up, like turmeric, neem, honey, chickpea flour, coconut milk and water, all these things that I knew, I told them here, this is what works. I need you to translate this into a shelf stable format. I don't know what additional stabilizers we need or what kind of natural preservatives we can use. That's their job. But I was able to basically take the things that I learned from my grandmother, my aunts, my mom, and transform them into a product. And that was the most special experience because that was the first realization of like, wait, I can do this. I can do something here.

Yeah, you're doing it. You were in action.

And that I mean, that's the other thing. Sometimes you don't realize you are doing it while you're trying to do it, you know what I mean? Yeah, I guess just like making plans in life. Right. So in the summer between business school, we launched, we self launched the website running dotcom, I had four products created.

They were clinically tested and proven at over 90 percent of women agreeing with the claims we were making. I was very meticulous about product efficacy and quality once again, probably because I was so insecure about not being a chemist or having that experience beauty experience myself. It was the priority, ultimate priority, and at the same time coming from the world of finance and then also not appreciating what brand or marketing really means. In my head, I thought, OK, if you have a great product and it works, it's off to the races. I'm done. Right, right. Yeah. But then as you alluded to in the beginning of the conversation, we launched the website, went live June 1st, twenty eighteen. And just now was sitting there staring at our computers on the Shopify back and waiting for all these orders to roll in. And it's just frozen like I think at one point actually my computer was frozen and then just in open Shopify and his phone to double check. If our desktops were frozen, like we were like, what's happening? Where are all the sales? We literally thought there was a chance that we would sell out because, of course, every single person we ever knew or came into contact with would support us. Right. Like, that's the that's the assumption. I mean, while my mom didn't even buy until day three, she was like, oh, yeah, I just got to it like this one day, you know, like you don't realize how much you have to do once you have the actual thing you're trying to sell. So that summer was like a huge just wake up call for me, having spent basically all our savings up to that point to get the products made. We not only had to market the product now and I had to basically start learning social media and all this stuff that I wasn't familiar with before.

But we also had to start fundraising because in order to sustain growth and to get the next order, we needed some money and had no no idea when that would be or how long that would take. So we started fundraising basically as soon as we launched, which as I'm learning now, in retrospect, you're never going to have things lined up perfectly where, OK, once you have all the money now, you can go invest it in your company in a perfect sort of linear progression. You kind of have to assume you're going to be dope and sell out and you're going to need the money right away. So preemptively start pitching to people so that by the time you do sell out, you have the money, you know what I mean? And it's it's a really interesting dissonance in the mind where I have to sit across from someone and tell them how awesome we are when I have nothing to prove for myself. It's been two days, right? In July, they're like, how are your monthly sales? I'm like, it's not even been a month, but I promise it's going to be great. And that's all we're trying to pitch. And that became an entire learning process in and of itself. I mean, fundraising. Again, I thought I came into a pretty cocky I was like, I know what this is. I came from finance. This is my thing. Meanwhile, Justin and I are walking into rooms. People think I'm like the person that's going to get them water and asking Justin about, oh, my God, how how his experience in in skincare is going to make this a billion dollar company.

And I'm like, where am I? Are we with the right people here? What's what's happening? Is this what fundraising really is? And when people are asking me, like, why do you think this is going to be great? Why should we invest in you? I didn't realize how much of my own heart in my own vision. Was critical to that decision. I thought that if I gave them numbers and stats say the US skin care market is growing exponentially, the global clean beauty market is growing. At this rate, we can capture X percent of the total addressable market. What not? I thought those are the things that they're going to hang on to. Right. Meanwhile, they're just grilling me on all these questions that I'm answering, but then also have no real data to back up because we're not even really launched. We don't have any growth or anything to show for ourselves. So is this interesting catch? Twenty two. We ended up closing on a friends and family round that year in twenty eighteen at around two hundred and fifty, and that was enough to get the next production order to sustain growth. Then in twenty nineteen, Justin had graduated from business school in May and moved back to New York here in this lovely room slash headquarters and once again had to start fundraising and twenty nineteen. Last year's fund raise was a insane period of self discovery for me, I think not just because of fundraising, but also because I'm out here now as an entrepreneur. I don't get the headline of business school to fall back on when I'm too shy to say that I'm a CEO, I'm starting a company.

When I would go back home, for example, in between business school, there are those certain aunties and uncles are like, oh, what are you up to? They're so proud. I'm at Wharton. I'm not about to tell them. I just dumped all my savings in a in a beauty brand. Right. They're just going to be like what? So I'm exploring. I'm seeing my passion that I didn't even have the confidence to own it myself. And even as I was sharing what I was doing, I was like, but what do you think? Like, do you like it? Like, would you use it? It was very I was very much asking for permission to own what I wanted to do and moving back to New York and no longer being in business school. And on my LinkedIn, having entrepreneur, I mean, my my heart was just racing. What are people going to think of me? They're going to be who does she think she is to go out and do this? Well, all these people are working their butts off from where I came from and still trying to get to the next level. Like, how could it possibly be that she thinks you can start a beauty brand and be herself, you know what I mean? And so last year through fundraising, it took us a year, a full year to raise, my God, nearly two million. But that's what we needed once again to capitalize that next level of growth that, by the way, we had no idea if it was going to happen.

So, again, I'm trying to also grow the team. We're in hiring mode. We're trying to scale our operations. I'm trying to step back from measuring labels and aligning vectors to networking and meeting people in the industry and asking about going to panels, talking on panels like all the kind of stuff that I never thought I was good at and the kind of things that I think would have made me shy away from doing this thing in the first place. But by the time push came to shove, it was like, OK, either you're doing this or you're not. For me, there's no half assing anything like I need to give it my all or not. And which is why I, I really can't focus on too many pillars in my life. Like literally there was my husband and of Ronnie in twenty twenty. And if anything else happened, like it went in one ear out the other kind of thing, like I had to be so hands down and. Yeah, I mean, I think now we're at a place where I'm I finally feel like I can stand in front of you and say, you know, I am the founder and CEO of a RONNEY, an Indian inspired skincare brand. We are pioneering Indian inspired beauty. And by the way, this is awesome, because this is the thing that I needed to feel beautiful and confident growing up. And I don't really care if it resonates with you because I know it resonates with me. You know what I mean?

For sure that so I am like cheering up a little bit, but.

I, I just this is amazing, just sitting in front of you and having you tell me about all these amazing entrepreneurs that you've interviewed and to decide that you belong in that bucket. That's a mindset that you have to work on every day.

Well, I think it's so cool what you're doing, and I think the brand is amazing, the story is just so beautiful and it's so special. It comes obviously from deep in your heart and deep in your soul and deep within your culture, which it just must be so thrilling to see that come to life and see all of your hard work really becoming this huge thing.

And like you said, pioneering eye beauty, like a category that hasn't formally like it.

You know, it's all about beauty. And that's also just such a really exciting movement to be at the forefront of.

Absolutely. It's it's exciting and it's terrifying at the same time, because because the category doesn't exist, it's a lot to imagine that we could create it. And therein lies like another distinction, I think, from other founders or early stage brands. I love when I hear other Indian inspired brands coming out the market. Intuitively, it's it feels competitive, like, oh, no, someone else is doing this, but I threw the last year, I realized that the more of us out there doing this, the more attention we bring to these rituals and practices. And then the category can even be created if we think about even beauty. It wasn't until 20, 30 brands came on the scene where at least here in the US we were like, wait, this is a thing. What is this Korean approach to skin care that we've never explored before? Right. But that conversation doesn't get started until there are enough brands and companies out there making noise and making people want to talk about it.

Yeah, and I think the other piece to it is also having younger girls and younger women having different role models to look up to and to be able to be like, yeah, I want to be part of that.

I can see myself that that's what I want to strive for. That's what I want to be part of when I grow up. I think that's super important.

One hundred percent. And I would say even on that front when I started initially, I. And this is. Peak, I would say Instagram influencer sort of arrow with so many influencers are emerging and the power of influencer is just unprecedented. And I'm sitting there thinking, OK, we don't have that much money to market. How do I get the word out? It's got to be through free platforms, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit. Now we're exploring Spotify. We're exploring now, but. There's no one quick fix or channel that's going to get you to grow if you just sort of need to be authentically putting yourself in the channels that make the most sense to you. So in the beginning, I thought we need to do every platform and I need to go all in everywhere. But as I told you, from my personality perspective, I, I couldn't focus that hard. I was doing everything at 50 percent of the way instead of two things at one hundred and ten percent, which is how I prefer to operate. And that's what made me realize, OK, I need to be a lot more intentional about the way that I'm marketing this brand, the way I'm talking about it and doing it in a way that's actually authentic to me. So get hopping on YouTube and doing a tutorial in my bathroom. Oh my gosh, it's a nightmare. I can't even tell you. There was one night I spent the entire night, eight hours. I had a ring light attached to my mirror. I had this other device trying to hold up my phone in like the perfect angle, like looking skinny, beautiful, the whole thing. Hey, guys, this is the product.