Interview: Supriya Donthi, Founder of Leafy Affair, India’s first botanical lifestyle brand

Supriya Donthi

An exclusive interview with Supriya Donthi, Founder of Leafy Affair, India’s first botanical lifestyle brand & Successful Bootstrap Brand

In the vibrant landscape of India’s entrepreneurial spirit, one name that stands out is Supriya Donthi, the visionary founder behind Leafy Affair, the country’s first botanical lifestyle brand. With a relentless passion for sustainability and a keen eye for innovation, Supriya has not only pioneered a successful bootstrap brand but has also carved a niche in the market with her unique approach to botanical living.

As we delve into the story of Leafy Affair, we’ll uncover the journey of a trailblazer who not only made it to the coveted Shark Tank Season 2 but also envisions a staggering 100 crore valuation in the near future.

Join us in this exclusive interview as we unravel the secrets of Supriya’s success, exploring the roots of Leafy Affair and the blooming future that lies ahead.

Can you share a bit about your background and what inspired you to start Leafy Affair?

Supriya Donthi: I’ve always had a strong affinity towards nature. I grew up watching my mom and grandma grow a lot of plants in the garden, tending to them, planting new seeds etc. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the bio field and had no interest to be an engineer. So I pursued Biotechnology for my UG at Christ University Bangalore and went to do Masters at VIT in Biotechnology as I wanted to get into research.

During my time at VIT I got to be a part of various clubs and boards and marketing came very naturally to me. Belonging to a business family I knew I always wanted to do something on my own but I needed some experience and understanding of the market so I took up placements at college and also pursued distance education MBA from symbiosis along with my job.

After 2.5 years of taking up different roles such as a program coordinator, BD manager, project manager etc I started Leafyaffair in 2016 as a small random project on a quest to learn more about business.

Taking you on a little flashback, in 2016 while I was in between jobs, ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ by Tim Ferris was my favourite book and this served as a blueprint of how to go about a new business idea. I was determined to find my niche and used to do a lot of research and I bumped into the concept called ‘Terrarium jewellery’ in March 2016..

I was awestruck at this idea and loved the concept. I dug in more and realised that this didn’t exist in India back then. I did a bit of customer research and realised there was a huge scope for this untapped concept and I immediately took it up.

I had absolutely no background on jewelry designing or preservation of botanicals. I went on the web, did my research, tried various things till they worked, spoke to some artists from the West etc and I finally had a batch of my first 10 pieces of jewelry in a few months.

My love for nature, a strong acumen in marketing and business and guidance from mentors helped me launch Leafyaffair. Once I started up, I learnt every aspect of business as and when it came up.

Leafy Affair is known for being a successful bootstrap brand. What challenges did you face while bootstrapping, and how did you overcome them?

Supriya Donthi: To give you a background, since the time I got my first job I was hellbent on being independent and earning my own money. I never wanted to take any money from my parents as I had seen them work hard since my childhood. My first salary after getting placed was 17k per month and by the time I quit it was around 36k.

I was going to try out this project and had no clue if it would succeed or if it’ll fail so I accepted and acknowledged that this will be an investment towards learning and was frugal from the very start. I only spent my savings and overall I would have spent a capital of about 75k from my savings and that’s about it, The business sustained itself.

I put them up on social media, took part in flea markets and brick by brick I could grow the firm without any additional capital. Probably that’s why it took me 7 years to reach this stage.

Some of the challenges were firstly to live a frugal life. I didn’t have enough money but had a lot of time and I tried to utilise that. For about 3-4 years I didn’t pay myself a salary and lived minimally.

The niche was so new and this idea needed a lot of customer awareness to be built etc so obviously it was not very convincing for investors, nor did I have a pedigree of league universities or long corporate experience. On the other hand, I didn’t want to borrow money from friends or family very strictly.

The challenges were immense but trust me I wouldn’t want to change one thing about my business journey. It has been absolutely fulfilling to have done this.

I leveraged time as a currency and took very calculated risks which helped me navigate the path of bootstrapping a business with grace and ease.

In 2021 the brand underwent an incubation phase at IMM Bangalore, securing grants strategically deployed across various facets of the business. These funds were instrumental in bolstering marketing initiatives, streamlining production processes, fortifying operational frameworks, and facilitating team expansion.

The diplomatic and strategic utilization of resources has been a hallmark of Leafy Affair’s bootstrap journey, propelling it towards sustained success.

How does Leafy Affair differentiate itself in the botanical lifestyle market, and what unique offerings do you bring to your customers?

Supriya Donthi: At Leafyaffair we give utmost importance to 3 aspects. The design aesthetics, the story of each product and quality customer service starting from their unboxing experience to how they are treated when they have grievances. These aspects make us stand apart from various other brands. Also, the first mover advantage helped us make a mark in the industry.

Each botanical has a story and significance of its own which we gently weave into each product so that when someone buys from us it is not just products but also stories. This adds a touch of magic and thoughtfulness perfect for gifting.

The product line, thoughtfully curated, spans three significant categories. In Wearable Jewellery, interested customers can explore a range of earrings, neckpieces, bracelets, and rings, each intricately designed to convey a unique botanical story. The Stationery collection features ethereal paperweights, seamlessly blending nature into the professional sphere. The newly expanded Home Décor category introduces enchanting botanical table tops tailored for fans of cottage core aesthetics.

In a recent foray into spice botanicals, Leafy Affair introduced the MIRCHI Pendant, an emblem of the brand’s commitment to innovation. This unique offering, now available on our website, enriches our diverse array of botanical-inspired products, reflecting our dedication to crafting sophisticated and meaningful experiences for our discerning clientele.

Making it to Shark Tank Season 2 is a significant achievement. Could you walk us through the experience and share how it impacted Leafy Affair?

Supriya Donthi: Securing a spot on Shark Tank India Season 2 was a pivotal achievement for Leafy Affair, representing a significant milestone in our entrepreneurial journey. Beyond the prestige of participating in such a renowned platform, the validation received from the seasoned Sharks has been a tremendous confidence boost. The activity also gave us a lot of eyeballs which helped us reach a larger audience

Ever since I applied to Shark Tank there was a lot of learning as I set out to prepare to be aired. As you know there are lakhs of applications and only a handful get the opportunity to be shot and aired. I took the help of my mentors and the IIMB community to prepare for the pitch etc. During this process, I got a great understanding of my own business and thus helped me build a strong foundation before the episode went live.

The immediate aftermath of our appearance on Shark Tank was transformative. A notable surge was witnessed, with sales experiencing a fivefold increase and orders skyrocketing by a factor of ten. This surge necessitated a relentless seven-day work cycle, marked by non-stop efforts to meet the heightened demand. Concurrently, our social media community witnessed a substantial increase, and the overall impact was nothing short of overwhelming.

Gratefully, the positive growth trajectory initiated after our Shark Tank appearance helped secure our market position. The heightened visibility and validation from the Sharks have elevated brand recognition and catalysed a sustained period of robust growth for Leafy Affair.

You’ve mentioned foreseeing a 100 crore valuation in the coming years. What factors contribute to your optimistic outlook, and what strategies do you have in place to achieve this goal?

Supriya Donthi: We plan to capture a bigger market share as we go by expanding our product offerings, and marketing reach, getting into offline sales, going global etc. Building a strong team has been the cornerstone of growth and success.

Whatever we have been doing in terms of product designing and marketing has been working out for us so we plan to focus more on the same and hiring more talent to aid growth. Another important factor is innovation, we strive to keep up with the ever-changing market and the needs of the new generation so that we expand our market reach.

The foundational elements contributing to this optimistic outlook are:

  • Meticulous research.
  • A nuanced comprehension of consumer demand dynamics.
  • A keen understanding of market trends.

The strategic design of the product line, coupled with a thoughtful alignment with targeted marketing strategies, has been instrumental in carving a distinctive niche within the industry.

Central to this projection is an unwavering commitment to consumer-centric practices. Believing in placing consumers first and actively engaging with them has been pivotal in fostering brand loyalty and sustained growth. The strategic assembly and cultivation of the right team further fortify the operational backbone, ensuring cohesive efforts towards achieving our ambitious goals.

What have been the most significant challenges you’ve faced in building and growing Leafy Affair, and what valuable lessons have you learned along the way?

Supriya Donthi: Undoubtedly, being a young woman navigating the intricacies of a male-dominated industry posed a formidable challenge during the initial stages of building and growing Leafy Affair. Establishing credibility and garnering the attention of vendors proved to be an uphill battle, requiring repeated efforts to be taken seriously and tasks to be executed efficiently.

Over time, however, the gradual recognition of the potential embedded in the brand fostered a shift in perspective among vendors, leading to sustained collaborations with some who remain integral to our operations.

The overarching lesson derived from these challenges is the paramount importance of persistence. The journey reinforced the notion that seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome with unwavering determination.

The key lies in continual learning, unlearning, and relearning, coupled with an unshakeable belief in one’s capabilities. Through this experience, I have understood that resilience, adaptability, and self-confidence are indispensable attributes in the face of industry-specific challenges.

The journey of building and growing Leafy Affair has been a testament to the transformative power of persistence, adaptability, and self-belief, offering valuable lessons that continue to shape the brand’s trajectory.

How do you engage with your community and customers, and what role do their insights play in shaping Leafy Affair’s direction?

Supriya Donthi: Social media is the cornerstone of Leafy Affair’s community engagement strategy, serving as a pivotal platform for unveiling new product offerings, promoting our diverse product line, and fostering a direct connection with our customer base. We meticulously gauge the reception of our products through active consumer engagement and leverage the invaluable, real-time feedback received from our customers.

Our customer community plays a pivotal role in shaping the direction of Leafy Affair. Their unwavering belief in and support for our unique and innovative concepts, coupled with the distinct product line we deliver, is a driving force.

We frequently receive heartfelt direct messages (DMs) from our customers, and the overwhelming love we experience during our YARD SALE events is vast and impactful. This customer-centric interaction is the catalyst that keeps us going, providing the significant impetus needed to persevere, especially when a customer appreciates our work through a purchase.

Responding to public demand, we recently introduced our first-ever DIY Flower Pressing kit and Men’s Pendant collection. These additions are a direct response to the love and support showered upon the brand by our cherished customers.

Their insights, preferences, and requests serve as crucial inputs that dynamically influence the evolution of Leafy Affair, ensuring that our offerings are not only aligned with market trends but are also directly shaped by the desires and interests of our engaged customer community.

Are there any emerging trends in the botanical lifestyle industry that you’re particularly excited about?

Supriya Donthi:The prevailing direction in the botanical lifestyle industry underscores the imperative of meticulously aligning the product line with the target audience. Acknowledging the niche nature of the botanical lifestyle category and its appeal to a discerning demographic, precision in targeting becomes a focal point.

Beyond the established domains of Jewellery, Stationery, and Home Décor, an up-and-coming trend that will emerge is “Botanical Accessories”.

Botanical accessories will carve a distinctive niche as a uniquely expressive segment in a market saturated with various accessory categories. It is believed to resonate strongly with a sophisticated target audience seeking a seamless blend of comfort and refined elegance.

Incorporating botanical elements into accessories adds a distinctive aesthetic and caters to individuals who appreciate the harmonious fusion of botanical influences with contemporary style. This evolving trend aligns seamlessly with consumers’ changing preferences, seeking sophistication and individuality in their lifestyle choices.

What are your success tips for women entrepreneurs

Supriya Donthi: Here are a few success insights for all my fellow women entrepreneurs, 

1. Embrace the Power of Possibilities – Success begins with the unwavering belief that challenges are opportunities for growth and innovation. Embrace them with a mindset that perceives nothing as impossible.

2. Challenge Gender Norms – Defy gender stereotypes and trust your capabilities. As a woman entrepreneur, recognize your potential’s expansiveness and ability to redefine conventional norms.

3. Cultivate Strategic Relationships – Connect with role models or mentors to gain invaluable insights for navigating the entrepreneurial landscape effectively. Their guidance and wisdom can significantly enhance your strategic decision-making.

4. Exemplify Resilience and Confidence – Perseverance and resilience are indispensable virtues. With each hurdle, fortify your confidence and remain determined to forge ahead. View setbacks as integral to your journey toward more significant achievements.

5. Commit to Lifelong Learning – The bedrock of a successful venture lies in a commitment to continuous research and learning. Stay abreast of industry trends, market dynamics, and evolving consumer preferences. This proactive approach is integral to the sustained success of your brand.

In the ever-evolving landscape of entrepreneurship, Supriya Donthi’s journey with Leafy Affair serves as an inspiring tale of resilience, innovation, and unwavering determination. From bootstrap beginnings to the grand stage of Shark Tank Season 2, Supriya has not only established India’s first botanical lifestyle brand but has also set a benchmark for sustainable and mindful living.

As Leafy Affair continues to flourish, Supriya’s foresight predicts a remarkable 100 crore valuation in the coming years, showcasing the potential of her visionary brand. The interview with Supriya Donthi has unveiled the roots of Leafy Affair’s success and leaves us eagerly anticipating the flourishing future that lies ahead for this botanical trailblazer.

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