Sometimes, an unequalled business idea could be right before your eyes every day but go unnoticed until a ‘eureka’ moment. Such is the story behind Hoovu Fresh, an online puja flower delivery service, launched by sister-duo, Yeshoda Karuturi and Rhea Karuturi. SheThePeople got a chance to pick the CEO, Yeshoda Karuturi’s brain to learn about the genesis of Hoovu Fresh and their journey as young women entrepreneurs.
The 29-year-old entrepreneur shared about their business, upbringing, the role of spirituality in her life, and her relationship with her co-founder sister. Co-founder Rhea Karuturi is the chief technology officer of Hoovu Fresh, where she offers the expertise she gathered from pursuing her bachelor's in Science, Technology, and Community from Stanford University.
Serendipity: The Inception of Hoovu Fresh
Flowers have been omnipresent in the Karuturi sisters’ lives; so much so that their father had started a rose farm when Yeshoda was born. While the sisters worked in the family's rose exports firm in India and East Africa for a few years, the idea for Hoovu Fresh was something that bloomed when they least expected it.
“One day I was just working from home, trying to explore new ideas, and then I found my mom doing her daily puja. That's kind of when this vision hits. We were like, ‘Oh my God, we've been surrounded by flowers our entire life, but we never thought about puja.’,” Yeshoda Karuturi shared.
Hoovu Fresh was established in 2019. The Bengaluru-based sisters aptly named their brainchild after the Kannada word for flowers, hoovu.
Two Birds One Stone
The Karuturi sisters acknowledge that a puja flower delivery service was not the most "need-of-the-hour" idea, as these flowers are available at every nook and corner of India's streets. But they leveraged this availability by collaborating with these local vendors and utilising their own expertise in agriculture business and technology to increase the freshness and quality of the flowers to a large extent.
When the sisters appeared on the reality TV show Shark Tank in late 2022, 27-year-old Rhea Karuturi said, "We see [local vendors] as a channel and not a competition." With this, local vendors, especially women, as well as Hoovu Fresh is benefitted. Hoovu Fresh also states` that the increased shelf-life of the puja flowers results in the flower waste production being cut down to just about 3%.
Tryst With Spirituality
Yeshoda expressed that Hoovu Fresh was bound to be her calling, as it stemmed amid her own journey to spirituality. She shared that she embarked on exploring religion and spirituality soon after she returned to India from the USA, where she pursued her Master's at Washington University.
"I think, starting Hoovu [Fresh] had to come from my own spiritual journey. I had more confidence in myself to start and had that faith that it could grow into something big," she said.
Karuturi shared that while they have been around religion since childhood, the understanding of its role in her life came from her own experiences. Soon after returning home, she enrolled in a Bhagavad Gita class just out of curiosity, and it played a major role in her journey.
"What I really liked about the class was that it was not about blind beliefs. It was about understanding why you believe what you're doing, understanding the beauty behind the different rituals that exists, the stories that exist and stuff like that, which really helped me anchor myself better," she expressed.
When asked about their response to people who believe that puja flowers are not a growing market, Karuturi accurately said, "I think the biggest thing around that perception is just that these flowers have become a background in our life. Like every cab you take, every other street shop, people's homes, the flowers are everywhere. So we just kind of gotten used to it, right? It's in the background, so you don't really pay attention to it."
The CEO added, "When we first started the business and we would get questions like that, Rhea and I would answer it a lot. But I think at this point, we find it humorous when we get those questions, because we're able to see how big the industry is. What we realise is that the people that get it really get it right. And every time we say what we do, people will be like, 'Oh my god, this is what I've been looking for.. I can't believe this didn't exist before'."
Karuturi further stated that the puja flower industry has very high potential in India but went unrecognised for the longest time. "We came in at the right time," she proudly expressed. "Puja is such a beautiful experience, everything that you use within that puja should also be beautiful, according to us," she added, stating the reason they dived into the industry.
Sisters in Business
Separating work from personal life can be challenging when your business partner is your family member and lives under the same roof. Yeshoda Karuturi shared how they enjoy quality time as a family when away from the workplace.
Further elucidating on family support, Karuturi said, "I think we've been luckier than most people because we do come from a privileged background, we do come from a home of three daughters and our parents have always taught us to be leaders. That was a non negotiable with my parents.... They never made us feel like 'because you're a woman, you don't have to do that much.' So I think that has given us a very strong sense of confidence in our capabilities, which we're able to then project onto our workplace."
Karuturi also said that they engage in passion projects, hobbies, and self-care practices so they can release stress from work.
Speaking about the difficulties of running a business with her sister, she said that their venture is a concoction of several polarising ideas that the two of them added to the mix.
"Both of us are such different people. We have very, very different worldviews and very different ways of thinking. So we definitely disagree a lot. But what brings us back together is that finally we both want to see Hoovu [Fresh] succeed and we both care a lot about the company. So we would never do anything that would jeopardise the future of the company or even more importantly, will not jeopardise our relationship as sisters. So even if we have a disagreement, we kind of try to keep in mind that it shouldn't be one person's ego over the other, it should be more of a conversation," she shared.
She also stated how employing separate roles to each other has been a boon. "Because we have very different roles in the company we kind of try to give that veto to each other. Like if it is something related to one of our domains, then only that person makes the call."
On Entrepreneurship as Women
"We've been very lucky in that in our industry, there are a lot of women that are looking for employment and a lot of our customers are women," Karuturi expressed, talking about what it is like running a women-led business. She added that they are conscious towards employing more women at their company. But life is not a bed of roses even at Hoovu Fresh.
Yeshoda shared that the young co-founders have been subject to prejudice while interacting with vendors and at their workplace. " It's more of an implicit sexism that exists... There are a lot of assumptions that people make. Like for instance, we are young, and we are women, and we are running the company.... so there's not that much importance given to your authority. And no one's going to directly say, 'I'm not going to listen to you because you're young, or because you're a woman', but you do notice those trends a couple of times," she revealed.
Sharing some advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, she said, "Just starting off is half the journey. I think most times we're still scared to take that first step... But get started and be very flexible in terms of adapting yourself. It's not just blindly starting and then expecting things to work out either. You're constantly getting feedback from your community, your customers, your team members, and you're growing constantly.... You need to be more introspective in that sense and adapt your decisions."
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