This article dives into the path and projections of the Indian hemp industry.
With the hype surrounding the hemp industry lately and investments flowing into this, its high time we take a serious review of the performance of the industry, analyse it and try to peek into its’ future prospects.
Hemp or Cannabis plant which is also known as Vijaya has a detailed mention in Ayurveda texts and is known as a wonder drug to cure many critical diseases. Success in certain countries and looking at the potential size of the Indian market has attracted certain young entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs have decided to jump into the foray to start their own ventures to produce hemp OTC products and cannabis based medicines.
Looking at the potential (which incidentally almost every product and business plan has right now) in the ever increasing Indian market size and a growing GDP against the low or negative GDP growth worldwide, it is imperative for investors to follow suit looking at the potential of returns. But then thats one side of the story. There could be a potential of printed bank notes in the market but then to execute that what does matter is the machinery used and the components which go into it.
Now let us take certain features of all the start-ups which have been successful in other sectors. All the successful start-ups have been started by brains who come with an exceptional knowledge of the product or service they wish to work upon. Add to this a proper command over management techniques best suited for the Indian psyche. It is not just on the basis of their personal knowledge of the business they propose to work on but also this thorough knowledge of managerial challenges and solutions alongwith the market opportunities which attracts an investor. This investor understands not the language of high returns alone but that of the potentials and pitfalls. Or in short an investor who himself is fairly educated about the product/service to be offered.
With a rush of investments from the lesser informed investors who look at the potential market and the possible high returns alone, it has become fairly easy for many of the entrepreneurs to jump into this business. This means usually the pitch deck lacks substance in its potential competitor(s) analysis, market projections and a proper in-depth marketing plan. Detailed legalities involved is out of question. It is a latent market out there which has to be woken up out of its slumber to the utility of hemp. Alongwith this most of the founders themselves don’t have any Ayurveda medical background least to expect being Ayurveda medical practitioners. This robs them the basic knowledge of the must haves to have a business of this sort take off on a strong footing. For example, most of the medicines in the market by these start-ups haven’t gone through the mandatory clinical trials as this delays their introduction in the market apart from raising the costs of production. Most of these founders find this effort useless as products can be launched overlooking at this factor.
Designing and developing a product is of utmost importance. A hemp product is no different. Every startup on the ground has focused on this. And also focussed on a smooth production process to bottling and finish it off with some attractive labelling. A bigger challenge lies ahead – Sales. Sales create the revenue to keep the ball rolling, to work on the designed dreams to expand and to set a strong footing in the market.
The market for this product is entirely different than the usual conventional market for similar products. There is a fraction of a population which is properly educated about hemp. Amongst those who do have the knowledge still are sailing in a psychological boat where they are swinging on which company to go for even if they decide upon a product. So the challenge facing these start-ups are –a product whose efficacy is known to a very small crowd and their own company name is hardly known around. Healthcare stands on trust. And these are 2 factors which just can’t be avoided at any cost if one is serious about moving on.
Stage two. The start-ups now realising the value of sales turn to what they are not specialised in – sales. And in this process they have been completely ignoring which is a must for them to penetrate the potential market’s psyche – a proper marketing and branding strategy. And in sales too almost everyone has relied on online sales platforms like Amazon without having a clear marketing and sales strategy. Lets look a bit deeper into the scenario with these platforms:
- There is a small but a well defined market for channels like Amazon which is educated about hemp.
- This market is an awesome market which doesn’t need to be pushed to purchase a hemp product which they are already looking for. They have logged in for this purchase only. The only challenge is visibility of the products.
- Jumping into this industry has been comparatively easy for the small players and selling online is the easiest thing to do.
- With an online market size not increasing exponentially, the number of players selling their products have been increasing gradually. These companies cater to the same small market with an ever expanding product range in similar categories. This means lesser sales over a period of time for each one of them.
These companies have found selling on these platforms easy but fail to realise it is the trust of the customer on these platforms like Amazon which pushes him to make the final purchase rather than the company itself. If the company sells the same product on their website, such sales would drop drastically. This is because the company still hasn’t created the ‘trustworthy’ tag which comes through a proper branding. With the company having no set marketing or branding plan and relying completely on other online platforms what all they are doing is creating a market which is now getting ready for such products. This very market would soon be ready up for grabs by the big branded pharma players with similar products launching soon.
With no plan B to scale up their sales outside the third party online domain which is just waiting to fail, these companies would soon be on a realization ground. Their hit product line surrounded by a strong well defined market. And this market would be setting their eyes on products from other well known companies. And add to that the offline network of sales of the big settled companies would make it too late for these start-ups to react and hit back.
Siddhartha Dutta, a MBA from IMT, Ghaziabad specializing in ‘Marketing’ and ‘International Business’ is the marketing and brand strategist at Pratha Ayurveda. With a knowledge of Company Laws through his limited exposure in his CS days, he carries an experience of over 2 decades in the book publishing industry as well. He is also the brains behind 2 e-commerce start-ups in India.