Fit For Life

Sarvesh Shashi, CEO, Zorba, has come a long way. He shares his trans­for­ma­tional jour­ney with us…

Health & Nutrition - - CONTENTS -

Sarvesh Shashi on be­ing a cool yogi

When a charis­matic 26-year-old CEO prefers to sit on the floor for the in­ter­view, you may feel he is try­ing to make a point. But that is just a way of life for Sarvesh Shashi. “All I want is to make yoga a lifestyle, and pro­mote hap­pi­ness via Zorba.” In an easy breezy chat with us, the young en­tre­pre­neur di­vulges what made him give up the good life, fol­low the path of a yogi and build the coun­try’s largest yoga chain…

A PAMPERED KID

“I have two phases in my life - be­fore 17 and post 17 years. My dad Shashi Ku­mar, owner, Sabri Group, runs 16-17 ver­ti­cals under the group – from schools, pri­vate sec­tor com­pa­nies to FMCG, scrap, tyres etc. I had a very com­fort­able child­hood as I was lit­er­ally born with a plat­inum spoon in my mouth. I would wear only brands and was also very ar­ro­gant and snob­bish as a kid. “I was also not the kind to stand still at one place, I would keep mov­ing. But I loved sports, and cricket was my favourite. I honed my skills in the game, played a lot of cricket, went on a tour with the In­dian Premier League and almost played for the coun­try.”

YOGA BECK­ONS

“Then one day, my dad asked me to learn yoga. He had joined a yoga class and was not able to con­tinue it, and asked me to go for it as it was al­ready paid for.” “When I met my yoga teacher, Gu­ruji, I saw him dressed in white clothes, with long hair and beard. In my mind, I al­ready had an im­age of him lec­tur­ing me on how he will change my life with his learn­ings! When I asked him to start en­light­en­ing me, he replied, ‘If you think of me as a per­son who will en­lighten you, you are a fool, and if I think I can en­lighten

you, I am a big­ger fool my­self’. This hit me hard. “He asked me to not touch his feet as he was charg­ing me to teach yoga. And then said, ‘I can take you till the path I have gone, and from there you have to go alone and make your own path’. ”

RENOUNCING THE GOOD LIFE

“I loved his philoso­phies about life and at­tended his classes reg­u­larly. I al­ways had a cu­ri­ous mind, was keen to know about the sixth sense, oc­cult etc. And I loved all that Gu­ruji told me, and I be­came his dis­ci­ple. There were a few things I had to fol­low, like giv­ing up non-veg and al­co­hol, which was not an issue as I had never tried them be­fore. Slowly, Gu­ruji asked me to do the Panchsheel sadhna – no ly­ing, no vi­o­lence, no men­tal and phys­i­cal steal­ing, no in­tox­i­ca­tion and celibacy – for 40 days. “It was hard. I was just 17 then, but it was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. For a boy who got a sports car as a birth­day gift in the IX std, fol­low­ing this was tough but once I de­cided to do what my Gu­ruji said, I changed as a per­son. I be­gan to un­der­stand my pur­pose of living. He then asked me to con­tinue it till I was 25. I set out tak­ing it up as a chal­lenge, but of course, I fol­low it even now…”

SET­TING UP A YOGA BUSI­NESS

“Then, at the age of 21, my dad wanted me to join his busi­ness, and the best rea­son I could give to avoid it was to say, ‘I am start­ing some­thing of my own’. And since yoga was the only thing I knew, Zorba hap­pened. “I didn’t take my dad’s help. I took an un­se­cured loan to set up a yoga stu­dio, and started sport­ing a beard just to look grown up and older so that peo­ple would take me se­ri­ously. Gu­ruji gave my com­pany the name Zorba – a Greek word which means a per­son who lives life to the fullest. So our pur­pose was to spread hap­pi­ness among all.”

MAK­ING YOGA COOL VIA ZORBA

“The first stu­dio was opened in the base­ment of Dewa Tow­ers at Mount Road, Chen­nai, which cur­rently serves as our head of­fice. Yoga has al­ways been part of our cul­ture, but I wanted to make yoga cool and in­ter­est­ing. I started customising yoga – made dif­fer­ent forms of yoga to suit all age groups, from six to 90-yearolds. For in­stance, the pad­dle board yoga is de­vised to im­prove bal­ance. So, we weren’t doing some­thing dif­fer­ent; we just pack­aged yoga in dif­fer­ent forms. In four months, we had 100 mem­bers. What Zumba did to a nor­mal aer­o­bics class, I wanted Zorba to do that for yoga. “Through our var­ied forms – we have more than 20 forms of yoga, we pro­vide a holis­tic ap­proach to var­i­ous health is­sues faced by our clients, and pro­mote the con­cept of a whole­some lifestyle. A lifestyle that stems out of hap­pi­ness. “We only em­ploy peo­ple with a mas­ter’s de­gree in yoga, and then make them un­dergo an

in­ten­sive train­ing pro­gram, the Zor­bian way, fo­cus­ing on en­gag­ing guests for a month, af­ter which they are al­lot­ted their re­spec­tive cen­tres.”

PART­NER­ING WITH TALWALKARS

“We started grow­ing as a com­pany, and one morn­ing, my dad read the val­u­a­tion of Flip­kart in a fi­nan­cial news­pa­per, and asked me, ‘Why can’t your name come here?’ I laughed at first, but then took it as a chal­lenge thinking why not! I had no idea who eval­u­ated the com­pany so I started fig­ur­ing that out to get an idea of where I stood. While I was fig­ur­ing all this out, a friend of mine at a Dan­dekar Cap­i­tal con­nected me to Talwalkars, the fit­ness gi­ant, who was then look­ing into in­vest­ing in al­ter­na­tive fit­ness. “They didn’t seem keen at my pro­posal first but agreed to meet me for five min­utes, which ended in a two-and-a-half-hour meet­ing and an of­fer to buy 50% stake. I was scep­ti­cal at first, as they wanted to start 100 stu­dios around the world in 18 months, but my dad ad­vised me to go ahead… “Talwalkars be­came 50% part­ners in my com­pany. To­gether, we have a mar­ket pres­ence of 100 to 120 stu­dios in In­dia as well as over­seas mar­kets like Dubai, Lon­don, New York and more. Af­ter my part­ner­ship with Talwalkars, though not as big as Flip­kart’s, my com­pany’s val­u­a­tion was also printed in the same busi­ness pa­per!”

FU­TURE PLANS

“I plan to add more forms of yoga to make it more ex­cit­ing and in­ter­est­ing for peo­ple. Till date, we’ve had 25,000 peo­ple who have been part of Zorba. And today, we are In­dia’s largest and hap­pi­est chain of yoga stu­dios. “Zorba has given me a pur­pose in life. I want Zorba to spread hap­pi­ness in peo­ple’s lives.” HAR­SHA AD­VANI

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