At the age of 27, Sarvesh Shashi has built a countrywide network of yoga studios called Sarva, developed 25 different varieties of yoga for them, partnered with Jennifer Lopez, Malaika Arora and Wieden+Kennedy (among others) and has plans to take his brand to every corner of the world.
It was at the tender age of 6 that Sarvesh Shashi was introduced to yoga by his parents, and it was to change his life. When he was 17, an age when his peers were sharpening their academic prowess and planning their careers, his yoga guru moulded Shashi’s entire being towards finding his own voice, and this led him to want to help others find their true purpose. Shashi’s father, Shashi Kumar, is the chairman of the Sabari Group, whose operations include the distribution of consumer goods, real estate, textiles and fish export, and the entrepreneur within was awakened, resulting in Shashi setting up Sarva, a chain of yoga studios. Today, at age 27, sporting a fashionable beard, standing tall and confident with an impeccable sense of fashion (and with his Instagram account having almost 1.2 lakh followers), Shashi is the very embodiment of the modern entrepreneur. He seems to emit a glow of positivity, as he speaks about the blessings he received through the rigorous training he underwent under his yoga teacher, whom he fondly calls ‘Guruji’. His guru had said “If you think I can enlighten you, then you are a fool, and I am a bigger fool,” and this has always stood with Shashi. He mentions the transformation he witnessed within himself from the time he incorporated a yogic lifestyle saying, “Yoga is very dear to me. The practice I followed in my earlier days, especially meditating for 9 hours a day, where I was cut off from the world for 40 days, immensely changed my perception towards this beautiful art. It made me realize that yoga is not a one hour practice, but a lifestyle.” When he was 21, and after having dropped out of Chennai’s Loyola College, he was asked to follow the herd, as it were, and join his father’s business. His determination to make a difference with yoga made him take the road less travelled, however. Raising a capital of Rs 16 lakh from his uncle, he soon started his first yoga studio, ‘Sarva’, on Chennai’s Mount Road, in an empty warehouse owned by his father, who gave him space rent-free. “I am a person who goes by the pattern of black and white,” he says. “If I make up my mind, I pursue that no matter what. Life is an adventure and it has certainly presented opportunities, which have been worth exploring. I am sure all the efforts put in have been purposeful, and it has definitely helped me look at the brighter side in achieving my goals.”
Sarvesh Shashi practising aqua yoga
This single-minded approach has led to Sarva being the only yoga studio in India to provide 25 different yogic forms, all completely different in their approach, yet having a traditional yogic feel. These include basketball yoga, aqua yoga, aerial yoga and many more, all developed by Shashi himself. “I have got a great team of technical experts who come up with their own ideas and programmes, which intend to promote the message of good health. Overall, what really stands as a success point for us is that, over a period of time, there are people who have slowly adapted to a healthier lifestyle, where the changes we initiated are showing results.” He adds, “Most people think that yoga is for the younger generation, and for women. They think it is for those whose body is flexible. Not just that, what is ingrained in their mind is that yoga is a boring activity, which is to be ‘practised’. We have been fortunate in breaking myths and misconceptions towards this unique art, in analytical ways.” An association with Talwalkars, one of the largest chains of gyms and fitness centres in India, proved to be a boon for Shashi. One day, while reading about the valuation of Flipkart in a finance newspaper, his uncle asked him when he could see Sarva in a similar light; that’s when he decided to have his company.
Shashi with Malaika Arora, Amrita Arora Ladak and Akanksha Ranjan Kapoor at Sarva Studio
“If I make up my mind, I pursue that no matter what. Life is an adventure and it has certainly presented opportunities, which have been worth exploring. I am sure all the efforts put in have been purposeful, and it has definitely helped me look at the brighter side in achieving my goals,” says Shashi. He approached Dandekar Capital, whose director at the time was Vignesh Shankar, and was advising Talwalkars at that point. Speaking fondly about the ex-director of Dandekar Capital, he says, “Vignesh Shankar plays a very important role in my life, as he is the person who introduced me to Talwalkars and played a key role in the reprocessing of Sarva. He continues to advise my enterprise and mentors me, especially, on the dos and don’ts.” The senior management of Talwalkars visited his studio in Chennai and took a liking to his visions and goals. “Talwalkars came at a time when we had just begun. They played the role of a perfect guardian and guided us from 2016 to 2018. Also, they were present whenever we needed them, and were operationally involved. Now, since they are an investor, they don’t have any strategic nature or notion about Sarva. But, yes, they have played the role of a guide and more than anything else, their role is an integral part of Sarva.”
Shashi with Jennifer Lopez
With Sarva quickly gaining global recognition, the result was investors like Jennifer Lopez, her fiancé, former American baseball player and Shark Tank investor, Alex Rodriguez, Bollywood diva Malaika Arora, the branded fitness platform Zumba, the founder of 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide, Mark Mastrov and former chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, Bill Roedy. Speaking about how they came on board, he mentions meeting David Giampaolo, the chief executive of a London-based investor club, Pi Capital, through Harsha Bhatkal, director of Talwalkars. “My partner David Giampaolo, who is also the chairman of Sarva, is a great person and also one of the most influential networkers in the UK. His guidance and involvement struck gold for our business. He curated a list of people, who have currently invested in Sarva. One thing led to the other, and we have been fortunate to have them on board.” All the investors on board have been supportive from the start, with Malla (Malaika Arora) being more involved”, says Shashi. “She came at the right time and helped Sarva set up Diva Yoga, which caters exclusively to women. She curates the Diva Yoga classes, and we together handle our ventures. Above all, what she wants is that people should stay fit, happy and healthy.” He says that Arora is one of those rare people who practice what they preach and the amount of effort and level of involvement the super-fit model puts in is commendable. When asked about Jennifer Lopez, he claims her influence has made a huge difference. Sarvesh highlighted, “I am happy and humbled by the breakthrough shown by such globally successful icons. I have met Jennifer Lopez twice, and both she and her fiancé have been warm, encouraging and understanding towards my vision. All I can express is my heartfelt gratitude to them.” On her part, Arora has nothing but positivity about becoming a part of Sarva. The model and actor were looking for an initiative in fitness, and when she and her management agency, Exceed Entertainment, came across the proposition put forth by Shashi, she was immediately interested. After various exploratory meetings and brainstorming sessions, Diva Yoga began operations on October 12, 2018, in Bandra, a suburb in Mumbai, to help “transform ladies into divas, who are physically, mentally, emotionally and holistically beautiful.” Speaking about Shashi and how he, along with the team of Diva Yoga, was in perfect alignment of committing to making a positive change in the lives of many, Arora says, “Sarvesh comes with an invincible passion for yoga and wellness, which helped Diva Yoga become a one-of-a-kind experiential yoga studio. What leaves me awestruck is his dedication to continuing to transform the lives of all my divas, who take that first step towards holistic living.” She says that the ‘cool yogi’ brought a multitude of ideas and new elements to the space of yoga and meditation. “When you invest time and knowledge in a business, you want to see it flourish and bring in high returns. My passion in the fashion, fitness and wellness space stays at the core of any association or partnership, followed by the right mix of teams working towards the same goal. Sarvesh shares a constant enthusiasm and passion, not only towards fitness but overall wellness, which is the like-mindedness we share.”
Shashi with Malaika Arora
The successful yoga start-up also welcomed its partnership with OYO Townhouse, a chain of neighbourhood hotels, and the arrival of its two new investors, Bollywood actor, Shahid Kapoor and his wife, Mira Kapoor, who are both fitness enthusiasts. What led them on board was a casual meet up with the ‘cool yogi’ that escalated in the power couple joining hands to spread the message of holistic living. Beaming over the new development, Sarvesh highlighted that, the power couple’s support is a testament of their faith where the association would help take SARVA to the next phase of growth. Although Shashi is tight-lipped about financials, he reveals that in the next three to four years, he wants to open more studios, expand Sarva’s base internationally and spread the message of good health and holistic living. The number of brick and mortar studios across India stands at 91 primarily clustered in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi, and with a presence in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and other cities. “The mindset of the people in Mumbai is poles apart from that of the people down south. The people in these three cities are more receptive to our ideas than anywhere else, as they are more health conscious. To be honest, Delhi has been a great market, where we came across some awesome locations. So, we took a call and established our studios in about 18-20 locations in Delhi.” He says that the attitude towards healthy living is different across different states in India. “I think in the southern states and up in the north, the awareness about maintaining good health isn’t tremendous. People are being made more aware through television channels, YouTube and various social media platforms, but, I think the whole process of making the necessary health changes is more visible down south and up north.” With accessibility being such an important part of everyone’s lives today, Shashi highlights the introduction of features like the Mindfulness App and an integrated online life class product that will roll out in September of this year. He says, “We have a set number of studios, where we have been able to attract people but, through the digital medium, we will be able to reach a wider audience and spread the message of good health. Technology is an enabler for easy access. If you were one of my students, and couldn’t attend my classes, then I would turn to technology to channelize your energy. I believe that with such apps, they have done the work of explaining the benefits one would reap through meditation and yoga.” On being quizzed about other developments on the digital front, he says, “Just wait and watch.” Shashi has employed the services of the famous advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, as the brand strategy and communication partner of Sarva. “Wieden+Kennedy is the best, and have created amazing brands in the world, with Nike being the standout. Every brand that they have worked with radiates with a purpose, and is larger than the actual product. The agency is outstanding, and they are working very closely with us to understand what Sarva means, and what our main purpose is. We are going to come up with something very exciting over the next 30 days.”
“If I make up my mind, I pursue that no matter what. Life is an adventure and it has certainly presented opportunities, which have been worth exploring. I am sure all the efforts put in have been purposeful, and it has definitely helped me look at the brighter side in achieving my goals,”
Shashi has also partnered with two-time Indian Super League Champions Chennaiyin FC (CFC) to promote yoga in football, and in sports overall. He says, “Yoga plays a very important role in every form of sports. Since I have played cricket and travelled with the Indian cricket team, I know how much it has helped me. Whether it’s for any physical approach like balance, flexibility, and focus, or through the mindful angle of yoga, it would result in more energy within.” With his eyes now set on the Western world, and a series of developments in the pipeline, the yogipreneur adds that opportunities are simultaneously being evaluated in the East too. Focused on making the brand being heard across the world, Shashi reveals that necessary actions are being considered and the team is taking it one step at a time. On being asked what keeps him going, he says, “The zeal to address and cure various issues keeps me going.” Zeroing in on obesity as a global epidemic, he says that mindfulness and yoga play a practical role because they help in infusing a healthy mindset, especially among youngsters, and the 500- 600 million people in India in the age group of 30-35, who want to genuinely make a difference in their lives. “I am yet to see my desired level of success”, he says and signs off by stating, “Live your dream. Be enthusiastic, be daring and be crazy about your goals. Keep learning at every stage and remember, hard work is 99.9 per cent more effective than sheer luck.”