At just 31, entrepreneur Rishi Kher has managed to build an ethical hand-sanitiser business that brings in $10,000 a month.
His Holy Sanity sanitiser is made from plant-based bioethanol instead of petrochemicals and is based in ayurvedic principles, which is a medicine system with Indian roots.
Kher, who’s family migrated from India in 1989, is now eyeing off the massive Indian market to grow his Melbourne-based business further.
The India-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which was finally inked earlier this month after almost a decade of negotiations, offers big opportunities for Australian-Indian entrepreneurs like Kher.
He has plans to tap into the population of 1.3 billion consumers, many of them young, and Australia’s trusted reputation in Research and Development (R&D) to export “a product that they understand”.
“They're looking for products that come from overseas they can trust,” he said.
India is currently Australia’s sixth-largest export market. Two-way trade has ballooned from $13.6 billion in 2007 to $24.3 billion in 2020.
The interim free trade agreement is set to elevate India to one of Australia’s top three export markets by 2035.
From Indian royalty to menial jobs
Both Kher’s parents came from Indian royalty. However, he said they abandoned a life of privilege and wealth to come to Australia with nothing and work menial jobs.
Kher was a hard worker and had his heart set on a career in business and finance.
At 18, he managed to snag a spot as a cadet at EY.
After seven years learning the ropes at the professional services firm, the chartered accountant followed several different entrepreneurial pursuits, including getting blockchain start-up MetaliCoin off the ground.
When COVID hit, he saw an opportunity to create an ayurvedic-based sanitiser that didn’t damage people’s hands and didn’t smell like alcohol.
“A lot of my friends at that point in time had used their cash flow for buying houses, but I had an opportunity to come past when COVID hit,” he said.
He used capital from his job servicing clients at XB4, an accounting practice providing CFO services to high-turnover businesses, to bootstrap his manufacturing business.
He had around $150,000 to work with, which went towards four months of R&D and rent in a manufacturing facility that was ”very much like a garage”.
“We didn't have air conditioning or didn't have any heating,” he said.
“So, during the peak of Melbourne winter, we were wearing our mitts and socks and trying to stay warm.”
He said it was a bit of an adjustment to be hand making sanitiser after working as an accountant for so long. “It was really interesting.”
It was a tough industry to get into at the time, with alcohol - a key ingredient in hand sanitiser - extremely expensive to buy.
In the end, they found a supplier of Australian bioethanol from Queensland.
“It fit in with our values of being an Australian supplier,” Kher said.
“We wanted to be ethical, we wanted to make products that were vegan, so we went down that pathway.”
Within a year, the company had outgrown its first digs and had upgraded to a fit-for-purpose manufacturing warehouse.
In the 12 months since, the company now has positive cash flow coming through and is growing.
“We're looking at new skews and new ideas,” he said.
Kher has also recently been nominated as a finalist at the India Australia Business & Community Alliance Awards.