Pooja Bedi: From Spotlight to Soulpreneur, Empowering India’s Well-being Journey

Pooja Bedi
Pooja bedi

Move over conventional labels. Pooja Bedi defies easy categorization. Once known for her captivating presence on screen and runways, she’s transcended those roles to emerge as a force for positive change in India. As the Founder of Happy Soul, she’s not just influencing lives, she’s rewriting the narrative of what it means to be a leader in 2024.

As an iconic trailblazer in the world of glamour and entertainment, taking us back to her beginnings, Pooja says, “I’d love to start with the quote, ‘Jobs fill your pockets, but adventures fill your souls.’ Every step of my last three professional decades has been an adventure into an ocean of professional and personal realms.” Pooja has donned many hats in her non-linear journey and enjoyed the limelight and fanbase as an actor and media personality. She dared to step beyond the glitz and glamour, embracing vulnerability and seeking deeper meaning.

In addition, her avatar as the author of a book, Timepass, and her 20-year journey as an Award-Winning columnist for the Times of India have all been building blocks to get her where she is today.

“My Award-Winning Wellness Brand – Happy Soul!”

This self-exploration led her to mental health advocacy, a topic often cloaked in silence. “I have been actively researching metasciences and alternative healing practices and doing certification and diploma courses across various modalities like Reiki, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), Heal Your Life, Soul Temple, Clinical Hypnosis, Magnified Healing, and Quantum and Newtonian Physics since 2003.”

Pooja wanted to simplify decades of study and empower people to become the happiest versions of themselves and knew ‘Happy Soul’ was to be born.

Pooja adds, “I used to routinely bump into Namrata Thakkar, who later became Happy Soul’s Co-founder.” They used to meet at Pooja’s gym and often shared their dream of creating ‘Happy Soul: a series of empowerment workshops amalgamating all the knowledge Pooja had acquired. She reveals, “For two years, Namrata pushed and prodded me and gave me all the support I could ever ask for. In 2016, she single-handedly helped me launch three hugely successful workshop series, which I then conducted across the country for various women’s groups like Ficci-flo, Yflo, wow, corporates like Tata, Citibank, HP and organisations like EO, to name a few.”

Namrata did it selflessly, expected nothing and turned down the offer for commissions or monetary compensation. Pooja shares, “She often laughed and said when I would offer her ₹3 crores, she would take it. The idea of Happy Soul as a gigantic wellness wonderland was born soon after.”

In 2019, Pooja launched Magicians of Wellness (India) LLP, giving Namrata a 25% share. In 2021, they converted it to a private Limited company. The company is now expanding into many wellness verticals.

With Happy Soul, Pooja has built a vibrant community that champions emotional well-being and personal growth. She doesn’t preach; she connects, offering holistic wellness solutions, workshops, and retreats that empower individuals to reclaim their inner happiness.

Spreading Spirituality Everywhere

When asked what motivated her to enter the wellness world, Pooja says, “Ooh! Let’s start with DNA and lineage! Spirituality has always been in my life, even before my birth.”

Pooja is the 18th direct Descendant of Guru Nanak Ji. Her grandfather, Baba Bedi, was a renowned energy healer, and her grandmother, Freda Bedi, was the highest ordained Buddhist nun. Pooja says, “I was brought up on the works and teachings of gurus and philosophers like Osho and J. Krishnamurthy, psychologists like Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, amongst many others by my late mother, Protima Bedi, who was greatly interested in the world of holistic wellness.”

Pooja also grew up with a healthy understanding that wellness is holistic and includes the body, mind and soul. Mental, emotional, sexual, financial, spiritual, and social wellness are as important as physical wellness.

Today, wellness seems to be the new buzzword, and I think that’s great.” Health and wellness products, along with alternative healing modalities like yoga, meditation, psychotherapy and others, have seen a massive surge in interest and sales. Ayurveda, yoga, meditation and energy healing have been a part of Indian culture for centuries. Now, people are opting for these alternative healing options instead of unquestioningly trusting commercial medicines by the pharma industry. People are developing a holistic view and realizing that spiritual wellness is as important as physical health.

Grand Your Delights with A Happy Soul

Telling more about her brand, Happy Soul, Pooja says they are poised to be the go-to brand for all your holistic wellness needs. “We already had three wellness supermarkets in Goa (an aggregation of all the best health and wellness products from vendors across the country) and a health and wellness café.” Both of these are on a franchise model and ready to scale Pan-India. “Our first supermarket franchise was in Kannur, Kerala. We already have our brand of Candles and Incense.” In addition, they are in the formulation of their product line of skincare, massage oils and organic foods.

Pooja informs, “We will launch our wellness portal in Q2 of 2024, which will feature wellness recipes, products, blogs, and access to service professionals, spas, gyms, wellness workshops and wellness travel.” She adds that they have already started wellness programming on their Happy Soul India YouTube channel. “We want to start wellness festivals in Q4 of 2024 to create synergy and community between wellness product vendors, wellness service providers, Wellness experiences and wellness consumers.”

Happy Soul is emerging as one of India’s most comprehensive wellness ventures. Sharing key facts and figures, Pooja says, “Globally, the wellness industry has a market size of five trillion dollars, and the Indian market share is currently around 50 billion dollars (2023). The Indian CAGR for this industry is an exponential 28%, and projections show the Indian market to reach ₹72.3 billion in 2025, up from ₹21 billion in 2020.”

According to Pooja, “Price Waterhouse Coopers did a study – Winds of change 2012 – whereas they identified The Wellness consumers based on a population size of 1.22 Billion. They estimated 1 – 2 million believers, 15 – 20 million actives, 150 – 200 million beginners, and 700 million Passengers. Ten years later, in 2023, Numb research estimates a market size of 442 million millennials in addition who spend an average of 4000 on wellness.”

Pooja asks, “What is propelling this growth?” and answers, “Rise in Chronic and Lifestyle Diseases, Rising Statistics of Mental Wellness Issues, Growing Rate of Chronic Diseases such as Asthma, BP, Diabetes, Cancer, Arthritis Etc., the Side Effects of Modern Medicine/Pharma, a Sedentary Lifestyle, Digital Addiction, Digital Fatigue & Unhealthy HabitsIncreasing Health Awareness, the involvement of private sector players and Govt. Initiatives like AYUSH.”

Advantageous Aggregators

The entrepreneurial landscape is continually evolving. To ensure her company remains adaptable and ahead of industry trends, providing innovative solutions to their clients, Pooja says they have some competitive market advantages. Being the founder, she has over 30 years of experience in holistic sciences; it is celebrity-driven and hence has more eyeballs, networking, and collaboration opportunities, “As well as our goodwill, interest, and respect within the wellness community. Moreover, there are equal opportunities offline and online. It’s holistic wellness, self-funded. There are no external loans as of today, and we have a first movers’ advantage as aggregators. Also many aspects of our business model are scalable Pan India and globally as well.”

According to Pooja, their USP for consumers/clients is their curation, community building, inclusive nature, brand tonality in all their communication, credibility, and reputation, and they cater to all pocket sizes as aggregators.

An Ever-Improving Leadership

Pooja’s proactive leadership style is often recognized as an inspirational force behind all her endeavours. Shedding light on her approach to it and team building within her organizations, Pooja says, “I tell my team that there is no competition. There is only personal and professional growth at Happy Soul.”

The only person they need to be better than is the person they were yesterday. Always be open to change, to new ideas, to new energy infusing their organisation. As a boss, it’s also very important to have someone in your team who dares to challenge you, question your decisions, and tell you where you perhaps falter and reward them for it. The onus is as much on the boss as on the employee to be open to change and criticism to grow.

Further, Pooja’s leadership isn’t confined to a single platform. She’s a vocal advocate for social causes, using her voice to raise awareness about mental health, LGBTQ+ rights, and environmental issues. She’s a published author, sharing her transformation and inspiring others to do the same. And she’s a fearless entrepreneur, demonstrating that success can be built on purpose and passion, not just conventional definitions.

Perks of Being an Honest Citizen

The essence of iconic women’s business leadership lies in bringing innovation and advancements by disrupting norms. When asked whether being a woman she feels at an advantage not, Pooja says that as the founder of Happy Soul, managing director of Magicians of Wellness (INDIA) PVT and Managing director of Merchants of Wellness PVT. Ltd., she believes being a woman is her strength. “Especially as we are known to be more adept at multitasking and relationship management.” The tough part is not being a woman; it’s about being an honest citizen. She says, “Permissions that take others days or weeks takes me months and months. Clearly, because I don’t bribe. I want to do business corruption-free, and it’s so frustrating to be put through the grind and chase of endless paperwork, compliances and processes because of it.” Govt. compliances and complex GST structures, especially for e-commerce, make the business of doing anything a veritable nightmare. Pooja’s Goa-based companies are registered with Start Up Goa, Start-up India and MSME, “Yet the promise of single windows and ease of enabling start-ups and swift or online permissions remains a dream. A trade licence may be ₹2,500 online, but to apply for a trade licence, you need a panchayat NOC subject to whatever figure they choose to levy with no structure. I don’t do cash business, and I don’t give bribes. I expect officials to do an honest job, as my taxes pay their salaries. They should enable honest citizens working just as hard as them to earn a livelihood. The system needs a clean-up, and the government needs to make it easier for people to do business with ease and honesty,” she shares.

Fostering Environmental Wellness

On the sustainability front, Pooja believes environmental wellness is a key component of holistic wellness. “We cannot be healthy if our planet is unhealthy, clogged, choked or polluted. We have a personal, human and collective social responsibility to mindful usage and disposal of products.” To reuse, recycle and repair rather than throw and buy again. “All the products we aggregate are environmentally friendly.” Candles are paraffin-free; skincare is chemical and paraben-free; incense is charcoal-free; and towels are made from bamboo and hemp. “And we urge our vendors to use sustainable packaging. Our food packaging for café takeaway is eco-friendly; even in our office, our tissues and toilet rolls are sourced from Good karma, recycled paper.”

The Greatest Source of Joy

Brand Happy Soul is growing from strength to strength. According to Pooja, a brand must have strong recall value to acquire a lifetime customer. She states, “Research shows that customers no longer go to brands for what they offer; they go for the emotional experiences they deliver.” Tata delivers trust as a message with every product, and Dettol provides safety. “Being associated with happiness helps build stronger emotional connections between consumers’ memory structures and the brand,” says Steve Hastings, planning partner and co-founder at Isobel. “A happy brand is successful: it is better recalled, liked and chosen more often.”

Similarly, wellness is the greatest source of happiness. “And Happy Soul delivers to you the holy grail, ‘happiness’ at your fingertips! Be it online or offline wellness shopping, applying wellness products or eating at our wellness cafés, happiness is at your fingertips,” claims Pooja.

Embracing Techno-Transformed Times

In the realm of business leadership, technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing efficiency. When asked how they, as a wellness company, leverage technology to optimize their services and stay ahead in a digital age, Pooja says that in an era where HR comes with its own set of challenges and scope for human error, she breathes a sigh of relief when it comes infusing automation, AI, and technology into her company. Whether it’s stockkeeping, data analysis, analytics, or marketing, technology today plays a pivotal role in a company’s efficiency and outcome. “We are focussed on a strong combination of HR and Tech to fuel our forward journey.”

Their online portal launching in Q2 is what the future is pointing towards. Pooja states, “Indian e-commerce is expected to surpass the US to become the second-largest e-commerce market in the world by 2034. India is moving towards becoming the third largest consumer market, and India’s e-commerce market is expected to reach – US$ 111 billion by 2024, US$ 163 billion by 2026 (CAGR 27%), and US$ 350 billion by 2030. Online retail market size by 2030 will see rapid expansion of Ecommerce in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. India has gained 125 million online shoppers in the past three years, with another 80 million expected by 2025.”

She adds, “There is also a lot of Govt. support for tech-related sectors. 100% FDI is allowed in B2B ecommerce. 100% FDI under the automatic route is permitted in the marketplace model of E-commerce. GOI through digital India campaign aiming to create a trillion-dollar online economy by 2025.”

The workforce is the cornerstone of every successful organization. When asked how she fosters a culture of growth, skill development, and empowerment among her employees, Pooja says, “Quite honestly, I’ve had not so fortunate experiences with the HR talent pool available in Goa and am shifting base to Mumbai before the launch of the online marketplace. Yes, a company is only as good as its workforce, and I firmly believe that teamwork makes the dream work. Most importantly, it’s vital for bosses not to be the bottleneck in their company.”

Outsmarting Obstacles

When asked to share the challenges faced by her, Pooja says that she has encountered so many of them as an entrepreneur that she will write a book on that journey when she makes her company a Unicorn. “For now, I want to thank the Goldman Sachs 10k entrepreneur program for Women and the IIM in Bangalore for shaping and taking my entrepreneurial journey from strength to strength. It has changed the game and landscape for me. It’s given us perspective, dimension, expansion, scalability, strategy and a phenomenal road map. Our decks are ready, and we are headed to our first round of VC funding to grow and scale our venture. So far, my biggest learnings were never stopping learning, never stopping changing, and stopping growing.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped industries globally. When asked how she and her team navigated these unprecedented times and adapted their strategies to ensure business continuity, Pooja says that wellness is like alcohol. You turn to alcohol in your bad times for support and in good times to celebrate. Similarly, wellness is preventive, curative and indulgent for a healthier and happier you. She adds, “So our business model will thrive through all seasons. While I respect the medical fraternity greatly, I am opposed to the pharma lobby and the negation of our traditional healing practices as a way of life. I am not vaccinated, and although I was trolled for it at the time of the pandemic, today, the same people tell me I was right and super lucky to have eluded it. You have to walk your talk and empower those whose lives you touch. We have online and offline verticals and are well prepared for all eventualities that may emerge.”

Bringing Alternative Sciences of Wellness to the Forefront

When probed about what role the government can play in promoting India’s wellness offerings to the world, Pooja says that the government has already recognised the role and scale of wellness as an industry. Medical tourism was once a large market, but it seems wellness tourism can also be a mega player. She cites, “As per estimates by Global Wellness Tourism, India ranked seventh in 2017 with 56 million tours in wellness tourism and total revenue of USD 16.3 Billion, (Source: tourism.gov.in). As a nation, we must recognise and advocate the use of alternative sciences like Ayurveda and Homeopathy as curative and preventive lines of treatment. Horrible ignorance was shown to these during COVID-19. The age-old wisdom and incredible power of Ayurveda should never have been ignored as a response to pharmaceutical pressure. It could only have done good to strengthen our immune systems, ward off viruses, and even help heal the body post-COVID-19 infection. Also, liaising with foreign countries to accept the Ayush certification to export products would be good. And of course to invest into, highlight, acknowledge and promote companies, services and destinations that are wellness focussed.”

Today, every business goes beyond the physical realm, touching on aspects like digital transformation, constant consumer engagement, and virtual user experience. When asked how they address these critical factors in their service offerings, Pooja says they are an online and offline venture. “Technology plays a dominant role in our online marketplace venture, and our expansion plans include a VR platform to create wellness experiences and communities.”

Expanding the Holistic Future of a Fittest Society

Looking ahead and sharing her plans, Pooja says, “I’m driven by passion and vision. Until the work needed is done, my day isn’t over. At times, the workload is overwhelming, and it ends up being a 4.30 AM wakeup call after a 2 AM goodnight.”

We are staging our journey and expansion into quarters and years. We have a five-year road map ahead of us for the growth of our wellness aggregator marketplace and its expansion to other countries. Our café expansion plan of 21 cafes and a series of express cafes and health food kiosks Pan-India are also in place.”

Pooja adds that they are also developing their wellness product line, looking at wellness tourism, wellness learning marketplace and wellness apps as desirable expansion areas.

What is most important is a positive headspace and gratitude in ours! A big thank you to those who have helped, supported, and empowered us to be where we are today. I look forward to a healthier and happier society and to empower everyone to become the best versions of themselves,” she concludes.

So, when you think of Pooja Bedi, don’t just recall the actor or model. See the visionary leader, the empathy-driven entrepreneur, the champion for holistic well-being. She’s a testament to the power of personal transformation and a shining example of the emerging women leaders shaping India’s future – one empowered soul at a time.