There is nothing new in celebrities endorsing brands and collecting hefty pay cheques in return. But the trend these days is public figures taking an active interest in the startup ecosystem and backing promising ventures as investors. Examples abound. Consider Hrithik Roshan’s association with the fitness startup Curefit; or Deepika Padukone’s investment in Drum Foods International.

Taking this trend a step forward is SARVA, an Indian wellness and yoga startup that boasts a star-studded lineup of Indian and global celebrity investors—like the pop icon Jennifer Lopez, the American baseball legend Alex Rodriguez and the Bollywood diva Malaika Arora among others. The brand was founded in 2016, and also has other big-name backers: the largest branded fitness programme in the world, Zumba; Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide Inc.; Bill Roedy, former chairman & CEO, MTV Networks International and several others.

SARVA is a brainchild of the yogi turned entrepreneur Sarvesh Shashi, who founded the brand when he was just 23. Shashi told Guardian 20 that the brand is the result of his personal journey with yoga, which transformed his life. He said, “I needed to give a reason to my dad why I didn’t want to join his business and I told him that I wanted to start something from scratch. And what was better than starting a yoga studio? It had changed my life and there were 500 million people then [in 2016] and there are 600 million people now in India under the age of 35 who are suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, obesity and loneliness. And I knew that I could make a difference.”

The brand currently has 91 studios across India, in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. Its next cluster will include the other metros of the country. In a bid to expand its footprint internationally over the next few years, the brand will continue to evaluate market opportunities in the USA, UK, and Middle East once it has penetrated the Indian market.

Shashi believes that these international collaborations will further help him in achieving the brand’s long-term business goals. He credits SARVA’s chairman and partner, David Giampaolo, for getting the stellar roster of investors on board. “All of them [investors] could help us in the long-term success journey from their experiences,” Shashi said.

In her statement about SARVA, Jennifer Lopez said, “I have personally benefited from my regular practice of yoga and believe that it has made a difference to my life both physically and mentally. The enthusiasm that Sarvesh brings to SARVA is promising and infectious. I believe in the vision of SARVA and view it as a great common ground for a brilliant investment opportunity along with co-creating and serving a global community.”

Fitness brands, especially, have been using star power to push their businesses in the country. Recently, Vivafit, an international chain of female-only gyms, signed Mandira Bedi as their brand ambassador in India.

SARVA founder Sarvesh Shashi with Jennifer Lopez.

According to Shashi, celebrities from the film industry have their loyal fan-following, and are a great choice if you want to give your brand a distinguished face in a crowded market.

He told us, “This trend [of roping in film stars as brand ambassadors] is picking up in India. It has not completely picked up… People think that because a film star is a part of a brand, he must be genuinely supporting that brand. For example, Malaika Arora owns The Diva Yoga and is associated with SARVA. So people aspire to be Malaika Arora someday. They want to be mentally and physically fit like her. So they want to try places that are endorsed by these celebrities… Today’s aware and aspirational consumers have added to the trend.”

Besides, India’s Bollywood-driven mainstream culture has fuelled this trend. “Of course, India is a cinema-loving country. The stardom and celebrity culture are so large that some people like to follow the stars they idolise. Others are calculative and take meaningful decisions and make decisions based on results and are open to trying out new things. Celebrity endorsements are initial kickstarters for them but they make informed decisions after the trial period.”

Malaika Arora’s first-ever fitness studio, The Diva Yoga, launched six months back, is also a result of her collaboration with SARVA.  About her recent association with the brand as an investor, Arora said, “I am happy to look beyond and invest in SARVA, becoming a part of the overall company that comes with a vision of connecting seven billion breaths globally, using finesse and a hi-tech approach. In particular I look forward to working more closely with Sarvesh Shashi, the charismatic founder of SARVA, whose ability to curate content and present it with special inspiration urges me to be more closely associated with this project. Besides its bright financial prospects, SARVA will quite significantly change the lives of those drawn to it.”

By the end of this year, the company›s growth will be largely driven by their digital offerings, ranging from spiritual music and meditation guides to an interactive fitness space online. By 2022, SARVA aims to have 500 brick-and-mortar studios across the country, in about 15 cities, and simultaneously build a global community of over 100 million on their digital platform.

Shashi also informed us about his plans to expand the wellness brand into other related verticals. “By building this ecosystem of wellness, on the authentic foundations of yoga, we will do a lot of brand extensions, like in the food sector and merchandise etc.,” he concluded.


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