A personal journey of Mugdha Pradhan of healing is now treating many medically!

In 2019, a client became an investor, officially forming the company. With a current team of 60, we plan to expand to 150 soon. It's remarkable how the venture has scaled up.

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Abhishansa Mathur
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iThrive

After struggling with clinical depression and obesity, Mugdha Pradhan was in her late 30s when she was feeling hopeless. She knew she had to better her life and that's when she decided to thrive and later founded iThrive!

The last four years have been fantastic for Mugdha Pradhan, an entrepreneur from Pune. She began as a solopreneur, and now her startup, iThrive, is funded, successfully healing people with functional nutrition. The underlying philosophy asserts that there is always a root cause behind every disease. Instead of merely treating symptoms with medications, the approach is to identify and address the root cause.

To know more about her mind-boggling journey and how it began for her, Abhishansa Mathur, spoke to Mugdha Pradhan and below is the excerpt of the same. 

Can you walk us through your journey of starting iThrive?

I completed my Master's in nutrition in 2001 but didn't pursue further because the options were limited at that time, with gym and hostel jobs being the only choices. Uninterested in that line of work, I switched careers, studying HR and entering the corporate world for the next 12-13 years. However, it adversely affected my health. Going through a tough time personally, trapped in an unhappy marriage, I weighed 97 kg and struggled with clinical depression to the point of suicidal thoughts, impacting my emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

In 2017, I acknowledged I wasn't doing well and underwent a transformative process, prioritizing my physical health. Realizing that a dysfunctional body hinders all aspects of life, I, despite being an ideal daughter, employee, mother, and sister, found the societal template didn't work for me. Learning that what I had studied in my post-graduation wasn't effective, I delved deeper and discovered I had an autoimmune condition called 'Hashimoto,' causing my health issues. Exploring functional medicine, I applied its principles, losing 37 kgs in a year. Sharing my transformation on Facebook led others to seek my help, leading to the founding of iThrive, initially a solo venture.

In 2019, a client became an investor, officially forming the company. With a current team of 60, we plan to expand to 150 soon. It's remarkable how the venture has scaled up.

 

What's your mission with this startup? And how does it aim to address chronic health conditions and lifestyle diseases through functional nutrition, as you said?

Our vision is to foster healthier, happier lifestyles and cultivate disease-free communities worldwide. Functional medicine serves as our primary tool to realize this vision, focusing on three key aspects. Firstly, through one-on-one interactions, we design three-month programs for individuals dealing with health issues like type-II diabetes, PCOD, or thyroid problems. We conduct scientifically guided blood tests to gather essential data for tailored solutions. Secondly, our academy equips practitioners and healthcare professionals with the knowledge and nuances of functional nutrition, enhancing their practices and enabling them to create positive transformations in the lives of their patients and clients. Lastly, we manage a line of supplements, including nutraceuticals such as Vitamin D, Magnesium, B complex, and Zinc, to assist those facing health challenges. These three pillars collectively contribute to our mission of creating a global impact on well-being.



Tell us about the process! How do you find the root cause?

The entire philosophies of functional medicine and functional nutrition are quite interchangeable. The underlying philosophy asserts that there is always a root cause behind every disease. Regardless of the symptoms, such as elevated blood sugar levels, weight gain, inflammation, fatigue, tiredness, and headaches, there is always an underlying factor. Rather than merely treating the symptoms with medications, the approach is to identify and address the root cause. By pinpointing the origin of the issue, we can then work towards resolving it at its source.

We utilize blood tests, sometimes opting for advanced ones like gut mapping or autoimmune panels, to uncover the root causes of issues within an individual's body. These may include deficiencies, toxin overload, multiple infections, or other factors. Once we identify the root cause, we leverage that knowledge to create primarily food-based solutions, guiding individuals to incorporate the necessary nutrients and supplements into their diet. For example, if we observe an overloaded liver requiring detoxification support, we implement a detox protocol.

Referring to this approach as a diet would be inaccurate because a diet is typically followed for a short time before returning to a regular routine. The objective here is to institute sustainable changes that individuals can maintain throughout their lives, tailored to what works best for their bodies.

 

 

What was your growth and marketing strategy?

A significant portion of the initial growth stemmed from referrals due to the one-on-one work, with people witnessing positive changes and recommending my services to others. This organic growth continued steadily until the onset of COVID-19. The pandemic posed challenges, especially regarding the uncertainty of being able to pay salaries to my team. While we had to close our office temporarily, the post-lockdown period witnessed a surge in new clients, as heightened health consciousness prompted a desire for fitness.

Although we experienced growth in the first two years, recent strategies have incorporated a dedicated marketing team hired in the past year or so. Currently, 50% of our growth is fueled by organic referrals, while the remaining comes from inorganic marketing efforts on social media. 



While we engage in various initiatives, our primary focus revolves around knowledge dissemination and awareness creation. Unlike an e-commerce platform where products are simply purchased, our business sells an entire system dedicated to improving health. Our approach goes beyond mere marketing tactics such as posting about salads; instead, our emphasis lies in disseminating knowledge through diverse channels and methods. Whether it's through posts, testimonials, or storytelling, we utilize every avenue. Our content reaches across multiple platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

The establishment of two verticals was driven by practical needs. When recruiting for client services, the lengthy training period (3 to 4 months) prompted the idea that if I was investing in someone's learning, they could reciprocate by paying for the same. This approach aimed to address our recruitment challenges. Consequently, we initiated an academy to educate individuals, with the prospect of hiring the best-performing students. The decision to produce supplements in-house arose during the COVID-19 lockdown when importing became challenging. This move not only solved our supply chain issues but also evolved into a standalone revenue-generating vertical.

 

What are the trends you foresee?

Keto never goes out of fashion; it's a dietary trend that remains consistently popular. The vegan wave is also currently in trend, with many individuals adopting plant-based diets. While it seems to be reaching its peak, there's a counter-wave of carnivores, embracing an animal-based diet, that has started emerging. This has led to an ideological divide between vegans and carnivores.

Another enduring trend is intermittent fasting, and detox juices are regaining popularity. However, these trends do not affect us as we don't work with them. Our method is simple and involves studying your blood, creating a plan tailored to your ethical, religious, and cultural preferences.

What are some of the most basic lifestyle changes you'd like to suggest to our readers?

Health is not just about your diet and exercise; it's something that many people in the nutrition world also overlook. While these aspects are important, they are not the only pillars of health. Here are a few implementable changes I'm going to suggest now.

The first one is, as soon as you wake up, expose yourself to sunlight and not your phone and its harmful blue rays. Either watch the sunrise or, at the very least, get full sun exposure on your face for five minutes.

The second thing I recommend is, when it comes to food, prioritize protein. Protein is a building block of many things inside our bodies, ranging from our immune system to our hormones, neurotransmitters, and skin and hair. Indian diets are often low in protein, so that aspect needs to be taken care of.

 

A good, protein-rich diet is a must. Ensure that every meal contains at least 30 grams of protein. Additionally, avoid consuming excessive sugar and steer clear of processed foods or anything that comes in packets. The preservatives and artificial flavors in such foods can be detrimental to your health. Exclude seed oils like mustard and sesame from your diet, as they can cause inflammation. Instead, opt for either ghee or coconut oil, as they are beneficial.

Apart from dietary considerations, there's a valuable health hack called Grounding, unrelated to food or exercise. According to some studies, connecting barefoot with the earth can reduce inflammation. Even if you can be barefoot on soil for only 15 minutes, it can be beneficial. Grounding not only aids in physical health but also has positive effects on mental and emotional well-being, making you feel calmer. Additionally, ensure you get good sleep during the golden hours of 10 pm to 6 am.

Lastly, I would advise getting your blood work done. Many clients have approached us stating they are low on energy or believe they have depression. However, upon testing, we often find that they are simply low on vitamin D. Correcting this deficiency can lead to a significant improvement in their overall well-being.

What have been the challenges?

The initial challenge was, of course, to make people believe that an alternative model exists for health, where alterations to your food and lifestyle can lead to the disappearance of diseases. Convincing people to believe in the existence of such a model was one of the biggest challenges.

In terms of building the team, I think hiring was a task. The second aspect was ensuring and maintaining the kind of culture we have. It takes a lot of work to maintain it. We had a few misfits in the leadership team whom we hired, and they were unable to fit in.

Covid-19 presented another difficult phase, especially in the first three months because we couldn't generate any revenue. In April 2020, we made about Rs. 85,000 in revenue for the market, and I wasn't sure if I would be able to pay salaries. So, I told the team that they were free to leave, but none of them left, stating that they were here for the vision.

Your key milestones?

The first milestone was receiving funding. Someone believed in what I did to such an extent that they were willing to invest their money in it. So, the first round of funding was, of course, a significant milestone to kickstart the company, and then the kind of growth we've seen every year. We've grown at a 3x speed and were invited to speak at Ted Talks in 2019, along with other platforms. The second round of funding and establishing both verticals have also been milestones. It's hard to pick a few because the last four years have been amazing, and each day has felt like an achievement.

Three learnings in your journey!

Consistency and persistence trump genius every single time because even if you're a smart person, it won't happen if you don't do it consistently and show up every day. The second lesson is that the individuals within the company are the ones who will make or break the business. The third lesson is to sustain effort and work consistently. You need to become financially intelligent so that you can utilize money in a way that sustains and supports your continuous business growth.

One piece of advice you would want to give to budding entrepreneurs.

Take care of your physical health because you might have the biggest dreams. However, if your body doesn't support what your mind wants to do, you won't be able to show up for your business every single day. Your physical health serves as the starting point for anything significant you want to achieve.

Additionally, prioritize learning and conduct in-depth research. Avoid falling for trends, as I've observed many nutritionists aspiring to become Instagram influencers instead of focusing on the core work. Popularity is superficial. Therefore, my advice to all budding nutritionists is to choose knowledge and depth over surface-level popularity. It's easy to get swept up in this world.

Founder's Favourites! 

1. Favourite book: The Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo. It's by far one of the best books I have ever come across in my 45 years of life.

2. A podcast you love: I listen to many and they range across diverse topics. When it comes to nutrition Chris Master John, Paul Saladino, and Jason Fung are my favourites. For spirituality, the Cosmic Metrics Podcast by Laura and Bernard is what I like. Tom Mon Talks is also a nice one.  

3. Favourite Movie: The Wheel of Time, Shadow and Bone, and the Marvel Adventures. I also like listening to Shamanic music.

4. Music you like: Bob Marley and Afro

5. An Indian place you love: Goa, Rani Khet, and Dharamsala

6. Favourite food: Mutton curry with rice and sourdough bread.

7. Fitness mantra: I do yoga twice a week as well as weight training to maintain muscle mass and bone strength. Walking barefoot is also something I enjoy.

mugdha pradhan ithrive