Despite incredible success with online businesses in high school and college, Aditya “AJ” Patel (BSBA ’09) tried just about every other industry after graduating from UF. He dabbled in real estate and accounting, and even started his own hookah lounge and a liquor store.
But his online marketing skills were undeniable, and he eventually followed his heart. What has resulted is an entrepreneurial success story. Patel is the Founder of InstaNatural, which has blossomed into one of the leading e-commerce online beauty and skin care solutions companies.
Patel’s road to e-commerce success, however, was not without its hurdles.
After earning his finance degree, Patel was unsure about which career to choose so he took time off to “figure himself out.” He supported himself from savings he accrued while operating an online business during his junior and seniors years at Warrington that traded virtual currency. Eventually, those funds were exhausted, and he needed a new direction.
Patel’s inspiration for InstaNatural is married in his fascination with online marketing and his struggle with his own skin. He tried numerous skin care products over the years that either weren’t effective or contained questionable ingredients. So, in November 2013, Patel launched InstaNatural, which uses organic and natural ingredients.
“I wanted to create something I was passionate about,” said Patel, 29. “There wasn’t a product like this in the skin care space, and I thought it would resonate with people.”
The company’s first product was a 100% Organic Argan Oil that was warmly received by an enthusiastic consumer base. In the three years since, InstaNatural has developed 60 products across the skin care, body care, hair care, cosmetics, and aromatherapy lines. InstaNatural recorded more than $17 million in sales in 2015.
Patel attributes InstaNatural’s growth to the company’s commitment to using natural ingredients, and his commitment to seeking out talented partners. Patel’s previous online successes were engineered without anyone’s help. He stuck to that strategy with InstaNatural, and didn’t make his first hire until eight months after the company launched.
“It’s difficult giving up control,” Patel said. “I think that’s the case for most entrepreneurs. I was doing product development, customer service, answering the phones. I was in the weeds so much with the day-to-day operations I never had time to plan.”
Once Patel’s team began to grow, the company grew. Patel credits Chief Executive Officer Dan Brenner and Chief Marketing Officer Ethelbert Williams for their leadership and supporting the company’s strategic vision.
“That was a great learning experience for me,” said Patel, who now has more than 20 employees at InstaNatural. “You have to surround yourself with talented people. I don’t want to be the smartest guy in the room.”
Patel’s success was recently recognized by EY as he was named a finalist for its Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Florida Award (which was won by fellow Warrington alumnus, Nick Reader (BSAc ’97).
“I’m not very good at taking credit, but I’m proud of the achievement,” Patel said. “I’m more proud of the company than anything else because I believe so strongly in it and where it’s going.”