Woman Entrepreneurs From India To Watch Out For In 2017—Part II

This feature started with the idea of celebrating women, and since we will be touching various genres through similar anthologies (in and around art, music, food, fashion and more), we thought it would be interesting to see the entrepreneurial side of women in India. And the stories we uncovered were fabulous! Here’s what we found out in part two!

Shubhika and Sangeeta Jain, RAS Luxury Oils

L to R: Shubhika and Sangeeta Jain

Shubhika was raised in a happy and thriving household, around strong women who taught her that only when the mind, body and spirit, is balanced does everlasting beauty reflect on the skin.

As a child, Shubhika was immersed in rituals instilled in her by her mother (Sangeeta Jain, co-founder)—rituals that have been passed on from mother to daughter for generations in her family. These rituals sought to establish one’s holistic balance and inspired a sense of well-being with the help of age-old Ayurvedic practices dating as far as 5000 years.

With a passion for gardening, Shubhika’s mother, and inspiration behind the ideals of the brand, created her own beauty concoctions with handpicked flowers, herbs and other natural ingredients. This practice is what first inspired Shubhika to inculcate a natural beauty regimen of using natural, potent face and body oils, instead of lotions and creams containing harmful and toxic ingredients. Guided by her mother, Shubhika worked to create and build all that RAS Luxury Oils is today.

Bringing direction to almost 20 years of research and development in their lab, she strived to introduce 100 per cent pure, and luxurious beauty and skin care products, encouraging people around the globe to say no to unnatural, ‘unpronounceable’ cosmetic ingredients. From the desire to build an eco-friendly business, their first essential oil extraction plant was set up in 2012, and along with over 250 acres of beautiful farmlands in Chhattisgarh, the cornerstone for RAS Luxury Oils was laid.  Through RAS, she endorses the benefits of essential oils as well as face and body elixirs in beauty, self-healing and vitality, and urges everyone to nurture and nourish their inner magnificence and beauty.

From growing the aromatic herbs in their family-owned farms to extracting oils and its handling, the folks at RAS, try to provide the best quality products in the world, and Shubhika looks over everything. Further, the batches are smaller, resulting in fresh products with more potency. The items are organic, whole-plant ingredients, materials which you can even eat! And they are vegan, preservative-free, vacant of synthetic fragrances and additives, alcohol, wax, silicon and paraben.

It feels empowering to be a woman entrepreneur in current times she replies. “In 2017 opportunities for women entrepreneurs are unlimited. It is always great to be financially independent as it gives you a sense of pride and freedom. You also get a lot of respect in society when you start doing well this is especially true for women entrepreneurs as people don’t expect a female to take business seriously,” states Jain.

And believes that a strong value system, integrity, intolerance to mediocrity, strong positive leadership and transparency along with clear communication are important assets of a good company. She considers the employees or anybody associated with the company must reflect these qualities in order to achieve exponential growth with correct execution.

When Shubhika initially joined the family business it was difficult for the existing staff to accept a young lady as their head. She had to prove herself to be worthy by way of executing tasks and handling situations in a mature and strategic manner which made her win the support of her team. “I have faced many challenges as an entrepreneur but not as a woman entrepreneur. I founded RAS Luxury Oils with my mother, and I (had and still) have a good support system from my family and my team. Before starting my venture I worked with my father for two years (Shailendra Jain) who showed me the ropes—the way to approach different situations and how to talk, execute, negotiate and more,” she fondly recalls.

She also urges more and more women to come out and join the entrepreneurial bandwagon without fearing the consequences. “It is only when one works with complete dedication and the fire to do something with passion can they succeed. I’d also like more people becoming entrepreneurs following their passion rather than market trends as trends change, but anything done with passion is sure to succeed if executed well. The whole world is a playground and the possibilities are limitless. It is starting young which gives you an edge over others as the consequences of failing are a lot lesser than when you’re older,” she exits.

Follow RAS Luxury Oils here.

Roshni Shetty, Rêveur Luxury Chocolates

From a young age, desserts and confectionery have always been a passion for Shetty. This developed while unconsciously helping out her mother craft their favourite chocolate indulgences. She clearly remembers the first cake she ever baked (all by herself) was at the age of 11. And as she says, “After that, there was no looking back after that.”

As she progressed through school and college, she would never miss an opportunity to participate at bake sales and charity events. Selling and moreover looking at people react to her creations has always been the biggest joy for her. However, when the time came to choose a specialisation she decided to pursue her Bachelors in Science, considering the fact that she was good at Math and Physics, but without having any real goal in mind.

But the one thing she knew for sure was to keep on pursuing her passion. In her first year of college, she worked on The Chocolate Truffle. After a lot of trial and errors and hoping to have gotten it right, she decided to test the treat out on people. Looking at their response and with motivation from her family, she felt like she actually had something at hand. And that’s how Rêveur Luxury Chocolates started to take shape.

Shetty began to get things in place, and packaging was the most important of them all. Running errands for orders one day before her exams became a common affair, but worth it nonetheless. She distinctly remembers skipping one of her Physics practical classes and making up excuses to her professors just to cater her Chocolate Truffles at a corporate event that evening. After she was done with her graduation she decided to take up a Master’s Degree in mathematics keeping in mind the importance of a ‘solid’ education while continuing working at Rêveur part-time, she says.  A mere six months into the two-year course she decided to drop out realising that her true potential and aptitude lay in her lifelong passion for chocolate! That’s when Shetty decided to give all the attention to Rêveur Luxury Chocolates and actually build her own brand. It’s been a year since that decision took place.

So what does a regular day at Rêveur luxury chocolates look like? “It’s chaotic! Considering I cater to my customers at any time of the day, dealing with last-minute orders and requirements can become quite hectic. Staying up till 2 am and getting the job done isn’t uncommon here at Rêveur.  And of course, delivering the order on time is always challenging, as well as fulfilling, once you know from the client that it’s a job well done,” she highlights laughing.

All of the products are handcrafted, artisanal and preservative free carrying absolutely no artificial flavours or colouring. Further, they do not contain any butter, making it that much more appealing to people who are a tad bit health conscious.

No business is challenge free and the biggest hurdle that she has faced as a woman entrepreneur is that people seldom take her seriously especially at wholesale markets and big corporate events. “They are usually unsure of your ability to deliver as promised and are a bit hesitant initially to give you the big orders,” she points out. Further, “I wish people change their mindsets about women entrepreneurs, who many a time start from home. A large population think it’s just something frivolous they do to keep themselves occupied. It’s time people start seeing it for what it is—passion and a lot of hard work.”

Working with Rêveur has really taught her a lot of lessons too—things she hasn’t learnt in all the 17 years of her formal education, and time management, managing money, multitasking and the economics of it all are some of them. Dealing with clients and customers is another important aspect that has helped shape a lot her personality and the ability to deal with people.

The best thing that has happened to her since Shetty started Rêveur is developing a sense of confidence and gratitude to have something she can call my own. “Meeting new people and networking with professionals from all walks of life is always such a pleasure. It truly gives me a sense of fulfilment,” she adds.

Follow Rêveur Luxury Chocolates here.

Charmaine Timothy, The Wonder Women World

It was around the time when Timothy’s younger daughter turned six months old and she was enjoying the last few days of her maternity leave before getting back to her job as an Associate Director in a leading financial services firm. She thought to herself, ‘You have it all, a happy marriage, a loving family, two adorable daughters, and an exciting role at work—yet, what was that tiny voice inside telling her to do something more’ She knew writing was her strength and she always was in awe of fabulous women around her, but she took time to find a way to combine it into a meaningful project. The idea finally struck Timothy, thanks to her five-year-old daughter. “I was watching both my girls play and the elder one came up to me and said, “Mama, let’s pretend I am Wonder Woman” and she zipped past me vanquishing all the pretend villains,” explains Timothy. That one statement gave her all the answers she was looking for; she knew how she could make a difference. “I realised that all of us are Wonder women in our own ways with hidden or lesser known superpowers—it just made complete sense to me to use my skills to help women see that and get their moment in the sun. And thus, The Wonder Women World was born,” she clarifies.

Through The Wonder Women World Timothy focuses on women from all walks of life and in all stages of their journey who have interesting and inspiring stories to share. She personally connects with each of them and always makes it a point to pick out a unique aspect to highlight through a feature story. She also tries her best to leave her readers with something they could learn from.

“The forum acts as a catalyst to empower women, helps them see their own achievements in a positive light, kindles a spark in women and drives them to step out of their comfort zones or pursue that long pending dream. It helps create a diverse network of women from all walks of life, backgrounds and age groups, it helps broaden perspectives, encourages learning and serves as a mood lifter or just a nice read. Most importantly, it is a place where women empower other women and foster a culture of sisterhood,” she tells us.

In a matter of four months, 35000 women have joined the community and every day she gets messages or emails highlighting that they relate to one story or another or would like to share their own journeys and life experiences. It is a realistic, welcoming, and positive space. “And I am told we are in dire need of that,” she supplements.

And the good and not so good of being a woman entrepreneur in India? “Let me first talk about being a woman entrepreneur. Women are fabulous multi-taskers, are good at people management, they have a flair for getting value out of the tightest budgets and have superbly dependable instincts that are important for making any venture a successful one. Women in India, are expected to learn quickly, try harder, be more vocal and fight for their space—all of these qualities make us resilient and driven which works in our favour in the dynamic and competitive business world. On the flip side, we also have to work harder at being taken seriously. Sometimes at home, sometimes by colleagues, other times by sceptical financial institutions and investors. We also need more mentors for women in leadership roles in India.”

And this is why she believes that women should start something on their own because, it is a way to gain confidence, as in the process of starting a venture or pursuing a dream, a woman discovers her strengths, learns to deal with her weaknesses and ends up stronger than before. Further, it maintains an identity, has something that she can call her own and it gives a sense of accomplishment and finally, set the right example for the rest seeking for inspiration, for her daughters who look for direction and guidance as their grow into the women of tomorrow.

And part of that freedom and clarity of thought goes to her husband too. “He was and still is supportive of what I do. He was excited for me. And not once has he tried to take the reins from me or interfere in the way I grow my initiative. Yes, I do spend time bouncing off ideas, ask for a fresh perspective and he gladly provides it to me, but he respects my space. In fact, the only time I get to work on The Wonder Women World is when I finish my day job, so he plays a crucial role, he gets back from work, pitches in with the kids and I get some time to devote to writing and interviewing women,” she reckons with a smile.

According to you, what are the things necessary for a company to grow? “You start with a compelling, forward-looking concept or idea in the first place. Get a solid foundation built—an A team that complements your skills and understands your vision, mentors/experts who can provide strategic guidance, a robust business and go-to-market plan (among many other aspects). With that done, in order to grow, you have to leverage the right technology, use analytics and other tools to know what your customers are looking for and keep evolving, innovating and staying up to date on the trends. Take any chance you get to market your company (at the appropriate forums), have checkpoints to evaluate your progress versus goals so you can alter strategies if required, and then always stay true to your core values. Keep your eyes on the prize, stay ethical and never get complacent,” Timothy educates.

Follow The Wonder Women World here.

Swati Khaitan, Nitika Karnani and Shelani Agarwal, alt.space

L to R: Swati Khaitan, Nitika Karnani and Shelani Agarwal

Teamwork, they say, is what makes the dream work. Well, mostly. But, sometimes it’s the other way around. A creative dream brought this trio together. But first, they had to think of a name for themselves!

About 100 odd and wild messages were frantically exchanged on WhatsApp, 37.5 mugs of coffee were collectively consumed, two brand new notebooks were filled with doodles from cover to cover, random strangers were threatened at gunpoint (a figure of speech, people) politely asking them for ideas—all of which were then put into a giant industrial mixer (with generous helpings of sugar, spice and everything nice). What trickled down was a message that read that they should ‘look inside’.

So they did. And came up with alt.space—their own alternate space, a design studio where the three love to create things they adore and hope to evolve in the process too. They also eat, drink and laugh a lot! We don’t know how that’s related, but we just want you to know!

At alt.space, they listen (like real close), and they know what they are doing too, and this is their USP. They listen to your brand’s story inside out before helping you decide the best way to put it across.

“Our approach to this is simple—we eat, live, breathe the project we work on. Our obsession continues till we come up with that one strong idea that you are deliriously happy about and can’t wait to see unfold. It then translates into beautiful designs with character and relevance,” Khaitan promptly answers. They cover all areas of Graphic Design, including publishing, brand identities, poster design and websites.

The trio feels that women need to love themselves more to take this plunge. “A confident and liberated woman can add more value to her loved ones, her peers and her home. We should try to make women around us more aware of how good they are, how they can do things for themselves and bring about a change in the society. Tell your grandma how good her achar is, how great her leadership skills are. Tell your mother how efficient her household management is, and this is how change takes place,” enthuses Karnani.

“We feel it’s the best decision you could make, we as women are genetically blessed, and whatever you give us we make it greater, like British novelist and playwright William Golding rightly pointed out. Your own venture gives you the flexibility, which you desire to be able to manage all aspects of your life—social, personal and professional,” adds Agarwal.

People around them have been supportive of the venture and they have been lucky that way. They partners, friends, family, have stuck by them, helped them with the learning’s they garnered with their respective experiences. But when the going gets tough, the one thing that takes them through is the strong belief and trust in each other. “We have a strong sense of respect for each other and the abilities, which each one of us brings to the table. We feel that’s our biggest strength. We don’t flounder, we flourish post such situations,” the three shout out.

Further, though this venture they have learnt everything which ‘someone else was supposed to do’ when they were working for other companies. They have learnt that there is no work, which doesn’t fall in your KRA (Key responsibility Area) when you start your own venture. They have also unlearnt doing things just for the sake of it, just because there is no other option. ‘Everything can be done in the best way; it’s all about figuring that out.’ With scrumptious food and some strong coffee to keep them company, of course!

Follow alt.space here.

Tanya Kotnala and Tanya Singh, भुली – Bhuli

L to R: Tanya Singh and Tanya Kotnala

There are a number of stories, personal experiences behind Bhuli’s foundation, but the most profound one happens to be, as stated by the duo. Kotnala’s maternal village is Kaudiya, Rishikesh. Last year, when the two were taking a stroll around the farms, they noticed two little girls helping their mother with the harvest. They were humming a sweet local folk jingle that seemed really merry for a highly tedious task. This was inspiring to them as they realised that even in the most difficult of situations the locals continue to strive hard to be happy. They wanted to do something for such people.

“The issue of migration, (Palayan) has been a major challenge for the state of Uttarakhand. People move to the cities for better opportunities, abandoning their homes in the villages which cause degradation of land, makes villages unlivable and further fuels migration. It occurred to us that if we can combine our areas of specialisations (designing and nutrition) to fight this problem, creating newer opportunities and employment locally. This is how the idea of Bhuli was born,” illuminates Kotnala.

“A place is generally defined by the food people eat and the attire they wear! Till date, Uttarakhand is not acknowledged in either of the categories in spite of having a unique culture! We are a Nutritionist plus Fashion Designer/Illustrator duo, which is an unusual combination! Through Bhuli we try to bring forward the rich culture of our state through unique yet relatable illustrations and comprehensive and well-researched content,” adds Singh.

And as a creative duo, they face two major challenges. First, non-acceptance of women as entrepreneurs—our societies have always been male-dominated and no matter how much the times have progressed these deep-rooted traits always crop up somewhere or the other. A woman exhibiting entrepreneurial prowess is presumed as wanting to take over the role of the males. And second, balancing time between business and family—guilty of not being able to devote sufficient time to home creeps in sometimes, which negatively affects both the entrepreneur and the enterprise. But they have taken up the challenges with open arms and are facing them as they come.

“The prevalent stereotype still is that women are inferior to men and less capable, they are associated with home and hearth. The traditional role perceptions have not changed much over the years. This is still a major stumbling block to have less female entrepreneurs,” the duo feels. And also think that gender roles are nothing but a myth in the 21st century! ‘A woman, man, a person from the LBGT community can do anything and everything they set their hearts to.’ Being women, they believe that being empathetic is the most important. It helps to build strong emotional bonds with the customers, partners and employees. Diversification in the skill set helps the business to run in a better way too—the richness of the interaction between people from different areas makes problem-solving easier thereby helping in smooth running of the business.

“A lot of people have ideas but only a few of them decide to do something about it there and then. There are seven days in a week and someday isn’t one of them. Don’t wait for someday! People might tell you that being a woman in business can be super tough and challenging. The truth is that women are excellent managers, be it at home or in business,” the duo end at a realistic note. Bhuli means Little Sister in the native Grahwali language.

Follow भुली – Bhuli here.

Deepa Reddy, Founder The Open Trunk

How and why did you start The Open Trunk? Interesting back stories to illustrate your answer? “After years of being the shopping buddy to friends, advisor to family on what looks best on them and helping women of different age groups select clothing best suited to their needs and the occasion, I decided to take this up professionally and launch a portal which can give styling tips, understand budgets, comfort and cater to women of all ages, sizes for all occasions.”

The one thing I have learnt is, people always look for value for money, comfort, even while buying designer wear, besides it. And these are some of the core things we have kept in mind while designing The Open Trunk.

The USP of the firm? “The Open Trunk caters to women of all ages. This will be the first portal to offer designer clothes for ages 5-80, for occasions big and small both in the international and the Indian calendar.”

The challenges you faced (and still face) as a woman entrepreneur? “I don’t feel there are any major challenges faced specifically by a woman anymore. The challenge is in being an entrepreneur where both men and women face similar issues; that of creating credibility for the brand, building trust and being able to carve a niche for the brand.”

How is your firm different from other companies as far as the work environment is concerned? “We started with just two people. Today, after just a year we have a 10-member-team. At the workspace, everyone is given a responsibility and freedom to express and explore their area of interest which always helps bring out the best in people. The team is young and always welcoming ideas, suggestions, and learning constantly which makes it a positive and happy environment for everyone to work in.”

Three qualities women entrepreneurs have that men entrepreneur don’t? “Women, I feel are better at multitasking, a bit more tuned to different emotions of people and slightly more intuitive.”

Is there a need for more women entrepreneurs in India? Why? “Women are strong and fierce at the same time. Like the saying goes “Strong women lift each other up!” We definitely need and want more women out there joining the workforce, leading the way for many more with their unique qualities and skill sets. My team and I are working towards being environmentally friendly and want to encourage more women to work towards achieving their dreams.”

Things you as a businesswoman are sick of hearing? “As a women entrepreneur, I am always getting advice on how to run my business from the outside world.”

Follow The Open Trunk here.

 

What do you think of these women and their stories? Are you a woman entrepreneur (or know of others) with an interesting story? Let us know in the comments below or write to us at hellogreyalley@gmail.com. Since this an ongoing feature we still have room for many more! Read part one here.

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