Women Entrepreneurs From India To Watch Out For In 2018—Part I - The Grey Alley

Women Entrepreneurs From India To Watch Out For In 2018—Part I

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 one (of a three-part series).

Tanya Nambiar, El Diablo Sauces

Singer-songwriter Tanya Nambiar has been working for herself for over six years now. Music continues, but she needed something business wise too. “I wanted to start some commerce with my husband but wasn’t really sure about what it would be. He was in a comfortable job but I knew we could come up with something together,” she states. Nambiar recalls her husband (Nikhil Shankaran Kutty) concocting these sauces (who is a sauce-maker) in their kitchen one day and boom that’s when she knew that sauces should be their business. “I have always been a sales and marketing person and finally I could market a product of my own. Voila, El Diablo Sauces was born in Jan 2017,” Nambiar fondly adds.

El Diablo Sauces are absolutely fresh and natural. (Check them out on Amazon) They have no added sugar or chemical preservatives. Most of the hot sauces in the market are just hot, no flavour. Their sauces range from mild to super spicy with loads of exciting and unique flavours.

Being a woman entrepreneur, does it have its challenges? “Just being an entrepreneur is challenging. There are obstacles at every step. It’s not a smooth sailing. I haven’t faced issues as a woman otherwise, but when it comes to dealing with shopkeepers, to get my product placed in their shops, I can see their mindset. They don’t take women seriously. They think I’m some sales girl. I tell them it’s my company and I can see the look on their faces,” she points out.

But these challenges seem like a cakewalk because they are together in this. “Well, he made the sauces. So without him, this business wouldn’t exist,” she jokingly complements. It’s a beautiful partnership, and she feels blessed to have him by her side. His focuses on the product and she handles business expansion and marketing. Juggling this along with her music is no easy task, but she is passionate about both and it keeps her super busy. “My husband is very supportive. Of course, we have our share of fights and arguments, but that’s what happens when you work together.”

The experience is good too, she says. “To see the response and the love our product has received is quite overwhelming. I’ll never forget this one time, we were doing a pop-up bazaar and this family came to our stall and told us that they never ate any spicy food. They tried our sauces and bought five bottles of the spiciest range. That’s why I love to stand at my own stall during pop-ups. I get to see people’s immediate reaction.”

The number of women entrepreneurs might be lesser than men, but she feels that at least nowadays women are entering the business arena. “Women now are more headstrong than ever before. We are getting there. I am confident these numbers will change soon. Real soon.”

Follow El Diablo Sauces here.

Aarunima Dhawal, Hola Cafe and Kitchen

Hola Cafe and Kitchen, a quaint food space in Calcutta started with a dream two individuals saw together. Aarunima and Ankit were planning to enter the F&B industry for a long time, reason… their love and passion for food, of course. “We always wanted to start a new venture together, my inclination was more towards opening a bakery, but somehow we ended up opening a cafe/kitchen instead of just a bakery,” Aarunima starts off. Last year sometime in October, she was travelling when she got a call from her husband, as the call progressed, he proposed they take the ‘restaurant’ idea they were pushing for a while more seriously. She had done her research and she started connecting the dots on how they should go about it. After a week of heavy thought and discussion, the duo came to a conclusion that they will take it slowly, and will not exaggerate. “We started with our interiors close to 10th November and we were done with them by the 10th of December. So it was that quick for us,” she enthuses.

The space connects with its target audience across generations with its wide selection of menu for food and beverages, the friendly staff, the chic and smart décor of the café’s lounge and the formal dining area. “Hola has everything to make guests feel welcome at all times,” she adds. The main attraction of the place is that they intend to provide people with a combination of excellent and interesting food in an ambience that appeals to food lovers of all generations.

Any challenges? “The most important challenge which I face is the work-life balance. I have to give time to my family, as much I have to give my work. Since I am a mother of twins who are 18 months old, it’s important to give them equal attention. So I am nurturing three babies at the same time… Hola is the third one, so, none of them can be neglected. So I have to create a fine balance, so it’s a struggle.”

“The other challenge was having no prior industry knowledge. Ankit, supported me a lot in my endeavours, though; we both had no idea about what we were stepping into until we got into it. My husband helped me bring the other pieces together and now we are constantly learning.”

“The third challenge is, (or probably not), is to keep the team together like a family. People are the core strength of growth in any profession. So, it’s ensured that all of us are on the same page and there is no unresolved issue.”

Further, when the going gets tough, she prefers being patient as she feels there is time for everything. “There is no point rushing and taking a call at the spur of the moment. Like they say patience leads to success, so at tough times it’s better to be patient and think through before each and every step.”

“Patience is the key to success. No matter how much you research, plan and implement, every step teaches you something new and it throws a new challenge which you are unprepared for. So take it in your stride and be patient about it. Also, nothing is easy in life, but it doesn’t mean you don’t attempt it.  It’s a big step that one needs to take being women if one is married, then we have a family to look after, but it’s worth it. The learning, the exposure, the practical knowledge that you get when you are doing something of your own gives you immense self-satisfaction and emotionally strengthens you on another level,” This is a word of advice she would like to give to women who are thinking of starting something on their own.

It’s 2018 and the percentage of women entrepreneurs is less compared to men (the world over) according to you why do you think that is? How do we change this? “The answer is that the idea of women in this world, or probably in India, was more synonym to words like family, babies and household. The end result of their existence was mostly on those lines that they were not exposed, supported or motivated in the right way, on the other hand, their thoughts were suppressed by giving them pressure related to the household. Times are changing now, women are more vocal, emotionally strong and are stepping out of their comfort zone.”

“How do we change this?” The answer lies in your question, “We.” We both (genders) need to change this scenario. It’s us who need to strengthen each other and be a support pillar. Every human in this world has some talent or the other, it’s just about identifying it, strengthening it and communicating the same to the right audience. It’s not easy, but who said life was easy?”

“There is a constant struggle, which is fun as it constantly teaches you something new in the journey. I am still learning about the industry and I have not faced a situation where I had to unlearn yet!”

Follow Hola Cafe and Kitchen here.

Aninditha Guhan, David Fleur

David Fleur is a company based in New Delhi and crafts premium handcrafted leather products. Their products combine elegance, functionality, and premium quality. For example, they only use the highest-grade hides available—so-called full grain leather. It’s the strongest part of the hide and it gives the leather a prized natural look, texture and durability.

But there is more to this company than what meets the eye, for instance, it’s genius or the fact that is partly run by artist Aninditha Guhan (she is also a wedding photographer on Sunday’s…just kidding!)

As she recalls, David Fleur started out of a personal need, she says. Aninditha was tired of choosing between disposable fast fashion and overpriced luxury products when looking for a nice weekender bag for her friend. “I could not find well-made, well-designed leather products at a fair price point. So, I decided to start something on my own, and created a new way for people to upgrade their wardrobes without emptying their wallets,” she quips.

When we asked her about what the good and not so good aspects of being a woman entrepreneur in India where she tells us that she thought that too many people still don’t take professional women serious—especially in a male-dominated society like India. In her case, this has resulted in a lot of struggle for her to find the right manufacturers and tanneries when she was starting out. However, she is glad to have found some really fine craftsmen now who work with her like any other partner.

“Creating something from nothing, and successfully establishing yourself in your niche is an amazing feeling, and I can only encourage women to start on their own. Being an entrepreneur gives you a lot of freedom, and being able to spend your day with things you are passionate about is just wonderful.” utters Aninditha.

She also sees three things that are essential for any company to grow. Firstly, only get into something you are really passionate about. If you love what you do, you are more than willing to go the extra mile to get things to work. Secondly, don’t ever compromise on quality. Your customers will remember you not because of your fantastic marketing campaign but because of the flawless products which stand the test of time. And lastly, ensure you have the right people around you to take you to the next level. Don’t be afraid of hiring people who are smarter than you, and ensure they love their work as much as you do.

Their studio is constantly working on exciting new designs and materials, and she and her team cannot wait to bring them out in the market. In the mid-term, they want to further establish themselves in the space of elegant and functional products for everyday life—in India and abroad.

Follow David Fleur here.

Vani Moin, Brownie Points

Initially, baker Vani Moin started making brownies for her kids, close family and friends. As people sampled them, they encouraged her to start undertaking orders as they found it difficult to keep asking her to bake for them just like that. She slowly started baking for the people she knew, and that’s how Brownie Points was born.

Vani’s unique selling point is catering to the taste buds of today’s social media generation where they see deserts on the internet that aren’t available in the country. Her desserts are the first of its kind in Bangalore, to say the least. The ingredients she uses are imported and of great quality. She also garnishes her brownies with toppings such as burnt Marshmallow fluff (s’mores) and Mascarpone which isn’t available anywhere in the city.

She tells us that it feels great to be an independent woman entrepreneur in 2018. “In today’s world of Instagram and Facebook marketing my products has been really easy,” she adds. And feels that being professional about her orders would definitely be one of her top assets as a businesswoman.

“In today’s generation as long as you’re good at what you do, irrespective of what it may be, we are blessed with mediums to push and market it. There is literally a market for anything. As long as you are willing to put in the hardwork and determination that comes with it,” Vani reflects with a smile.

She is also shocked at how the world is welcoming women entrepreneurs. “I am surrounded by people who are more than willing to support and help! (she does that too) Most of the support I have received is from other women entrepreneurs which is overwhelming,” ends Vani on a positive note.

Follow Brownie Points here.

Jheal Shah, The Stylease

How and why did you start The Stylease? Interesting back stories to illustrate your answer? My mom is a fashion designer and so is my sister now. We’ve always been a big fashion-oriented family and seeing my mom work in this industry for the last 20+ years had a big impact on me growing up. After I got my masters in Fashion Marketing from Parsons in New York, I moved back to India and worked with my mom amongst other fashion and non-fashion companies for the next few years to understand how businesses in India function and run. Having stayed in London and America for close to 7 years, I had first-hand experienced this business model abroad and loved the idea of creating a fashion company with a strong focus on building a more sustainable world for our future generations. And with fashion causing a lot of water pollution and waste in general, we came up with the idea of creating a space in the sharing economy for fashion. We started with outfits we had in our own house and my mom’s store and got some help from family and friends for our pilot. These are all high-end garments that you couldn’t really throw away or get rid off, but also do not wear regularly for more than a few times. Everyone universally complained of storage issues and how heavy and bulky these garments were and how they couldn’t dream of throwing them away or getting rid of them because of the price tag they bought these at. Keeping these points in mind, we started our pilot in October 2016 and ran it for 6 months and then launched the final website and went pan India in May 2017. We started with high-end women’s ethnic garments and have since expanded to dealing in men’s wear—ethnic as well as Western (blazers and suits), cocktail wear, women’s wear, as well as accessories for men and women like jewellery, bags, ties, quirky cufflinks and lapel pins and more.

The USP of the firm? We do custom fittings in every order for free. We are the only rental company that ships pan India. We have our own store where you can come and see every piece and try every outfit for free and then place an order. Every piece that is on the website is also in the store so it’s possible to see every outfit in person. You can come to the store and get your measurements taken by our team to ensure the outfits are perfectly fitted as well. We have a celebrity stylist who can assist with the outfit selection as well, and help you style your entire look. We also design and produce our own collection for rent. It’s a lot more affordable than some of the high-end designer and hence more economical for our customers. Since we produce as per the trends of the season and our customers’ requirements, it helps us keep ahead of the competitors at all times. The way we get pieces on board is also unique. We tie up with people who own these outfits and not only designers. We work on a revenue-sharing model per rental with these clients so every time the piece goes on rent they get paid.

Could you tell us a little about how a regular day at The Stylease looks like? The day usually starts off with everyone coordinating calendars and tasks for the day and then dispersing to handle their individual responsibilities. As the head, I don’t believe in micromanaging people. Once they understand their responsibilities, it’s usually a mix of people working on their own projects and getting back to me close to completion with a status update. Since we are a bootstrapped start-up it’s all hands on deck every single day. From shuffling between meetings, to handling clients at the store, to responding to queries on social media and email from our clients. Every single person in my team wears different hats at different times to handle the overall business. I personally attend to every single enquiry that comes into the store or on social media or our website or the customer care number myself so I know each and every one of our clients personally. That personal touch has been the most important thing to me from the day we launched.

The biggest challenge(s) as a woman entrepreneur is? I think it’s about being taken seriously about our businesses. Most people, as well as investors, presume it is a hobby and something we aren’t serious about for the next 10-20 or how many ever years of our lives, but it’s actually the opposite. Being women I feel we have a lot more to prove to make things easier for the future generations of women entrepreneurs so we work as hard as we can to set a good example for the future.

As a woman, what is the one thing would like to see change as far as any business is concerned? I think it is important for businesses to be more inclusive in nature. Not only for women but also for anyone in this who has not gotten an equal chance to prove their merit or worth in society because of biases or preconceived notions that we have built in today’s world. People should be hired solely on their abilities to handle that work and not anything else like gender or race.

The best thing(s) that has happened to you from the time you started the firm? I think I have learnt a lot about myself as a person since I started this venture. Being an entrepreneur forces you to make uncomfortable decisions sometimes or deal with the consequences of your decisions when things don’t go as planned. How you react at that moment and how you deal with the situation is what moulds you as a person and proves your worth.

What has this venture taught you? The biggest thing it has taught me is patience and perseverance. They go hand in hand and you cannot be successful with only one without the other. I have not only grown as a person but it has forced me to be a more effective communicator and learn to deal with people from different backgrounds and abilities. As the face of a company every single thing that you say or do sets an example for your employees and that has been a big learning for me too.

Follow The Stylease here.

Srijani Sen and Olipriya Dhar, Srijani and Olipriya

Srijani Sen and Olipriya Dhar (L/R)

Srijani Sen and Olipriya Dhar were school friends and they both collaborated a year back to shape up their friendship into a business partnership. Yes, it’s quite unusual to see two young women joining forces to start up their own label, but they believe that their parents had laid this path for them. Sen and Dhar both come from an extremely open-minded family, and their fathers are well reputed and successful businessmen in their own areas of work. Their parents had taken their first step towards their career when they had sent them abroad for higher studies. This helped them develop a progressive mindset paired with confidence and here they are following their footsteps giving wings to their own dreams.

“As a child, I have always wanted to be like my father and had the dream to be an entrepreneur like him. And with time, I exactly knew what I wanted. After completing my MBA in International Management with Global Marketing from Cardiff University, United Kingdom I returned to India with a better understanding of the business paradigm. My main focus of research during my masters was in the fashion industry of India. Hence, I achieved the most necessary insight of how Indian fashion is widening across the globe. I had dreamt about my self-owned label long back, and it’s lovely to partner it with Srijani. Her intricate sense of fashion and the love for style gave me the confidence to give way to this partnership,” Dhar reflects.

To that Sen adds by saying, “One fine afternoon when we both went out for a drive, Olipriya had put forward this idea of creating a brand. Though it was always something I have wanted to do and hence did my Post Graduation in Fashion Management from London College of Fashion but was somewhat hesitant to take this call, Olipriya is a strong headed, perfectionist and an extremely focused woman and when she was confident about it, I got the courage to go ahead with this.”

Srijani and Olipriya have an ultimate goal to bring the best of fashion to their clients. The brand believes that every human is beautiful, and they try their best to make the perfect outfit for their clients at affordable prices. SrijaniOlipriya caters to all shapes and sizes too. Their uniqueness lies in the fact that they design outfits for all—men and women.

“The USP of our brand is definitely the uniqueness of the choice of colours and the cuts. We spend more time deciding how unique the silhouette can be and pair them with colours that would complement each other. We provide the best of services to our clients, and we let no client go without a smiling face,” tells Sen.

The challenges you faced (and still face) as women entrepreneurs? “Well let me answer it this way, I believe being a woman is the biggest opportunity that we are born with. An opportunity to show the world what it is to have a perfect blend of power and persistence. You know the very moment a girl is born, she is born with a huge deal of pressure. In current scenarios when a girl is born, she faces the societal question of not being a boy. Also, being a burden on one hand and on the other society still wishes her to compete in every spectrum of life. She needs to complete her education with utmost effort and sincerity, the pressure of good ranks in school, then a good college, a good job and then a good marriage and the list is never-ending. Here, we are under a pressure of balancing home and work. We need to look good, earn well, cook well and everything else all at once. With the concept of equality and advancement, we get equal chances of education and to build up our career, but most of the women are questioned every time they try to take up a decision for themselves, so basically we are allowed to do “everything” that “we are asked to do”, and are often shut off when we intend to decide on our own. In this situation, it is not conventional to be led by a woman. When we choose to be entrepreneurs we choose to break the stereotypes mindset of people where we intend to do and get things done our way. To be women entrepreneurs it is to take all the challenges all at once,” educates Dhar.

Adding, “When we started we have faced statements like “business isn’t a woman’s cup of tea”, “you should save the money for your marriage, why invest every penny in your business because all you will have to finally do is take care of your babies”, “business is too demanding, you had a good job, why risk it, “how will you manage time after your marriage,” and so on. Well, every such question has made me more determined about my ideas. It gives me more reason to show the world that I know the best for myself. However, a major challenge has been on the front that it is extremely difficult to get investors, no matter how good your business module is, investors are more likely to invest in business led by men, there is still a part of the society who discriminates women.”

Every firm has its own way of operating and it’s difficult for the duo to point out the difference (of working) among various organisations. What they can point out is their unit works as a family. They treat every employee as a family member and let them believe that it is their workplace and they do not work here. This helps maintain a harmony and keep everyone self-motivated, which helps in faster and smoother work completion. The employees have a sense of ownership of their work and also the customer requirements, this helps them be more customer-centric. Their employees help them keep the standards high by paying attention to details, a must for the trade.

Further, the duo believes in gender equality. “Men and women are unique with their own diversities. They compete and outshine each other with their own abilities,” they reflect.

With that said, there are certain things they believe woman are better off and they are.

Multi-Tasking: Woman can handle more than one issue at once, they are programmed in a way to do so.

Good communication skills: Women are better with communication skills, and hence can put forward their views better, and are good listeners too.

Negotiation: Women are good negotiators, well known to all.

Patience: Patience is without a doubt a key virtue of every entrepreneur. Women have a motherly instinct, hence they can deal things more patiently and carefully.

Details: Women pay attention to intricate details, which is a very important part of a customer-centric business.

Is there a need for more women entrepreneurs in India? “Why? Yes of course. Women employment has reduced from 26 per cent to 21 per cent in the last decade in India, women employment is of utmost importance to help in the development of the nation. We need more women entrepreneurs to motivate more women to look up to their life and take up their careers seriously,” the duo illustrates. We are tired of being told what to do and what not to. We are sick of hearing that business is not our cup of tea, well if it is so, we will drink coffee,” the two end with a roar!

Follow Srijani and Olipriya 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!


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