1. Ankita Sheth, Vista Rooms:
After completing her Bachelor’s in Media Studies from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics, followed by PGeMBA in Human Resource Management from Mumbai Educational Trust, Ankita started her career as an Associate at Stanton Chase International, and went on to work at Boston Analytics, and Providence World, before landing at OYO Rooms, as the Head of Acquisitions.
As an avid traveler, plagued by bad experiences, Ankita decided to bring about a necessary change in the hospitality industry. As a part of her research, she spent over a month, taking trans, buses, cars and other means of transport, to reach her destinations, and taking note of the budget accommodation options she discovered on the way.
“We started researching and travelling a lot to smaller towns of India as we believed that Tier 2 and 3 cities offered below par services and they called for a revamp,” she told YourStory. “From experiencing a dirty sink to zero towels in the bathroom to enjoying the perks of a surprisingly clean room and bathroom, I experienced it all and that only went on to reaffirm my belief in the fact that Tier 2 and 3 cities have all the potential, what is missing is connecting the dots,” she added.
Hence, the idea of Vista Rooms was born in 2015, to bring standardised, and branded accommodations to smaller towns, with a sheer focus on quality, affordability, customer experience and hospitality.
Ankita is joined by Amit Damani, and Pranav Maheshwari, who handle Marketing and Tech, respectively. Headquartered in Mumbai, Vista Rooms has presence in over 450+ properties in 50+ cities, and recently expanded to Sri Lanka as well.
2. Aditi Gupta, Menstrupedia
Hailing from Garhwa in Jharkhand, Aditi Gupta completed her Bachelor’s in Electronics and Instrumentation Engineering, from Hindutan College of Science and Technology, and proceeded to pursue a Post-graduate from National Institute of Design(NID) – where she came face-to-face with the immense amount taboo surrounding with the topic of menstruation, and female hygiene. On further research, she was taken aback by the lack of communication channels available to young girls, where they could be educated about their bodies, and seek answers regarding the appalling misconceptions/myths regarding the same.
This persuaded her to take an initiative, with Tuhin Paul, who was equally concerned about the lack of awareness regarding the issue, and Menstrupedia came into existence, while they were both still students at NID. They were later joined by Rajat Mittal, who graduated from Arizona State University in 2013.
“We created a prototype where we explained menstruation through comic medium using characters and stories, and tested it with young girls. We received a very positive response. So, one inspiration was this that what we are doing at Menstrupedia has a thorough year long research to back it,” says Aditi.
Their illustrated comic – ‘A friendly guide to period for girls’ in association with the famous sanitary product brand Whisper, addresses commonly asked questions about puberty, premenstrual syndrome, reproduction, menstrual cycle, hygiene measure during periods, and more. Currently, it is being used by 50 schools, and 20 NGOs in India, and in 7 other countries, to educate young girls. They also joined hands with Procter & Gamble for ‘Touch the Pickle’ campaign, to shun the age-old myth that abstained women from touching a pickle jar/container, for they might ruin it, and/or render it ‘impure’. The campaign soon went viral, and won the Grand Prix for gender-equality category at the Cannes Lions International Festival.
Aditi was also listed in Forbes 30 under 30 list, in 2014, and considers every woman raising her voice against the mentrual taboo, an inspiration. The road to entrepreneurship was not easy-peasy for Aditi.
“One hardship that we initially faced was raising funds. The moment we’d say that we want to do something related to menstruation and creating an educational tool, people would tell me that there is absolutely no market or ask if we were an NGO. We had a hard time convincing investors that this is something that’s going to work. When we launched our crowd funding campaign, we only had two months of run time to survive. We had to cut our monthly budget. We moved to a one room flat to cut the costs and bring out the book. But on the other hand we received an amazing response from people and our users loved what we were doing. It was kind of a litmus test for us but finally we raised more than we wanted to raise,” she explains.
Menstrupedia was also recognized by Melinda Gates, co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that she started with her husband and Founder of Microsoft – Bill Gates. “This is a great creative solution to a tough cultural challenge,” she said.
3. Garima Satija, Posh Vine:
After completing her MBA from Amity Business School, Garima worked as a Consultant at Quadrangle Consulting, and as a Senior HR Manager at Ozone Media, before she embraced her entrepreneurial side with PoshVine – a Bangalore based startup, which provides a SaaS platform for enterprises, that are looking to offer an experiential engagement (across dining, travel, leisure, specialty retail and entertainment) or loyalty program to their customers.
Launched in 2011, PoshVine started off as an online platform to discover and book dining experiences, for which they initially started aggregating premium restaurants, and experimental chefs, who were interested in providing a bunch of high-end unique activities surrounding the same theme. Following this, they allowed individuals and businesses to book packages, picking the activities they were wanted. This was met with a great response, post which they decided to explore activity-options beyond just dining.
Today, they curate over 10,000 activities for employers, and have an impressive clientele list consisting of big names like Jaguar, Axis Bank, Pernod Ricard, Jet Privilege, Häagen-Dazs, HDFC Bank, Diners Club International, and more.
4. Niharika Jhunjhunwala, SugarBox:
After graduating from the London School of Economics, in Economics and Management, Niharika ended up in her hometown of Kolkata, after being faced with the difficulty in obtaining a work visa for working in London, or a sponsorship, and having a family engagement that needed urgent tending to. Here, she briefly worked with the Cabinet Secretariat, in Delhi, before Sugarbox happened.
Driven by the idea that you don’t need another person pamper you, Sugarbox offers a monthly subscription for a surprise box, containing goodies, gourmet treats, accessories, beauty products, apparel, footwear, and much, much more. Best part? These boxes aren’t just limited for women! Apart from the basics of clothing, and eatables, men’s boxes also come with cuff links, hipflasks, electronics, grooming kits, and sometimes even chopsticks! “The idea was to start something which gives this instant pick-me-up feeling. Often the salaried class is left with no money to pamper themselves at the end of the month and that is just when this goody box arrives. And as it is a subscription model, there is no money involved in it,” Niharika explains in an interview with YourStory.
“We despatch the boxes by the 24th of a month and give it a good 3-4 days time before we reveal the contents on our site. The challenge is to keep the surprise element intact for all subscribers till they get it, given that those who get it are so excited to receive the box that they tend to reveal the contents on the social media as soon as they receive it,” she adds.
5. Richa Kar, Zivame:
Hailing from Jamshedpur, Richa pursued Civil Engineering at Birla Institute of Technology and Science(BITS), Pilani, followed by MBA from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies(NMIMS). After adding a rich experience of 8 years on her portfolio, from Spencer’s to SAP, she started Zivame – the word Ziva in Hebrew means Radiance. Ziva-me is “radiant me” – in 2010.
Her inspiration behind the online lingerie platform was simple:
“I realised there was so much social discomfort while buying lingerie that it got reduced to a 5 minutes hurried chore.
Most shops did not keep all the sizes, and smaller shops have male salesman making it really difficult for a woman to convey what she really needs. For a woman, it is quite embarrassing to step into a lingerie store, and have the salesman or girl scan you and say ‘madam 34 B will fit you.’
That is when Zivame was conceptualized to become a lingerie store where women can understand their lingerie needs, browse through styles, order for their right size and get their order delivered at their doorstep without any embarrassment.”
Zivame started out in a small office space, and waited 5 hours for their first order to arrive – which came from Indore, and was worth Rs. 7000. Today, Zivame is catering the lingerie needs to 5 Lakh women across the country, and claim to sell 1 bra, per minute, which means 40,000 purchases in a month. The platform, which also has a mobile app at the moment, features 5000 styles, in 100 sizes, from over 50 brands including Jockey, Amante, Enamor, and other big names. They also introduced their home brand, to increase margins, and have raised multiple rounds of funding since their launch.
Talking about the obstacles she faced while setting up the country’s first online shopping portal for lingerie, she says, “I think the initial hurdles were more to do with the category. For example, incorporating the company, getting a payment gateway or renting office space! There is so much discomfort associated with lingerie as a category even today, people are not really OK to talk about it. I remember there was always a 10 second awkward silence when we told someone that we were a lingerie company.”
Overall, Richa feels being a woman helped her immensely, since, she understood the requirements of her customer base much better. “Even today, when we get new products or brands, I think from a woman’s point of view and not a business owner. I ask myself, do I need this product? Does it make any difference to my life? Would I pay xyz amount for the product? Answers to these questions are the key to having a good product mix.”