ID : 10111
Name: Richa Sharma
Location: Delhi, India
Domain: Entrepreneurship, Management, Data Analytics
Job Profile: Co-Founder – CurryiT, Ex-Director at Bertelsmann India Investments & Ex-Assistant Vice President at YES Bank
India is known not just for its diverse culture and colors but also for its cuisine. It is the land of one of the most impressive and expansive lists of gastronomical delights. It is often said that every city and every town have its own distinct methods of preparing food peppered with local traditions and culture.
Discovering and unearthing the recipes of this much-loved Indian cuisine is no mean task. A lot of phrases and sayings revolve around food, one such goes like this;
‘दाने दाने पे लिखा है खाने वाले का नाम’
‘Each grain is engraved with the name of the person who eats it.’
One such dish loved and adored worldwide is the ‘curry,’ a wholesome sublime meal with its own variations from one region to the other. This exceptional story is about one woman’s quest to make curry accessible to all households across the globe.
So, here’s introducing the charismatic Richa Sharma, the co-founder of CurryiT from the city of Delhi, who is transforming how people cook around the world with her innovation. She has years of experience in the corporate world and has been a senior executive in companies like Bertelsmann, YES Bank, and more. She is a self-confessed ‘foodie’ and is currently on a path to breaking through the food industry with her dream of bringing Indian cuisine to every home on the planet and beyond.
Early beginnings in India
Richa remembers growing up in a joint family filled with food, love, and laughter.
She recalls, ‘My family is simple folks, and our life was centered around food and people. As most people talk in Hindi or English, I like to say how we speak the language of food. So, these memories of food are ingrained into our culture.’
Her uncle, a general manager at the Taj group of hotels, had greatly influenced her life with his background in the hospitality sector. He would take her to the Taj hotels, and she remembered how mesmerized she was by the whole experience. So, she grew up dreaming of being a chef, but her family had other plans for her.
‘I was one of the first children in the family, and I was pampered and lucky to have been taught so well. Education is always a priority for middle-class families. I grew up wanting to work like my uncle, but my mom disagreed as she saw how my uncle came back at three or four in the morning. This is twenty years ago when India was still getting used to women entering the workforce full-time.’, she reveals.
She then divulges how she was pushed toward medical and engineering exams. And then, she went into engineering and landed a job at Infosys, one of India’s top tech companies.
She recalls her early job, ‘I was one of the one lakh people already working there, and I didn’t have much significant contribution. I was at the bottom of the pyramid, so after some years, I realized this was not what I imagined doing for the next forty to fifty years.’
Then she remembers internalizing taking the next step in her career and returning to her old dream of starting a restaurant. But she feared the judgments that action would entail and the fear of failing in her career.
‘I did want to start a restaurant after that, but when you are young, you care about how people will judge you. That fear is bigger than the fear of failure. And women empowerment was a topic still under wraps at that time. So, there was a lot of pressure to succeed.‘, she admits.
The only skill she felt she had in 2011 was the ability to code in C or C++, and she divulges how the journey to finding what she was good at came through her work experiences.
She explains, ‘If anyone asks me today about what I do, I have the confidence to tell them that I am an achiever. You give me anything to do, whether gardening or making pavements; I may have never done it in my life. But I will learn it and do the best job possible. This is the wisdom that comes with age. If this is your strength, you leverage it to do something you are passionate about.’
So, the spirited entrepreneur started her restaurant and broke even within six months. But the next six months were a struggle, and it eventually closed down.
‘I had no idea of how to run a business. I had the passion but no understanding of demand or working capital economics. That’s when I decided to do an MBA, cleared the CAT exam, and landed at IIM Udaipur. It was definitely the best decision of my life.’, she narrates her entrance into the business world.
A management world
At that time, IIM Udaipur was still being built by the then-director, Prof. Janat Shah, who wanted to take the young business school to new and greater heights. She remembers being the second batch to graduate from the prestigious institute.
‘We were entrepreneurs in residence. I was in the second batch. We lived out of tin roofs with the campus in construction and the grounds needing to be laid. We were fearless. We were setting up clubs and placements and hosting events. Before I joined the institute, I had met Janat sir, and he was building the college for the next two hundred years. I knew I had to be there.’, she remembers.
It was at this university where she would meet her co-founder Nischal Kandula and the duo would start their venture together.
‘Nischal and I met on the campus, and he was a junior. There are a lot of life lessons that we take away from our alma mater; one of them is to not stress about the big problems in life and understand that there will always be jobs, but can we become job creators? And with technology, many of our problems can be solved.‘, she recalls.
Another influence in her journey has been Joel, who had been handling the student affairs department in her college. She remembers how he was a phenomenal person who deeply impacted her.
‘Joel was someone who knows people better than they know themselves. He will just cut through the crap and give you the real stuff. We did some great work together at our cultural committee or Culcomm on the campus.‘, she reminisces.
After her MBA, she joined the corporate world and became a manager for corporate marketing at YES Bank. Being a hardworking professional, she was promoted thrice to Executive Vice President and headed the bank’s top four most contributing units. But as her career progressed, she felt the toxic corporate culture crept into her work, and she longed to get closer to the startup world.
‘That’s how I switched jobs and joined Bertelsmann Investment, a VC firm in India. They were investing in growth-stage startups in India. So, it was like a goldmine where I could learn and do so much. I was a director for the Indian market for Bertelsmann, and it brought me very close to the startup scene.’ she describes her foray into the world of startups.
She wanted to play safe and save enough to get her sister married or make a home for her mom and dad before she took the plunge to start her venture again.
She discloses on starting her startup, ‘It’s the middle-class mindset and a cliche approach to taking risks. So, Nischal and I briefly worked together in Infosys, and in 2020, we started CurryiT.’
The world of startups
CurryiT makes India’s first fresh curry paste without any preservatives or artificial colors. And it is set to revolutionize the food industry, where curry is a staple in many households.
‘I remember how one fine day, we were just sitting in the evening and discussed how we would never be happy if we didn’t start something of our own. We were one of those foodies, and all our talks revolved around food. But the restaurant wasn’t something we were interested in as it’s a very service-driven industry. So, we decided on a product that solves a real problem and is also scalable.’, she reveals.
She discloses how if their product did not reach ten million households, then there was no point in creating a product. In the initial days, she remembers how they tried everything from masala cubes to dehydrated products before settling on the perfect product.
She explains the process, ‘Why will I eat a product dehydrated at 200 degrees Celsius without any nutritional value left? It would just be carbs. So, we spoke to close to three hundred people and found that 90% of meals in India are homemade, and 66% of working professionals prefer to cook at home. And the only option is to order a meal, which is not sustainable or healthy.’
So, they went back to the drawing board, spoke to more people, and discovered that eighty percent of cooking time involves prepping the dish, and a mere twenty percent involves adding and cooking the ingredients.
‘We wondered if we could save that eighty percent effort to prep a dish, so people can get motivated to cook. Can we make a dish like Dal Makhani in 15 minutes? So that’s how CurryiT was born. The idea that you can cook any dish, even a complicated one like Rogan Josh that takes three hours, within 15 minutes.‘, she reveals at the start of her venture.
She wants to grow her venture to reach the maximum number of households possible and to create a household brand like the famous Indian spice brand MDH and its counterparts.
‘We want to be the salt of your house. If there’s salt in your home, there better be a CurryiT. With our product, one doesn’t need so many singular packets of masalas or spices. We want to simplify the cooking process.‘ she reveals their next mission.
Creating the perfect team is something she is grateful for, and she explains how it’s essential to surround yourself with people who tell you the things you do not want to hear.
‘Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. There is no one to call and say take this and handle it. You are responsible for yourself, your employees, and the people you work for. So, trust them and keep them close to you. It helps in the long run.’, she advises.
Food isn’t just a passion for her but a way of life, and she reveals how her mother, a phenomenal cook, had a significant impact on her.
‘She is an amazing cook and loves to feed people. It was just an inherent need for her to take care of everyone.‘, she gleefully explains.
And being brought up in a joint family also had a deep influence on the way she viewed the world. She describes how there could have been no concept of space or privacy on living with people in such close quarters.
‘I remember lots of stuff around, hardly any free space or privacy. But we had no concept of personal space and would just hang out together. Watching cricket matches was insane, especially during India and Pakistan matches. I would see my grandmother sitting on a sofa and not moving. Then my mom is doing Hanuman Chalisa, and my dad is standing on his two lucky tiles. My ‘Bua’ has gone to the temple … I can’t explain how beautiful it is.’ she describes the emotion of her memory.
But everything has not been rosy for the multitalented entrepreneur, and she divulges how she had to fight through stereotypes and misconceptions to get to where she is today.
‘Gender bias starts somewhere very early, and as a woman, you have to prove that you are not a diversity hire and deserve to be here. It’s a tough topic. I have been lucky to have a mom who never made me feel different because I am a girl child. There are still people who have a slight discomfort with seeing a woman leading. So, to bring in that respect between the two genders is still a challenge.‘, she reveals.
Bridging the gender gap would still take time, and she explains how most boardrooms aren’t used to women leading. It would take years for the industry to still warm up to the idea of women taking charge of companies and creating their own impact in the world.
She hopefully explains, ‘Celebrating one day in a year as Women’s Day is not just the solution. We need to do it every day. It may take centuries, but we will get there someday.’
The most significant motivating factor for her has been the ability to internalize how she started the journey and how her decision would impact the world around her.
She advises, ‘Always remember why you started… think about the process, and you will find the clarity you need. All the ROIs and ROEs they teach you in business school will ultimately come in the end. You can always monetize but do not forget why you got on that journey in the first place.’
Richa has big dreams and big plans for her venture. She wants to not just capture the hearts of Indian households but ensure that curry becomes a staple dish in every home across the globe.
‘If there is a chance to put CurryiT products in space and even take it to the moon, we will try our best to make it possible. We want our products to be a global phenomenon.,’ says the motivated founder.
We wholeheartedly trust the power of our dreams and Richa’s vision for her startup.
As a passionate entrepreneur once told us, ‘Tension mat lo, bas hojayega.’
‘Don’t worry; it will happen.‘
We do believe that faith can definitely move mountains or, in this case, make curry accessible to every corner of the world.
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