Monday Motivation from Deepa Talwar, Founder of Asha Market

Mondays can be rough and, sometimes, we can all use some motivation. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from industry leaders and some of the most creative entrepreneurs out there.

We sat down with Deepa Talwar, Founder of Asha Market, to discuss the Indian fashion market, building out a supply chain in a foreign country, and the importance of product/market fit.

What inspired you to start your business?
A mix of personal frustration and the market opportunity. I’ve never had an easy time finding Indian clothes for weddings because my family rarely traveled to India. I grew up wearing ill-fitting, uncomfortable, and dated outfits that a family member sent from India or more commonly from Chicago’s Little India. When my sister got married last year, it was the first time I actually cared about what I was wearing to an Indian wedding. I found all these outfits I liked on Pinterest—modern and perfectly cut crop tops with high waisted lehenga skirts and beautifully draped sari gowns—but quickly realized it was impossible to find these pieces at a reasonable price point online or locally in San Francisco. I flew home to Chicago, spent hours in boutiques with subpar customer experiences, and ended up with absurdly priced, over-the-top outfits that I’ll likely only wear once more. I started talking to friends and family and realized no one had an ideal shopping experience for Indian fashion. I dug into the numbers and realized that the Indian fashion market is a massive, $12 billion market that’s growing globally at 10% YoY. But what really drew me in was how inefficient this market was: completely fragmented across the retail chain with 95% of the market just as unorganized as it was a decade ago.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Building out our supply chain in India. I relocated to India for the year to build out the supply side of our business and could have never imagined how hard this would be or how long this would take. To be fair, I was warned about all of this beforehand. Some people went as far as to recommend bypassing India and building out our supply in China, but I was optimistic that my scrappiness, operations background, and network would be enough. India is one of the most difficult places in the world to do business due to a lack of infrastructure, capital, and quality standards plus red tape and constant project delays. On top of that, the Indian fashion market is unorganized and deeply divided between mass produced, low quality, poorly designed garments and expensive, couture pieces, with few offerings in between. My first thought was to hire or partner with another designer or company, but learned the hard way that this was very difficult. Above all, one of the most difficult things about working in India for anyone is finding people you can trust and rely on, and this is all the more difficult when you aren’t a local.

What’s been the greatest reward?
Building a business in India. This year has been nothing short of an adventure and I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned for anything. I don’t speak Hindi, I’m still clueless about how business gets done in India, and I owned all of four Indian outfits before getting into this business. It’s a really powerful feeling to know that you’re capable of relocating to another country, learning the ins and outs of a new industry, and figuring out how to make things work with what you have to build a company.

What is the biggest thing you’d like to see changed in your industry, and how are you working toward making that change happen?
A mindset shift for Indian designers and companies to think about how to build economies of scale into their businesses. Most people think the Indian fashion business has enormous potential, but it’s inherently unscalable. I don’t- I think no one has come up with the right solution yet. We need to work together as designers and entrepreneurs to build scalable businesses, and that can only work when both sides trust each other and can align on how to build affordable and well designed pieces. We’ve been lucky to have aligned with like-minded designers and businesses and our hope is that as we keep proving out our business, we can win over the rest and make a real dent in the industry.

Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
Knowing that there’s always something good that comes from the low points. Sometimes the low points result in learning what doesn’t work, and sometimes they lead to a pivot or a change in business model—both of which are invaluable. My family has been hugely supportive. My dad is usually the first person I call when things hit the fan and I can’t even tell you how many emails I have from him with the subject line “GOOD JOB” or “KEEP IT UP”. Lastly, I’m beyond grateful to have a great network of fellow founders and friends across the U.S. and India to vent to and learn from. It’s encouraging to know how messy their businesses were at the start and to see that they’ve stuck with their idea to get where they are today.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to another entrepreneur just starting out?
Find the fastest and cheapest way to get to product/market fit, where your product is flying off the shelves and you’re scrambling to serve your customers. It’s incredibly easy to get distracted with building press, hiring, and marketing your company. Once you’ve honed in on a problem, find a way to build it as quickly as possible to start getting feedback. For us, the answer was a concierge model that has provided more learnings than any survey ever could. Look at your market and notice how customers are currently transacting or getting serviced and build something quickly that improves slightly on that model. When we first started out, we started building a product that would address six major problems in our industry at once. Not only was this a risky and costly bet, but it also required a massive shift in customer behavior. In contrast, our current model closely mirrors how customers shop for Indian fashion today and we built it at virtually no cost.

What do you do every Monday morning to prepare and motivate yourself for the coming week?
I don’t really do anything special on Mondays. Every night before I go to bed, I make sure to plan my tasks for the following day. Otherwise, it’s really easy to spend an entire morning reading emails and blog posts. I list out small things I need to get done for the day and I block off time for bigger tasks. I start my day late around noon and try to get the most difficult thing I have to do that day out of the way before lunch.

For more #MondayMotivation, check out our interview with Kerri Couillard, Founder & CTO of Babierge. We discuss the sharing economy, building an industry from scratch, and hiring a CEO to run your company.