Always trust your gut, it’s a great internal navigation system: Pooja Dhingra, Le15

While the global pandemic has brought economies to a halt and massively disrupted businesses, it has also fuelled start-up dreams and we are seeing several Indian start-ups achieving Unicorn status during the pandemic period. The times have never been better for the budding entrepreneurs to give wings to their start-up dreams.

The Government, too, has come up with various schemes to support its ‘Vocal for Local’ drive. A case in point is the Rs 1,000 crore Start-up India Seed Fund announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Start-up India International Summit 2021 held earlier this year.

Adgully is turning the spotlight on the entrepreneurs who fought against all odds to bring their dreams to fruition in our special series – START-UP STARS. We at Adgully wholeheartedly support the ‘Vocal for Local’ movement and over the next few months will be featuring all local/ homegrown businesses, brands and Apps.

The pandemic and lockdown saw several people turning into home cooks, with baking topping the list. Thus, social media was full of people, including celebrities, showing off their culinary prowess. Very few decided to turn their passion for cooking/ baking into a commercial venture.

Pooja Dhingra is not a lockdown cook or baker. Her first proper memory of baking something is making a batch of brownies with her aunt when she was just 6 years old. The thought that such simple ingredients could bring so much joy is what stuck with Dhingra through the years. Though she began baking at a very young age, she never thought about it as a career option.

In fact, Dhingra joined a law school, but quit after just 2 weeks as her interests were in the pastry kitchen. She moved to Switzerland and then went to a culinary school in Paris, where she realised the vast opportunities with French styled pastry in India. She started Le15 Patisserie in 2010 at the young age of 23 years.

In conversation with Adgully, Pooja Dhingra, Founder, Le15, speaks about setting up a food business, the challenges that female entrepreneurs face in a male dominated industry, having a strong digital approach to business and more.

What need gap did you want to fulfil with your start-up? What is the core business proposition?

The gap we wanted to fill was that of a French-style patisserie and our core business proposition was to bring a piece of Paris on your plate.

How did you identify your TG? Did you carry out any feasibility study prior to starting your business?

I was far too young when I started my business to carry out a feasibility study, but I knew instinctively that macarons were a great product and had a vast opportunity in India because the product did not exist. I did small focus groups when I started out to see how people would take to macarons, and they were all successful.

What were the challenges that you faced in your start-up journey and how did you overcome them?

Being a female entrepreneur and being a woman in a largely male-dominated industry has had its own challenges. I would always be asked where my husband or father was, and people assumed someone else was doing the work for me. Being in the business for 11 years, the challenges keep changing. I overcame them by just focusing on what was truly important and making sure I got the job done.

What were the clearances that you required for your venture from various authorities?

Food licenses, FSSAI registrations, and BMC licenses.

Funds/ finance is the prime issue of almost all start-ups. What can the industry and the Government do to address this issue and ease the capital requirements of start-ups?

The Government can introduce more schemes for business loans for SMEs and ease regulations.

Prime Minister Modi announced a Start-up India Seed Fund earlier this year. How do you see start-ups benefiting from it?

I think it’s a great opportunity for small businesses to get funds and really get them started on their entrepreneurial journey.

How is digital helping you further your business?

Le15 and I have always been very big on digital. While we use social media very effectively, the pandemic also made us pivot and we truly understood the possibilities of content to commerce. We set up a Shopify store in December and started all India deliveries of our packaged goodies. While we had to shut our cafes during the pandemic, going online turned out to be far more profitable for us. One of the many benefits of going online is the ability to track analytics and take a closer look at operations. Tracking our Shopify backend helped us understand and gain more insight into where our products were ordered from.

What were your key learnings so far? How do you see the start-up ecosystem progressing in 2021?

I’ve had many learnings over the last 11 years in business. Few important ones have been to move fast and take hard decisions without wasting time, trusting yourself and your instincts and always learning and evolving.

What would be your message for the budding entrepreneurs?

My message for budding entrepreneurs would be to understand that things take time to build, so patience is key. Have a small group of people you trust and don’t ask too many people for their advice and opinion. And lastly – always trust your gut, it’s a great internal navigation system.

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