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Profile: Relentless Pursuit

Nidhi Agarwal, Founder and CEO of Kaaryah, created a brand of western formal wear designed to flatter the Indian woman’s figure

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Turning entrepreneur may be easy but raising funding isn’t. The journey was particularly tough for Nidhi Agarwal, the founder of Kaaryah, a brand that bridges the gap between western formals and the curvy Indian silhouette Nidhi, 35, ended up making 113 pitches over 365 days to investors — in person, through emails and on phone — to raise Series A investment. Some investors laughed off her idea but she didn’t give up. “Every pitch taught me a new lesson and I kept going because I had faith in my idea,” she says. But it was worth it. An email she had shot off to Ratan Tata’s office ended up getting her a proposal from his office. She closed her pre-Series A funding with Tata, TV Mohandas Pai and The Saha Fund for undisclosed amounts and Kaaryah is well poised to grow.

In The Beginning
It all started when Nidhi, a certified chartered accountant with an MBA degree from Kellogg School of Management, was on her way to the airport. She stained her white shirt with coffee and decided to quickly buy a new shirt. The shop gave her three options, but not one fit her properly. She left with a “compromise” shirt but a seed had been sown. A seasoned strategy consultant, Nidhi soon ran a survey of 250 women to figure out if fit was a problem for any of them. Turned out it was for an astounding 80 per cent! Nidhi launched Kaaryah soon after, in 2012. Her brand offers women 18 sizes — 12 more than regular brands offer. This means that no matter what kind of a body a woman has, she’s sure to find a fit that flatters her and provides her with the right functionality at Kaaryah. “The Kaaryah algorithm makes it a business to know what a woman wants. We look at fit, functionality and variety and bring out 150 new designs each month,” Agarwal says.

Building The Brand
When she launched her venture Agarwal was clear that she wanted Kaaryah to be a brand that was tech-enabled and revolved around the customer. “We spent a lot of time studying women and used data analytics to figure out what they want. We have a proprietary IT-enabled production system that delivers efficient working capital turns,” she says. The response was better than she could have expected. “We reached break even in a flat 14 months,” she says. But the journey was tough.

Kaaryah has grown four times in the last six months and has sold 3,500 units on an average until October 2015. “Everyone around may have thought it a good business with growth prospects but it wasn’t like Kaaryah got anything on a platter. We had to work hard for everything,” she recalls. “There continue to be daily challenges. I take the highest risk calls and have the toughest problems to deal with. But I enjoy them.”

Woman In A Man’s world
The one thing Nidhi remembers being asked is what would happen to her business if she were to start a family”, a question that no one would dream of asking a male in his mid-30s.

But That Apart, The Going’s Been Good
“Actually I was raised in a close-knit family of 13 cousins, 10 of who were boys. So I never grew up thinking that there were things that boys could do and those that girls couldn’t,” she reveals.

But People Do
“A courier guy once came to deliver a refrigerator at our Gurgaon factory and refused to hand it over to me. He insisted, ‘Boss ko bulao, sirf boss se baat karoonga’, and only left after the watchman told him that I was the boss,” she says. “That apart, I feel that there are also many people out that for whom age or gender is of no consequence.”

What Does The Future Hold?
Agarwal envisages Kaaryah as largest brand for perfect fit western wear for women in India. Kaaryah is already in a brand strategy consulting partnership with Flipkart SBG, the brand consulting arm of Flipkart, and is also focusing on sourcing and supply to leverage adjacencies. The new funds will be used to expand the team and improve technology. After scaling up in India, Agarwal plans to move to other geographies. Her strategy is to stay on top of the game is simple. She wants Kaaryah “to be a lean, mean, running machine”.

As She Scales Up
“We hire the best and enable them to do their best by providing them with the best of data analytics and automation. So we have the people who’re the right fit for every role and they run their domains independently,” she says.

Speaking about her 13-year career, Agarwal says: “I have learned a lot after I set out on the entrepreneurship journey. And those learnings have helped me grow.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Teja Lele Desai

The author is a writer and editor working out of Baroda.

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