Photo Courtesy: Deepa Talwar
Every South Asian woman has been there at least once: Your family just received its fifth wedding invitation of the season, and you—naturally—have nothing left to wear. So ensues the hunt for an occasion-appropriate, affordable outfit that actually fits you properly. Inevitably, you’ll be lucky to find something that meets two out of the three criteria, all the while taking comfort in knowing there are countless women out there accepting the same miserable fate. But that’s Deepa Talwar’s biggest problem right there. For something so many of us needs, why is great, affordable, well-fitting Indian fashion such a commodity? It’s what the former Uber and Thumbtack employee wants out to solve as the Founder and CEO of Asha Market, an online destination for ready-to-wear Indian fashion focused on solving the over-priced-badly-fitting-inaccessible-formalwear problem. For this week’s “She’s the Boss“, we want you to meet this Chicago-native who is set out to revolutionize the Indian fashion industry.
New Delhi, India
“Asha Market [is] a modern way to shop for Indian fashion online. We’re redefining the way Indian fashion is sized and sold, making modern Indian fashion accessible and affordable.
I’ve never had an easy time finding Indian clothes for weddings or events because my family rarely traveled to India. The worst experience was last year when my sister got married. I couldn’t find anything online or locally that was reasonably priced and that had the option to return it if I wasn’t happy with it. So, I flew home, spent hours in Chicago in boutiques with subpar customer experiences, and ended up with an absurdly priced lehenga that I’ll likely only wear once more. I started talking to friends and realized no one had an ideal shopping experience for Indian fashion. Nine months later, I was ready to move to a much smaller company. I did an exercise that maps out where your skills, interests, and opportunities intersect and ended up with wanting to build a company focused on South Asian women. I decided to focus on Indian fashion because it’s a massive, multi-billion dollar market that’s fragmented across the retail chain.
I started working on the company full time in February. I spent the first 3 months talking to customers across the country, and the past three months in India building the supply side of my business. We launched the website a few weeks ago.”
“The learning opportunity [is the best perk]. There’s no greater way to learn than by necessity. In any given week, I’ll reassess what we’re doing and why, what we know and don’t know, and what we need to do to reach product/market fit. And that usually means learning completely new skills—whether it’s negotiating with new vendors, testing new growth channels to reach the South Asian community, or building new features. It’s time-consuming and can definitely be draining at times, but incredibly rewarding.”
A Day in the Life
“I wake up around 9 a.m., have breakfast and start working on the biggest task I have for that day. I take an Uber Pool to the gym around 11:30 a.m. Then, I’ll head to the office. I’m currently working out of a shared office space with the GSF team [where I’m the Entrepreneur-in-Residence] and four other Indian startups. I’ll order lunch, check email and the previous day’s analytics, and spend the rest of the day working on Asha Market and GSF. Most evenings, I cook dinner at home, hang out with my roommates (there are 11 of us sharing a flat), and catch up with friends at home.”
“I went through a brief phase when I wanted to be an emergency room surgeon. I’m not sure why, maybe because it seemed like an ambitious challenge. Then I decided I wanted to run a company and my family would call me ‘CEO’…In college, I launched Wildcat Express Delivery, a Postmates-like food delivery service on campus. I launched Northwestern’s chapter of 85 Broads, a professional women’s network, and a young professionals network at Visa.
I spent the past few years as an early employee at Uber and Thumbtack. I’ve been really fortunate to work with both companies during hyper growth phases, experiencing the opportunities and chaos that come with it. At Uber, I worked on scaling operations globally. At Thumbtack, I built a 1000-person remote team in the Philippines to drive our U.S growth strategy, then worked on our SEO and customer acquisition strategies.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by close friends in San Francisco who have started their own companies. It’s been invaluable to watch them go through highs and lows and still never regret starting out on their own.”
Feel Good Mojo
“[I remind myself] how lucky I am to be in this situation. It’s a luxury to be able to quit your job and try to solve a problem of your own choice.
[The best advice I’ve gotten is] that people will often advise against doing things the hard or unconventional way and it’s my job to filter out what advice I chose to follow. A fellow attendee at a female entrepreneur conference mentioned it in a workshop and it really stuck with me. One of the strongest assets I have is a large network of mentors and advisors, many of whom have been in this business for a number of years. I rely heavily on this network for advice. I once got discouraged when an advisor would advise against a proposed strategy but, in reality, I’m the best judge of what will work for my business.”
The Success Manual
- “Find a group of advisors and mentors to rely on when things get tough and to hold you accountable. I’m more than happy to help. Please reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.”
- “Make sure you’re solving the right problem.: Go above and beyond to validate that what you’re solving is truly a problem, and have a strong sense of your competition and how you plan to differentiate yourself.”
- “Stay focused on finding product/market fit. It’s incredibly easy to get distracted, but nothing matters until you find the right product for your market.”