Motherhood and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand for mother and entrepreneur Ashini Shah, Co-founder of Zeezeezoo. When you ask her how, she shares:
“You go all-in. You can’t do a half-hearted job. You feel the need to do everything perfectly, because just like your baby, your business relies upon you.
You can never turn off. Just like there is no such thing part-time mother, there is no part-time entrepreneur. There is no off-switch.
It is hard to be unbiased. As much as you want to take feedback and critique it your stride it is personal. You are connected to your idea in a deep way, and although you know that it is never perfect, sometimes you can’t help but be defensive.”
It was motherhood that inspired Ashini to start Zeezeezoo, a company that makes hand-illustrated apparel, accessories, flashcards, and wall prints for children. Ashini calls it a ‘kids brand with an Indian heart.’ Launched in May 2015, the brand is a reflection of Ashini’s own childhood and multicultural living.
Ashini spent her childhood and teens across US and India. She graduated from Rutgers University with a double major in Marketing and Psychology and then worked at media giant NBC.
Ashini got married in 2008 and shifted to London, and did her MBA at Imperial College with a focus on marketing and entrepreneurship, after which she worked for luxury fine-food startup The East India Company.
“Although shifting countries and cultures and lifestyles hasn’t always been easy, and it is tough to have a life that feels so spread out at times, I feel fortunate to have had these opportunities and experiences. I believe that these huge life shifts have had a tremendous impact on me as a person. It has given me a different sense of perspective, and a broader worldview,” she shares about her experience.
On choosing ‘Zeezeezoo’ as her brand name, Ashini shares, “Zeezeezoo is the buzzy song of the black-throated green warbler. Interesting because this is a migratory bird. And like migratory birds, we humans travel in search of better, bigger, more interesting opportunities. Whether to another city or another land, we follow our dreams. This is something my father, my husband and many of my friends have done so it hit close to home.”
Embracing Holi and Halloween
The broad worldview made Ashini adapt and absorb the good from different cultures, and motherhood made her realise that she wanted her daughter to grow up celebrating Holi and Halloween, and everything in between that was a part of her own upbringing. “It is important to carry forward the traditions my husband and I grew up with, while embracing new ones every day. This is where the idea for Zeezeezoo was born. To create products that new-age parents can relate to, and get a laugh out of,” she says.
Zeezeezoo is a culmination of all the things Ashini loves about India and the West, clubbed with the perspective motherhood gave her into the world of children.
She was also lucky to find a business partner who was able to manage finance and operations.
Make in India
“Our country has a wealth of resources and it is fantastic to channel this into our enterprise,” Ashini says. Headquartered in Gujarat, Zeezeezoo, with Ashini and her team of four, propagates ‘Make in India’, by using homegrown organic cotton for apparel, works with Indian manufacturers on all its product lines, and relies on creative Indian illustrators to design its goods.
What will sell?
From figuring out what will sell to how to capture an audience across the globe, challenges keep Ashini on her toes. Her biggest one is trying to make a name for a new brand in a heavily-funded arena. From being tactical about spending money to standing out in a crowd, to getting the Indian audience to believe in the organic concept and its importance, it all was a challenge for her.
Some of the other challenges she faces with Zeezeezoo is planning and managing inventory. She shares, “We cater to the 0-4 age group. That means three onesie sizes and three t-shirt sizes. When you have 20 designs, how can you guess which one will sell more? How can you estimate which size will sell more?”
Also, as a woman entrepreneur who works from home, Ashini feels her work is often not taken seriously or some people have the tendency to look at it as a pastime, rather than a full-fledged professional business. “Of course it’s nice to be able to work the hours when my daughter is at nursery and after she goes to bed, but it also means never turning off, and always trying to balance everything.”
Determined and driven
In the midst of all these challenges, what keeps Ashini motivated is the positive feedback from her customers from across the globe. “Seeing the value being created is what keeps me going,” she says.
Ashini’s business partner and Co-founder Rahil is a great pillar of support. “In this journey, it makes a big difference to have a business partner with whom trials and successes and dreams can be shared. At each step of the way, we know that we can rely on each other.”
And that helps Ashini manage things from London. “We each take care of our respective sides of the business, and have multiple daily Skype calls to keep on top of everything. I come to India multiple times a year for meetings and such as well. Also, being in the UK is great because I also get a lot of ideas from things I see in the UK market, and am in constant touch with NRI parents, who are a key audience for us as well,” she explains.
In the near future, Ashini plans to expand the range to include products from all areas of a child’s life, and Zeezeezoo as an international go-to brand for parents.
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