From advertising to lingerie to back again: Indian Bra Queen and her insatiable love for entrepreneurship
Arpita Ganesh started her entrepreneurial journey with advertising and then moved on to lingerie. Within a decade in the lingerie space, she has been dubbed ‘Indian Bra Queen’.
From 1999, she ran Quicksilver Advertising for a decade, and worked with brands such as Marriott International, Google India, and Novotel Hotels, among others. In 2008, she started Buttercups as an online luxury lingerie boutique.
In 2013, she came up with a bra-sizing app, which in 2014 finally cemented Buttercups’ position to give women a great bra experience: from perfect fitting to a bra that fits well.
Early on in her journey Arpita launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise money. Over the years Buttercups saw investments from the likes of Rajan Anandan and Anand Chandrasekharan.
This year, Arpita sold Buttercups to CK TExstyles to make it into an Amazon-only brand. But the entrepreneur in her has not hung up her boots yet. Arpita joined The Voice Company, an advertising startup as Co-founder, and is looking ahead to other exciting things she can devote her time and attention to.
In a candid chat with HerStory, she tells us about the sale of Buttercups, her learnings as the CEO of a lingerie brand, and what’s next in store for her as an entrepreneur.
HerStory: Your entrepreneurial journey started with Buttercups. Now, as you move on, what is happening with the brand?
Arpita Ganesh: My entrepreneurial journey actually began 10 years before Buttercups, with Quicksilver Advertising. Moving then from advertising to bras and now going back to some part advertising, with all that has been learnt over the Buttercups journey, is sort of like seeing a picture with a much clearer lens.
And it’s extraordinary to be able to do that and come up with solutions that are not just for marketing but business ones as well.
However, Buttercups still remains alive as an exclusive Amazon brand. But it will change its avatar as time goes by to become a more “mass” brand. So at least the legacy of great bras lives. Most of the team has been placed and some of us have come together to explore another startup idea, and life goes on.
HS: What were your key learnings as a founder?
AG: There are so many and I continue to learn. I think the biggest of it is that sometimes even your best falls short if the timing is not right or lady luck is not on your side. And that it is okay - to have tried your absolute best and for it still not to have gone as planned.
Some other learnings include:
- Know when to call it quits – it’s hard, I should know, but if that decision needs to be taken, take it quicker than later.
- Build teams that work with you, not for you. I survived the last few months of the sale of Buttercups only because of the fabulous team that has stood beside me like a rock.
- Always be true to what you are building.
- Always be honest – with your team, your customers and, most importantly, your investors.
HS: From your learnings what are some of the things that other entrepreneurs can learn. Something that you want to put out there?
AG: There were a few nuggets I penned down here. I think the key ones were:
- Don’t raise too little money.
- Don’t change your business to follow a trend.
- Founder/s equity should not be diluted at angel stages.
- Inventory-heavy businesses cannot survive on angel money.
HS: In hindsight do you wish you had done something differently with Buttercups? If you could change something, what would it be?
AG: Like I say, “Hindsight is a bitch, but only when you want her to be. Else she is the most precious teacher you will ever have."
I do wish I had done a lot of things differently, but the one thing, if I could go back and change, would be to have had a strong financial advisor on board, to help me go after the metrics that would matter for when the time came to raise the larger rounds.
While there are things I would want to change, there are also things I would never change, such as the culture of the company, the team, getting the product absolutely right, saying the right things, building a brand that is respected and delivers on its promise, with literally no marketing spends and, of course, constantly learning and continuing to learn.
HS: What has been a key memory/milestone when it comes to Buttercups? Something you are really happy and grateful for?
AG: I sent out a mail to 3,000 of our best customers, personally, to tell them about the sale of Buttercups and that we would no longer be having our fitting room nor our website. I got back more than 500 mails, telling me how I had given them the best bra experience they ever had, how Buttercups had changed their lives, and how they didn’t want to move to experience the brand anywhere else.
I think those emails were the culmination of each and everything Buttercups stood for. I had set out to change women’s lives and their bra experience with Buttercups and these emails showed me that I had done just that.
HS: Now you have joined The Voice Company?
AG: After the sale of Buttercups, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I knew that my time in the lingerie space had come to an end. Having given more than my 100 percent in the most complex category of fashion and having learnt enough to be known for my expertise in the space, it would seem obvious to look in the space, but I wanted to move away from this space that had consumed me completely for the past 10 years.
Change is always good.
HS: What is The Voice Company all about? What idea led to this?
AG: The Voice Company started with a very simple idea, really. There are two things that any company needs, no matter how big or small they are - a great product/service, and a unique voice that immediately differentiates them from other players operating in the same category.
And while most companies (at least in the startup space) have a really great product, what they struggle with is telling a compelling story around what they do. So you see, there was a huge opportunity here - to give voices to companies that hadn't found the right words to tell their story.
Having been on the other side of things (at Buttercups), I knew how the business worked, and I also knew there were more people like me with great products who could benefit so much more with lovely storytelling.
HS: What are you most excited about? Since it's not your first venture, are you already having sleepless nights?
AG: It’s so exciting! Now the sleepless nights are not from worry but from the excitement of which brand are we going to build today.
And instead of thinking of just one business, I now think of so many new businesses and learn about so many new things.
The other exciting thing is that having learnt so much in the past years, I am able to look at some of these businesses with a bird’s eye view, enabling me to see some critical aspects of change/betterment needed in the business, not just from a marketing perspective, but a business one as well—which the founders who are so close to the business may be missing—and then trying to find ways of thinking through how to solve them through creative marketing strategies or messaging.
HS: What kind of support is coming your way? Do you have naysayers knocking on the doors?
AG: After Buttercups, do you think anything anyone says will be of any worth to me? (laughs)
About support, all I can say is that I am blessed. I got more support than I ever imagined when I started Buttercups and now with The Voice Company, it’s the same.
Every email is answered, every request for a meeting is indulged, and every ask for a connect is acted upon immediately. And all of it, with the utmost respect.
What more can one ask for in terms of support? I do believe that if you ask for the right things and respect what another is giving you—be it advice, connects or even one’s time—you will get the support of whomever you ask.
HS: What are you looking forward to next? What can we expect from you in the coming months?
AG: Here is the catch. Having made Buttercups my life for over 10 years now, I find myself wanting to explore a lot of things. Every day I see something new and want to jump in. Every day a new opportunity springs up on me.
So, while The Voice Company is at the core of my new beginnings, I am also taking the liberty and luxury to dabble in other things and explore a few more ideas/offers that have been coming my way.
I don’t want to be bound just yet and want to be able to explore more things and in the next few months, see where I finally dig my feet in.
Till then, helping brands and startups through The Voice Company remains a key focus, but well, you never know what fate has in store for you, do you?
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)