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[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Open Secret’s Ahana Gautam aims to change India’s snacking habits

In a conversation with HerStory, Ahana Gautam, Founder and CEO, Open Secret, talks about her journey of building the snacking startup and why it’s important to be fearless.

[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Open Secret’s Ahana Gautam aims to change India’s snacking habits

Friday March 03, 2023 , 3 min Read

Ahana Gautam has an enviable CV: a degree from IIT Bombay, an MBA from Harvard, and now co-founder of health snack startup Open Secret

But the journey hasn’t been a cakewalk for Ahana who says the secret to success has been pushing on and focusing on dreams and plans. 

“My brother and I have been raised by a single mother in Rajasthan, and we have seen the many struggles a single parent has to face. Whether it was me doing a course at IIT or later an MBA at Harvard, my mother was always questioned why, something to which she always turned a deaf ear,” she says. 

Ahana adds that her mother encouraged her to do more, supporting every decision. Childhood memories of seeing her mother struggle to provide them with healthy snacks also had a role to play in Open Secret. 

“The struggle for healthy snacking is a common problem. Today, I see my sister-in-law facing the same challenges with my niece. We are committed to addressing a mother’s guilt by providing better options. That led to the birth of Open Secret,” she says. 

Ahana and her mother started Mumbai-based Open Secret, which aims to “put the whole in wholesome”, in 2019.  

The startup is targeting the children's snacking white space. It launched its first set of nutty cookie products, targeting increasing consumer preferences for “better-for-you” snacks, with an emphasis on tiffin consumption. 

In March 2021, amid the pandemic, Ahana lost her mother. 

Performing the last rites gave her strength, she says. “It was how my mother gave me strength and courage. She empowered me to take my rightful place in this work,” she says, adding that she returned to work the next day. 

In June 2022  Open Secret raised Series B funding led by Ananta Capital. The round also saw participation from existing investors—Sixth Sense Ventures and Matrix Partners India—along with Gautam Kumra, Chairman-Asia, Mckinsey & Company. 

Ahana feels there has been a structural shift in consumer behaviour. 

“India has been a supply-constrained market and we want to address that with Open Secret. We are on track to becoming a leading snacking option by un-junking snacks in India--a $15 billion category. We are reimagining the entire lifecycle of the snacking industry,” she says.  

Recollecting her journey before starting Open Secret, Ahana says she was like any other IIT Bombay alumnus, focused on getting large brands on her CV, but her stint at Harvard made her realise her privileges, and that the seat came with privileges. She decided to create change and returned to India. 

Today, Ahana is working to grow the brand and its product base. She follows one philosophy: Be fearless, and don’t shy away from putting in the hard work. 

“Growing up in Rajasthan, it was my mother who gave me the inspiration to go after the best education across the globe. She fought the odds. In small towns, most families have the best dreams for sons; daughters are meant to be married. Looking at her fight societal odds and norms, I knew I always had the support I needed. I just needed to take the first step.” 

Edited by Teja Lele