By Ahana Gautam
My brother and I were raised by a single mother in Bharatpur. It’s a small city in Rajasthan – the state with the lowest female literacy rate in India. from a young age, I realised that the world was not a fair place. Families were very okay with mediocre education for their daughters. But in my mom’s eyes, my brother and I were always equal.
One day, while I was preparing for the IIT exam, my mom’s friend came over.
“Why are you encouraging her?” she asked my mom. “Your dream has already come true – your son is at IIT. How will you find a groom for her??
But my mom didn’t let that get in my way.
She never allowed such words to apply to me. She encouraged me to chase my dreams.
But this was not the norm – most girls did not hear the same thing.
I attended IIT Bombay and later went to Harvard Business School for my MBA. To be honest, until then, I was very externally driven – getting brands on my CV, IIT, Procter & Gamble, Harvard. But my time at Harvard changed me. It taught me to see the privileges I have and that a seat at Harvard comes with a responsibility: I needed to make a positive difference in the world.
I found my purpose and I became fearless.
I discovered early on that I have a passion for consumer goods. That’s why I worked at Procter & Gamble and also General Mills. It gave me incredible exposure to the whole industry – supply chain, finance, marketing, everything!
By the time I went to the US, I knew I wanted to come back to India to start a brand from scratch. I realised that India is a supply-constrained market. We have decades-old brands that are not innovating, and also a growing middle-class who are looking for innovative products. But even with that knowledge about the Indian market, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.
I got clarity about that during my time at Harvard. We used to have two classes back-to-back, and I always took two cups of coffee and two croissants to class. One day I complained to my classmate, Marquis, who always sat next to me. “I don’t know what’s going on,” I said. “I keep gaining weight even though I go to the gym.” Marquis just rolled his eyes and said: “Have you noticed what you’re eating for breakfast every day? Bread & butter!”
That’s when I started learning about food and nutrition. I became very interested in it! At the same time, I was talking to my sister-in-law in India. She was complaining that she was unable to find tasty and healthy snacks for my niece. That was the next a-ha moment for me.
How is it possible that mothers still don’t have access to healthy and tasty packaged food for their children? I wanted to change that!
When I returned to India people said, “Oh, you couldn’t get a visa?” or “She’s probably getting married.”
It’s hard for them to understand that a single woman would move continents because of professional reasons.
There was a time when such things would affect me, but now I have thick skin. I’ve become so secure as a woman and so secure about what I want in life.
Open Secret was founded in 2019. To register a company, you need to list 2 people as directors. And so I did – me and my mom. She’s always been my shield, the strongest woman I’ve ever known.
But in March this year, I lost her. She was in the hospital and because of COVID, I couldn’t see her. I couldn’t even say goodbye. Yet, I was the one who cremated her. That’s how my mother empowered me – that even then I would take up my rightful and equal role in the world.
After that, I had two choices: take a break to process the grief or use the pain as fuel to create a tribute to my mother. I chose the latter. The very next day I was back at work. Open Secret closed its series A funding in July.
This brand is a love letter from a daughter to her single mother. A mother who showed her daughter that nothing in this world is impossible. Who championed health, nutrition and to reach your full potential and beyond.
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