You don’t need a great idea to start a business!
Our mission is to make young women financially independent, why is being financially independent important to you?
Our parents raised us as their children, not merely their daughters. This prepared us for the journey that lay ahead. We were raised to believe we could do whatever we set our minds to, and we had the best female role model as we were growing up. As Mum put us to bed every night, she told us to study and work hard. Every single night, she would remind us that we had to be independent and able to stand on our own two feet. She instilled in us the importance of integrity and endurance. Mum certainly led by example – we have seen her get up at 5 a.m. to make sandwiches or work late into the night making desserts so that they could be properly chilled. We are immensely fortunate to have been born into the home of our parents.
How did the two of you merge your dreams to start something together – given that Tina worked in a stockbroking firm in London? Was it a common passion that drove the two of you to starting Theobroma?
Our home was always full of food, fun and friends. Our parents both ran their own successful businesses. We grew up in a house where business was the fifth member of our family. Even when we were too young to participate or understand, business life was in the background; it was part of the environment that we grew up in.
In 2003, I was resting at home due to a bulging disc in my spine. My doctor had suggested that I find an alternative career, but I wanted to remain in the kitchen. My back injury forced me to pause, but it set my family in action. As I lay in bed, my father and my sister casually walked in and said that we should start a business of our own. Mum was excited as she already ran a small business from home. Tina and I grew up wrapping chocolates and making desserts. Our childhood memories are built on this foundation of home-made cakes and chocolates, and our business idea was to create a dessert destination.
The four of us thought that starting a full-fledged business of our own would be more of the same, on a slightly bigger scale but not very different from what we were already doing from home. At the outset, we just got going and then carried on.
From Dussera of 2004 when you started to Dussera of 2019, how has the journey been?
Difficult. We knew that opening a bakery was going to be difficult, but until we did it, we could not have imagined how hard it was actually going to be. Theobroma has brought us great joy, career development, strengthened our character and enriched our lives, but it has been an incredibly hard slog and remains so even today.
When did you actually realise that people started to take note of your successful venture?
We were lucky, we got noticed immediately. Our guests loved our products from the day we opened our doors for the first time. We quickly got featured by the media, recognized within the industry, won awards and our guests enjoyed our products. We worked incredibly hard to serve our guests, but we were showered with love and warmth in return. Our guests not only returned to us, they recommended us to their family and friends, they grew our business in this way.
For the young women out there who are “closeted patissiers” and looking to branch out professionally and monetise it, what is your advice to them?
Maintain quality. It is the most important aspect of our business. This is simple, but also very hard. It requires discipline, commitment and stamina. I probably spend more time on quality control than any other aspect of the business. It requires constant supervision, tasting and training. It is exhausting and often frustrating but I cannot think of anything more important or more deserving of my time.
There are a number of bakers in India right now, what measures did you take to make Theobroma unique?
We are not unique. Everything we make is available elsewhere too. The hard part of any endeavour is in the execution; getting the simple things consistently right. We work hard to maintain and improve quality, it is what brings our guests back.
Did you at any point feel that things were not going as planned? It wasn’t a right decision? If yes, how did you overcome it?
The lockdown is the biggest setback we have faced, the biggest challenge to our business. This is not a problem that is unique to us, though there is no comfort in collective pain. A lot of businesses will not survive this crisis and we are working our hardest to ensure we do not become a casualty of the pandemic.
When you wake up in the morning everyday, do you constantly think of ways to improve your bakery? Could you share some such innovations over the years?
We innovate to introduce new products, festive products, and seasonal products. We do this to maintain an interest in our offering. We created the ‘Cooknie’ which brought together two of our most popular products – cookie and brownie. However, our timeless classics outsell the trendy products many times over.
Did you have any role model in this field?
Mum ran a small business from home, she made cakes and desserts. Theobroma is essentially an extension of that home business.
Most girls grow up with a father fixation – their first superhero is Dad. I unashamedly acknowledge that my knight in shining armour, my hero and idol, is Mum. Over the years, I’ve strived to emulate Mum’s strength, honesty and kindness. It seems I’ve also inherited her fiery passion and unpredictable temper.
Mum is loving and firm, and now that I am grown-up, I want to be just like her. I love being a mother and am enjoying parenthood. I want to raise my daughter much like I was brought up, not only focusing on academic achievement, but also teaching her strength, empathy and resilience. I want to be a good daughter for Mum and make her proud of the person I have become.
Any message to the members of Aspire for Her?
Get going. It is a big myth that you need a great idea or eureka moment. Many people have many great business ideas and do nothing with it. Inertia is the demon that you must fight. Start any business and do it well. One cannot wait for the moment when everything is ready, for then we shall never begin.
Be prepared to work incredibly hard. Starting a business is the easy part. There will be challenges at every turn, and you must face them head on.
And any message for Aspire for Her Foundation in general?
The objectives of the Foundation resonate with us. We are strong champions of equality for women, education for women and women entrepreneurship. Women need a fair chance, a level playing field and sometimes a helping hand. It is the duty of those of us born to such privilege to extend these opportunities to those that are less fortunate than us. We must pay it forward.
Any specific problems you would want women to keep in mind while pursuing an entrepreneurial journey? How to overcome these?
The business world is disproportionately male, and it can be intimidating and overwhelming to women. We have to make ourselves heard and create the change that we want to see. Ask for help when it is required, do not feel you have to do everything yourself. Where you fall short, let someone else step in.
The Theobroma Sisters – Kainaz & Tina
Currently the Creative Director at Theobroma, Kainaz is an alumnus of the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Mumbai and the Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development (OCLD), Delhi. She was a pastry chef at the Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur before starting Theobroma. Kainaz attended Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie in Yssingeaux, France.
Tina graduated from Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai and is a member of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). She has worked at KPMG (Bharat S. Raut), Mumbai and Newedge (Fimat), London.