Kalpana and Uma decided to put their pickling skills to the test. Last year, they launched their own family pickling company that has already made its way onto Shark Tank India and into the hearts of people across the nation. Their recipe comes from mixing their mothers’ techniques with their own. The comforting, nostalgic taste has people who live in the cities reminiscing on their days growing up in the country.
Kalpana recognizes that starting a business is daunting but says that with help, anyone could turn their skills into a successful venture.
When did you start the JhaJi Store?
I started the JhaJi store in 2021 when I was 51 years old.
Where did you get the idea for the JhaJi Store?
I enjoy making pickles. I used to send jars to my relatives' and friends' homes. They all told me how delicious the pickles tasted and said I should start selling them. So I decided, "why not try it?" I had plenty of time on my hands and wanted to do something that catered to my skills. My husband and kids were ecstatic, saying, "you do the pickling, and we'll take care of the rest of it." Thus, I founded the JhaJi store and asked my sister-in-law to join me to keep the business in the family.
Is this your first business?
Yes, this is my first business. I was a housewife, doing all the domestic chores and looking after the kids. I am grateful for my kids and all customers who love my pickles. They motivated me to do my best. I started selling in Delhi NCR, and it was a huge success. Everyone loved the products and wanted more! Now people from all over the country order from our store.
Where did you get the name "JhaJi"?
The name came from a family discussion. Our last name is Jha. Earlier, in our culture, we used to refer to our husbands as "JhaJi." On top of that, many people in Bihar have the last name "Jha," and "Ji" means to add someone., Hence we came up with "JhaJi"! It's also catchy and rolls off the tongue.
What was the biggest challenge you had to face?
To start something new at this age was a challenge. My husband has handled the majority of decisions in my married life. However, I make the decisions for the JhaJi Store. People help me, but I have to lead them. Launching a business was tough because I had to go out and connect with investors. Finances were an issue in the early stages of JhaJi, and we had trouble recruiting investors during those first months. However, we had the opportunity to go on Shark Tank! After that, we finally had enough investors to launch the business in December 2020. During the initial stages of COVID-19 and the lockdown, we tested recipes and got our licenses. After finally opening, we received our first order on June 20, 2021!
What have you learned since starting the JhaJi Store?
A family business is challenging, but it is worth it. Our family has worked in the service industry for the past three generations. Together, we can solve almost any business problem that comes our way. My son works in IT, so he helps with technology issues. My husband has finance experience, so he handles the accounting side of the business. I love working with him. He supports, motivates, and educates me about terminology and concepts I don't understand.
In the beginning, running this business seemed challenging. Now, it's much easier than I expected because I have the support of my family and customers. We employ 20 ladies from nearby villages to work with us. It's nice to know that they can work for the JhaJi store and not travel to the cities for employment. I do my best because I know that 20 households rely on me.
What is unique about the JhaJi store products?
The pickles are homemade and nostalgic. It feels like your grandmothers made this, as the recipe is the same! These pickle recipes mix my mother and mother-in-law's recipes with my unique touch. The pickles are sun-dried and made from local veggies with no chemicals or colors. The spices are roasted at home and then grounded. All products use at-home techniques. People often leave reviews that say, "this reminds me of my grandma [or mom]."
We currently have 22-23 varieties of pickles. But now, due to Shark Tank, almost all are sold out. Hence we have only 7-8 available on the website.
What made you apply to Shark Tank, and how did you hear about it?
One day, I heard that Shark Tank was coming to India. I signed up! Later, we were selected to participate in a round of interview questions! We traveled to Delhi, where we did two rounds of interviews. Two months later, we were on the show. Although we didn't get the investment, our whole inventory sold out as soon as the show aired. Even the sharks appreciated our pitch and told us to come again the next time they were in India. They loved the pickles and even praised them on and off-camera. After Shark Tank, we had Indian and international investors contacting us. Now, we can easily choose investors that align with our values.
What is next for the JhaJi Store?
Our first goal is to launch the makhana product line. Our customers like to eat healthily, and makhana is a superfood. People in our region have been eating makhana for ages in their everyday diet, but it can be hard to come by chemical-free makhana elsewhere. Makhana is also affordable to produce and sell as we live in Mithila–the land of ponds. In nearly every pond, you can find makhana growing.
Next, we want to sell 40,000kgs of mango pickles. We face challenges with this pickle because the season for raw mangoes is only 45 days. The final goal is to hit 3x our sales from last year. We need 50% growth in the next six months of this year to increase our credit and expand. To do this, we need to be loyal to our customers who miss the food that tastes like home. Our most significant segment of customers are people who migrated to the cities for jobs and education. This segment asks for more food offerings, but we can't diversify just yet, but we will now offer pickled makhana.
What do you like to do when not running your business?
I love doing Madhubani painting. In fact, we initially did a coin toss to decide whether to sell pickles or Madhubani paintings. Pickles won.
What tip would you like to give others starting their own business at 60?
Do something. If you are good at creating, cooking, or teaching, take that skill and start. Don't worry; you will get the support you need along the way. Initially, we were scared of who would support us when we started, but help came along. We started with a small investment within the family, and even so, it was risky. Now it's an add-on income for us. Don't be scared. If your work is good, do it. Take the first step, and the rest will fall in place. It will take time, and sometimes you will experience losses. But with confidence and faith, you can do it.
Our top takeaways from starting a business are:
1. Do what you know the best. Choose your niche. Test the same with a small group of people like friends and family.
2. Start with a small amount. If your net worth is ₹100, don't invest more than ₹ three initially. See what the potential of the business is, and then start growing.
3. Always ask for help. You have lifelong connections, so use them and ask for help. It's not wrong to ask for it. And without help, nothing works.
4. You have to change the world to be a successful business. Imagine your boundaries and create something.
I aim to give people who left this place a taste that reminds them of childhood. Earning was never the goal, and it will never be. But yes, it's a hobby that comes in handy.
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