Bengaluru based Aarti Laxman Rastogi is the founder of Artinci, a clean-label, all natural, sugar free dessert brand. Aarti says that she always knew that she was meant to make a name for herself in the food world.
A former HR professional turned gelato-maker; she believes that sugar-free treats can be just as tasty as the with sugar alternatives. This is the core idea with which her entrepreneurial journey began. In 2017, Artinci was introduced to the Silicon Valley of India and it focused on satisfying the ice cream cravings of its residents.
Through these past years, the brand has evolved to become a sugar free brand as Bangaloreans started becoming more and more health conscious. These specially curated recipes, which include the use of low carb sweeteners derived from natural sources, have helped create a niche for the business and made it into a household name.
Today Aarti shares her experience with entrepreneurship and the journey of her enterprise with SME Futures.
Edited Excerpts: You were an HR professional. What caused you to shift towards entrepreneurship, tell us your story?
You could rather say it was my instinct. I have known for a very long time, in fact from the very first year of my HR Career, that my future lay in a career in the food industry, although I didn’t actually know how to cook until my daughter was born. But motherhood changed me. When she came along, for the sake of our family’s health, I started reading ingredient labels on food packets and educated myself on additives along the way.
As a family, we love dessert so much and we also love to explore various options. But over time I realised, that for an average person, a great quality standalone dessert is quite hard to come by. We usually buy sweets from local shops and restaurants. Can you imagine! in a standard restaurant menu and on buffet tables, the dessert is often an after-thought, almost?
And I absolutely believe in the mantra that when one eats dessert, the experience should be divine. It has to be cooked with healthy ingredients. It must taste stellar, otherwise what’s the point of having a meetha?
But nowadays, people are getting health conscious and counting their calories. People have limited room for calories in order to stay healthy. This is also leading people to stop eating traditional sweets. And I strongly believe, when you do eat dessert, make sure, it tastes great!
So, after giving this idea much thought, Artinci, my dessert brand was born.
Tell us about your transformational journey from an employee to being a boss? What differences did you see, what were the challenges?
One big shock for me was not having a corporate budget to spend and having to spend my own money instead…(laughs)
Jokes apart!! As you know, entrepreneurs start off by doing all the hands-on work on their own, without a team for help. That’s what I experienced as well. Access to high quality talent is another challenge at the beginning. Though, the power of a networked world and professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn have greatly helped us recently.
Having said that, the journey from a high-performing corporate organisation to leading a start-up has been an eye opener and helped me in various ways–in understanding the need for processes, in expectations of professionalism from everyone in the ecosystem, in the ability to build and design a whole new organisation from scratch.
What is the best part of your job, that at the end of the day feels the most rewarding?
It’s no doubt that I absolutely love what I do now.
I must say that my most favourite parts of this job are—formulating a new recipe and the total process that goes into it, right down from its details, individual ingredients and then putting them together. This also involves discovering new, natural, local ingredients and meeting the people producing them, also taste-testing and product trials. And finally, we have to make sure that the outcome is just right.
The whole process is an interesting journey in itself, resulting in me giving my diverse team a brand-new product to produce along with the process to do so with excellence, every time.
I am a firm believer in the fact that women can do anything.
But it was shocking to learn recently that women-led start-ups received only 1 per cent of all the funding raised by start-ups in 2020. Women in general have less access to both professional networks as well as financial resources. Lack of external funds means that businesses are limited to growing within the limits of their working capital cycles.
Besides this, an ‘unconscious bias’ is still alive. Even today, women are not perceived as business leaders, who can unlock real value, scale and growth for their investors. All of this combines towards a negative net effect. Though, there are several small businesses that are doing very well for themselves, their women leaders, the employees that work there, and the micro-economies these businesses operate in are inspirational. But the true potential of large-scale investments in generating mass employment and ensuring investor returns is realised in only 1 per cent of the businesses that receive external funding.
I hope this scenario will change and women owned businesses will get more attention and funding.
Why is gender equality still a challenge in India? How can we achieve an equal future?
This is one of the biggest issues that we women face as we live in a patriarchal society. Though only society as a whole can amend this situation by changing its mentality.
I believe that both men and women should have access to equal maternity and paternity leaves. This can engender major changes in behaviour and cause us to take a giant leap towards gender equality in India.
Women internalise both family and work responsibilities as their own and hesitate to both ask for and receive support. When family and domestic responsibilities are shared equally by both partners, everyone has enough time to be productive at their work. This also gives mental peace and enough down time to both partners to refresh and renew. These two steps taken together – extended paternity leave and equal sharing of domestic responsibilities, will go a long way in ensuring an equal future for all.
Which woman is your role model and why?
Every woman who is authentic and unafraid to be herself is my role model.
What are the initiatives to empower other women that you have implemented at Artinci and what is the roadmap for the future?
I am proud to say that at least 50 per cent of our workforce comprises of women who live in the neighbourhood of the workplace. It was because of this team’s ability to walk to work every single day, that we were able to continue to deliver throughout the lockdown of 2020.
Apart from our in-house employees, two of our key vendors are women-led organisations. We also partner with two NGOs for recruiting entry-level talent at Artinci. With the Accelerator program for women entrepreneurs that I am a part of, there are so many collaboration opportunities and synergies that are waiting to be explored. Besides, at Artinci, we are always looking for women-led organisations to source from, as it creates an ecosystem of support for each other.
What is the one message that you want to share with other budding women entrepreneurs?
Be absolutely open to asking for help and use social media to your advantage. While doing this be specific with what you are asking for and you will be surprised at the way people will come forward to support you.