Minu Margeret, founder and CEO, Blissclub. Image: ELVAPRAKASH LAKSHMANAN for Forbes IndiaT
here are two simple rules to throw a frisbee. First, it needs enough lift, and not too much drag. Second, a frisbee doesn’t travel far if it is thrown without spin. Between 2012 and 2014, Minu Margeret—who started her corporate stint as business analyst at Goldman Sachs in 2011—tried to get a perfect arcing curve. Towards the end of 2012, she joined Wipro as senior pricing analyst. Like any youngster brimming with passion and the zeal to start something of her own, Margeret too explored a few side gigs. All that the young woman needed to fly with her dreams was surplus lift.
A startup in renting clothes was the first uplifting idea. The inspiration came from an American firm ‘Rent The Runway’. Margeret named her venture ‘Rent Your Wardrobe’. The idea and logic made sense. For all those who were new into a job or were still in college, buying party clothes was an expensive affair. So why not take it on rent? The venture, though, was aborted in the pilot stage. Reason: Operationally it was too difficult to make it work.
The indomitable Margeret moved on to her next gig. It was an automated laundromat for colleges which had mushroomed on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Again, the business and the idea made ample sense. There was demand and the rookie founder was taking care of the supply. She ran the business for a few years. The venture, though, couldn’t fly. She explains the reason: “Everything that could go wrong with a business went wrong.”
First, it was operationally heavy. What this meant was one simple thing: Margeret had to be deeply sucked into the venture. But she wasn’t. Second, she had a co-founder, who had quit his job and was now involved full-time. But it didn’t work. Third, she had put in all her savings into the bootstrapped venture, which still needed more money. “We had to shut it down,” she recalls, adding that there were a lot of lessons to be picked up from two ‘failed’ ventures.
The biggest learning was most interesting. Both the ventures had too much of drag, and too little lift—something which can’t let a frisbee fly! The setbacks also underlined another message. “Next time, I had to be smarter and sharper,” says Margeret, who quit Wipro in December 2015 and joined HUL the next year. But after four months, the accounts and finance pro moved on. “I wanted to learn the other side of the business and joined ISB,” she says. Margeret completed her MBA, joined AB InBev, and then PhonePe. Though she kept changing organisations, what didn’t change was a constant itch to start up. But this time, it had to be 100 percent involvement, and a venture which had enough spin aka impact. Finally, after eight years of a corporate stint, she quit towards the end of 2019. Also read: Transition of women founders and cofounders to CEOs important: Aishwarya Arunkumar, Shweta Bhatia
Her entrepreneurial journey, though, started with two big drags. The first trial was heart-breaking. “Are you planning a family?” asked a bunch of people who were apparently close to the rookie founder. “Just because I’m a woman, you’re telling me that I’m leaving to have a baby,” she countered all those who were judging her. “If I were a guy, I don’t think anyone would judge me for leaving my job and starting up.”
Back then, it was a distressing time for Margeret. She had renounced a cushy corporate life, was taking a plunge into an unknown future, and she was no longer in her 20s. All the young woman needed was a bit of encouragement. Sadly, there was not much around, apart from the wholehearted support from her life partner. Second drag, interestingly, came from an unexpected quarter. “Hunting for a co-founder was tough, very tough,” she underlines. “In fact, it wasn’t so difficult for me to find my life partner,” she smiles.
Sadly, it was a futile hunt. Some lacked the intensity that Margeret had, some were hesitant to commit themselves full-time, and some explored the idea but backed out at the last moment citing lame reasons. Since she decided to start an activewear brand for women—and the trigger came from her experience of being an Ultimate Frisbee player and her struggle to find the perfect product—she also explored if she could find a woman co-founder who could relate to the product. But again, she couldn’t find a suitable match. “It was not that I could not have done it on my own,” she says, explaining her move to scout for a co-founder. The entrepreneurial journey, she underlines, was not easy. Having a partner would have been comforting. Also read: SuperBottoms: An army of young mothers, led by Pallavi Utagi, will defend this baby care brand
Margeret eventually started solo, and rolled out Blissclub in 2020. A year later, a seed round of $2.25 million came in May 2021. So was it a cakewalk to get the backers? “Absolutely not,” says the CEO and founder. When it’s a women-first business and women-first problems, then one needs somebody who can understand the pain points and a pressing need for an array of activewear products. The experience, though, was nothing less than amusing in multiple conversations with venture capitalist (VCs). “So, you make leggings. Right?” asked a few ignorant ones. “If so, how are they different from the ones which are worn with kurtas?” was the follow-up blooper. “Are you comparing Nike with unbranded stuff?” retorted a vexed founder. India, she underlined, doesn’t have great technical and comfortable sportswear products for women. “We are trying to change the narrative,” she stressed. The same conversation, she now reckons, would not have happened had there been women on the other side.
Over two years into the journey, Blissclub has managed to swell its club of users and backers. Blissclub has raised $20.25 million so far. The last round—Series A of $18 million—happened in May 2022 and was led by Eight Roads Ventures, Elevation Capital and Stride Ventures. The D2C startup has also managed to get big individual investors such as Swiggy’s CEO Sriharsha Majety, Neeraj Arora, ex-CBO of WhatsApp, Arun Sarin, CEO of Vodafone, Amar Nagaram, ex-CEO of Myntra, Mamaearth’s co-founder Ghazal Alagh and Shopify’s executive Brennan Loh. The Bengaluru-headquartered brand does 75 percent of its sales through its website, and the rest from third-party marketplaces. Revenues too have grown briskly—from ₹36 lakh in FY21 to ₹15 crore in FY22, and ₹49 crore during the first nine months of FY23.
No wonder, the investors are actively rooting for the founder and the brand. “Minu’s understanding of what all it would take to create a large business in the space was way ahead of the curve,” reckons Chirag Chadha, vice president at Elevation Capital. The investor decided to dig deeper and find out the magnitude of opportunity. The feedback was superlative. Casualisation of the wardrobe, he discovered, is a global trend, and penetration of women’s activewear in India is abysmally low at 2 percent of overall apparel versus 20 to 30 percent in other geographies. Also read: Beating the odds: Why Melorra's Saroja Yeramilli believes being a solo woman founder is the
Chadha explains why he reckons Margeret is best placed to build and scale Blissclub. “She has been a fitness enthusiast and played Ultimate Frisbee at the national level,” he says, adding that her knack for spotting pain points in the space is quite high, she is extremely customer obsessed and quality conscious. At the same time, he lets on, the founder has had finance and marketing exposure. “She has seen businesses of scale at PhonePe and AB InBev. This has allowed her to hire right and scale the business at a rapid pace and right fundamentals from Day 1,” he adds.
In spite of the heady progress, the challenge for the business remains daunting. “To become a truly household brand, Blissclub will need to have multi-channel operations across online and physical stores,” reckons Shweta Bhatia, partner and head of tech investments at Eight Roads Ventures. It will also need to ensure consistent launch of new SKUs (stock keeping units) at scale, she adds. Agrees Chadha. Cracking the offline journey over the next few quarters will set the company up for success, he reckons.
Margeret, for her part, tells us what has worked for her so far. “What I am building is born out of my personal passion. And I am creating an impact,” she says. Women founders, she underlines, don’t have anything to prove to anyone. “Hamaein karna hai, hum kar lenge [we have to do it, we will do it],” she smiles, and gets back to expand her sphere of bliss and club.
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(This story appears in the 24 March, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)