We love celebrating strong, successful women here at The Caviar Spoon, which is why we’ve created ReBelles. These are the women who are working it and owning it in life, work, and everything in between. Our newest #rebelleboss is Krittika (Krit) Khandelwal, the founder of Soothi, a paper products brand with the most fantastic leather journals.
One of our core values at The Caviar Spoon ReBelle is Collaboration. By that, we mean paying it forward and making sure we focus on working with and supporting other individuals, brands, and businesses — in particular women entrepreneurs. We always ask our #rebellebosses to recommend women they believe would be a great addition to our “tribe”.
Krittika Khandelwal, Krit for short, is someone we may have never met had it not been for the passionate recommendation from writer Erin Van Vuren (you may know her as @papercrumbs on Instagram), who insisted that we connect because Krit was definitely a #rebelleboss.
Krit is the founder of Soothi, a curated collection of “inspired accessories for inspiring workplaces”, which includes beautiful leather-bound journals, passport covers, and a small but quirky collection of desk accessories and gifts (think pretty sticky notes and vintage hand carved scrolls).
She collaborates with select artists to create products that are truly unique and resonate with the Soothi audience, and Erin was one of those artists. (Take a look here for her quote journal!)
Browsing through the different leather journals will make you want to take up journaling again, or inspire you to tote one along on your travels, collecting memories and mementos along the way. In this digital age, the idea of putting pen to paper to record your thoughts can seem downright novel and even a welcome respite from all the tapping and typing we’ve become so accustomed to.
In fact, Soothi’s tagline is “containers of creativity”, which is such a perfect way to describe the brand.
So Erin was definitely right – Krit is a true #rebelleboss and we’re so happy to welcome her into our ever-growing family.
Have a read through Krit’s insightful answers below and then pop on over to Soothi to have a look through her products!
Please provide a brief background and career to date
I started my career in Corporate America as a Marketing Strategist and had no intentions of ever becoming an entrepreneur. I always envisioned rising up the ranks and eventually running a marketing department of a large brand. However, all best-laid plans can go awry.
After a few years in the corporate world, it became really clear that I had very little control over my career. No matter how hard I worked and how excellent my work was, someone else had a lot more say over the trajectory of my career than I did, and that didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t want to work 60 to 70 hours a week and be unhappy and unsatisfied with the most important aspect of my life. So, I started planning an exit strategy. I spoke with friends and mentors and eventually decided that I had to venture out for myself. I decided that I was going to build a brand on my own.
Always a planner, I created a 12-month goal to save enough funds, from my day job, to have a runway for 6 months and have a proof of concept. I initially started with jewelry that was 100% eco-friendly and made with coconut shells and it did pretty well. It did well enough for me to take the leap and quit. However, 24 months later, I decided to pivot out of that category because the product did not have longevity and, since I was one of the very few people making laser cut jewelry out of coconut shells, it required a lot more R&D than I could afford.
This was a low point, but I knew that there was no going back to corporate America, so I took stock and realized that I had built a great e-commerce experience, a brand name that was getting some recognition, and a small community. So I went on a mission (across South East Asia) to find a new product. A product that didn’t require a lot of R&D but something that would give me room to be creative and make something unique and different. This is how we started making leather journals and today we have a budding paper products brand.
When did you have your “AHA!” moment with your business concept?
I had just pivoted to leather journals and I was really nervous about it because I had very little capital left, so I really needed the product to resonate with my audience. I started using social media and organic marketing awareness efforts to increase brand exposure and within a month we got an opportunity with Touch of Modern (a very popular luxury men’s shopping website) to run a sales event. The 3-day event was a hit and we ended up selling almost all of the inventory that they had requested from us. The sale also drove increased traffic to the website and that was a huge “AHA!” moment because I knew I had pivoted to the right product.
Who has inspired you the most in your journey and why?
I have always been inspired by women who go out there and don’t take “no” for an answer and go against the status quo. I am inspired by their courage to not care about what people think and live life their way. Outspoken women like Maya Angelou and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are role models, but there are so many talented and amazing women building fantastic companies that just leave me in awe.
Indian culture is very patriarchal and it has limited and narrow definitions of what the role of women in society should be, so there are these additional societal barriers that I felt like I had to jump through. Seeing women like Indra Nooyi and Payal Kadakia just blow past them is very inspiring and encouraging.
What’s been the biggest reward to date being a businesswoman and entrepreneur?
The best thing and the biggest reward of being an entrepreneur is that I am not letting someone else prioritize my life. I have control over what I want to achieve and how I am going to get there. There is a direct correlation between my efforts and the results that I drive. I have eliminated a lot of the subjectivity and bias that comes with working in a corporate environment. I also really value the ability to have a lot of flexibility.
And the biggest challenge?
When I started my business full-time, I had no office I had to be at, set-hours, or deadlines. Initially, these things were fantastic, but then very quickly I realized that if I wanted to actually succeed I needed to create my own structure, and hold myself accountable. This was a huge challenge because there were so many distractions and reasons to procrastinate; not to mention the fact that everyone thought I had so much more time now, so I felt obligated to say yes to more social events or when people asked for help.
Needless to say, I found myself completely off balance. Eventually, I had to figure out how to prioritize, create accountability around my business, and say no.
What do you do to get the creativity flowing?
I seek out solitude. I find that silence and time with my thoughts helps me focus on and figure out the creative direction of a specific project. I also spend some time visualizing what I am trying to create. Outlets like Pinterest and Instagram are fantastic in helping set the mood for creativity and get lots of ideas flowing.
How do you measure success?
Measuring success is a very objective process for me so it is all about hitting the numbers from social outreach, to revenue targets, to being able to help x number of people in a given amount of time. This helps me be very black and white about the results and if what I am working towards is truly achievable, or if I need to change my strategy and approach.
The biggest learning lesson since founding Soothi?
While I have learned a lot about business by making a ton of mistakes, I think the biggest lessons are about me and who I am as a person. Running this business has tremendously boosted my confidence. I have faced challenges from fulfillment issues, to manufacturing, to negative comments, and complaints, to technical challenges and through it all found ways to solve the problem and keep going. This has given me a real understanding of my value and everything I bring to the table and once you have that knowledge, it’s a game changer.
What advice would you give to women looking to succeed in the workplace or with their own business?
For women in the workplace, I would advise them to really understand their value and everything they are bringing to the table. This is really important because then when you are negotiating a salary or a promotion you can go in armed and ready. When I was in my twenties and working for corporations, I wish someone had told me not to devalue my efforts because there are a lot of people who are going to do that anyway and I needed to be my biggest advocate.
Understanding your value can also give you the courage to leave a toxic work environment and be more discerning about which companies you choose to join.
For women who have their own business, my best advice would be to find other women who are on the same entrepreneurial journey because it’s a really lonely process. While you may have friends and family who are supportive about your business, they more often than not can’t understand the day to day challenges, the mindset, the ambition, and the lifestyle. So it can be really helpful to have a tribe that deeply shares your experience. My entrepreneurial friends have been pivotal in sharing valuable insights and helping me grow my business, exponentially.
How do you discover the artists you end up working with? Is it intentional and specific (like you’re searching for a certain style or design) or is it really just a matter of what feels right at the time?
Soothi is all about creating products that inspire and resonate with our buyers. I want people to feel a sense of excitement and encouragement when they interact with the things we make. Keeping that in mind, I am very intentional and specific when it comes to artist collaboration. One of the reasons I reached out to Erin Van Vuren was because her poem genuinely moved me and I knew it would be something that deeply resonates with our audience. It’s really all about how the art will make our audience feel.
What does the creative collaboration process look like for you and the artists you work with?
I have intentionally made efforts to make the entire process easy, transparent, and seamless. Once we have permission from the artist to use their artwork, we collaborate on the product design and establish a straightforward licensing agreement.
Assuming you keep a journal, what do you personally get out of it? Is it for productivity, for creative release, to keep memories?
I love journaling! Not just because I run a company that makes them, but also because I have always appreciated the power of journaling. I keep multiple journals with me and here is a break down:
What’s been your most memorable trip to date? (Either for sourcing or for pleasure) And why?
When I was in third year of college, I convinced my university to give me full semester credit (arts and humanities) to couch surf across India for six months. At this point, I was 20 years old and the last time I had visited India was when I was in my early teens. I was starting to feel disconnected with my Indian heritage and thought it was important in my journey of self-awareness. This was the first time I traveled alone and it was a fantastic cultural immersion experience. Not only was I able to reconnect with friends and family that I had not met in decades, I also learned a lot about who I am as an Indian-American woman and how privileged I am to have so many opportunities in front of me.
What do you want people to keep in mind when purchasing from Soothi?
Everything I do comes from a place of positive intentions to build a brand that helps you move forward while giving back. We are small, but we are mighty.
In 24 months’ time, Soothi will look like this…
If you love journaling and everything about office products, we are going to be your go-to source for well made, well priced, products that bring you joy.
When the going gets tough, you…
Find a solution, put my hair up and get to work.
What’s your one piece of advice on how to achieve a good work/life balance?
Remember that there is no universal definition of work/life balance. You have to define it for yourself, based on your priorities.
What do you do unwind, refresh, and recharge?
It really depends on the level of unwinding that I need. If I am mentally exhausted, then my go-to is wine and Netflix (currently watching “Billions”). If I am feeling anxious, then it’s really loud music and running, and if I just need some time to think then I go for a walk with my dog.
3 words to describe your clientele
Well-educated, self-aware, romantics.
3 words to describe you
Unexpected, witty, and authentic.
One woman in business who deserves a shout-out and why
Jen Lezan-Veguilla because is killing it. She started her own magazine, she runs a podcast, she teaches fashion, and had an e-commerce venture. On top of all of that she is a wonderful mom. Check her out here.
Your motivational quote
“I just have to decide to do it, and then I will do it.”
Your business mantra
Start with yes and then figure it out.
Your life mantra
Micro speed, macro patience.
Finally, any new developments we should keep an eye out for or anything you want to share that wasn’t covered in the above?
We just launched our life manifesto journal in partnership with Holstee. Check it out here.
I am so excited to announce that we are in the middle of launching a fulfillment center in the UK. This is going to help us significantly reduce shipping costs for all the people in Europe who love our products.
I am also working on a podcast. It’s all about being Indian American and finding a balance between two distinct cultures. In our current political climate, I think it is really important to have more female Indian American voices out there. Our first episode is set to air in August. Stay tuned!