For Aarti Laxman Rastogi, being an entrepreneur was a matter of professional identity. “It was about who I was meant to be rather than who I was supposed to be in society.” When she turned into an HR professional some 20 or so years ago, Aarti had made two prophecies: One, that she didn’t want to be an HR professional all her life, and two, whatever else she was to do would definitely involve food.
In 2018, that prophecy came true. “At the time that I’d thought I’d do something with food, I was hardly a good cook. It was only after a decade, when my child was born, that I had a good relationship with cooking!” The initial spark towards wanting to be an entrepreneur was ignited, but it kept simmering on a slow flame for quite some time. “I was apprehensive. I couldn’t straightaway jump from one ship to another. That’s why it took 20 years in the making.”
It took a little more than just 20 years. Aarti recalls how she’d started off experimenting with cakes which tasted delicious, but “looked horrendous.” Next came ice-creams. From simply copying recipes off from somewhere, Aarti began experimenting. “The creative freedom was great. I wanted to make flavours that I wished I’d had. I experimented from 2012 to 2017. In 2015, I took my creations public with a bunch of acquaintances. I’d prepared a batch of matcha flavoured ice-cream for my running group acquaintances.” The positive feedback was the last nudge she needed- that, and the growing, gnawing distance between what Aarti was doing professionally, and what she actually had the desire to do.
While the grass looks greener on the other side, crossing over brought its own set of worries. Hiring people, buying the proper equipment – everything costs money, and Rastogi admits to feeling jittery. Money is the reality check, she says, which shatters the rose-tinted glasses from which entrepreneurship is viewed.
In these moments, what kept Aarti going was the innate desire to do something responsible and ethical. Her relationship with food had changed after her daughter was born. Not only did she start experimenting, she also garnered awareness about what her family was putting inside their body. “I started reading the back of cans and packets” she says. Her business’ values lie in making products which are made from the right ingredients. “I’m very conscious about what I consume, and I wanted my products to reflect that too. There’s a dearth of nutritional awareness amongst people in general. For instance, people pay a lot more attention to the number of calories than the quality of calories. One of Artinci’s aims is to change that.”
The other value that Aarti and her firm abide by, is to give a platform for people from marginalized backgrounds in order to increase their visibility. “We work with two NGOs, one works with the LGBT+ community while the other one is concerned with people with disabilities. We’ve set up a hiring practice wherein we look for talent from these communities first, before venturing into mainstream communities.”
The practice has evolved from Aarti’s own experiences as a person with a hearing disability working in the corporate sector. She worked as a talent strategy manager for inclusion and diversity in her old job from 2014-2017. “That period taught me a lot about how to navigate the workspace as a person with a disability. It taught me how to ask for help when needed. There was a time when I just didn’t feel comfortable talking about my hearing disability because I felt that I’d be treated differently. But working in the Diversity and Inclusion space really changed that. I warmed up to the idea of asking for help. Now I don’t hesitate to tell people that I prefer talking via text rather than calls since it helps me.”
While Artinci’s operations efficiency has been hit due to the pandemic and the lockdowns which have followed, it has surprisingly helped the company attain greater visibility since people are paying more attention to eating right. Artinci’s range of sugar-free desserts, made with no artificial sweeteners and no preservatives, helps people even indulge right, in a guilt-free way! “Supplies run out during these times, so when people are looking for safe, healthy, sugar-free dessert, sometimes we are the only ones they can find online, ready to deliver. That, and our unique product offerings have helped us widen our base.”
Aarti says she’s benefitted from the Growtherator in a variety of ways. Other than just introducing her to the old and new concepts of running a business, the coverage from participating in the programme itself has helped her firm garner attention and reach a wider demographic. Moreover, being seen and acknowledged as a successful woman entrepreneur, she feels, has been important in increasing the visibility of women in this space, which will surely influence many more women.
Entrepreneurial or personal, Aarti has surmounted immense challenges to reach the place she has in life. What has helped her reach that point is surrounding herself with authenticity – people who genuinely care about her and the firm. Not every day is a day you’ll want to wake up to, she says, and accepting that is key. What will keep her going, however, is balance. “I see my life as a tripod – my fitness, my family, and my business being the three stilts. All of them must be evenly balanced, to live a life of harmony, purpose, and joy.