TheGlitz Media ‘Super Woman’: Megha Poddar – CEO & Founder, White Light Foods

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TheGlitz Media ‘Super Woman – Megha Poddar’s journey as an astute businesswoman started after she was married into the prestigious business family – the Siyaram Poddar Group. Apart from the fact business ran in her blood, she had the privilege of learning all the nitty-gritty of business from her father-in-law Shri Pawan Poddar and his brother Shri Ramesh Poddar. At that point, she actively headed the Retail segment of the company and was instrumental in successfully opening 200 EBO’s (Exclusive Business Outlets) and Franchise outlets for Siyaram’s, thereby putting Siyaram’s in the Retail arena. 

Her passion and drive to create something of her own led her to start Purple Wok in 2017. Later, she founded White Light Food in June 2019. Boasting a state-of-the-art central kitchen in the heart of Mumbai and a top-of-the-line range of the widest variety of Asian and Oriental products, White Light Food aims at catering to the ever-growing Asian cuisine segment pan India. Ask the dynamic Megha: how did she have the guts to leave a cushy family business and start out on her own? …Not only that,  face failure at the very onset, and yet reboot, restart and reinvent herself.  Megha smiles and quotes, “The devil whispered in my ear “You can’t withstand the storm” I whispered back in the devil’s ear “I am the storm”. Read on…

Your journey has had many momentous milestones. Could you tell us about your life changing journey that has moulded you to be what you are today?
As we all know, time is the only constant that forever changes everyone’s lives. I’ve led a very happy, secure and privileged life since the start. Stages and phases of life have often automatically led to better opportunities and hence fuelled learnings on the way.
I got married at the tender age of 21 and then joined a corporate family business that I had no experience… these were the starting points of my evolving journey. A younger mind is more adaptable to change and more accepting of learning’s, which all worked in my favour. My work stint in the family business taught me a lot about business framework, strategy, work culture, family business dynamics and its pros/cons, and I became more aware of my own strengths and weaknesses on the personal and professional front.

Then came the decision that I had no choice but to move away from the family business and commence my own entrepreneurial journey. This decision was fuelled by a lot of external work and family factors, however, the major reason was an instinctive calling that wanted me to go into a newer path which seemed uncomfortable in the start.

I believe professional decisions have a great impact on our personal selves and my growth as a person is all thanks to my embarking on my startup road which was totally different than the cushy seat I was used to in my family business. My first startup was a failure and that was a big jolt for me. To get myself to again start afresh was scary as I had lost confidence in myself to establish my own business. With a lot of fear and apprehension, I started White Light Food, my second startup. The last 2.5 years of this phase have been immensely satisfying, but have taught me the most I have ever. Here’s to wishing and hoping the upward sting continues.

Could you list 3 of your major achievements?

  1. First, would be heading the retail team at Siyarams, and being able to churn out positive results at a young age, in a new industry and in a complicated corporate hierarchical setup. In a span of the first 4 years, we as a team were able to turn around a loss-making division into a profitable one, and touched 250 store openings.

  2. The second achievement, as weird as it sounds, would be to leave the family business. It’s difficult to leave habits and comforts and setups we are used to. To go on a new path. That decision is responsible for where I am today, and even though everyone opposed it back then, I’m glad I stuck to my instincts. I would count this as an achievement especially because I didn’t know what I was going to do in the future or which industry I would enter. But yet it took a lot internally and professionally to believe in ‘myself’ and take this step.

  3. It definitely has to be when I started ‘White Light Food’ with a WhatsApp message. …Ongoing lockdown, completely blurred and clueless vision, very less resources around, and yet we managed to scale things up in 3 to 4 months. That was my toughest period involving all the possible hard work that I had ever imagined. But I’m glad it reaped the benefits.

What are the setbacks you have faced? How did you tackle these setbacks or challenges? And what lesson have you learned from it?
My major setback would be my first startup failing. The major reason for that was entering an industry with half-knowledge. I assumed that my strengths from my earlier company would be easily transferred to any other new venture too. However, I was wrong. Our strong areas can help us catapult work, but they can’t make up for the areas in which we don’t have experience. My family background is not related to the food industry in any way and hence, I didn’t have the connections, collective wisdom, backend support or disaster management techniques to deal with the issues I started dealing with. For short-term solutions, I did start hiring the right manpower, however, the company reached a point of no return as it was a flawed model from the start. That’s when I realised that the cost to run the business was way more than the cost to shut it down. And hence, I did just that with a heavy heart.

My biggest learning from my first startup bombing was:

  1. It’s not necessary to be an expert in all aspects of the business. But you have to know enough about each aspect so that you can set systems, manage the experts (even when you aren’t one)

  2. Every industry has its own technicalities and specializations. As entrepreneurs, we have to have the ability to start a venture in any industry. However, it has to be backed by research, interactions, detailed number crunching and most importantly a super strong team that has credible people from that industry.

  3. A product is never wrong. An audience is never wrong. The mismatch in a venture comes when the wrong product type is presented to the wrong audience type.

When you look back, what are the three qualities in you that have helped you become what you are today?
I am a risk taker. And I’m not scared to take a decision. As much as I weigh the consequences of the decisions, I am ready to absorb the negatives if that happens. My instincts and gut guide me heavily and this is my core strength at work. 
Over a period of time, I have become more grounded as a person. My family background or other societal aspects don’t affect my mindset in a manner where I behave entitled in any situation. Self-awareness is an aspect from which I heavily benefit from and that helps me stay close to the realities of life and which helps me work hard, and build better relationships at work with my team – to be a people’s person. It teaches me constantly how to handle people in a better way who in turn handles my work better.

Who are the people who have been the wind behind your wings?
My father and my mother have been my constant supporters. My father has taught me to work hard, be honest and keep my integrity intact in my work interactions and to have that passion to follow my dreams. I get my multi-tasking abilities from my mother. She’s always been the perfect example for me of managing all aspects of life and excelling in them. My in-laws next who have been ever so supportive to encourage me at my every small win. 

Lastly, if there was a quote to define you, what would it be?
The devil whispered in my ear “You can’t withstand the storm” I whispered back in the devil’s ear “I am the storm”.

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