Founder Priyanka Ganjoo wearing lavender and yellow
from the hq

Founder Priyanka Ganjoo on why she left her corporate beauty job and started Kulfi

June 22, 2020

By Priyanka Ganjoo, Founder

This content is from our Supermaker: The Entrepreneurial Dream Project submission. It deep dives into the who, what, when, where of Kulfi and why so many South Asian women have been connecting with the vision and story behind our brand.

Q1. Founder's Statement: Who are you? What does your company do and represent? Who is on your team? Share your founding story, role in the company, and motivation.

Hi, I’m Priyanka Ganjoo! Here’s a fun fact about me: I never wore makeup till I was 22. Growing up in the South Asian community, there was a lot of judgement that came with wearing makeup. I grew up extremely uncomfortable and awkward around the idea of “beauty.” I didn’t consider myself beautiful. I never sought products that would help me feel differently, because I felt I didn’t belong. Fast forward to 2019, I turned 33, and started interviewing hundreds of South Asian women and continue to hear a similar narrative. Despite beauty slowly becoming more inclusive, South Asians feel that we still aren’t being heard or viewed as a demographic important enough to center. 

I knew from 5 years spent inside the beauty business at IPSY and Estee Lauder Companies that South Asians were never a priority. At IPSY, I built & led our industry-leading merchandising and personalization. Every day, I was testing new beauty brands and analyzing millions of data points of consumer data to understand preferences to curate merchandise for our consumers. Despite this access, it was so hard to find beauty products that matched the color and quirks of my South Asian skin. There was no brand for us. At some point I said to myself, this isn’t good enough. So I left the world of corporate beauty and started Kulfi. 

Kulfi is a NYC-based beauty brand, targeted towards a billion globally dispersed South Asians. Our vision is to present to the world an empowered South Asian, who is not only comfortable in their own skin, but thriving in it. 

It’s deeply gratifying to walk down a makeup aisle and finally find a set of shades that were made exclusively for you. To find a brand that doesn’t view your South Asian ethnicity as a token by allocating a few shades, but actually sees you, loves you, and inspires you to express yourself. To find a community that’s both hyper-focused on South Asians and at the same time recognizes the diversity within that group. We want South Asians to cast off shackles of self-doubt and step into the protagonist roles of their own lives and bask in their achievements, their shared cultures and their individual stories. 

Kulfi’s mission is to make this transformative experience a reality. 

As word spread about Kulfi in the South Asian community, writers, designers, marketers, and even ex-bankers, came and joined hands with me to build our company. 

Our team includes people I have met or reconnected with within the last year - on Facebook groups, through Diwali parties, my undergraduate institution in Singapore and through a posting on my husband’s alumni college job board. Pritika Gupta, who is currently enrolled in full time MBA program at Columbia Business School (but still makes time for our daily meetings) left the world of investment banking to join us, Samia Abbasi, a recent graduate of Mills College with a degree in Creative Writing put her graduate school plans on hold once she heard about Kulfi. I once said to both of them, “I have to be doing something right if people are putting life plans aside to join this brand.” Lately, we’ve been fortunate to have added Sonakshi Kansal, a Kellogg graduate and marketing expert, Maliha Lakhani, a thoughtful creative and recent UCLA grad, and Seoyeon Kim, a talented Korean-American Amherst Senior, who reminds us of the universality of our mission. 

My team wrote this, I promise — “People are attracted to Priyanka because she’s warm and thoughtful, breaking into laughter at the smallest of things! The thing about Priyanka is that she invites you to be yourself. It’s rare to come across someone that can have that kind of a first impression on people. The Kulfi team has unwavering faith in her leadership. She’s a natural leader. People want her to be successful. People want her vision to come alive.” 

Kulfi is a small but mighty team, excited about making beauty more approachable through our products, showcasing the variety within South Asian representation, and creating content that we aspire toward and relate to as we grow our brand.

You may be wondering, why the name Kulfi? Kulfi is a South Asian dessert, most similar to ice-cream, associated with celebration, fun, and colors. I’ve lived in many cities around the world, but some of my sweetest memories are of summers growing up in Delhi eating kulfi. So many South Asians connect with this experience. With Kulfi, I hope to bring back the play & fun in beauty that might get lost in trying to cover up perceived flaws or looking our social media best. Our products aim to be a treat to our customers and celebration of their identity.

Q2. What are your company's core products or services? What makes them compelling and important?

Starting Q4 this year with the launch of our first makeup product, Kulfi wants to be the leader in the category, especially complexion products for South Asian skin tones and undertones. In the long term, we want to be a one stop shop for all things beauty. 

Through my experience at IPSY, using a customer centric, data-driven approach to build a product assortment became second nature to me.  We’ve researched South Asian beauty preferences like no other company through surveys, hundreds of hours of in-person interviews, and multiple focus groups. We’ve combined these learnings with my experience at IPSY to create products that are centered on the South Asian consumer. 

A billion South Asians look to existing beauty products which fail to solve for their specific pain points like unique undertones, two toned lips, hyperpigmentation, dark circles, and more. Our product development and testing panels are 100% South Asian. It ensures that no stone is left unturned in solving for the minutest of problems faced by this underserved demographic. Existing brands offer a handful of shades for us. Their lack of intentionality means that they are a hit or miss. No wonder we spend so much time and money looking for suitable products and ultimately abandon makeup altogether!

There is a void because the not-so-light skinned, not-so-skinny, Millennial and Gen Z South Asians are still asking, “How do I use makeup? Which colors should I use and how? Show me women who look like me.” Hidden in these questions is our desire to be seen and break out of our shells. A colonial past and a patriarchal culture has shrouded our sense of beauty. While the world sees makeup as an instrument of self expression and discovering your best self, our culture often perceives it as frivolous, indulgent and dissolute. A handful of celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone who have been promoted by mainstream media cannot solve this problem. Challenging these external and internal ideas is why Kulfi’s impact is beyond makeup. By amplifying South Asians who are role models in our daily lives — musicians, artists, business executives, political activists, we create the safe space for self-expression, something we don’t see in mainstream media today.

Q3. Who are you trying to reach with your products? What greater impact do you hope to make with your company?

Our target audience is the global Millennial and Gen Z South Asian woman which we estimate to be a $6B market, of which $1B is in the US and growing faster than the industry average. India is one of the world’s fastest growing beauty markets, growing at 15%-20% a year. We’ve spoken to multiple retailers in India, and they have consistently expressed frustration at the scarcity of high quality brands to meet the growing demand.

Beyond fulfilling the product gap, we see our brand empowering South Asians in 3 ways:

  1. Creating a first of its kind community
  2. Maintaining an ecosystem that supports fellow South Asian entrepreneurs, creatives, and artists
  3. Giving to organizations that support causes meaningful to us

As we work on products in the background, we’ve already started creating a community for South Asians to express their shared and unique identities through our blog & social media. In the past 3 months since we launched, we’ve garnered encouraging feedback and a set of cheerleaders we’re grateful for. Here is what our community is saying: 

Mana Shah, Account Executive & natural hair care expert: “It didn’t take too long into my first conversation with Priyanka to feel fully “heard.” I’ve never once felt like a brand understood my particular beauty needs as a woman of Indian descent but here comes Kulfi Beauty on a mission to actively close this gap once and for all. I absolutely can not wait to see what’s to come as they tackle these uncharted territories.”

Haleema Bharoocha, Gender Justice Activist: “South Asian beauty is often entrenched with harmful ideas about self-image, Eurocentric standards, and patriarchy. It’s so refreshing to see beauty brands like Kulfi that are intersectional and representative of the South Asian diaspora.” 

Vithya Visvendra, Makeup Artist & Influencer: “I think Kulfi is relevant today because as a Sri Lankan Tamil myself, I feel included and accepted. It is so refreshing to have a platform that focuses on inclusivity but also talks about real issues and real problems, us South Asian still face today.

Q4. Summarize your sales, marketing, and product strategy. Where are you planning to offering products or services, and what is your plan for growth?

Kulfi’s goal is clear: understand the people you are designing for. We are building deep empathy with our target consumer and identifying patterns of behavior and places where they have a difficult time doing something—these all lend to tremendous opportunity. This helps our team generate ideas for products, prototypes, and messaging. Our consumers are co-creators. This feedback driven, iterative process is at the core of our product strategy. When we put our products out in the world, they have a higher likelihood of success because we’ve kept the people we’re looking to serve at the heart of the process. 

Our team is dedicated to conducting quantitative and qualitative research (surveys, social media analytics, focus groups, and many Zoom calls). Our pursuit of learning about the customer has helped us create a lively community online which is growing by the day. Our followers often comment on our genuineness and sincerity, and appreciate the diversity of women we celebrate on our platforms. 

At launch, our products will be offered via our website, and through local community events. To grow, we want to engage hyper-local South Asian communities through community leaders. We want to create leadership opportunities for students and working professional women globally to engage their communities and share our collective mission of empowering South Asians around the world. Our customer has overwhelmingly told us that they want to see more people like them. Our growth strategy involves engaging diverse artists, creatives, business-people, and students in our community.

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