Akruti Babaria of Kulture Khazana: “For me success is truly the impact that my work makes with families”

For me success is truly the impact that my work makes with families. By bringing cultural stories to the playroom in the form of activities and puzzles, I am giving children the tools they need to understand their own culture, share it with others, and build empathy to bring us closer together. As part of […]

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For me success is truly the impact that my work makes with families. By bringing cultural stories to the playroom in the form of activities and puzzles, I am giving children the tools they need to understand their own culture, share it with others, and build empathy to bring us closer together.

As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Akruti Babaria.

Akruti Babaria is an immigrant mompreneur and founder of Kulture Khazana. A trained Indian classical dancer, Akruti founded Kulture Khazana to connect families with cultural stories. Akruti hopes to bring these stories to a wider audience to help children build self confidence and empathy for each other.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am a project manager turned founder and mama! After the birth of our son, my husband and I began to feel the distance from our traditions, roots and practices. As immigrants from India, we wanted to share our culture with our son and his culture. We wanted him to grow up self-confident of his roots and own his identity. As we looked for resources — books, activity kits, toys, etc., we found little. That’s when I decided to launch Kulture Khazana to fill the void my family and other families were experiencing. This ultimately turned into a mission to connect global children with cultural stories.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

I believe in taking risks, more often than not they work out but sometimes that means learning to walk while running.

In order to make my resources more accessible to other families, I wanted to share them with the public libraries. The coordination across NY, TX, CA, NJ, CT while working with distributors and publishers in India was complex to say the least. Navigating different work norms and communication styles was a feat.

I remember this specific time when a distributor in India promised to ship materials, which were delayed by a month and they considered it a normal process. In turn, this had to be communicated with the procurement teams at multiple libraries which felt like a failure on my part. However, being honest and transparent goes a long way. The libraries understood challenges of working across the world and I learned to work directly with publishers than go through a “middle man”

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Seeing the impact of your work on families is the biggest driver. Kulture Khazana serves families in many more ways than providing toys and books. I hear from parents regularly that their kids love videos from “Story Aunty” and look forward to learning about Indian holidays, folk tales and other cultural aspects. That’s what energizes me and gets me through tough days. They’re available on IGTV and on Kulture Khazana’s Youtube Channel and are now a library of 30–40 videos that range from 5 mins — 12 mins each.

These stories and experiences are weaved into everything that I offer. Recently, my son’s school asked to celebrate Holi after they read my article about the Festival on Parents.com. All the kids in his class got to experience the holiday, they worked on the Rangoli Mandala Puzzle and my son got to confidently share his traditions with his friends at school. My purpose truly came full circle with seeing himself confident and his classmates filled with empathy and curiosity.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

By bringing these stories in the form of books, videos, activities and puzzles, Kulture Khazana gives children the tools they need to feel self confident and develop empathy, while having fun. Right now, I am filling a need for families looking for these resources and in a niche market. My goal is to make these available in the mainstream and create space for cultural stories in the mass market. I’m currently creating products to share South Asian cultural stories and plan to expand to more regions in the coming years.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I jump in before checking if I have a life vest on.

In my excitement, I set up my office on the second floor of our house and soon after, my warehouse there. Husband mentioned it might be a bad idea. But ideas that are rebuked by hubby generally sound great. So, I went ahead and set up my warehouse on the 2nd floor. After going up and down the stairs with heavy boxes, needless to say I am in the process of relocating the warehouse and have built some muscles along the way.

Lesson learned — sometimes it pays to listen to your spouse/partner.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My parents (Dipak and Minaxi) and I immigrated to the United States when I was 16 years old. Through the difficult transition years, my culture provided the roots and wings to grow and make this place my home. After my son, Ayaan was born, I found my purpose — to connect families with cultural stories.

I am an immigrant and the culture that I brought with me and the culture that I am creating here is what makes me belong. It makes a lot of us belong, especially immigrant families. I want to help children feel like they belong, they are seen and they learn about their roots. I want children to openly share each other’s holidays, foods, stories, clothing and traditions; and build empathy.

I have seen the impact in the community I’ve created on Instagram and other social channels. Parents have shared how their kids shared about their holiday and even celebrated with their school friends. Children are becoming self-confident to share and empathetic by listening and learning.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Biggest reminder I have for myself is — “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Far too many times I have neglected my physical health and mental health in the chase of the next shiny object.

I have learned to be in tune with the health triggers to slow down. I am no good to anyone if I am not physically or mentally fit. Also, as I work to serve other families, I can’t ignore my own.

I have found activities that bring me joy and are completely unrelated to my work — tennis, dancing, cooking and time as a family. I carve out time for these activities to feel fulfilled from within and get the “emotional nutrition” to keep going.

I highly recommend having an outlet to help recharge, disconnect and heal.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

It has truly taken a village to raise this child of mine — Kulture Khazana. Two people have truly been instrumental since the beginning of the idea. Nagendra Raina, who is a dear friend and now my mentor, has been my biggest cheerleader and toughest critic. When I was trying to pivot during the pandemic and create products, he helped me through the process of ideation which led to execution. As a solopreneuer, you have no one to brainstorm with — Nagendra has been someone who I go to for bouncing ideas. If I can answer all of his questions, I am on my path to execution.

The second person who has been key in ensuring I get to live my dream and serve my purpose is my husband — Umesh Babaria. I’m not one to celebrate my wins as by the time I get there, I’ve mentally moved the goal post farther out. Umesh ensures all small wins are celebrated. He helps keep the finances straight and speaks his mind about product designs. He is the best devil’s advocate I could have asked for, except when I am looking for validation, to help me think through various consumer perspectives. When my shipment from overseas was delayed and it finally arrived at 2 AM, he stayed up to help unload and took the next day off to ship out 500 orders so they could reach the customers in time for the holidays.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Joy and connection for families

For me success is truly the impact that my work makes with families. By bringing cultural stories to the playroom in the form of activities and puzzles, I am giving children the tools they need to understand their own culture, share it with others, and build empathy to bring us closer together.

Kulture Khazana is an annual donor for Akshaya Patra Foundation. They feed mid-day meals to children in underserved communities. For a lot of these kids, it is their only meal of the day and families keep their kids in school.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Build a community of “colleagues”

Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. In order to build a network of cheerleaders and ideators, I wish someone had said to focus on finding “colleagues.” I was so focused on building my network of customers or potential partners, I didn’t have anyone to share or bounce ideas with in my first year. Now I have a solid group of entrepreneurs who ideate, celebrate wins and help problem solve. They are my colleagues.

2. Learn to deal with emotional highs and lows

I had to learn the hard way and I’m still working on. It is a process. When things are on a roll, there is a pep in my step and I feel like I can conquer the world. When things aren’t working out, I can’t get myself out of bed. It’s just not healthy to live like that. So instead, celebrate the win’s but don’t dwell on them and the same with hard times. Also, I have learned to separate work emotions from other aspects of my life to bring some stability.

3. Outsource $10 — $100 per hour functions

Hire before you actually have the need. I wish I had hired a marketing intern and an operations intern when I could foresee growth in the near future. I waited too long and ended up being stretched too thin. Having brought on board some part time interns has helped me focus on the growth rather than spending my energy “working in” the business.

4. When in doubt, always go back to your “why”

There are project or collaborations that we agree to for relationships or for other reasons. The fact of the matter is, if they don’t resonate with your “why”, they won’t bring you joy. As an entrepreneur, your time and energy are so limited that it always pays to focus on things that bring you joy and keep fueling your purpose. I’ve agreed to a few projects which provided quick cash but took me away from the long-term goal. To be honest, they did not bring me joy and I dreaded them. After repeating this cycle for about 3 times, I’ve created a checklist of questions to answer for vetting a project. The checklist includes questions such as: Am I the best fit for this work, will this bring me joy, how does this align with the goals of Kulture Khazana, which goal does this align with?

5.Embrace your failures as they will help you bring big wins

Now, I proudly talk about my failures as they led me to creating some of my bestselling products and most joyful stories. Did they hurt at that time? Of course, they did. However, they provided some of the best learnings and growth opportunities.

One of my service offering during mid-2020 totally failed. I invested in having it evaluated and was ready to take it to the next level from the pilot phase. This failure hit hard. However, when I looked back at it after a week, it helped think of the product idea which today is Rangoli Mandala Floor Puzzle. This product saved my business and the mission, which would not have been possible without the earlier failure.

Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?

Over the course of last couple years, I’ve been grateful to have a solid support system. The family, friends and “colleagues” have been there for the highs and the lows. This has helped me feel less isolated and lonely on this journey. It is always good to acknowledge the lows and to try and bounce back. My bounce back time has shortened over time and I’ve found ways to deal with the emotional “yo-yo’s”

In addition to building a support system, it’s helped to have joyful activities outside of work, which also have nothing to do with work. Tennis, dance, family time and working out have provided much needed stress relief on a regular basis to help build the mental strength.

Recently, I was just coming off a big high of some great press and contributions in mass media about cultural stories; just then everything operations hiccups started. The worst thing for an entrepreneur is to have no control — that’s exactly what happened as I has to wait impatiently. After about 2 days of sulking, I played tennis and spent time with my son on day 3. Day 4, I was back on my feet and finding things I could do to prepare myself for when operations would be sorted. It helped to acknowledge, take time to process, relieve that stress and come back with a fresh perspective.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Educating women across the globe. My mom was a middle school teacher and I am quite a nerd myself. My parents did everything they could to ensure we had access to education. So many women across the world don’t have this access just because of their gender.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

It brings a lot of joy to serve the community and stay connected with cultural stories through our website, Instagram page and Facebook. The YouTube channel has all of the story videos, including founder’s video. Do subscribe to the newsletter on kulturekhazna.com to be the first to learn about new products and pre-orders.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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