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Ahana Gautam: The Unjunked Lifestyle One would think the dream job after graduation from prestigious universities such as IIT and Harvard would be working in a Big 4 company. Not the case for Ahana Gautam whose world changed after stepping into a Whole Foods store in America.

By Kavya Pillai

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Ahahna Gautam CEO & Founder Open Secret

One would think the dream job after graduation from prestigious universities such as IIT and Harvard would be working in a Big 4 company. Not the case for Ahana Gautam whose world changed after stepping into a Whole Foods store in America. Whole Foods is a retail chain that only houses products free from hydrogenated fats, artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives. At the time, there was no Indian counterpart for this business. While food in India is sanctified, the snacks market is filled with ingredients far from healthy. Thus, the beginning of Open Secret.

Open Secret is a company started by Ahana Gautam that is focused on using the best ingredients to create snacks that do not compromise your health. Before starting her startup, she worked at General Mills in various roles. She also worked with Procter and Gamble (P&G) for 4 years. Since then, she has been on a mission to un-junk India's snacking options which are loaded with refined sugar, maida, artificial colours and flavours. A testimony to her success was when the company recently reported a Rs 100 crore turnover.

Gautam hails from a tier three city in Rajasthan called Bharatpur, she grew up like any normal kid with a soft corner for snacks, gujjia being her favourite. While she was in the States pursuing her master's, the Better for You products, moreover their accessibility intrigued her. While she was abroad she worked on improving her lifestyle and realised how food plays a crucial role in our overall health. Talking to us, Gautam shared, "My niece got diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 15 months old." Her sister-in-law was struggling to find quality and healthy products in the snacks market. She refused to accept that a country such as India which is known for its innovation has limited food options when it comes to healthy snacks. While in meals we all use fresh ingredients and have a balanced diet, our snacks have "palm oil and trans fats". Looking at this "I became very passionate about solving the packet snacks problem".

About her early years, Gautam said, "When I was in IIT, it was the first time I interacted with an external world which was so unfamiliar to me because I had grown up in a very protected household and I was just blown away by the opportunity that IIT gave me and I spent a lot of my time outside the classroom, so I started doing theatre. I was in plays and fell in love with storytelling. I also learnt about entrepreneurship through the entrepreneurship cell at IIT Bombay and that was the first time I interacted with founders and investors. To be honest, I didn't even know how to spell entrepreneurship before IIT."

As Gautam grew up loving Maths, she revealed the formula for her company, "so I use this mathematical equation, the product you love minus the junk plus something nutritious that equals unjunking. This is the open secret." What sets her products apart is understanding a simple concept, "those who want to eat healthy, will not compromise on taste. If you tell someone to stop eating their favourite snacks it will not solve any problem but if you present them with their favourite cookies and treats without the junk, that is using quality ingredients which have no palm oil, no artificial preservatives, no artificial colour, then you have done something."

Her products stand out spectacularly with the help of smart marketing and good product design. A key factor we noticed was the honesty in displaying the ingredients behind every packaged product. This little piece of information helps the consumer gauge the benefits of choosing an open-secret product, which as a mark of the company's success is placed adjacent to regular snacks in local stores. When asked about this, Gautam said "When it comes to food, you don't want to create anxiety." She explained that people know what is good for them, so one should plainly state what they are offering.

On the business front, while Open Secret recently recorded a Rs 100 crore turnover, they have done 3 institutional rounds. Backed by renowned names such as Matrix, and Sixth Sense and angel investors like Vijay Shrikha Sharma, founder of Paytm, Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal, founders of Snapdeal to name a few. Before concluding we asked Gautam how many employees were women, to which she said, "I think more than 50% are women. In fact, on a shop floor, the majority of people making these products are women. That's the reason why I built my own manufacturing site."


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