It was 2006 when Sanjana Karnani moved to England from India with her husband, who was pursuing a career in IT. Sanjana had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but it wasn’t until she gave birth to her daughter Deeva, three years later, that she began to seriously consider becoming her own boss.
At that point, Sanjana was working at a charity, and in spite of having gone part-time after Deeva’s birth, she often found herself working late into the night, arriving home only when her daughter was already tucked into bed. "My heart used to ache with those long hours,” she remembers. “When you are a parent you don’t want to miss all the amazing things your children do when they’re growing up. I felt I needed more time with her."
I am both a mum and my own boss, I decide my own working hours and I am interested in the products I sell. This fine balance is difficult to achieve, but I think I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time.
Following the business instinct
For Sanjana, entrepreneurship ran in the family: "I was inspired by my father, who owns two pharmaceutical businesses in India. I like to think I have inherited his business acumen." She thought that no company could give her the flexibility and work-life balance that she craved, so decided to pursue a career working for herself: "I had always wanted to do something on my own. When Deeva turned three, I decided to give my dream a chance and try to build a career around my daughter."
Sanjana had been an Amazon customer for many years and saw an opportunity to move into e-commerce. "When you migrate you have to hunt for opportunities, and Amazon welcomed me with open arms." Drawing from her father’s experience, Sanjana chose to sell health and beauty products online. "As a woman, I was interested in starting with products for women," she recalls. She began by picking her own selection of lotions, creams and vitamin supplements, and by deciding to work with established brands: Verdure Plus, her online shop, was born.
Initially, she was worried about how running a business could end up making her work-life balance even worse. When she started selling on Amazon, she considered fulfilling orders herself: "As the turnover increases, it takes away your life from you. You’re packing 24/7 and trying to meet the orders." That was not her plan. She researched further and found that she could send her beauty products to Amazon, which would then pack the orders and send them to customers through the Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) service. Amazon would even handle the customer service for her.
Tipping the work-life balance
FBA was Sanjana’s game changer: "It gave me my life back. Now I work until two pm. I get the stock in by that time, I send it to Amazon. I mostly work out of our lounge or from a little room that is my office. At three, I pick up my daughter and I’m with her for the rest of the day." Not having to worry about logistics, Sanjana was also free to focus on parts of her job that she found more appealing, like managing strategy and pricing or increasing the array of personal care products on offer in her shop. "Since then, we have grown slowly but steadily."
While most entrepreneurs in the first years of business wouldn’t dream of going on holiday, Sanjana counts travelling with her family as one of the highlights of the job: "On average, I am off for six weeks a year, and to date I haven’t had an issue. We can be relaxing on the beach, or with our parents in India, and the sales are still happening. I feel personally fulfilled."
Lending a helping hand
By 2015, Verdure Plus was growing steadily. Sales were pouring in, but Sanjana needed additional investment to keep expanding. It was difficult to find the place or time to get a loan: "I’m a one man army and it’s difficult for one person to do everything," she says. "Going to a bank would have required pages and pages of business plans. When I was offered a loan by Amazon, I was amazed."
Amazon Lending provided Verdure Plus with a quick injection of cash. "It was very simple. That gave us breathing space: I no longer worry each month about paying my suppliers. It has helped us grow the business at our own pace." Less than a year on, Verdure Plus has grown over 30%.
Sanjana feels fortunate to have been able to care for her family and move from success to success in her career: "I am both a mum and my own boss, I decide my own working hours and I am interested in the products I sell. This fine balance is difficult to achieve, but I think I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time." She hopes one day her daughter will follow in her steps: "Having a working mother is a positive influence for the children, they learn to be independent. My daughter is very self-sufficient, and I am so proud of her."
For her, and for anyone with entrepreneurial aspirations, Sanjana has words of encouragement: "Go for it, give yourself the opportunity. You never know: you don’t have to be a princess to have a fairytale story."