scorecardThis startup founder who ran away from home at 15, builds a ₹100 crore business
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This startup founder who ran away from home at 15, builds a ₹100 crore business

This startup founder who ran away from home at 15, builds a ₹100 crore business
Business4 min read
  • Chinu Kala, founder of Rubans Accessories, is a former Mrs. India participant who ran away from home at 15.
  • A TedX speaker, Kala talked about hustling to survive and build a life for herself - she left home with only ₹300 but today is running a business that sharks valued at ₹100 crore.
  • Rubans Accessories is a Bengaluru-based artificial jewellery brand.
Chinu Kala was only 15 when she ran away from her home with just ₹300 in hand, because of differences with her father and stepmother. At the time, her mother was working in Saudi Arabia and she had no means of contacting her.

That didn’t deter her from building a life for herself. Today, she’s running Rubans Accessories — a Bengaluru-based artificial jewellery brand with lifetime sales of ₹200 crore.

Kala appeared on Shark Tank India S2 on Wednesday and left the judges impressed with her story. Her business also received an investment of ₹1.5 crore from sharks Namita Thapar (executive director, Emcure Pharmaceuticals) and Vineeta Singh (co-founder, Sugar Cosmetics).

After hearing her story, Thapar commented, “There’s a lot of difference in your education and ours — we learned from masters, you learned from situations.”

Former Mrs. India becomes a first-generation entrepreneur

When Kala ran away from her home in Nalasopara, Mumbai, she was in seventh grade and had no educational qualifications that could fetch her a job. She was forced to spend two nights at the Mumbai Central railway station, rationing her meagre savings.

Eventually, she met a woman who informed her about door-to-door sales that would fetch her a commission for every sale made, but no salary. Kala took up the job and started living in a dormitory that charged ₹25/day for just a mattress.

“(When) I rang the first doorbell, the lady who opened the door looked at my bag, slammed the door in my face, and asked me to leave. For three hours I stood under the building and cried — but accepting defeat and going back home wasn’t an option. I had to sell, no matter what. After ringing multiple doorbells, I sold three pieces…I made ₹60 that day. In just 6-7 months, I had three girls working under me. I was 16 at the time,” shared Kala on the show.

After working as a door-to-door saleswoman for a year, she headed to Surat to work as a distributor of Yellow Pages. Finally, she landed a job as a customer care executive at a franchisee of Tata Indicom. That’s where she met her husband and business partner, Amit Kala.

Kala worked in the media industry for 14 years, handling distribution for companies like ESPN Star Sports and Viacom18. In 2020, he quit his job to work full-time with Rubans.

After her marriage, Kala undertook a beautician course and was running a salon at home. To enhance her knowledge of the craft, she came to Mumbai. That’s when she learned about Gladrags Mrs. India. She participated in the competition in 2006, bagging a spot in the top 10 finalists. Though she didn’t win the title, she was inspired to start a jewellery business — after she saw the difference a single piece of jewellery could make to an outfit.

After contemplating for years, she finally started Rubans Accessories in 2014. At the time of appearing on the show, Rubans Accessories was bootstrapped. The company made sales worth ₹29.7 crore in FY21 and ₹51 crore in FY22. It sells high-end artificial fashion jewellery, primarily through Myntra (an e-commerce platform) and its own website. The founders claim that they’ve been the highest-selling brand on Myntra for three years.

Glittering tale of success

Though floored by Kala’s story, not all sharks invested in her business. Amit Jain, co-founder of CarDekho.com, was the first one to back out because the founders were not open to his idea of onboarding a third co-founder for technical expertise.

Peyush Bansal, co-founder of Lenskart.com, backed out because he believed scaling the business required more time than he could offer. Singh and Thapar made a joint offer of ₹1 crore or 1% equity along with ₹50 lakh in debt at an interest rate of 12%. This valued the company at ₹100 crore.

On hearing the offer Mittal advised the founders to not take on debt as it would be difficult to service it once they grow the business. He also made an offer of ₹1.5 crore for 1.5% equity — offering the same valuation as Thapar and Jain but without the element of debt. Simultaneously, Aman Gupta, co-founder of boAt, joined Singh and Thapar in their offer.

The founders initially asked the sharks to convert the debt element to equity but Thapar responded that she wanted to bust the misconception that taking on debt is bad for organisations.

“Debt is cheaper than equity — at any stage. Rather than counter, take the dream team (herself, Singh and Gupta) and move ahead,” remarked Thapar.

Jain backed Namita’s claim and ultimately, the founders agreed to the original offer, walking away with an investment of ₹1 crore for 1% equity, and ₹50 lakh as debt.

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