From selling her cookies on the street in a Nano to opening stores across the country, Neha Sethi is making waves with ‘Sweetish House Mafia’.
Neha Sethi took a plunge of faith with ‘Sweetish House Mafia’ and is now counting her delicacies.
There are hardly any of us who do not suffer from a sweet tooth, especially when the cravings set in. Taking matters to hand, Neha Sethi set up ‘Sweetish House Mafia’, a key player in serving you the best cookies in the market today.
Even with a sweet tooth, baking was not Neha’s first career choice, she dabbled in investment banking to realize it’s not her cup of tea and started with a basic idea of serving cookies in her Nano, in Mumbai, while figuring out her next career path.
Making magic with her cookies, the simple marketing strategy became a hit and now you can find the store across the country in different locations. We had a tête-à-tête with this sweet sprinkler, take a look:
You were into investment banking first, what was it that made you do the transition to baking?
I studied finance after school and graduated from Philadelphia and then most of us were in investment banking because that is the only thing that I knew to do. Although, I realized very quickly that this is not my cup of tea. So, when I came back to Mumbai I knew that this was not something I will be pursuing and then the baking just happened. It wasn’t something that was planned, I was trying to figure out what’s next and was baking on the side to keep my mind off things. I used to bake with my Mom when I was younger and have a massive sweet tooth, so it’s not like baking was new to me, but making it as a profession was never in the cards. I never thought that this is what I would land up doing. I enjoy it but I have not taken any courses, or been to any culinary schools.
What’s the story behind the name ‘Sweetish House Mafia’?
So, my friend suggested the idea of selling cookies in a car in the corner of the road and then putting it on social media. I liked the idea, and then when you come up with something like this you need to have a name, a logo. I was discussing with the family about the name, and I spoke to my brother in law about it and he just out of the blue said ‘Sweetish House Mafia’. The relevance is that at that time ‘Sweetish House Mafia’, band had come to perform in Mumbai and hence it was very fresh in everyone’s mind and then when he said ‘Sweetish House Mafia’, I thought that it made perfect sense as our target audience was younger crowd and they will get the connection. The name was quirky, fun and young, it came up and the decision was made, all within a second.
You started with distributing from your Nano, what were the initial difficulties? And why the choice of distribution on the move?
The initial difficulty was of course to keep up with the demand; the whole point was that I will do it once in a week or once in two weeks, as and when I could figure it out. I intended to keep a very limited supply, like 50 cookies, 100 cookies, but because it blew up so much that keeping up with that demand became difficult. People would line up and so many people would line up that it wasn’t possible to service all of them. My fellow used to go in a Nano and he used to ration out the cookies because there used to be so many people in the queue. At that time I had five ovens and it was me working for five to six hours a day. So, meeting up with the demand and of course doing it at home with the staff and all, it was difficult to do that. (laughs)
The idea that was given to me by my friend was just to send cookies along with a person on the road on whose cycle we can keep it and put out a portion where random people can come and buy. So, the whole point was that there won’t be that much capital investment and I won’t have to set up shop and invest in rent and decoration and staff, I didn’t have to do anything much, I just have to make extra cookies as I was making cookies anyway. That turned out to be a good marketing strategy and I could literally reach so many different places in a car rather than in a shop. It was a very conscious decision to not open the store and to do it the way we did it.
Any anecdotes that you might want to share?
Yeah, there are quite a few. One thing that stands out a lot is, when during the monsoon in August, it was really pouring out a lot and I decided not to do the delivery that day but then I got a lot of messages asking to send the cookies. So I decided to do a late night delivery at Carter Road in Bandra. I didn’t think that most people would come and hence sent only 120 packages. That night was our largest crowd. Literally there was a stampede, my guy shut himself inside the car and locked the door. In fact, he told me that some celebrity also came in a black car with their bodyguards. It was quite crazy when we heard about it and then of course there were tweets and messages that we should have planned it and there was a stampede. Apart from this we also used to get some very sweet emails. One man once emailed asking us to come to Breach candy as his wife was pregnant and was craving my cookies.
Your identity used to be anonymous, what was the reason behind that?
I didn’t want people to associate a name with the brand. I wanted them to think of Nano, cookies and Sweetish House Mafia. I didn’t want them to think cookies and Neha Sethi. I wanted the brand name to be bigger than me. That was the bigger reason and the other reason was of course that anonymity is always fun and mysterious. One of the papers coined us as the ‘batman of baking’ as they had no idea who it is. It becomes a conversation piece. Basically just to keep it mysterious, fun and intriguing.
How was the transition from distributing the cookies through a Nano to now owning 12 stores in different parts of the country?
It’s pretty amazing to think about from where I started with a Nano, to see it grow and spread across the country. It has all been exciting, opening that first store, while dabbling in questions like how it will do, will people come and then taking orders and making sure to spread the word and then seeing an increase in fan following and of course sales has gone up as people are coming to know about it. The whole journey has been very exciting and nerve racking at times. We got the funding from Adar Poonawalla, which is such a validation that we are doing something right and that people believe in us.
What is your signature cookie? Which one do you like the most?
I think we are the one that brought this cookie to India, the Nutella Sea Salt. That flavor profile is all thanks to ‘Sweetish House Mafia’, now you see it everywhere, but our store got it first.
I don’t have a favorite. I eat according to my mood or the time of the day. It depends on those factors to determine which cookie I will choose because I love all of them.
Any piece of word for the readers?
A lot of people say that ‘do what you love and you won’t work a day in your life’. That’s not true, yes, you should be passionate about what you are doing, but you can’t be just passionate and not put in any hard work. If you don’t put in hard work you are not going to get anywhere.
Another thing of course is not to give up on hope, it’s not going to be easy all the time, there are going to be challenges, there are going to be ups and downs but always hold on to that positivity. Know that things will turn out okay in the end, you have to be just strong and not give up, you have to keep going. It’s important to not give up hope. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. SHM started off with me but as soon as we opened stores my brother in law came in. So, now business expansions, operations, finance, is all him, and I am more into product relevance and R&D, and because we are a team SHM has reached where it has. I think people need to realize that they don’t have to do everything by themselves, sometimes someone else is better at what you do and then you should let them have a go.