Gender and culture: challenges for a female entrepreneur in India

By Mansi Poddar

Mansi Poddar

Moving back to Mumbai after 16 years in the United States, I found it difficult to meet people and find things to do in Mumbai. Unlike the U.S. there wasn't a well-developed online lifestyle and culture presence to help people research and discover all Mumbai had to offer. My business partner, also a woman, and I founded Brown Paper Bag, which filled that void and was one of the first to offer quality editorial that spoke to the cultural elements of Indian culture.

Besides the challenges you might normally expect when launching a startup, my partner and I faced additional hurdles as women entrepreneurs. Almost from the start, we came up against cultural roadblocks and perceptions around traditional wife and mother roles. We needed to gain credibility and prove that Brown Paper Bag was a long-term business venture, not just a hobby that would be abandoned if I got married and had a family.

Unlike many industries, this business was about the “soft” side of connecting with people rather than strictly numbers. My business partner and I were able to find success in several ways:

  1. Personalization – The “voice” of our content is purposefully written. Our readers must feel that what they are reading is genuine and that the writer has actual experience with the topic they are writing about or recommending. We form strong opinions through our content, which is unlike anything else in India.
  2. Quality control – The most protected tenant we have is the quality and trust we build with our audience, which is 60% women. This is highly unusual for an online property
  3. The “soft” side – Unlike analytics and numbers-driven businesses in India, we were able to use our cultural perspective as educated women, speaking to the “soft” side of the online audience – balancing out the predominately male-driven online culture.
  4. International perspective – Having worked, lived and been educated in the U.S. we were looked at differently by investors. We were able to reach across the cultural hurdles and appeal to international investors, rather than just Indian investors.
  5. Hyper-local focus - We are very focused on particular local experiences in cities. This personalization to city-culture as well as Indian culture has helped us become very talked about and popular.

As we continue to grow our business, we are always focused on our audience. Whether it's native Indians or Indian expats in other countries – it connects back to the culture and lifestyle trends of a particular city, the people and experiences.


Learn more about Mansi Podadar and Brown Paper Bag >>


The views of third parties set out in this publication are not necessarily the views of the global EY organization or its member firms. Moreover, they should be seen in the context of the time they were made.