Research shows that most startups fail because the product or service is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist for consumers – or at least not enough of them to make the idea scalable and profitable. In India, where there are more than 662 million women, that was not an issue for one Mumbai-based entrepreneur.
Most women in India have been brought up in an environment where they think only about other people’s happiness. When faced with the simple question – are you happy? – many women in India say they are not. In fact, India ranked 139 out of 149 countries in the UN’s World Happiness Report 2021, and participation in the workforce is dropping among women both in urban and rural areas.
So how can women achieve this elusive, but soul-quenching, happiness?
A corporate finance executive may sound like an unlikely candidate to take on this challenge, but after 15 years of being on the fast track, she is exactly the right person.
Rajpreet Kaur’s story is the story of every bright young student who sacrificed her hobbies to excel at her studies. After earning her engineering degree and an MBA, she worked tirelessly for several prestigious companies – Tata Consultancy Services, The Bharti Group, HSBC, and Standard Chartered Bank. Export management and trading derivatives options aren’t known to be nine-to-five type jobs, but she knew that and she thrived.
And her story probably would have continued on the same path, but for some profound experiences that started shaping a new perspective. For one, motherhood. Second, a recognition that there was something missing and her life surely had a larger purpose. After six years of juggling the duties of parenthood and the corporate world, Rajpreet set out to find her ikigai, the Japanese concept of finding joy in life through purpose.
She evaluated nearly 27 different ideas and one idea rose to the top, commencing with market research, asking 500+ women about their challenges and what prevents them from achieving true happiness.
Launched in December 2020, Say Cheese is a platform dedicated to moving women towards greater happiness – whatever that means for them — by providing holistic and personalized solutions for the myriad of challenges that women face across careers, relationships, and health. To reduce this to mental health, or even wellness, would be selling short the vision.
The Say Cheese Happiness Model, built based on global research, cultural wisdom and the team’s own experiences is actualized through a mix of high-tech and high-touch experiences. It all begins with knowing your starting point so you can measure progress.
Say Cheese measures one’s current happiness levels with the help of its proprietary assessment tool called HER (Happiness Evaluation Report). Once the challenges and constraints are identified through HER, the platform offers holistic solution space across three pillars – career, relationships and health; and four dimensions – self, individual experts, service providers companies and other women in the Say Cheese Community for the user to build her personalized journey. The platform intends to build high-tech tools (such as advanced machine learning algorithms) to better and faster match potential solutions and services to the user’s challenges.
Rajpreet jokes that hers is a startup with 200 years of experience, a nod to her world-class advisory and the Core Leaderships team, who share her passion for making a meaningful difference for millions of women in India – and beyond. Her company was already incorporated at the time she enrolled in Wharton’s Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program, making it a great fit since the curriculum is largely focused on scaling your business.
“I had taken an agile approach from the start, and the Wharton program validated my instincts and gave me the right language to describe it and a methodical approach for achieving scale,” says Rajpreet. “The support I received was outstanding and the pitch contest proved to be the perfect environment for building confidence in my vision.”
Say Cheese was a finalist and ultimately chosen as the 1st Runner-up in the pitch contest that is held as part of the Wharton Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program. The contest is judged by members of the Wharton entrepreneurship community, senior faculty, and blue-chip venture capital firms such as Sequoia and Bertelsmann. Gaining access to this community helps founders expand their networks and garner insights on achieving scalability. In the grips of a pandemic, the fully-online program saw participation from 150 entrepreneurs from across the world for the fall 2020 cohort.
Say Cheese competed against a number of firms in various sectors, including Information Technology, Food and Beverage, Healthcare, Financial Services, and Travel. The distinguished panel of judges evaluated all the entries before selecting the winning pitches. As 1st Runner-up, Say Cheese won prize money to advance the growth of the company. Rajpreet says, “Every bit counts when you’re bootstrapped yet ambitious. But the validation from top VCs is priceless and a great confidence booster.”
By Michelle Massa