The Story Exchange is devoting the month of April to profiling young women who have started their own business. First in our series is a profile of Ooshma Garg, head of Gobble.
At only 24, Ooshma Garg already has started two successful businesses – one that she recently sold and another that has attracted over one million dollars in venture capital. How did this Stanford graduate – who started her first company as a junior studying bio-chemical engineering — become such an avid entrepreneur?
Garg says she caught the start up bug early on. She began pitching ideas for student activities to the principal as far back as middle school. As a teenager, for example, she wanted to set up a model UN club so she wrote a plan, raised money and turned her idea into a reality.
“[My parents] instilled in me that nothing is easy and it’s important to contribute to the world and work hard for what you want,” Garg tells The Story Exchange.
In 2008, she created Anapata, an online site that matches students looking for jobs with potential employers, mostly in the legal field. After three years of sleepless nights, bootstrapping (keeping the business self-sustained without raising any outside money) and developing Anapata, Garg sold it to the legal company LawWerx.
She says she wanted to devote time to her next startup. “I actually think that entrepreneurs tinker around with many ideas and maybe even a couple different businesses before they find the one.”
Garg says she feels she’s finally found her niche and true passion with Gobble, an online marketplace in San Francisco that delivers home-cooked meals from local chefs to businesses and residents looking for a healthy alternative to takeout.
The idea came from Garg’s own struggles to eat well while running Anapata. With a demanding schedule that often left her eating in her car, Garg says she was looking for home-cooked meals at a reasonable price.
She placed an ad on Craigslist looking for people to cook her dinner for up to $8 a plate. With 70 responses and lots of sampling to do, Garg started matching her friends with the approved chefs, making a couple of bucks on every meal.
“After two months of just running the business off of paper and a cell phone, there was a lot of buzz and people knew it was something that many more people could use,” she says.
To grow her business, Garg started looking for investors. But instead of asking for money, she focused on her vision. “I would ask for their advice or their guidance and then that often leads to investment.”
The strategy paid off with Garg scoring some top investors in Silicone Valley – including LinkedIn Co-founder Reid Hoffman – raising some $1.2 million for her business in 2011.
Caption: Watch a video of how Garg convinced LinkedIn Co-founder Reid Hoffman to be on her team.
Advice to young women
Garg says she never gave in to the challenge of being a young woman in the male-dominated field of tech startups.
“Being the only woman in a room full of 100 male CEOs, you stand out … [so] you need to be there and prove that you’re paving the way and you’re just as qualified and important as anyone else.”
She adds that every individual will have “pieces of their identity that will have pros and cons.”
“The fact that I am South-Asian has pros and cons; the fact that I am a woman has pros and cons. So I think it’s important to recognize what you get and what you don’t get for who you are. And know your good cards and just play those,” she says.
She also advises aspiring entrepreneurs to test their idea with a small group to show that the idea has potential. Once there’s a proof of concept – showing that people are willing to pay for a product or service – an entrepreneur can then look for funding.
That’s what Garg did with Gobble and she says the company, with five employees, is growing fast. The next step is expanding the company to the East Coast and possibly abroad.
“We’ve been working very hard and now it’s time to train people in other places to learn how to do what we’re doing,” she says.
Garg says she’s made some mistakes along the way, but doesn’t regret a thing, having learned valuable lessons from each one. “I think the only thing you can regret is not doing your best,” she says.