#wcw Akansha Agrawal
One of the things we love most about the Women Catalysts community is the huge variety of individual members’ careers, interests, and projects. You can get deep into a conversation with someone about their current work as, say, a CFO or artist or branding consultant and learn all kinds of interesting things and then they’ll mention – sometimes offhandedly – something completely unrelated that they did in a previous life. And we’re like, “Wait, what? Tell us more about that!”
Case in point: Akansha Agrawal. She’s a Brand and Content Strategist who works with women founders and entrepreneurs. She recently did a workshop about how to create engaging and thoughtful online content. (Members can watch it in the portal.) In her workshop, she shared examples from a cookbook she had written and published with her mother: The Healthy Indian Food Cookbook. We wanted to learn more about that project, and Akansha was nice enough to answer our questions.
What made you decide to write a cookbook?
I am extremely passionate about health and wellness and noticed a trend in the wellness industry where Indian ayurvedic food was becoming really popular. Turmeric lattes, ghee, Khichdi... were popping up at all the hipster health cafes. Yet, on the other hand, traditional Indian restaurants were always seen has heavy, rich, and unhealthy. I wanted to bring it back to real, authentic Indian food that combines the two perceptions and brings it home. More importantly, as a South Asian woman, I wanted to reclaim this narrative and lead the way on how Indian culture is perceived in the west.
My mom is an immigrant from India. She came to States about 30 years ago. I thought it was about time I learned how to cook Indian food, ha! I knew many other Indian American millennials were hoping to do the same :)
This book is a true labor of love. The recipes are inspired by my childhood, my mother’s upbringing in India, and our personal stories of an Indian family anchoring their roots in sunny California.
What were your goals for the cookbook? And what kind of market research or preparation did you do before you started writing it?
Honestly, I didn't go into this project with hardcore goals or expectations. We created this book out of passion and really just wanted to get it into the hands of people who will use it and appreciate it. I used to run a health and wellness FB community of 750+ South Asian women and I saw the questions/challenges women had with cooking healthy Indian food. So from there, I saw a need.
After that, I designed a quantitative survey and received over 200 responses to validate the idea and to understand what kind of problems people were trying to solve in relation to cooking Indian food. After writing it, I did have several people test out recipes!
How did you go from idea to finished product?
Oh man, this was a journey. I had no idea how much support I'd need here, and how much time it would take. I started this book right when I quit my job at LinkedIn and had no idea how many emotions and challenges entrepreneurship would bring. Simultaneously, I was building my own marketing consulting business which kind of started organically. In hindsight, it was a bit ambitious to do both at once, but we made it work somehow.
I definitely had to take some pressure off from launching at the perfect time, having the perfect product and launch strategy, and just going for it. I had never created a physical product before.
It took 1.5 years from beginning to end to finish this project. My mom was heavily involved in the recipe development phase while I handled most of the marketing and writing. I also took most of the photos, but I hired a photographer for the cover photo and some of the lifestyle images. I knew from the beginning I would need a designer. But I also made hires in the process that I didn't anticipate including a copy editor, a self-publishing book consultant, an assistant to help me calculate the macronutrients for each recipe.
Hiring is one of the most valuable things you can do I've learned. Budget time and resources accordingly!
What did you learn from this project? What were the biggest and most surprising challenges?
You don't have to all the answers to start. You can learn through the process. Your “why,” your deeper reason behind your project or business, is so important. I wanted to give up SO many times. I was surprised to see how many emotions this process would bring: overwhelm, imposter syndrome, perfectionism. To my surprise, I saw how our businesses/products mirror to us what we need to handle on a personal level.
What are you working on now, and how can the Women Catalysts community help?
We’re continuing to sell this book on the side (we have a special discount for Women Catalysts members: the code "WCC" gets you 15% off). But my focus now on growing Citrus & Gold, my brand and marketing studio for female founders. One of my biggest learnings from this project was the importance of brand storytelling and powerful messaging – that's really what helped this book sell (not so much the health benefits, features, facts). I want to help other badass female founders find their voice, clarify their message, and create stories that attract their dream clients. I'd love to offer anyone who needs support in this process a 30-minute complimentary session!