For a long time, I would never say “my team.” I always said “our team” or “our business” because I was of the belief that even a small word can bring more inclusion. I think that still holds good, sometimes I hear our newest members catching on to the same language within their first week – and I smile at myself when they say “our logo” or “our cakes.”
More often than before, I have found myself now saying “my team” and I think it comes out of a feeling of protectiveness towards everybody. One of my favourite parts of the day is listening to the team’s lunch conversations while I sit in the adjacent room. I can rarely make out what they are saying but every few minutes I will hear bouts of laughter that remind me that we’re a happy bunch. There is no doubt that our work is demanding and stressful, by the end of the day I can feel the tiredness in everyone’s voice and I want to send them home. But even during early mornings and late nights, nobody ever complains and that is something I can never take for granted.
Our head chef Ipsita has had a huge role to play in this culture. She joined us more than 2 years ago, I don’t know what she saw at our tiny kitchen with only one more person and barely any orders to believe in us - but she did. She not only witnessed our growth from a time when there were days when we had no orders at all, but she grew with us too – in skills and responsibility.
I often tell people that Ipsita is the Bengali version of me. She is a completely no-nonsense leader and has the highest work ethics. I have put an unlimited amount of pressure on her during the past 2 years, I know I have been unfair more than once but she has never crumbled. If you meet her for the first time, you will wonder why she doesn’t smile, which I find kind of funny about her personality. But if you want to see her real funny side, you need to be around her when she makes our bachelorette cakes (if you know, you know!).
Sushmitha is our other soldier, our oldest employee and always ready to help. She is a non-stop chatter box to say the least, I often think she can have a conversation with herself if she’s alone. The best thing about Sushmitha is that she’s extremely dependable at any time of the day, any day of the week.
Her growth curve has been the sharpest and if anybody asks me about one of our successes, I am likely to mention her story. Her mother chose to educate her brothers over her and it is my mission to prove to her mother, that she is capable as them. Seeing her everyday reminds me that it is our responsibility to uplift girls from different walks of life so they can see that the ability to grow oneself is limitless.
After sushmitha and ipsita joined us, we had a gap with different people coming and going. It was a tough period, because I wanted to hire and we just couldn’t find the right people.
I got a call from someone at Amma’s pastries and he said, “Madam, I have been here for 8 years, you tell me how many boys you want, I will supply them.” I responded saying I don’t want boys, I want girls and he said in his career, he’s never seen a girl in a bakery kitchen.
I started to wonder if I had even made the right choice with this all-women kitchen concept? How can I scale if hiring is so slow and painful. I had a really good employee leave me because her parents wanted to force her into marriage. I had another young lady leave because she got pregnant a month after she joined us. Another one said she left because the boy she wanted to marry was of a different caste and she was going through depression. Initially I empathized with her, and then she tried to influence Sushmitha to leave us and join her. I was in half a mind to call and let her know what I really thought of her weak character.
Earlier this year, Kavya joined us – she has been the third pillar to our foundation building. She has a very friendly and polite personality; it is difficult not to warm up to her quickly. Her work is neat and precise, although this trait of a perfectionist often costs a business their time. But within a few months, she caught on to speed and has really supported Ipsita in increasing the creative output of Dream a Dozen. In the last week, Ipsita has been away – I have seen her step into a role of responsibility and delegate work to ensure smooth production, without any of my involvement at all. Kavya, like all the others in our core team, treats the work as her own and our kitchen as home.
Rupa aunty is an important person I need to mention too, she’s responsible for house keeping and our cleanliness is thanks to her. Once she didn’t come for 3 days and we all had to sweep the kitchen ourselves, I spent 30 minutes on just half a room.
She will often fight with the girls about different things and then she’ll laugh loudly with them too. Recently I told her, “Aunty pyar se kaam karliye karo.” Which means work lovingly with the others. And she responds, “We may shout or fight but at the end, we’ll get the work done.”
Kishore joined us once we re-opened after the lockdown. I’ve technically known him for 14 years, he used to work at a DVD shop nearby at that time. Amongst our team, we often joke that there is nothing that Kishore can’t do. You will find it hard to believe that he regularly carries upto 8 cakes on his scooter at a time!
Just last week he went to Dmart to purchase some material for us in bulk. I didn’t know that Dmart doesn’t allow bulk purchases for businesses. So he convinced the cashier that he’s Christian and is taking all this stuff to distribute in the church! He's the most street-smart of us all.
Swathi joined us just a few months ago, but it feels like she’s been a part of the team for ages. She coordinates all our orders – and between the kitchen team, logistics and our vendors, I know that she has a lot on her plate at all times. A nice coincidence is that she is creative by nature, she’s even stepped into the kitchen and helped with cake decoration with no prior training at all! She has a happy-go-lucky attitude and I admire that about her.
This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t acknowledge our backend super-heroes from the marketing team. They work virtually from home but they keep the engine running. Aroma, our head of marketing and my best friend has been there not only for marketing but for any brainstorming/panic-attack situation that I have faced. When we were building the new kitchen, she drew out the layout on a ppt and helped me plan the space, square feet by square feet.
Meghana and Maanasa from the marketing team have also been with us for more than 2 years now. They’ve literally done everything – from calling customers to checking delivery radiuses. Meghana writes our captions, plans outreach to influencers and I’ve given her the title of “growth hacker” because it’s the best way to describe what she does. Anirudh joined us this year and is the analytical brain we all needed. He’s methodical and number-oriented, which helps us understand the ROI of our efforts.
I know this post isn’t typical to the blog I write, it’s not a story about the business and has no beginning, climax or conclusion. But when I heard the girls laughing recently, I felt so strongly about it that I decided I want to write about my team. My strength doesn’t lie in appreciating their efforts out-loud but my strength is in writing – and if nobody else but the 12 of them read this, I’d still feel satisfied.
Sometimes the thought of trying to scale this precious culture that we have managed to build seems near to impossible, but then again, what’s fun about doing what’s possible?