Content creator and Chef Pooja Dhingra on sustaining a business through tough economical conditions by leveraging the power of social media

  • Due to the ongoing pandemic, many businesses have suffered. A few have perished in the process and a number of others managed to thrive.
  • Today on The Influencer Adda, we are talking to content creator, entrepreneur and chef Pooja Dhingra to discuss the impact of the pandemic, how a business can sustain through these challenges and a few trends to watch out for.

Content creator, entrepreneur and chef Pooja Dhingra has 7.2 million followers on Instagram and 18.6k subscribers on YouTube. At 18, Dhingra quit her career in law to pursue her passion as a pastry chef. She started baking with her aunt when she was six. As an enthusiastic kid, she would watch her aunt at work in the kitchen, who taught her how to bake brownies and her love for baking only grew stronger with time. Weekends were reserved for creating flavour combinations and food experimentation. It was during her first visit to Paris that she fell in love with macarons. In 2010 began the biggest love affair of her life with macarons at Le15 Patisserie. Today, she has been renowned as the ‘macaron queen of India.’ However, there was a small villain in this food affair. After COVID-19 hit India last year, Dhingra had to make the toughest business decisions of her life, which included shutting down her beloved Le15 Cafe in Colaba, Mumbai, which was her first cafe.

In her recently published cookbook, Coming Home, she writes, “I remember feeling isolated and feeling like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I had a spot in my room where I’d sit on my couch every night with Excel sheets open on the computer. Most nights I cried myself to sleep. It was never about what would people say, it was never about being ashamed or embarrassed by failure. It was more the crushing of a childhood dream. I went into hospitality because I wanted to someday run a cafe. Finding space for Lel5 cafe in Colaba was a miracle in my eyes. It felt like the whole universe truly conspired to make it happen. Was running the cafe easy? Not one bit. Was it fulfilling? A 100 percent.”

However, she was quick to pick up the pieces and find another way to keep her business up and running, which was through e-commerce platform Shopify. She has been working on expanding her digital footprint in the country through Shopify and figuring out how to ship her highly precious and perishable goodies across India.

Sharing how Le15 revamped their business after COVID, Pooja says, “COVID took us by surprise because for the first time, money stopped coming in completely. In the hospitality industry, you are used to constant cash flow because customers come in and that stopped. For the past 3 years, we’ve been working on packaged Le15 goods. I used to keep getting comments on my Instagram saying that we want Le15 in Pune or Varanasi and I would just always laugh it off. I would be grateful for it but I never actually thought about how I can leverage this business model. And then a crisis comes in, we had to then concentrate on the parts of business that were viable and think about ways we can leverage our brand presence. So, we changed our business model. We set up our Shopify page, which ensured that all my products were online. I still remember the first day we went live. We set a goal saying that we would hit a 100 and within 36 hours, we sold over 1000 of our hot chocolate goodies just by making our presence on Shopify. I could see analytics, where people were ordering it from and how many pieces were they ordering, etc and that just made me look at my business differently. So, we found an opportunity in this crisis and that’s what we have been doing.”

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By focusing on quality, Pooja built her business on the back of strong word of mouth, improved her aesthetics on social media and eventually expanded her reach. During COVID, her wide social media reach came in handy. She made sure she kept it authentic and she communicated with her audience during her highs and lows.

Telling us what worked on social media for Pooja as a content creator, she shares, “Very early on in my career I realised the power of social media and word of mouth. I had no budget for a marketing team when I started out. So, I used to click pictures of my cake and upload it on Facebook. I realised that you can reach a whole audience just with your own creativity. That’s how it started. I remember my friend showing me sepia-tinted pictures on Instagram and I just took to it. I realised that it is a great platform for storytelling and I simply told my story through it. So whether I was struggling with my business or making something delicious — the highs and lows — I documented it all through the process. Somewhere, people really connected and making delicious stuff helps! As I grow as a person, the message has changed but the essence remains the same, which is to connect with people.”

Working in a highly male-dominated industry

Pooja started her entrepreneurial journey when she was 23 in a highly-male dominated industry. Even today, women chefs only make about 3% of the workforce in India.

On challenges she encountered, she shares, “A decade ago, when I went to a culinary school, we didn’t have a lot of female chefs that I could look up to and say, ‘I wanna be like her.’ I was the only Indian student in my class. But it is changing today. It is slow but it is happening. Last year, when I went back to my school in Paris, I was delighted to see that the class was full of Indian students and a lot of them were women. So, change is happening. As more women get into the field, more doors are opening.”

Now at Le15, Pooja is trying to build an inclusive workplace by making sure her employees get the opportunities she missed out on. “When I was working in other kitchens, I observed a few differences and I made a note to myself that this will not happen when I open my own organisation. I am building on that now,” adds Pooja.

Tips for beginners

In 2019, India had over 1,200 channels with one million
YouTube subscribers. At that time, two creators on an average were crossing one-million subscribers and 2,500 creators were touching their first 1,000 subscriber milestone every day. Due to the lockdown, many Indians have turned to content for entertainment, which has led to exponential growth of content creators as well. And this number is only going up by 2025 as the number of internet users is expected to grow to more than 974 million, says data platform Statista.

While becoming an influencer seems glamorous, it takes a lot of time, requires patience and hardwork before you actually get to start monetising your content. So, Pooja’s advice to young creators is to keep it authentic. “If you are starting your own journey right now, I think it is a very exciting time. I think it is important to find what you love and what you are really good at. So, find your niche, identify what are the few buckets of things that you enjoy doing or are an expert at. Be as authentic, real as you can. Tell your story in the best way possible. I think people connect with real stories. If you manage to do that, whichever medium, I think that will be a success.”

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Post Author: Adam Jacob

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