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Women In Business: Roopa Rawal, Co-Founder Of Devnaa Chocolates

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Working day in day out with your sibling may sound an earthly version of hell, but for others - namely Jay and Roopa Rawal - it can be the secret to business success.

The trick? The pair complement each other by excelling at different areas of the business, as well cornering a niche in the confectionary market with Devnaa - a fusion of the flavours of traditional Indian sweets and spices with chocolate.

Roopa's business success is extraordinary considering this is her first venture since leaving university and, at just 30, she is worth in excess of six-figures. Yet rather than filling her bathtub with champagne, she remains extremely grounded, living and working from her family's kitchen in West London.

roopa

Food is obviously something you are quite passionate about, where did it all begin?

In and around the home, mainly - mum and paternal grandmother are the cooks in the family. Our house was always the hub for family celebrations. My grandmother would always make desserts. I've definitely inherited her sweet-tooth.

Why chocolate in particular?

I started experimenting because I just love chocolate.

But it's also a great medium to introduce people to Indian sweets - chocolate is familiar and not intimidating.

What's the difference between traditional Indian sweets and what you offer?

Let's take barfi, a traditional Indian confectionary made of condensed milk and sugar, as an example.

In India, many rich, heavy flavours are mixed up together - it wouldn't be uncommon to get almond barfi with pistachio, rose water, saffron etc. But what we do is simplify recipes, using the chocolate to complement flavours. Saffron caramel is a particularly popular sweet of ours.

Our creations aren't as over-bearing as Indian sweets. And the Indian community have welcomed our chocolates - they are smaller, less sweet, less heavy.

chocolates

You gave up your 9-5 plans to set up Devnaa. What were you doing before and was it a tough decision?

I studied media technology at university, so was destined for a career behind the screens in TV or film editing.

When I left uni, everything just sort of came together. My brother, who is eight years older than me, presented a - viable and appealing - business opportunity and, as I was so passionate about food, I've never looked back.

Describe your average day

I try and keep my day structured and work a normal day (9am-6pm) - it's easy for things to spill over and work longer when you've got your own business.

I’ll be in the office at 8:30. We do lots of wedding work - bespoke orders for weddings and events - so I spend the morning doing that. Then in the afternoons, it's new recipe time.

We've just finished working on a recipe book - so a lot of time went into that. Jay did the photography, we like to keep it in the family.

Working with brides must be difficult, no?

We make a point of not taking on too many - three brides maximum on any weekend. This is so we can get everything perfect for them.

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You were really young when you started out, were you nervous about starting a business?

Yes! Without my brother I wouldn't have known where to start!

It's really important to have the advice of someone who knows what they are doing - luckily for me it was my brother and business partner. My dad used to have a family business, an electrical warehouse, and my brother helped to run it so he had loads of experience in the business side of things.

How do you split responsibilities?

I'm the creative one, he is more numbers and business!

I deal with recipes, orders and liaising with customers - so all the fun stuff, really!

Working so closely with your brother, how have your family supported you?

I still live with our parents and work a lot from there - it is in many ways the heart of our business.

Sometimes things get really crazy - our stuff is everywhere, deliveries come morning and night, but our parents are really supportive.

How is working with your brother?

We have our moments and do argue from time to time. But arguing is healthy - its good to vent frustrations, clear the air and move on. We wouldn't get that opportunity in another working environment, things would just build up.

I think the business has brought us closer, I wouldn't have been able to do it with anyone else.

Starting your own business is far from plain sailing - have there been ups and downs?

There have been really difficult moments, but Jay and I are lucky that have each other to lean on.

He gets worked up easily and I’m overly laid back. We counteract each other quite easily. Whenever one's been a down it’s great having someone to lean on.

Have you ever felt like giving up?

Because Devnaa is something that we believe in - I don’t think so. Sometimes we'll have crazy days, but that's mainly because it's hard to balance - working and living at home makes it hard to get away sometimes.

It's important to manage time well and get work-life balance - taking time out to see friends, watch films etc.

On the flipside, have you had an epiphanies where you thought it was all worth it?

All the time. It sounds corny. But every time someone tries the chocolate for first time and I see their reaction, it makes me so happy. I’ve created that recipe and someone else has enjoyed it.

We've won awards for the food and packaging, but nothing compares to when you see someone try the product.

Roopa's advice for entrepreneurs

Really know your stuff... I honed my cooking skills by taking classes

Be business-savvy... It's important to have someone around with business acumen is really important - need to bring someone in. Know your product - what you’re doing really well, not much room to go wrong. Recipe technicalitites classes right way, help to be 100% sure of product. Learn.

Plan... We did a lot of research before setting up the business. We saved enough money to fund cookery courses for me and Jay's trip to India where he researched everything from packaging to attitude and service to help create an authentic brand.