It may not appear to be the most auspicious time to start a business. New Zealand is in its longest lockdown since the start of the pandemic. While the country is in recovery, closed borders and uncertainty is making people go stir crazy.

However, there are so many out there who are using this time to pause, reflect and act on long-ignored business ideas. Reserve Bank data revealed that the numbers of self-employed and employers are up since Covid first hit the economy in early 2020. The number of new businesses listing on the NZ Companies Register was up by as much as 20 percent in May 2020, compared to the same time last year.

Figures show that more women are working for themselves, becoming contractors, freelancers, or sole traders. In the year to March 2021, 17,500 became self-employed without employees – an increase of 14 percent. It seems despite the general sense of gloom, many female entrepreneurs are seeing opportunities during the pandemic. 

Priscilla Chand
saw an opportunity to help others find work through her platform, Hire HER.

Identifying a gap in the freelance market led Priscilla Chand to take her business from idea to execution to launch in a short span of five months this year. A first of its kind marketplace for women freelancers, the company since its launch four months ago has over 300 women freelancers and contractors registered from across New Zealand and Australia, with over $20,000 worth of jobs that have gone back to women.

An idea developed from her own experience; Priscilla put her career on hold to focus on being a mum to her two kids under three. Two-and-half years later when she tried to enter the job market again, she was unable to find the flexible hours that she was looking for, and she noticed that she wasn’t alone.

Observing a trend of many women choosing to go freelancing or work on contracting projects to manage their own time and work, she said, “I could see this trend among mothers and the younger generation. For the mothers, they were getting into contracting and freelancing or starting business because they wanted to work around their families, and they wanted to choose their hours. For the younger generation, like the millennials, they are becoming more driven about freedom and wanting to work from anywhere in the world, choosing when they want to work, and what clients they work with.”

Priscilla is far from alone. Indian Weekender spoke to other entrepreneurs who had started their business in lockdown upon observing a gap in the market.

Perzen Patel
Making a success of going far beyond butter chicken

Launched in October last year, Dolly Mumma has set out to address an issue that particularly bothers most Indian migrants in New Zealand. Tired of rolling her eyes as every Indian curry dish gets called ‘butter chicken’, Perzen Patel, founder of Dolly Mumma is on a mission to educate Kiwis about the versatility of Indian flavours and the ease with which they can make Indian food.

Upon returning to New Zealand in 2019, Perzen was excited to see the increase in diversity of the New Zealand  food scene, but was left disappointed that the awareness of Indian food was still limited to butter chicken, and tikka masala.

Realising that change needs to come from within the community, she highlighted, “As an Indian immigrant, it was very disappointing for me to see that when it came to Indian food, the awareness was pretty much the same as it was in 2003. A lot of us feel that way too, when we hear things like turmeric latte or ghee butter, or balloon bread which is essentially roti. But, at the same time, the big realization for me was that if we don't do something about it, if we don't share our stories and show the pathway, then we can't complain about it.”

This led to the birth of Dolly Mumma, an online store which sells pre-cooked, blended Indian curry or chutney pastes that can be added not just to Indian food but any other cuisine. Perzen says, “I realized that rather than us selling a butter chicken paste, or a chicken masala paste, we needed to show the versatility of Indian flavours and we needed to show how easy it was to use the flavours. And if we did that along with the educational front then we would really be able to make a change.”

Simran Kaur and Sonya Gupthan
Two millennial women who want to increase the number of women investors in NZ

Since its launch in March 2020, Girls that Invest has tackled an oft-taboo topic of money and investments with panache, humour and hard-hitting facts. Started by two best friends from Auckland, Simran Kaur and Sonya Gupthan, the platform, which has over 50,000 Instagram followers and was recently rated as New Zealand’s #1 Business podcast has a simple mission – make investing seem less daunting to women around the world.

Globally 30 percent of women are financially literate, compared to 35 percent of men, according to 2018 statistics from financial educators, Closing The Gap. Aiming to create a one-stop-shop for women who want to invest but don’t know where to begin or don’t feel like it’s for them, the Girls that Invest platform teaches investment concepts, in a matter of fact, transparent and no jargon-y way.

Creating a resource they wished was available to them when they were growing up, Simran and Sonya started by sharing little tips and bits of advice and information about investment statistic, female investors on their Instagram page. After followers started to interact and ask in-depth questions, they launched their own podcast.

Speaking about the inspiration behind the idea, Simran said, “Money is such a taboo topic. Even with Sonya, who has been my best friend for 20 years, we never talked about money. We never discussed how much we make, how much we have saved. When we started to open up with each other, we realised how valuable it was to share what we knew, and I realized that this was something that more young women should have the opportunity to be a part of. 

“So, we created this free resource to help other women learn about the stock market, learn about investing and maybe just break down some common myths and misconceptions that are out there. We wanted to get rid of the misconceptions that we learnt when we were younger and frankly, it's just all really grown from there.”

Talking about their learnings of setting up and building a business during lockdown, Simran said, “The biggest learning is just being consistent and giving things a go. When we started the podcast, we never thought we would be New Zealand’s #1 business podcast. We started with these average sized microphones, which were $200 each and that was the only investment we put in. And then after a year of consistently doing it, we got Sharesies to sponsor our season and so that was when we started making money from it, which was quite nice.  I think the biggest learning is just giving it a go because if we had thought, who are we to try something like this, then it would have never happened.”

Echoing Simran’s comment, Priscilla suggested not to wait for things to be perfect to launch something. She said, “There’s so many things that I’ve learnt launching this business during the pandemic. The thing I would say is if you have an idea, test it with your target audience first, and then launch it. I don't think you need to spend a lot of money to get your business up and running. What you need to do is be very agile about it, don’t make it perfect.  It’s never going to be perfect. If you can have a basic concept, launch one, you don’t need 10 products. Launch small and learn as you go.”

She added, “You have to accept that nobody is going to hold your hand. You must find the solutions yourself and don't be afraid to knock on every single door if you have to get that idea across to make it a success.” 

Experiencing things the hard way during this year’s lockdown, Perzen concurred with seizing every opportunity and learning to pivot. Dependent on the local Farmer’s Market for sale of their products, Perzen and her husband learnt valuable lessons after the country went into lockdown mid-August.

She said, “We originally were really reliant on the farmers markets, but we have had to pivot really quickly and sell online as well. We were already selling online, but at the same time, we always thought the farmers market would be around. So, I think the biggest learning for us is to diversify your revenue stream as soon as you can and make sure that you've got a revenue coming in from multiple mediums so that when something does happen, your business doesn't come to a standstill.”

Perzen, however, does thank the lockdown for fast-tracking the educational part of her business, the Learn to Cook Indian classes. “There has been a great response to the classes, and in fact I thank lockdown for this specific aspect. Because when I launched the business, I always knew that if we wanted to go beyond butter chicken, there had to be an educational aspect as well. You can't just say that you want to go beyond, and then not educate people on what that means or how they can do that. So this has always been an important part of the business for me.

“At these classes, I teach how to make the recipes from scratch but I also recommend you take your own notes and make the food to suit you and your family's palate. I basically turn into my mum at these classes, because whenever I’d ask her for a recipe, I only ever got an ingredient list from her.”