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From Darbhanga to the rest of the world –the riveting story of JhaJi Store

A startup from Darbhanga in Bihar takes the world of pickle by storm

The story of Kalapa Jha, who led a simple life with her family in Darbhanga in Bihar is nothing less than a potential Bollywood blockbuster. Or this could be a case study for the best B-schools.

Jha, with her sister-in-law Uma Jha decided to launch JhaJi Store, a brand of homemade pickles and chutneys from the Mithilanchal region of Bihar, in October 2020 at a time when the country was grappling with the acute economic contraction amid the Covid 19 wave.

“I launched a business at the age of 52, when most people start preparing for retirement,” Kalpana tells India Narrative.

Kalpana and Uma, a school teacher, set up their startup company – Mithila Pickles and Chutneys Private Ltd that owns the brand JhaJi Store.

After the necessary approvals including one from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSAI), the sisters-in-law were ready with their first consignment of pickles in June 2021.

The direct to consumer brand was sold through various social media channels. Kalpana recalls that they had little knowledge of social media. “But my son helped us in marketing and selling the products online, we learnt how to create brand awareness and how to market our product,” the housewife turned entrepreneur says.

The first consignment of pickles went mostly to people whom they knew. But within months the number of customers surged primarily through social media advertisement and word of mouth.

Kalpana’s husband who had just retired invested a small chunk of money into the company. “This initial amount was enough for the first few weeks but as the orders kept flowing, we needed to expand, we needed funding,” she says.

In December, sisters in law approached Shark Tank India. The two participated in the reality business show with the hope to get funding. While they failed to get any funding from Shark Tank, their story touched a chord with many. “There was an unprecedented interest from all corners about our business, we finally even got funding,” Kalpana recalls.

Despite offering a 10 per cent equity in the company, Kalpana and Uma were unable to get any funding from Shark Tank. That is when Velocity Funding approached the duo and offered growth capital.  The rest, as they say, is history.

“Though we failed to get funding from Shark Tank, the TV reality show gave us publicity and a platform where we could tell our story,” Kalpana says.

There has been no looking back for JhaJi Store. In the first nine months of the business, the fledgling startup earned Rs 90 lakh. Their customer base is now about 20,000 families around the country.

Kalpana says the business started with just five employees but today there are more than 30 people working. But there are many more who are engaged on contract case to case basis.

Kalpana says that the Covid 19 pandemic hit the income levels of many families. “Many women would congregate near our place, something which is a typical small town affair— we would talk about our families and problems and that is when they said that they were ready to work with us,” she notes.

“As the cliché goes, age is just a number,” she quips.

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