Niki Shamdasani is the co-founder and CEO of Sani, a hybrid collection that reimagines South Asian fashion for a new generation. Sani is revolutionizing access to South Asian craftsmanship, including through its partnership with Rent the Runway to launch the South Asian fashion vertical. It has been recognized for its leadership in the category by titles such as NBC, Business Insider, and Good Morning America.
Prior to Sani, Niki consulted with PRX, an award-winning media company, by helping lead design thinking workshops for journalism and public media institutions interested in podcasting. She also led the New York office of Matter, a startup accelerator at the intersection of media, entrepreneurship, and design thinking. Her interest in building businesses started while she was at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where she studied Political Science and was a Morehead-Cain scholar. While at UNC, she led the team that created UNC’s first official mobile application, interned for Sallie Krawcheck’s Ellevate Network during its early stages, and designed a small donor strategy for a nonprofit called Miraclefeet.
Where did the idea for Sani come from?
I started Sani with my younger sister in 2017 to meet a personal need. In India it is the tradition that, if you can’t find what you want, you make it yourself. Our mother did this, and her mother did this, and we decided to do this through our creation of Sani, a collection that celebrates the intersection of heritage and innovation. The process of shopping for South Asian fashion is currently one of great beautify, but also one of great time. We capture the familial, tailor-made experience of having custom cultural wear made and bring it online to make it easily accessible to a wider market. Each Sani piece is made of the finest quality fabrics, currently sourced from local South Asian markets, and updated through convenience features – like pockets, streamlined silhouettes, and current detailing. Our goal with our designs is to make women feel confident and unapologetic from the ways the designs to the way they fit and feel. As sisters and business partners, we value family above all else, and when you wear Sani, we want you to feel like you’re a part of ours.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every day is different in this line of work, but I always tentatively plan it out the day before. I start and end my day with a walk. From there, try to reserve the morning for more heads down work and the afternoon for meetings and internal sprints. When I’m feeling stuck, I get up and move, I brainstorm with someone else, or ideally I brainstorm with someone else on a walk!
How do you bring ideas to life?
There has to be some time spent strategizing and dreaming of what could be at a high level. Sometimes it’s easy to never bring it down to reality from there, but what I have learned is that if one time boxes each phase, it really helps. We build predictability into our efforts to bring ideas to life. That starts with an action plan and regular check-ins. Those plans always change, but making sure we’ve tried to think through a project helps us make it happen.
What’s one trend that excites you?
It’s an especially relevant one – I’m excited by the ways we can improve the virtual customer experience for clothes shopping. We’ve seen some exciting updates in augmented reality, virtual fitting rooms, and more. Even seeing how more people are trying virtual consultations through FaceTime or other video services opens up the possibilities for us to create more conveniences in this space.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Having a bias towards action makes me productive as an entrepreneur. I can be a perfectionist, but I have learned that there is a time and place for that. Most of the time, you want to quickly test out new products, ideas, and experiences.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If it’s meant to be, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. I used to think that the journey would become easier once I had hit my stride – either being in the perfect role or finding perfect product/market fit, but that’s not how it works. In fact, it only becomes more challenging and you have to remember challenges are inherent in the process.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Turmeric + honey heated up and taken at night can relieve almost any cold. I’m not saying this has been proved empirically true, but turmeric is known to have some incredible properties.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Tell everyone you know what you’re doing. You never know who you can learn from.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One strategy that has helped us grow Sani is constantly learning from our current and prospective customers. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day of running a business at the expense of continuing to do the kinds of user interviews that are common at the start of a business. That feedback often gives us new ideas for our product development and user experience.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I have had plenty of failures, but one was launching a collection before we were satisfied with it from a technical and design perspective because we thought we would miss the season. I believe strongly in continuous improvement from getting feedback on products, but you have to decide what the minimum standards are for your business. We had done that at the beginning, but we went against it for this collection because we put so much weight on a deadline that we had imposed on ourselves. It was no surprise to us that the collection did not perform well and we lost quite an investment. We work on all of our failures by thinking through what we need to build into our systems in the future to make sure the same mistake does not happen again. As humans, we will keep making mistakes, but we have to find ways to learn from them.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A way to trap and throw out cockroaches from your house without you having to get any closer than 10 feet from them.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I spent recently was for a Quickbooks course. Since the beginning of our business, I had been meticulous about keeping records, but they were spread out in so many different places and when we started trying to analyze trends and spending behavior, we couldn’t do so. I got Quickbooks about a year into the business and I know it’s such a powerful tool, but I wasn’t initially using it in all the right ways. I still have a lot to learn but investing time and a bit of money into figuring out how I can use it more effectively has been very helpful. I am always willing to spend money on learning.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I love Trello for helping me manage my priorities. I’ve recently been trying out Notion to organize notes, to-dos, and other project management in one place, but there’s something about the simplicity of Trello that makes me stick with it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Fountainhead – this isn’t the most original recommendation, but there’s a reason why certain books are classic. This book made me think a lot about the mastery of skills, the application of values in what you do, and more.
What is your favorite quote?
“If you aren’t in over your head, then how do you know how tall you are?” T.S. Eliot
- People are at the core of your business, whether that is the prospective and current customers, your support network, or your team. They are the ones that will help you learn and grow.
- There has to be a balance of failing fast and demonstrating perfectionism in your business. You want even MVP products and experiences to have a baseline level of quality, but you also don’t want to spend a lot of time building something that doesn’t meet people’s needs. You want to improve on what you have through quick iteration.
- You’re going to make mistakes along the way. That’s how humans work. But it’s part of the process, especially if you are taking risks, and you have to remember that what will set you apart is how you move forward from them.