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Female Founders: Sumana Jayanth of Damn Gina On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

I also learned to focus on distribution. We focused a lot on B2C and did not build a distribution plan and a robust B2B. With the rising ad costs and iOS updates, it has been harder than ever to reach the target market. So build your wholesale network from the get-go.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sumana Jayanth.

Sumana Jayanth loves bold moves, business strategy, and being her own boss.

Growing up in India, Sumana flat ironed her naturally curly hair from ages 15 to 30, believing that straight hair was the standard of beauty. In her role as the marketing coordinator for a fashion label in Australia, Sumana discovered her love for designing accessories and working with silk fabrics. It was not long before the self-taught, self-starter turned her hobby into a full-fledged business.

Sumana realized that her perception of beauty had been warped by long-held, childhood beliefs. Recognizing the damage straightening her hair had caused, Sumana took it upon herself to learn more about curly hair methods and started to redefine what beauty meant to her.

Her experience working with luxurious silk fabrics led to the creation of Damn Gina, a trendy silk hair care accessories brand inspired by the catchphrase from the popular 90s sitcom Martin. As founder of Damn Gina, Sumana hopes to encourage people from around the world to celebrate and embrace their beautiful curls, coils, and waves.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in the village side of India and had no access to Western media until I was a teenager. I have always been one of those people who didn’t know what to do with my life. I graduated with an engineering degree and worked at a tabloid newspaper before moving out of India. After living in Singapore and Hong Kong, I moved to Melbourne, Australia with my husband. While living in Melbourne, I saw many women run their own small businesses and it inspired me to start something of my own. It was also here that I had finally started embracing my naturally curly hair after chemically straightening it for decades. While looking at ways to preserve my newfound curls, I stumbled upon the idea of silk hair accessories and soon realized there was a product market fit.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

While starting my business I realized how willing people are to help when you seek it. I have always been bad at asking for help, but after starting Damn Gina, I have learned to ask when I need something, and most of the time I have had people go out of their way and help.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This isn’t much of a mistake, but a gaffe. When we launched, a well-known influencer in Australia gave us a shout-out and we were flooded with orders. This was literally 15 days after the store went live and I wasn’t ready for the rush. I hand-wrote addresses for 100s of orders for 2 nights continuously and shipped them out. This was the end of November and most orders were Christmas gifts and I didn’t want to delay them. The first thing I did afterward was buy a label printer. The lesson learned is never to underestimate the power of social media.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

A huge shoutout to my manufacturer, Dinesh in India. He has been more like family than a manufacturer. Dinesh actually sent the first batch of products without taking a single cent as this was a new product and we wanted to test out if it would work. He just said — “try and sell it and if you do, then pay me.” He always said he believed in me, but he has never worked on a product like this and wasn’t sure if there would be a demand.

According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

In my opinion, I would say there’s not enough precedence to get inspired. This is also one of the key reasons we need racial representation — so it inspires the future generations of young women to dream big and chase those dreams.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I believe that as women entrepreneurs we need to invest in each other and our visions. When we see other people succeed that inspire us and connect with messages that resonate with us, it can change the way we go about the journey of founding our own businesses. We need to share our stories and continue to uplift other women as we grow.

Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

The same reason why men should. To be financially independent, to lead, to set precedence, to inspire, and to build a better society and a better world.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

That a founder knows it all. The journey of a founder is one of constant learning. Every day we learn and unlearn something new. Another myth is the job is always exciting and involves innovation and new projects. However, 80% of the work is boring, repetitive tasks doing them consistently day in and day out.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I think it depends on where your passion lies. As a founder, most of the time (at least initially), you need to wear multiple hats and be ready to work the most exciting and boring parts of the business equally, but also at the end of the day look at the big picture. It can be hard for someone who likes to master one thing and work just on that one thing.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

5 things I wish I knew were running a business doesn’t have set hours. I am currently writing these answers at 5:45 am, waiting for the baby to wake up. There have been times when I have attended meetings at 4 am and replied to customer queries at 1 am when I first started. As a business founder, it is good to have the knowledge of every aspect of the business but don’t try to do it all by yourself. Take the time and hire people for jobs that don’t move the needle, so you can focus on growing it. I spent way too much time doing small little things that had no impact on growing the business.

I also learned to focus on distribution. We focused a lot on B2C and did not build a distribution plan and a robust B2B. With the rising ad costs and iOS updates, it has been harder than ever to reach the target market. So build your wholesale network from the get-go.

Another thing I learned is that people will talk down. I always have rose-tinted glasses on and am forever optimistic, but it was a shock to the system when I heard the naysayers. You just have to wear your big girl pants and believe in yourself. For every naysayer, there is someone amazing who is willing to help you — only if you reach out. So I wish I knew early on, that it is okay to reach out for help, questions or just to say you admire someone’s work. The worst that can happen is they say no or they don’t reply, but the best thing that can happen is they actually reply! I wish I had reached out and grown my network more and it would have definitely helped with the 2-year lockdown. Then perhaps the most important thing I wish I knew was, not to ignore the physical and mental health while building a brand. Rest is important.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

We are working towards making Damn Gina a zero plastic brand. I strongly advocate against single-use plastic as the plastic pollution will be the end of us. With the rise in e-commerce brands across the globe, we need to consciously make an effort to minimize the packaging. Great packaging looks cool in those unboxing videos — but at what cost?

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Without a doubt equal rights — especially in my home country, India. I think historically women have received the short end of the stick.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Jen Atkin. I think her rise is very inspirational and from her social media presence, she seems to have built a great work culture at Ouai and Mane Addicts. She also seems to have a great work ethic and most importantly she seems like a really nice person.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Sumana Jayanth of Damn Gina On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.