Meet the woman who is an IIT and Harvard graduate, who quit her job to build a Rs 100 crore startup

Ahana Gautam Success Story

Meet Ahana Gautam, a woman whose journey from studying at IIT and Harvard to starting her own business is truly inspiring.

But her story is more than just success—it’s about love, courage, and making a difference. 

Ahana wanted to create healthier snacks for the Indian market, so she started Open Secret. Now, with a turnover of 120 crores, her brand isn’t just popular, it’s changing lives.

Join us as we explore Ahana’s incredible journey and see how passion and determination can lead to big achievements.

Ahana Gautam: Early life

Ahana Gautam and her elder brother were raised by a single working mother in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. 

Her mom, an economics professor, believed in the power of education and financial independence and encouraged Ahana to pursue her dreams.

woman is teaching her daughter"

Ahana’s brother was studying at IIT, which inspired her to aim for admission there as well. She began her preparations. She lived in an area with a notably low female literacy rate.

She recounted an incident: A friendly neighbor and a friend of her mother, also a professor at a college, made an unexpected comment. “Your son fulfilled your IIT dream,”.

she remarked. “Then why are you making your daughter study for IIT?” she asked out of curiosity. “How will you find a groom for her if she is so well-educated?” she sounded concerned. The young girl, however, was intrigued.

But her mother said, “Let her do whatever she wants in her life.”

Her mother treated both her children equally.

Ahana with her mother
Ahana with her mother

Ahana always says in many interviews, “‘Whatever I am today is because of my mother.”

Ahana Gautam: Education

Ahana Gautam’s educational background showcases her commitment to excellence.

She obtained her Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) in Chemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, graduating in 2006-2010.

Following this, she pursued her Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) at Harvard Business School, completing her studies in 2014-2016.

Ahana Gautam: Career Experiences

After her Bachelor’s degree, she worked with Procter and Gamble (P&G) for four years in various roles from 2010 to 2014. Then she went to the US For her MBA after working in P&G, as mentioned above. 

After completing her MBA, she again worked at General Mills in various roles from 2016 to 2018.

Birth of Open Secret

Ahana explained that the idea of “un-junking” snacks came to her mind during her time at Harvard for her MBA.

Originally from a small city in Rajasthan, Ahana always loved eating snacks made with palm oil, which she later realized weren’t good for her health. 

This realization struck her after visiting a Whole Foods store in the US.

“They only had better-for-you products. They didn’t sell any junk products in these stores, which made me wonder why we don’t have that access in India,” according to her.

She decided to start her business at the age of 30. She left her job and founded Open Secret in March 2019, a startup focusing on healthy snacks, including varieties made from ingredients like dry fruits and millet.

She says their products don’t have refined flour, trans fats, palm oil, or artificial preservatives.

The company reportedly achieved a turnover of Rs 120 crore In FY23.

Ahana said her mom gave the first money to start the company.

In the beginning, when she started her journey, she faced many challenges.

In the snacking industry and any other where males dominate, she had to meet with many contract manufacturers, men, and deal with shopkeepers, retailers, and bankers who were mostly men.

As a woman, she had to answer many questions, and nobody believed in her ability to succeed in an industry predominantly dominated by men in India. It was tough for Ahana to navigate such situations.

But she never gave up and continued to work for what she decided to do.

While things were going well according to plan, sometimes life threw hard challenges her way. A few years later, during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic, Ahana lost her mother. 

It was the lowest moment of her life. 

Losing a parent is one of the biggest heartbreaks in life. People ask her how to cope with the pain. She always says the pain never goes away – “you learn to live with it”.

Ahana Gautam with her team members
Ahana Gautam with her team members

She also serves as an Independent Board Director of Godrej Tyson Foods Limited.

Ahana Gautam’s Advice for Young People

Ahana Say “One thing I wish I had known better while growing up is to have blinders in life and keep focused on your mission.

I remember coming out of the examination hall in a crowd of students, hearing how people had nailed all the questions, and I would always feel like a loser that I didn’t.

And when the results came out, the picture was always very different.

Social media is like the examination classroom. Where everyone is showing their best foot forward, but the reality is very different.

Don’t be swayed by the social media celebrations.

It’s a platform where everyone puts their best foot forward.

To discover more inspiring stories of amazing founders like Ahana Gautam, visit our platform, Startup Forte. Let’s continue celebrating the journeys of determination and success together!

Muskan, a passionate storyteller and social media manager at Startup Forte. With a talent for sharing impactful founder stories, she invites you to explore inspiring journeys with us.

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