In October, Pashmi Shah, a 30-year-old marketing executive, received a life-changing call.
On the other end was a producer on Shark Tank, the Emmy-nominated reality television series in which entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to seven “sharks” — or investors — who then decide whether or not to invest in them.
Ms Pashmi was invited to introduce Get-A-Whey – a keto-friendly, low-sugar ice cream brand she ran with her brother Jash and mother Jimmy – on the Indian version of the show
The brother and sister duo loved desserts and were always looking for healthy options. So one day her mother experimented with an ice cream with whey protein powder, a dietary supplement.
“When we tasted it, we were surprised that it tasted so good,” Ms. Pashmi said.
They tweaked the recipe over six months, brought a food technologist on board, and launched Get-A-Whey in 2019.
This year her mother and her mother sold this ice cream to the “sharks” at Shark Tank India and raised 10 million
Get-A-Whey was among 67 companies to which Shark Tank’s investors have pledged more than 400 million rupees. The series itself reportedly received more than 62,000 pitches from startups across India for its first season.
In a blog shortly after the end of the show’s first season, Anupam Mittal, founder of one of India’s largest marriage websites, wrote that he believes the show “was the catalyst that will change India’s entrepreneurial landscape forever”.
He further explained that of the 67 companies that did business on the show, 59 had a founder under the age of 25 and 29 had at least one female co-founder.
Most importantly, the show highlighted a new generation of young risk-takers and a changing attitude towards entrepreneurship in India.
Both Ms. Pashmi and her brother quit well-paying jobs to start their business.
“In the beginning it was difficult to convince our father,” she says.
At the end of last year, the Shahs were selling 8,000 units of their product a month and raking in nearly Rs 1 million in revenue.
After her Shark Tank episode aired in January this year, sales across India went through the roof. In the first quarter they sold a whopping 65,000 units and earned almost Rs 8.5 million.
Internet entrepreneur and best-selling author Ankur Warikoo says Shark Tank has done a commendable job of bringing people like Pashmi Shah to the top.
“But the most important thing is to make them aware that their ambitions can be much bigger than what they set out to do and if money is a barrier – then here’s the money.”
Mr. Warikoo says India has always had this entrepreneurial drive, even away from the traditional wealthy companies that saw an early wave of entrepreneurial success in the early 1990s.
“Don’t ignore that there are millions of families in India where parents used to be day laborers and now their kids are saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to build a mobile repair shop or I’m going to build a cloud kitchen or I’m going to be an Uber driver and have a fleet of Uber cars that I can rent out,” he explains.
The show, he says, successfully legitimized the career path of a self-made entrepreneur to a generation of parents who used to be cynical or skeptical about such a risky move.
“Suddenly, when it’s prime time, their parents are proud that their son or daughter is now an entrepreneur. And that their son or daughter could be in Shark Tank one day,” says Mr. Warikoo.
Ashneer Grover, one of the “sharks” on the show and founder of one of India’s best-known fintech companies, attributes much of the change to the internet.
“Someone who is building a business is now thinking in pan-India terms. They don’t sell themselves as experts in their local regions, they have bigger ambitions,” he says.
Writer and entrepreneur Rashmi Bansal says India’s middle class used to believe that a degree leading to a steady job was better than running a business. “That’s changed — the idea of ’doing your own thing’ has moved from the fringe to the mainstream.”
She cites the example of a start-up meeting she attended in the remote Bastar district of central Chhattisgarh state.
“To my surprise, six local entrepreneurs showed up. Everyone had plans to go national or international,” she says, adding that Shark Tank reflects this new aspiration of an India where you don’t need a rich father or godparent to be successful.
Mr. Grover attributes this to the hunger for success of entrepreneurs from smaller towns.
“They’ve got a fire in their stomachs,” he adds, citing the example of Revamp Motors, which put up a utility electric bike for gig workers on the show.
“The amount of engineering that went into building this e-bike with so little capital was mind-blowing. That gives me confidence that if we limit ourselves to doing hardcore engineering ourselves, it bodes very well for India,” he says.
“The success of Shark Tank is that it became a table talk,” says Surabhi Shah, a second-generation entrepreneur.
She and her mother-in-law Chetna Shah pitched their business idea – Carrabox, an eco-friendly food packaging concept – on Shark Tank and took home Rs 5 million in return for a 20% stake.
Surabhi, who comes from a traditional entrepreneurial family, says the idea of taking someone else’s money for a piece “of my company was a very alien concept.”
But attitudes have changed and the risk of starting your own idea is no longer taboo, she adds.
“Terms like equity and investing were in textbooks when we were growing up. But now it’s on national television. You can open and scale your own shop on Instagram,” she explains.
But negotiating a successful deal wasn’t the only victory for Surabhi and her mother-in-law at Shark Tank.
“What I find interesting is that even now our TV soaps still feature mother-in-law and daughter-in-law fighting,” noted Aman Gupta, a “Shark” and co-founder of one of India’s biggest consumer electronics brands, about portraying the mother-in-law as domineering and cunning .
“Seeing you both here today makes me very happy. India will be delighted that a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law can do business together,” said Mr. Gupta to applause from other investors.