Double Trouble! - Palak Agarwal

Extremely hard working, Palak Agarwal has two parallel careers going for her: she started her own baking line, Not Just Vanilla, and is also the director at her family business, Protopack Food Packaging. Believing that there’s no shortcut to success, she sets goals and benchmarks, and then works hard and smart until she achieves them. In conversation with this multitalented entrepreneur, we got to know her better.

Tell us a bit more about yourself
I am definitely a bit of a chameleon. I studied science in high school, did my Bachelor’s in arts and then pursued my Master’s in commerce. I like to be a part of every conversation. I might not know everything, but I know enough to understand. I am hardly ever lost in any discussion. I love reading and I love travelling. I am always thinking about my next trip. I am usually the one in the room laughing at her own jokes.

How did you end up joining your family business?
I did my masters in entrepreneurship from the Cass Business School in London. I distinctly remember two modules there that have shaped my career choices. One was high-growth entrepreneurship and second was family business. I was in awe with the pace and magnitude of high-growth businesses. The risks, the decisions, the impact – everything was big. I just knew while attending that module that I want to lead a business that moves at that pace.

Secondly, the family business module helped me understand what a business legacy means, and how important it is to cultivate it at the right stage for it to grow. The two added together, and before I knew it, I knew exactly what I wanted to do after coming back. My father founded and runs a food packaging manufacturing unit. From laying the first brick to naming the company Protopack Food Packaging, its also been my baby.

What do you handle there?
I head marketing and finance. I am still getting around to managing the production. It’s been a completely new world for me, so I’ve had a lot to learn in the last year – technically as well as strategically. I visit the factory once a week and the other days I am in the office. From the first step of taking an order, to raw material procurement, production planning, quality control, and delivery details, I am actively involved in every step.

We hear you recently started baking from home. How did that happen?
It’s the most clichéd story you can find; I was baking during the lockdown. My aunt is a celebrity chef in Mumbai, Mrs. Shikha Murarka. I learnt to bake on video call with her. She then started enrolling me in her online classes for fun, and I was just hooked. Baking became my two minutes of calm after a long chaotic day. I’d come home tired from work and find just 30 minutes to bake some cookies.

Suddenly everyone around me started motivating me to pursue this professionally. I was hesitant because I was working full-time, but it was around Rakhi and I sent out a few sample hampers. I was overwhelmed by the response. I got my first order and then the orders just started pouring in. I did 100 fusion jars in my first week and catered to around 30 different orders. My mom offered to help me execute and my sister gave me her kitchen space – so I got the space and support. It’s been uphill since then.

Two full-time career options – how do you do justice to both? 
I believe the fact that there are two things to do makes me more focused. I am always well-planned. I know what needs to be done the next day a day before, because I know I need to manage my time. I bake in the mornings till 10, go to the office from 11-6 and bake again after coming back. I am never late for an order. Because I have to do both, I am able to prioritise what needs to be done and when. Of course, there are days when I can’t. Like when I have factory visits, I don’t take any special orders for that day, and when I have festivals or big orders, I take an off from work. I’ve been blessed with a boss (read, father!) who gives me the time to do both.

What kind of baked items do you specialise in?
Fusion and chocolate. I started baking with my range of fusion jars. They include flavours such as raspberry rasgulla, motichoor cheesecake, rasmalai vanilla. These fusion flavours are well appreciated. This explains the name – Not Just Vanilla – because I believe I have more to offer.

What are your best-selling items? 
Pull-me-up cakes and fusion jars. I had a customer who called me after trying the cake and said it reminded her of her childhood. I almost always get feedback on my pull-me-up cakes. I don’t even have to ask; they message on their own. People have been so kind with their reviews, it’s surreal.

If you now had to pick between the two, which line of work would you choose?
I don’t think I’d be doing as well in either of them if I was doing just either of them. Learnings at my family business help me make the entrepreneurial decisions I make for Not Just Vanilla, help me manage my time and help me plan. Not Just Vanilla keeps me sane and is my perfect go-to place after a high-pressure workspace. So I don’t think I can choose.

Three lesser-known things about you are?
I don’t have a sweet tooth. I eat chocolate maybe two times a year. I write poetry. I’m allergic to the sun and perfumes!                             --- as told to Anahita