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University entrepreneur aims to show Kiwis life beyond butter chicken

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4 November 2020

Perzen Patel is the creator of a tantalising range of Indian spice pastes designed to give New Zealanders a taste of the real India while still being versatile enough for a soup or Sunday roast. She is bringing her business Dolly Mumma (named in honour of her grandmother) to life while continuing her day job at the University of Auckland as Digital Engagement and Communications Advisor for Libraries and Learning Services. Perzen entered the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s flagship competition the Velocity $100k Challenge where she made the finals out of 80 entries and gained a place in the Launchpad programme to help hone her ideas. 

Q: Passion doesn’t always equal profession. What inspired you to turn your love of Indian food into a business?
Before moving to New Zealand in 2019, I lived in India where I had my own catering business. While I loved serving food, I grew frustrated with the business model I had inadvertently created as it is very hard to scale a catering business. I knew that the next time I ventured into business, I wanted to have a product and I wanted it to be something that had a larger potential audience.

Upon moving to New Zealand I realised that despite the New Zealand food scene having matured and a range of cuisines now being available, the same could not be said about Indian food. I kept encountering the same conversations with my new friends – 

‘Oh you’re from Mumbai? I love having curry’, they’d say. Or, ‘I love Dahl but sadly I can never get it right’. Or, ‘I bought curry powder at the Indian shop but my curry didn’t taste anything like the one I usually order. Not quite sure what to do with it now, aye’.

It clicked that if I wanted my friends and those around me to experience the true taste of India, I had to do more than talk about it. I had to bring those flavours into their kitchen. I had to show them that not only could they be used to make a great curry but that they could also be incredibly versatile and be used in their everyday cooking as well.

Q: What inspired you to take the plunge this year?
Originally I had always planned to do this business a bit later once I was a bit more re-settled into living in Auckland. In June this year I started a podcast, Kiwi Foodcast, where I talk to entrepreneurs and others working in the food space in New Zealand to find out about the amazing work they do. Talking to them and seeing so many food entrepreneurs thriving encouraged me to just give my idea a go rather than just keep on ‘thinking’ about it. 

As a small next step I applied for The Kitchen Project, a food business incubator run by ATEED, Healthy Families and Panuku. The advice and support I got there helped me get started and move the dial on all the things one needs to get done. Later I applied to the Velocity $100k Challenge and the thrill of a competition meant I leaned right into the business and ended up with a detailed business plan and path forward. This helped Dolly Mumma get started. 

Q: How have you managed to balance your day job, family commitments and starting a venture?
In one sentence – with a lot of struggle. It is not easy juggling everything and some days I feel like I am failing at everything. What helps is time-blocking. I keep set times in my calendar in the evening and weekends for working on both my podcast and my business and use that focused time to get ahead. At the start of the week, I also identify just one critical thing I need to get achieved this week in each area and then spend my week just completing that. It’s amazing just how much you can chip away by doing one small thing at a time. 

Q: How has coronavirus and lockdown changed the way you do business?
Coronavirus and lockdown have made me more grateful for all I have in life. I am in a privileged position to have a great job while also having the opportunity to run a business. It’s helped me realise that you can achieve A LOT remotely and it saves a lot of time. Now my default setting for most meetings is online.

Q: What have been your biggest wins and lessons this year?
My biggest win has been to be able to get to the starting line with both Kiwi Foodcast as well as with Dolly Mumma, both projects that I simply dreamed of working on when I moved to New Zealand in 2019. Even though I did not win the Velocity Challenge it taught me a lot about writing a great business plan and forecasting for the business which has been very beneficial.

Q: How has being involved in the Velocity entrepreneurship programme helped with developing your concept and knowledge of venture development? What support have you most appreciated?
Being a part of Velocity really helped me fine tune my target customers and create meaningful sales projections. I’ve always known both those things are important but I have never taken the time to actually write them down. Both these activities have really helped guide me in what steps I should take next. There’s only my husband and me in the business for now and A LOT of things to achieve so knowing this helps us focus. The best part for me was my mentors. Being connected to Janene Draper and Brendan Vercoe who both have very different specialities gave me valuable insights into my business that I otherwise would not have received. It’s really helped me with my product development process.

Q: It’s a huge achievement to have made it to the finals out of 80 entries. Has involvement helped build your confidence and connections?
I’ve always been confident in my business idea. However, being a part of the programme and talking about my business has helped me refine my elevator pitch and clearly communicate what Dolly Mumma is all about to a variety of stakeholders. It’s also helped me develop some key connections which I will always value.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone with an idea they want to develop?
I am an ideas person and have a new idea about a business or project all the time. My key piece of advice always is to just start. That’s the only way you will know whether you want to pursue it and also whether it is worth pursuing. Without action, it will always just be an idea you had.

Q: Who are your inspirations and which companies or entrepreneurs do you admire?
My biggest inspiration this year has been reading The One Thing by Gary Keller. The flip side of being a great ideas person is that it’s very hard to focus. There’s always so much to do and achieve! Reading this book helped me learn how to set one objective for the year and then work backwards from that to a weekly level. I still have to master doing just One Thing daily but I hope to get there one day!

Q: What next for Dolly Mumma?
Next for Dolly Mumma is a year of putting our heads down and just getting to work. We only just got our kitchen registration so now we plan on getting into as many farmers’ markets as possible so that we can get real time feedback about our product and create some sales. We are also in parallel building our website, social media channels and sorting out other operational details. Hopefully by this time next year you will find a Dolly Mumma bottle at a Farro’s near you (Farro’s, are you listening?).

Listen to Perzen’s interview on Radio New Zealand

Find Dolly Mumma on Instagram, Direct Message the ‘No more Butter Chicken’ hotline for advice about cooking Indian at home and buy the spice paste online.

Nicholas Bing
Nicholas Bing
Nicholas Bing
Nicholas Bing

social media

4 November 2020

Perzen Patel is the creator of a tantalising range of Indian spice pastes designed to give New Zealanders a taste of the real India while still being versatile enough for a soup or Sunday roast. She is bringing her business Dolly Mumma (named in honour of her grandmother) to life while continuing her day job at the University of Auckland as Digital Engagement and Communications Advisor for Libraries and Learning Services. Perzen entered the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s flagship competition the Velocity $100k Challenge where she made the finals out of 80 entries and gained a place in the Launchpad programme to help hone her ideas. 

Q: Passion doesn’t always equal profession. What inspired you to turn your love of Indian food into a business?
Before moving to New Zealand in 2019, I lived in India where I had my own catering business. While I loved serving food, I grew frustrated with the business model I had inadvertently created as it is very hard to scale a catering business. I knew that the next time I ventured into business, I wanted to have a product and I wanted it to be something that had a larger potential audience.

Upon moving to New Zealand I realised that despite the New Zealand food scene having matured and a range of cuisines now being available, the same could not be said about Indian food. I kept encountering the same conversations with my new friends – 

‘Oh you’re from Mumbai? I love having curry’, they’d say. Or, ‘I love Dahl but sadly I can never get it right’. Or, ‘I bought curry powder at the Indian shop but my curry didn’t taste anything like the one I usually order. Not quite sure what to do with it now, aye’.

It clicked that if I wanted my friends and those around me to experience the true taste of India, I had to do more than talk about it. I had to bring those flavours into their kitchen. I had to show them that not only could they be used to make a great curry but that they could also be incredibly versatile and be used in their everyday cooking as well.

Q: What inspired you to take the plunge this year?
Originally I had always planned to do this business a bit later once I was a bit more re-settled into living in Auckland. In June this year I started a podcast, Kiwi Foodcast, where I talk to entrepreneurs and others working in the food space in New Zealand to find out about the amazing work they do. Talking to them and seeing so many food entrepreneurs thriving encouraged me to just give my idea a go rather than just keep on ‘thinking’ about it. 

As a small next step I applied for The Kitchen Project, a food business incubator run by ATEED, Healthy Families and Panuku. The advice and support I got there helped me get started and move the dial on all the things one needs to get done. Later I applied to the Velocity $100k Challenge and the thrill of a competition meant I leaned right into the business and ended up with a detailed business plan and path forward. This helped Dolly Mumma get started. 

Q: How have you managed to balance your day job, family commitments and starting a venture?
In one sentence – with a lot of struggle. It is not easy juggling everything and some days I feel like I am failing at everything. What helps is time-blocking. I keep set times in my calendar in the evening and weekends for working on both my podcast and my business and use that focused time to get ahead. At the start of the week, I also identify just one critical thing I need to get achieved this week in each area and then spend my week just completing that. It’s amazing just how much you can chip away by doing one small thing at a time. 

Q: How has coronavirus and lockdown changed the way you do business?
Coronavirus and lockdown have made me more grateful for all I have in life. I am in a privileged position to have a great job while also having the opportunity to run a business. It’s helped me realise that you can achieve A LOT remotely and it saves a lot of time. Now my default setting for most meetings is online.

Q: What have been your biggest wins and lessons this year?
My biggest win has been to be able to get to the starting line with both Kiwi Foodcast as well as with Dolly Mumma, both projects that I simply dreamed of working on when I moved to New Zealand in 2019. Even though I did not win the Velocity Challenge it taught me a lot about writing a great business plan and forecasting for the business which has been very beneficial.

Q: How has being involved in the Velocity entrepreneurship programme helped with developing your concept and knowledge of venture development? What support have you most appreciated?
Being a part of Velocity really helped me fine tune my target customers and create meaningful sales projections. I’ve always known both those things are important but I have never taken the time to actually write them down. Both these activities have really helped guide me in what steps I should take next. There’s only my husband and me in the business for now and A LOT of things to achieve so knowing this helps us focus. The best part for me was my mentors. Being connected to Janene Draper and Brendan Vercoe who both have very different specialities gave me valuable insights into my business that I otherwise would not have received. It’s really helped me with my product development process.

Q: It’s a huge achievement to have made it to the finals out of 80 entries. Has involvement helped build your confidence and connections?
I’ve always been confident in my business idea. However, being a part of the programme and talking about my business has helped me refine my elevator pitch and clearly communicate what Dolly Mumma is all about to a variety of stakeholders. It’s also helped me develop some key connections which I will always value.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone with an idea they want to develop?
I am an ideas person and have a new idea about a business or project all the time. My key piece of advice always is to just start. That’s the only way you will know whether you want to pursue it and also whether it is worth pursuing. Without action, it will always just be an idea you had.

Q: Who are your inspirations and which companies or entrepreneurs do you admire?
My biggest inspiration this year has been reading The One Thing by Gary Keller. The flip side of being a great ideas person is that it’s very hard to focus. There’s always so much to do and achieve! Reading this book helped me learn how to set one objective for the year and then work backwards from that to a weekly level. I still have to master doing just One Thing daily but I hope to get there one day!

Q: What next for Dolly Mumma?
Next for Dolly Mumma is a year of putting our heads down and just getting to work. We only just got our kitchen registration so now we plan on getting into as many farmers’ markets as possible so that we can get real time feedback about our product and create some sales. We are also in parallel building our website, social media channels and sorting out other operational details. Hopefully by this time next year you will find a Dolly Mumma bottle at a Farro’s near you (Farro’s, are you listening?).

Listen to Perzen’s interview on Radio New Zealand

Find Dolly Mumma on Instagram, Direct Message the ‘No more Butter Chicken’ hotline for advice about cooking Indian at home and buy the spice paste online.


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