Today we have for you the generous and oh-so-SMART Aruna Hatti of Gnaana! I was like a giddy little child when she agreed to the interview. To say I’m a huge fan of her unique toy company would be an understatement. It’s much more. Aruna noticed a void of cultural educational products for her newborn after searching various cities around the country. So, she decided to take her lawyering skills (talk about talent) and become a mompreneur. Who says you can’t do it all? Those of you that aren’t familiar with Aruna, she is the founder of Gnaana, a line of developmental toys adding elements of the South Asian culture. Her online shop is brimming with the most darling puzzles and blocks. Read on to learn what inspired Aruna to start her own business, the ups and downs of being her own boss, and where she hopes to take Gnaana in the future. Oh and don’t forget to check her blog…it’s filled with great DIY projects and children related topics that will make you think. Thank you Aruna for all the inspiration!
Five words used to describe yourself.
Tolerant, spiritual, driven, bookworm, online shopaholic
What propelled you to start your own company?
I’d had the concept for Gnaana in my head for quite some time, but the final straw was when I found myself taping Telugu akshara to a set of English wooden blocks. I thought to myself, “There must be a better way…” I know many others recognize the gravity of the generational dilution of South Asian and Indian languages and cultures, but when you see your kids swimming in a sea of catchy Western toys it really hits home. You just want to scream, “Hey, look! India is fun and exciting too!” And they’ll listen to you…for about 40 seconds….and then go back to making Play-Doh spaghetti. Kids learn with their hands, eyes and ears and through experiences – Gnaana’s products recognize this.
What inspires you creatively?
Simultaneously living in the past and in the future – I think every South Asian does this to some extent. We carry this magnificent past in our blood, which can manifest itself in subtle, unexpected ways.
What keeps you organized and on task?
Lists – paper, not PDA.
Describe your typical work day…
Every day is really different. When you own your own business, there’s always the crisis du jour to deal with. But “normal” is when I drop my 3-year-old at pre-school and bury myself in my home-office. I also maintain a legal practice part-time, so needless to say I’m very busy! But I love working from home – I get to pop out and play with my 1-year-old now and then, who is with her nanny during the day.
Most glamorous part of owning your own company?
Having the final say – you can’t beat that!
Least glamorous part of owning your own company?
The hiccups – they’re inevitable, uncontrollable, and simply infuriating.
Creative businesswoman you admire?
My maternal grandmother for sure. She lived in a small village in Andhra Pradesh. She probably wouldn’t be able to define “return on investment” for you, but she educated all 3 of her children – and managed the family finances and several acres of farmland. I’d spend my childhood summers watching her barter with mills and vegetable sellers, make and collect on small loans, and establish herself as a leader and role model in her village. She’d certainly have some classic advice for any CEO or CFO: command attention, be resourceful with your money and, most importantly, give back to your community.
What goals do you have for your business in the future?
I’d like to engage in community building with young kids. Right now, when it comes to cultural education, you have parents who think it’s necessary, but kids who don’t think it’s very “fun.” And most programs start when kids are 4 or 5 – when the children are well past the sensitive periods for language learning and are otherwise already set in their ways culturally. I’d like to change that – to have infants and toddlers internalize the beauty of South Asian languages and cultures through hands-on, play-based activities in a group setting.
Something you’re still learning?
Navigating the South Asian market – it’s beautifully diverse but mind-blowingly complex.
Where will we find you on a Friday night at 9pm?
Lately, planning our dream home… My husband and I are building a LEED green home – complete with a photovoltaic energy system, rain and bath water harvesting, and a roof garden. So we’re usually reviewing plans or reading about green building techniques. It’s a lot of work, but a thrilling adventure!