We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarena Udani and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sarena, do you have a budget? how do you think about personal finances?
When I started the business about ten years ago, my husband and I were on a teeny-tiny shoestring budget; he was a third-year neurosurgery resident, and I was a freelance graphic designer. We had just had a baby and a new mortgage – both of which accounted for most of our $4,000 per month budget. We watched every penny, and it became a weekly challenge to stay within the numbers set for each category. I still remember them now: $75 per week for groceries, $60 per month for diapers, $16.58 per month for an unused gym membership that I really should have cancelled. Everything was accounted for, color-coded and organized by category, recorded diligently in excel. Aside from some help with the down payment for our condo, we were self-sufficient. It was empowering and liberating, and we felt, well, finally grown-up. I was determined to feel the same way about PajamaSutra – self-funded and self-sufficient. This was going to be a challenge, though. Starting a clothing line was not something I could logically fit into our tiny budget, even if I cancelled that gym membership. It would have been completely unfair to use any of our small monthly budget to fund my business. I needed to keep everything separate. I had a few graphic design clients that got me started, but I clearly needed more. We lived across the street from a pawn shop. It wasn’t as sketchy as it sounds; it was actually pretty nice…more like a gold exchange with heavy glass doors like at Tiffany’s. With the recession in full swing, the price of gold was looking really good…so good that my modest stack of gold coins and bangles – a few gifts I had received over the years – were just begging to be exchanged. So one day I did just that…just a few coins to start. With a few thousand dollars, I had enough to get PajamaSutra started. My first sample maker (a craigslist find) turned out to be a sub-par sewer. My own home-sewn samples that I made on my kitchen table with my mother’s old Singer were far better. I should have vetted her first, and with nearly a third of my cash spent, it was an expensive lesson to learn, and it still stings every time I think about it! From then on, I was extremely careful. It paid off, and set the tone for how I continue to run my business to this day…with one big change. The obsessive, detailed spreadsheets that accounted for each and every expense were holding me back in many ways – I even had a spreadsheet where I manually entered each order, with columns for shipping, taxes, discount codes, fees, and then the packaging costs for that specific order…not realizing that all of it could have been downloaded with one click in Shopify. It was too time-consuming, and I was falling behind in the accounting. So behind that I wasn’t really budgeting, but was just entering in the costs after the fact. It was the work of a intern, not a CEO, and I needed to let the spreadsheets go. So one day about two years ago I finally said goodbye to the spreadsheets, both in my business and my personal life. I was finally free to simplify, streamline, and analyze things on a macro level. Budgeting was making sense, and I focused on goals and future growth rather than micro analyzing every tiny thing. That’s the advice I always share to fellow entrepreneurs who ask me about finances or budgets – focus on the big picture, and look forward! Set goals that scare you a little, and just keep going! Always make sure you establish systems that push you forward instead of holding you back.
What should our readers know about your business?
When I began PajamaSutra, I didn’t really have a target market…I thought that all women needed sleepwear, and designed for all women. I quickly learned that when you are everything to everyone, you’re really nothing to no one. So I niched down and focused on a very narrow market – the South Asian bride-to-be. As soon as I narrowed the focus, the business began to grow very quickly and organically, and I finally discovered the brand’s voice. They say that “the riches are in the niches,” and that’s definitely true! Starting out with that narrow focus naturally led to other areas like bridal gift boxes, which led to gift boxes for occasions other than weddings. When brides began to start families, the mommy and me loungewear was born too. Starting as narrow as possible and growing organically from there was truly the key to PajamaSutra’s success. PajamaSutra started out as a loungewear brand, but is now a brand about relationships. From brides to babies, birthdays to every-day, get-well and thank-yous…it’s been an honor to help our clients send comfort, joy and relaxation, especially during this challenging time.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
One of my go-to spots is the Lake Shrine Self-Realization Fellowship in Pacific Palisades. It’s so incredibly relaxing and peaceful, and offers a side of LA that few have seen.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Entrepreneurship can be very lonely, especially when you don’t have a co-founder or employees. I was craving a sense of community, and began to connect with fellow female founders via Instagram. We formed our own group on Instagram where we message each other daily. We share our wins, ask questions, and work out issues together. Each of us has our own strengths and brings our unique perspective and experience to the group, and I think we’re all the better for it.
Kristin Fitzgerald Photography, Lucy Cuneo, Lindsay Herkert Photography