Sonia Kapadia, Taste Savant, Woman Entrepreneur

ImagesI met Sonia quite awhile ago when she was first embarking on Taste Savant.  Sonia had no interest in being anything but an entrepreneur and master of her own destiny.  Like most women, she was interested in building something that she found to be a void in her life.  She wanted easy access to a highly curated site where you could trust recommendations from friends and experts that you relied on for direction on where to eat.  She built it, she uses it and created a company around her idea.  Needless to say she isn't the only one using Taste Savant.

Sonia grew up in Rochester, NY.  Her parents are both from Dehli and immigrated to the US.  Her father came to the US after graduating medical school to do his residency.  He went back to Delhi and married her Mom and brought her back to Rochester where her Dad's sister already lived.  Her mother studied law in India and then passed her bar at in the US and practices law here.  They still have family in India where they continue to go back and forth every few years for a visit.

After graduating high school, Sonia went to University of Pennsylvania where she ended up majoring in marketing and communications.  She was pre-med until her junior year.  Sonia spent a few summers working in hospitals. Then in her junior year she had a revelation which was she did not want to be in medicine.  To her it wasn't about wellness but about sickness.  So she quickly changed majors and  made up for lost time and classes.  She then spent the summer of her junior year working at Pepsico and that set her off on a path.

After graduating Sonia traveled extensively around India before taking a full time job at Pepsico. Sonia knew that deep down she wanted to work on tangible products.  She wanted to see something to come to life.  She felt as a consultant she wasn't creating anything.  For three years Sonia worked in brand management before moving into the innovation group.  It was a pretty small group that was operating almost like a start-up within this large company.  Only 10 people were in the group.  They were incubating ideas and products.  They followed a different set of rules, they were allowed to fail, they were allowed to think out of the box doing small test marketing on new products.  The group was designed to be small, nimble, flexible and lean in order to move as fast as possible.

Even though she really had the best of both worlds by being able to operate in a small group with the capital of a large company Sonia was ready for a change.  She had been commuting up to Purchase from the city and was ready to work in an even faster paced environment.  She decided to apply to business school so she did not pigeon hole her herself into one area.  She wanted the opportunity at broader horizons.

Sonia moved to Cambridge to attend Harvard Business School.  She blossomed there meeting tons of people and learning a lot.  The summer in between her first and second year she worked for the Limited under the CEO of Henri Bendel.  They were trying to figure out how to reinvent the brand.  Sonia took on a strategic consulting role which is a job she never thought she would be interested in.  It was great exposure to fashion and retail.  The brand had lost its way and she was able to be involved in thought processes about bringing back a brand or evolving into something else.  A real learning opportunity. 

After graduation Sonia married her freshman year sweetheart.  Her plan after business school was to move back to NYC and start to work in a small company  Her husband was asked to move to London to head up a division of the company he worked for.  Amazing opportunity.  Sonia went along and tried to network her self into a job.  In the end, she returned to Pepsico because she couldn't find something else.  She worked on a major campaign in the UK for Walkers Crisps (big potato chip in Britain).  She got exposure to the consumer brand by working on big campaigns and promotions.  She wasn't loving the bureaucracy of the middle management and began to look elsewhere by coming up with a plan to meet with every CEO of consumer product start-ups in London.

It took her a year and a half but she finally landed a job at Gu Chocolate puddings.  Puddings in ramekins in the dairy section.  Cookie dough for souffles.  She ran marketing for them essentially being the CMO.  She loved it.  After a year the company was sold.  That was Sonia's first start-up experience and she was hooked.  The fast paced environment, working with a team solely focused on building the business and the pure autonomy was infectious. 

The timing of the business being sold was perfect.  They had been in London for 2 1/2 years and it was time to move back to NYC.  Sonia started to look for a job everywhere when she landed in NYC.  She wasn't really plugged into the start-up scene but ended up landing a job at Rent the Runway in business development and marketing.  She knew she eventually wanted to do her own thing but figured this was the perfect place to learn. 

Did she want to be in fashion or food?  One weekend when she was lounging on the couch trying to figure out where to eat that night but could not find a restaurant.  That is when she had her aha moment.  She decided to build Taste Savant on the weekends and evenings while working full time at Rent the Runway.  Eventually she realized that she could not do both and she made the leap to Taste Savant full time.

That leap took place around 2010.  She started to talk to people about what she was trying to build.  A one stop shop for menus, reservations and delivery integrated with the social component which helps with the curation.  She started getting requests from restaurants to add them to the site.  Fast forward, Taste Savant now has 1000 restaurants on the list.  She is focused on editorial and a curated approach to discovery.  It is intentional because this site might not be for everyone.  

Taste Savant launched this past summer and was chosen by Daily Candy as one of the finalists in their small business competition. At the same time Sonia had her first child.  She is raising a child and a business at the same time and why not.  Taste Savant is now starting to launch in other cities.  They are building a product for users first and foremost. 3,000 registered users and a team of 5 people.

Sonia set out to create something unique and she did.  What I like is that she is fully aware that this is not something that will necessarily be for the masses but a loyal focused group of users.  Big is great but so is small.  This is all about creating niche businesses that work for a loyal group and if you can make that work financially…well then bravo.