Pinky Maheshwari, founder of Surprise Someone, is leading the sustainable revolution by creating paper out of waste cotton

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A LinkedIn post by mompreneur Pinky Maheshwari reads- ‘Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women, who have her back.’

Pinky’s six-year-old venture, ‘Surprise Someone‘ underscores this ideal of women empowerment along with sustainability. Her innovative startup began as a curious experiment at home, but soon developed into a full-fledged small-scale enterprise.

Pinky Maheshwari and her mother Sharada
In Conversation with Pinky

The Story Watch team caught up with Pinky Maheshwari for a lively interaction. Charming and passionate, her voice brims with enthusiasm as she relays the story behind her successful initiative. Before turning to entrepreneurship, Pinky had a successful career in the corporate world as a marketer and brand promoter. But she chose to take a break from her career to look after her young son, Udit.

She partnered with her mother, Sharada, to put her dream together from scratch. At the business front, both women have clear-cut roles- while Pinky remains in-charge of strategizing business ideas, execution, and essentially represents the front end, Sharda organizers the employees, customizes gifts, and infuses a unique spirit in developing newer and better inventory. Both of them work with a talented group of specialists and artisans, majority of whom are women.

The First Spark

Pinky Maheshwari worked at O&M for eight years and Vodafone for two years before she quit her job to look after her son. The idea for a business venture came to her during the same period. She describes an interesting incident that sparked the entire initiative. One day her son was playing with paper and tearing it up into bits. Pinky stopped him saying that paper is produced by cutting down trees and wasting paper would be detrimental to tree conservation.

But her son, in all his childlike innocence, asked her to produce paper instead.

In the discussion with her parents (both environmentalists) that followed, Pinky discovered that paper could also be manufactured using cotton. In fact, such a process had been popular since the time of Mahatma Gandhi. Curious and enthused, she decided to try it out herself using a waste cotton cloth at home. It was her first attempt at the process and the start of something extraordinary.

Today, about 6 years later, her enterprise produces over 1 lakh paper bags.

Pinky does not have pictures of her first success, since she did not deem it a milestone at the time.

“It was simply an activity born from curiosity,” she explains.

Innovative Craft to Full-scale Business

But she decided to share this newly learned skill with others. Initially, she organized craft classes and workshops for kids during summer vacation. Even such small-scale sessions yielded a healthy income, but she soon realized it was something that worked really well only during summer breaks. Also, the impact she could create through this was limited.

Eco-friendly gifts and products from Surprise Someone

Pinky, without any previous entrepreneurial experience, explored more options and gauged the market scope for her paper bags. She approached her former employer Vodafone to be her potential client. Impressed with her original idea, they agreed to take a bulk order and quoted a price. This kickstarted her initiative and began her journey of starting her venture from the ground.

Her startup was aptly named ‘Surprise Someone‘ to reflect its founder’s character. Pinky confesses that she has always enjoyed giving gifts and surprising people.

Once set up, the company further innovated by infusing seeds in many of their products. These include stationery items like diaries, notepads, office calendars, etc. The infusion of seeds into the merchandise made them sustainable . To foster a sustainable means of enjoying Indian festivals they introducing various innovative products like plantable rakhis and diyas, colorful seed balls, plantable Valentine Day hearts, and even invitations made of eco-friendly materials embedded with seeds.

“Brothers have this habit of simply removing the Rakhi the very next day from Rakhshabandhan,” Pinky explains. “These Rakhis eventually find their way into landfills. So we created biodegradable Rakhis with seeds, so they can simply be planted when it is removed.”

Today, ‘Surprise Someone‘ boasts of an impressive inventory of such 1200 products, composed entirely of eco-friendly and handmade paper.

Objectives and Aspirations

Pinky is a firm believer of positivity and an ardent follower of spirituality. She has tried incorporating these values into her business as well.

“Usually in interactions, you are never asked how happy you are at the workplace,” she says, “but always about how much are you earning.”

She does not want her enterprise to emulate any million-dollar corporate empire. Growing together as a team with content employees is one of her business priorities. Happy employees in a good environment are conducive to better production. The positive energy in the work environment is something that is important to her.

“I firmly believe that if you infuse positive energy while creating something then that positive energy ultimately finds its way to our clients.” she explains. “There is a reason why the food prepared by mothers cannot be matched by any restaurant in the world”

Additionally, it is a valuable lesson for startup founders, who should nurture positive energy in all stages of development. So, Pinky makes it a point to take good care of her workers, providing the best possible care to them in times of need.

In pursuance of her secondary goal of women empowerment, ‘Surprise Someone’ employs a majority of women in their workforce. Almost 85 percent of all workers at the company are women hailing from rural, semi-urban and urban regions. The business itself is 100 percent women owned, with Pinky and her mother collaborating as partners.

Pinky also advocates the act of giving.

“As a firm believer of spirituality, whatever you wish to acquire in life begins with you giving it first. For instance, we hardly appreciate the service of others, but get easily upset when our own work is not duly appreciated by others. We must purge ourselves of the habit of only accepting with never giving back.”

Pinky Maheshwari
Achievements and Mentorship
  • Surprise Someone was chosen as one of the best 20 startups in India. It supplies products to the B2B segment and has a website and dedicated Amazon page for B2C. Pinky Maheshwari is a certified Amazon mentor.
  • The company supplies stationery to PMO and other government departments and is a pioneering force in Invest India and Startup India.
  • It is a completely bootstrapped enterprise without any external funding.
  • Pinky Maheshwari secured a fully sponsored 100 percent scholarship at IIM Bangalore for an entrepreneurship course at ISB.
  • She mentors startups and teaches them entrepreneurship and storytelling. Pinky also conducts sessions on positivity and zero cost advertising. All merchandise of Surprise Someone has been marketed online through their social media channels. She asserts that with dedication, perseverance, learning through trial and error, any enterprise can generate organic traction for its brand with honest marketing through social media.
  • Pinky Maheshwari also serves as a consultant with the MSME Skill Development branch of the central government and undertakes mentorship sessions for budding entrepreneurs.
Failure Is The Best Teacher

Despite her success over the years, Pinky covets every failure along the way. She has also imparted this ideology to her team at the company. Every failure is welcomed and celebrated as an opportunity for course correction and better business development.

“No B-school can provide the kind of knowledge and enlightenment that real life failure does. It is a learning opportunity for all,” Pinky echoes her father’s sentiments during a difficult instance in her company.

In conclusion to encourage new and established entrepreneurs, she shares the famous quote by author Simon Sinek- “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Success comes to those who have a captivating story to tell. Sometimes just as fascinating as Pinky Maheshwari’s.

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