Even as adults, we still cherish those special toys from our childhood. For Avani Sarkar, however, she took the meaning behind those special toys to the next level. As one of the brains behind Modi Toys, Avani has become an entrepreneur and all around girl boss all while teaching toddlers and adults alike about Indian Culture. Read on to learn all about her career, how Modi Toys got started, and more.
Tell us about your business.
My brother and I co-founded Modi Toys after we both became parents to two little girls (born a week apart). After we realized how their nurseries were becoming cluttered with random toys, we decided to create meaningful toys that were rooted in our Indian culture.
Even though my brother and I spent a considerable part of our childhood growing up in India, it’s surprising how little of our culture we’ve retained after moving to America, nearly 30 years ago. We feared that our daughters would retain even less so we wanted to begin exposing them to our culture in fun, subtle ways to help spark curiosity about their roots.
In May 2017, we drew our first sketch of the plush Baby Ganesh, and eight months after that, we had our first working prototype in hand. Another 8 months after that, we launched our site with three core products: a small and a medium-sized Baby Ganesh and a children’s book, How Ganesh Broke His Tusk. We sold out of all thousand units of the medium-sized Baby Ganesh within three weeks of launching.
Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?
Children, in general, are my biggest sources of inspiration, but of course, being the biased mom that I am, my daughter tops the list. I was afraid that she would grow up not appreciating her Indian culture because frankly, she wouldn’t be surrounded by it the way I was when growing up in America. Just as parents sneak carrots into their kids’ meals to ensure they get the proper nutrition, I’m trying to sneak our culture into kids’ toy bins so they get a little bit of exposure from the time they’re born.
Having a toddler keeps me both busy and inspired since I’m always interested to see what fascinates her. Since I’m essentially creating modified versions of toys that kids already know and love, I’m always curious to see which toys can be adapted to incorporate our Indian culture.
What are your goals for this year?
In order to keep shipping costs low for our global consumers, we need to partner with a local distributor. That’s just one small hurdle we need to overcome in order to see Baby Ganesh inside the homes and arms of kids around the world. That is my ultimate goal.
What’s a typical day look like for you?
I still work full time in corporate America so my 9-5 looks pretty standard. I work on Modi Toys basically any time outside of those hours – sometimes at 4AM in the morning, or sometimes at 11PM at night.
What keeps me going are the small wins I experience in trying to grow the Modi Toys brand. For example, the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair magazine, Radhika Jones, was at a friend’s dinner party for Diwali, where our Baby Ganesh was used as part of the tabletop décor. Imagine my surprise and excitement when I saw she not only posted a photo of our product but tagged us. That sort of an acknowledgment gives me the vote of confidence that I need when I experience the lows.
What has been the highlight in your career?
Earlier in June this year (during the height of the crisis at our Mexico border) – before we even sold our first item – I made a promise to our followers on Instagram: we would donate $1 from the first 1,000 orders placed on our site, towards ACLU Foundation. Hitting that 1,000th order milestone in November allowed us to finally fulfill our promise. While I didn’t know it then, that was the genesis of our social responsibility initiative that I launched this week: Modi Joy. It’s committed to spreading joy globally through financial donations made to children’s charities.
Here’s how it works: we host a class each month – painting or otherwise – where participants create two pieces of handcrafted items: one for them to keep and the other to donate to Modi Toys. We will then sell these handcrafted items on our site and donate 100% of the proceeds to a children’s charity. Since there are countless non-profit organizations committed to improving the quality of life for children around the world, we couldn’t possibly just pick one. That’s why we will choose a new charity each month to donate our proceeds from the sales of these items handcrafted by the participants.
What do you like to do on your days off?
There’s no such thing as a day off when you have a toddler and a small business ☺ But I have a growing list of shows on my DVR calling my name (This is Us, Modern Family, House of Cards, to just name a few).
What advice would you give to someone trying to pursue your career path?
Ideas come easy, but taking that first step, is the daunting part. You’ll find 50 reasons to not pursue your idea, but all you really need is that one reason to go for it. Start small and improvise as you go. Perfection is the enemy of progress. And only pursue ideas that you are truly passionate about because it will require your undivided focus. If you can’t stop thinking about it, then don’t stop working towards it.
Hoboken + Jersey City Favorites
What is your favorite restaurant in Hoboken?
The Cuban for brunch – best omelet in town, hands down.
What is your favorite boutique in Hoboken?
I used to love shopping at Aaraa when they still had a storefront, but I make do with their online store now. Although I have yet to visit this boutique, I love everything I’ve seen on @themargomarket’s IG.
What do you love most about Hoboken?
Accessibility! Everything is in walking distance (doctor’s office – check, grocery store – check, daycare – check, restaurant – check). And if it’s not in walking distance, at least the bus stop and ferry are.
What is your favorite thing to do in Hudson County?
How long have you lived in Hudson County?
Moved to Hoboken in 2012 and to Weehawken in 2018. My growing family prompted the move, but didn’t have the heart to move too far from Hoboken!
What is your favorite outdoor place to spend time in Hoboken?
Pier 13 in the summer months, but really, anywhere along the waterfront when the ground transforms into a winter wonderland.
What is your favorite place to work out in Hudson County?
Shopping is my cardio.
Where do you go out with friends in the area?
What is something you think needs to come to the area?
More Mexican restaurants please! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Italian food but how many pizzerias does a mile square town really need? More places that offer group activities (like Escape the Room, bowling, etc.) would be really great too.
Is there anything else you want to share about yourself?
I also have another side hustle as a Marriage Proposal Planner. Since starting Modi Toys, I tend to be a bit more selective in the couples I choose to work with. I want to continue planning proposals that are unique and tailored to the couple, as opposed to something cookie cutter or part of a “package” that you can “add to cart.”
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