We had the good fortune of connecting with Avani Modi Sarkar and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Avani, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
My parents moved here from India when I was 8 years old, with me and my two older brothers. They did a great job of reminding us of where we came from and what we left behind. Therefore, growing up, I always felt a deep sense of appreciation for my heritage because of the food we ate, the language we spoke and the traditions we carried. But slowly overtime as my brothers and I became increasingly immersed in the American culture, our identities became more “Indian American” rather than simply the “Indian” ones we carried for many years prior. All of this was fine until I had my daughter and my niece (born just one week later!), and I quickly realized that they weren’t going to grow up the same way. And it’s foolish of me to think I could give them my childhood. Nor did I want to. But what I did want to continue to carry across the three generations – from my mom to me to my daughter – was the love and appreciation for our Indian heritage. So how do you teach a newborn baby to appreciate something so deep rooted? With toys and music, of course! After doing a quick scan of both of the girls’ nurseries, my brother, who is the co-founder, and I realized that toys is the way through children’s hearts and minds. And that’s how our first product, a mantra-singing plush toy named Baby Ganesh, was created. Although our company, Modi Toys, was created out of a necessity to fill our personal needs, once we formally launched in 2018, our toys have found their way into more than 15,000 homes across the world – including Mindy Kaling and Food Network’s Chef Marcela Valladolid.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I majored in Marketing as an undergrad, because at the time, my dream job was to become a Creative Arts Director at an ad agency. I loved the idea of storytelling in 30 seconds of less. Needless to say, my career took a very sharp left turn right out of college, and my dream job remained very much a dream. Now, as the co-founder and (self-appointed) “Chief of Creative Thinking” at Modi Toys, I wear multiple, rotating hats, on any given day. But the days I get to be a Creative Arts Director… those days are my favorite. Over the course of past 2.5 years, I’ve had to constantly outdo myself in creating buzz around a product, which at its core is designed for children, but has to be marketed to adults. From dancing in the fields to creating teaser animation videos, I’ve had to constantly think outside the box to create momentum around a product launch. In doing so, I’ve learned that what makes people resonate with your creativity, ultimately, is your authenticity.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Since my neighboring towns are Hoboken and Jersey City in NJ, and live right across the Hudson River, NYC are all three the ideal destinations for any day trip or even a week filled of outings. Assuming this is all in a post-Covid world, I would start the day with brunch at my favorite cafe in Hoboken, Tosti, and then walk down Washington Avenue to visit all the boutique shops. Then we’d hop on the Light Rail to head into Jersey City for lunch on the water, overlooking NYC. While I can happily live off of pasta and tacos, I also love me a hearty salad. Luckily, there’s Sweetgreen for that, where you can make your custom salad bowl. After lunch, I’d take the ferry over to NYC and walk through SoHo, West Village and end the night at a mexican restaurant with a spicy Jalapeno margerita.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’ve always believed that my brother, Viral Modi, and I becoming parents exactly a week apart was kismet. Had we not, we may have experienced the same need for toys rooted in our Hindu faith and Indian culture. Going through such a transformative life experience of entering parenthood together made us recognize the importance of passing down our heritage to our daughters. I’ve always belived that having a co-founder who complements your skillset has been our biggest asset. I didn’t realize that an asset can also turn into a pain in the ass-et. Although we were raised unde the same roof, we couldn’t be more different. But what keeps us going is our joint vision for our brand: to make it a global household name. His focus on managing all aspects of our business operations allows me to focus on all marketing and product development related items. We each play to our strengths so without his partnership, Modi Toys would not be where it is today.
Other: Forbes Next 1000 Honoree: https://www.forbes.com/profile/avani-modi-sarkar/?list=next-1000&sh=4181e951511a Good Morning America segment: https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/news/video/jersey-moms-indian-inspired-side-hustle-booming-75058583
Pooja Dhar and Julie Patel