MBA Program: University of Chicago, Booth School of Business
Founding Student Name(s): Rajul Parekh (CEO, Chicago Booth MBA ‘20), Kinney Sheth (CPO), Karen Desai (CMO, Kellogg ’21)
Brief Description of Solution: LUKH is an online rental service for Indian fashion in the U.S.
Funding Dollars: We received pre-seed investments from Chicago Booth as a New Venture Challenge finalist and Polsky Accelerator participant. Additionally, we raised pre-seed capital from the Dorm Room Fund. Currently continuing to raise $500K pre-seed round.
What led you to launch this venture? As first generation Indian-Americans, our South Asian roots are essential to our identities. However, we know first-hand how frustrating shopping for Indian fashion in the U.S. can be. The clothes you find in stores are outdated and e-commerce brands are exorbitantly priced and rarely represent our dual identities. Moreover, with a diverse mix of family and friends around us, we want everyone to feel included in our rich heritage. There are 30 million South Asians who live outside of India that similarly feel these frustrations and desires. That’s why we created LUKH, an online rental service giving everyone an equal opportunity to participate in Indian culture through fashion.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Our biggest accomplishment thus far has been the momentum we’ve seen since our soft launch in January. Within two months, prior to the start of wedding season, we saw over 10,000 unique site visits and acquired nearly 3,500 Instagram followers primarily through word of mouth. We’re grateful for our strong following and initial customer base’s continued engagement which has allowed us to keep learning and iterating on the business. Making it to the New Venture Challenge finals was a huge accomplishment for us too!
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? We would never have come this far without the support and resources of Chicago Booth. The sheer number of introductions and relationships we’ve built through the Booth network is astounding. What has surprised me the most is people’s willingness to help. Additionally, the academic rigor of Booth’s program has helped me hone skills across a number of functions such as accounting, marketing, and operations, which I’ve been able to apply to our venture.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? I was inspired to start my own entrepreneurial journey from Payal Kadakia, the founder and CEO of Classpass. As a fellow Indian American who has had similar feelings of dual identity, Payal has motivated me to go beyond the traditional expectations of an Indian household and take big risks. Her grit and determination to fundamentally change consumer behavior is something I always think back to when strategizing how to scale LUKH. Not to mention her love of her culture through dance was something all three of us co-founders resonated with!
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Accounting for Entrepreneurship taught by Professor Ira Weiss was absolutely the most valuable class I took at Booth. The class follows the lifecycle of a company as it grows from the earliest stages of a startup and helps students understand key financial metrics an entrepreneur must confidently know how to identify and analyze in order to grow his or her company. My biggest lessons from this class were the importance of truly understanding your cap table and being able to effectively budget your cash.
What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Waverly Deutsch has had the greatest impact on LUKH. During the time we got to spend with her in the New Venture Challenge, she helped us completely transform LUKH’s narrative to investors. She helped us weave together our story in a way that not only resonated with those unfamiliar with the industry, but also highlighted our core competitive advantage in a clear and succinct way. Professor Deutsch’s impact on our story led to our first institutional raise!
How did the pandemic impact your startup plans? As a company primarily centered around in-person events and weddings, the pandemic has definitely slowed our plans. While we’ve adjusted our projections for the year to ensure we have enough cash runway to get through this time. We’re also focused on retaining our loyal customer base and continuing to stay top of mind. One initiative we recently launched is the “Postponed Wedding Care Package” for friends and family to gift to a bride who may have had to postpone her wedding and could use a pick me up. We’ve seen great traction with our care package sales and re-sharing on social, which has driven organic word of mouth about our brand and our support for the South Asian community.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? 80% of Indian-American relationships in the U.S. are interracial, intercultural, or interfaith; diversity in the U.S. is continuing to grow. However, we’ve experienced first-hand how siloed South Asian culture feels. Our vision is to give everyone an equal opportunity to experience and learn the rich Indian heritage. We want to become the go-to source for all things related to South Asian culture, fashion, and weddings. Over time, as we capture the South Asian audience, there are few limits on what we can cross-rent or sell to this demographic as we expand across the world.
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