Preeta Sukhtankar’s extensive career in fashion and entertainment began as a journalist at Elle magazine and evolved through roles at MTV as a show producer and founder of a celebrity management firm. She then launched The Label Life, one of India’s first direct-to-consumer fashion e-commerce brands, highlighting her entrepreneurial spirit. Having sold her business, Preeta now focuses on advising consumer-led companies like POP, Suta, and Foxtale.

Sharing her journey as a female founder, she offers insights on standout fundraising moments, and pitfalls to avoid in investor meetings. Read on.

Q: Why did you decide to fundraise for your venture? 

When we embarked on our journey at The Label Life nearly a decade ago, the entrepreneurial landscape was vastly different. There wasn’t the abundance of resources or the robust startup community that exists today. My initial investors were Vani and Kalaari, and Vani stood out as one of the few female investors at the time. Reaching out to her felt like the natural choice. It was, in fact, as straightforward as Googling “top 5 investors.” 

I have a degree in English Literature, and before I ventured into this business, my career was deeply rooted in journalism, media, and entertainment. I didn’t have the faintest idea about what crafting a pitch entailed or what the role of a venture capitalist truly was. But as a female founder, I had a clear vision of building a business that would employ and empower more women, which made the pursuit of a female investor a logical step. I simply Googled “female investors in the country” and discovered Vani. 

Beyond the need for funding, I was in dire need of mentorship. Building a business from the ground up, especially in the retail sector, was completely new territory for me. My experience in media and entertainment hadn’t prepared me for this. To me, having an investor was synonymous with having a mentor.

Q: What were some unexpected challenges you encountered while fundraising?

Back when I first started, I was blissfully naive. I genuinely believed that in our professional world, there wasn’t a significant difference between being a man or a woman. This belief was something I proudly wore on my sleeve. I thought that if I worked hard and stayed focused, my gender wouldn’t be a factor in my professional journey. I believed that merit and dedication were the only things that mattered. However, as I gained more life experience and moved into my 40s, I came to understand that the reality was quite different. The professional world can be vastly different for women, and the challenges we face are unique and often more complex. 

It became clear to me that women still encounter significant barriers that men might not even be aware of. These barriers can range from subtle biases in everyday interactions to more overt discrimination in critical situations like fundraising. It’s these experiences that have taught me the importance of acknowledging these differences and working towards a more equitable environment. 

Reflecting on this journey, I hope that more women who have climbed the ladder can reach back and help others progress. It’s essential for those of us who have made it to higher positions to actively support and mentor the next generation of female leaders. We need to share our experiences, provide guidance, and create opportunities for others to break through these barriers. 

Having role models like Vani or Krithiga (Reddy) —women who have achieved not just professional success but also personal and philosophical goals—was incredibly empowering for me. They showed me that it is possible to excel in business while staying true to one’s values and personal aspirations. It’s hugely important to have women to look up to. Even if you don’t have daily mentorship from a woman, having enough women around to inspire you, to be vulnerable with, and to support you is crucial. 

When I recently sold The Label Life, it was an easy decision about what I wanted to do next. My purpose became clear: to champion female founders. This wasn’t just about funding businesses; it was about providing the mentorship and support that can be truly transformative. Mentorship is truly the game changer. 

Knowing that someone believes in you, that someone has your back, can make all the difference. When I decided to focus on mentoring female founders, it was because I had seen firsthand how impactful it can be to have strong, supportive women in your corner. The value of mentorship cannot be overstated; it provides the guidance, confidence, and support that can propel someone to the next level. By sharing our experiences and insights, we can help each other navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities that come our way. 

In conclusion, while my journey has taught me many lessons, the most significant one is the importance of supporting and empowering other women. By doing so, we can create a more inclusive and equitable professional landscape for everyone. 

Q: Are there any standout moments in your fundraising journey? What advice would you offer to fellow women founders as they navigate the fundraising landscape?

I’ve had numerous standout moments in my fundraising journey. For instance, I once walked into a pitch with a Chinese investor who had a translator. I watched several men pitch and leave. When it was my turn, the male boss said to the translator, “I don’t need to listen to this pitch; the woman in the room can.” That was profoundly disappointing. I had assumed that a retail consumer economy would understand the potential of my business. There have been many such moments. 

The only advice I can offer as an exited founder and an advocate for female founders is to ask for help. We’re conditioned to be superwomen, to know it all. But the easiest thing you can do is ask for help. Today, whilst I collaborate with incredible female founders like Sujata and Tanya at Suta, Romita at Foxtale, and Neha Motwani who is building out a disruptive fertility business I realise, the camaraderie, support, and value I bring as someone who’s been through the journey are invaluable.  

Seek mentors and partners—that’s my only advice. 

Q: What critical mistakes should a founder absolutely avoid during an investor meeting to maximize their chances of securing funding and building lasting investor relationships?

Being overprepared for any meeting is a skill set that women excel at. We trust our intuition and anticipate what might be asked. If an investor wants last year’s numbers, have them ready. If they want a cohort of customers who’ve shopped more than once, have that information. If they need a marketing plan for a celebrity you haven’t yet utilized, have that too. Investors appreciate this level of preparedness and rarely find gaps to critique. 

Engage with the person in the room, maintain eye contact, and exude confidence. Women often feel the need to dress in a suit instead of a dress, trying to present themselves in a more traditionally masculine way.  

Embrace your femininity; it allows us to understand the customer far better. In consumer-facing businesses, I genuinely believe that female founders have a unique advantage in understanding their customers.  

Never ever undermine your financial acumen. You might not be an accountant, but running a business inherently means you understand finance. Women need to stop thinking that they aren’t “numbers” people—we need to believe in our natural financial expertise. 

Use your ability to multitask while staying focused. Lean into it  

Q: What’s the single most game-changing piece of advice for female founders?  

I’m not going to offer some vague manifestation advice. Instead, I suggest something practical: start your day with journaling. Not long-winded entries, just use a yellow legal pad and write in red. This simple practice helps you focus. 

Some days I jot down to-do lists, other days I note what I’m grateful for, or what I want to focus on or manifest. These little notes have helped me organize my thoughts and set clear intentions.