In the monthly Female Founder Spotlight series, I interview inspiring female entrepreneurs, business owners, and bloggers, asking them about how they got their businesses to where they are today. In this month’s interview, we meet Shireen Gupta, founder of e-commerce gifting startup, GiftSuite – a premium customisable gifting service.
With an affinity for luxury packaging, coupled with a passion for well-designed products, intuitive user experiences, and an entrepreneurial spirit, Shireen launched GiftSuite in 2017. Shireen holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from UCLA and is currently pursuing an MBA at Santa Clara University.
What is the one book that you would recommend to every aspiring female entrepreneur?
Rather than a book, I highly recommend listening to the podcast How I Built This with Guy Raz. Guy Raz interviews a number of innovators and entrepreneurs across different industries about the journey they took to build their businesses. It’s really interesting (and frankly reassuring) to hear some of the obstacles they faced and how they overcame them. I particularly recommend the episodes with Stitch Fix founder, Katrina Lake, and Away founder, Jen Rubio.
What behavior or habit have you adopted that has had the biggest impact on your business?
Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I have learned how crucial it is to approach challenges, risks, mistakes, and failure with a growth mindset. Every setback is an opportunity to learn and make better-informed decisions. This mindset has allowed me to make decisions without feeling all the risk weighing on my shoulders, especially as a solo founder.
What’s one monthly subscription you could not live without?
The Deliveries iOS app! I receive tons of inventory shipments every day from vendors, so the Deliveries app allows me to input tracking numbers from all mail carriers and see a snapshot of the status in a list. It’s been really helpful to keep our inventory shipments organized.
What advice would you give to your younger self in relation to life and work?
Pace yourself and take time for self-care! When I first started working on GiftSuite, it felt like there was endless work and not enough hours in the day. I was staying up until 4 am and sleeping less than 5 hours a night to get things done. It can be really difficult to keep a healthy routine and schedule, but creating balance in your life is the best thing you can do for your productivity and creativity.
Developing healthy habits is important for so many aspects of your life, so take some time to figure out what you really need and what works for you. Making small, incremental changes helped me develop habits that are actually sustainable, like taking a short walk every day to clear my head.
What is something that happened to you or your business, that felt disappointing at the time that turned out to be a blessing in disguise?
After months of working extensively with a factory in Shanghai to manufacture our custom gift boxes, our packaging arrived completely unusable: the wrong size, wrong color, and completely damaged. All attempts to contact the manufacturer failed and I was out my initial investment. At the time, this felt like a big setback, but in hindsight, this event was a turning point for my company. While vetting new packaging partners, I was able to really refine the vision of the brand and our target market, which led me to GiftSuite as it is today.
What is a commonly held opinion in your industry that you disagree with?
Sending clients company branded “swag” has become a really popular trend, especially with tech companies. While company branded products are great for marketing at trade shows and for creating a welcoming culture for new employees, it often feels like free or leftover marketing collateral when sent to clients as “gifts”. GiftSuite is helping companies create and send premium business gifts curated with high-quality products and brands that clients will actually feel excited to receive.
If you could only work 2 hours per week on your business, what would you do?
Currently, our customer acquisition strategy is organic or by word of mouth, so customer satisfaction with the product is extremely important to the growth of the business. If I only had 2 hours a week to work, I would continue building new features and product enhancements to improve the overall experience for customers. Plus, GiftSuite first started as a passion project for premium packaging and elevated experiences, so working on the product is definitely my favorite part of the job!
Can you share another female entrepreneur who inspires you that you think we should talk to next?
Cheryl Leung, founder of contemporary women’s clothing brand, Sau Lee.
Tell us why you love to follow her journey and what lessons you have learned from her.
I have known Cheryl since 2008 when we met in college at UCLA. Based in Hong Kong, she has created a stunning, finely crafted women’s contemporary clothing brand called Sau Lee. I love that Cheryl finds inspiration in her own journey and life experiences when bringing her designs to life—it makes everything she does feel very unique and true to herself.
In the entrepreneurial world, one of the greatest obstacles I hear founders facing is Imposter Syndrome, especially when creating something and then comparing it to someone else’s work in the same field. As a self-taught designer, I truly admire Cheryl’s perseverance and confidence in her own abilities, especially in an industry that is fiercely competitive.