Four years ago, while being cooped up in her New York City apartment during Hurricane Irene, Sarika Doshi stumbled onto an ingenious business idea.
“I was making a shopping list for an upcoming vacation to Thailand and Google searched 'best natural sunscreens' and the internet results I got back were completely overwhelming," Doshi told NBC News. "So I shut down my computer and I was like, 'I’ll deal with this later.'"
But the wheels inside Doshi’s head were turning. “I thought to myself: why isn’t there a ranking engine for women’s consumer’s products?”
Doshi bounced ideas off her friends Pooja Badlani, who had a digital tech and product background, and Sonal Gupta, who Doshi had met while practicing law in London. In 2013, the trio of friends founded Rank & Style, a website that compiles best-of-10 lists in fashion, beauty, and other lifestyle trends based on reviews from users, bloggers, and editors.
Last year, Fast Company labeled the startup the “Consumer Reports of Fashion."
As CEO and co-founder, Doshi leads content strategy, fundraising, investor strategy, partnerships, and media.
“I would say I spend the bulk of my days really building out our ecosystem of partners by pounding the pavement and meeting lots of people,” Doshi said. “It’s a lot of sales and business development. I try to take a long-term view on what’s next for us.”
With the success of Rank & Style, Doshi has become a powerhouse in the fashion startup world despite having no background in the industry, by her own admission. Before developing the site, Doshi was an attorney. “I had no industry background by any means but I’m an avid shopper," she said. "I had a little bit too much awareness and noise in my head about this space!"
Born in New York City and raised in Connecticut, Doshi attended Columbia University and law school at the University of Michigan.
“After Columbia, I had dreams of becoming a lawyer. I really love persuasive communication and I think the whole goal of being an advocate is trying to get people to think like you. That’s a really valuable skill to have, for personal and professional reasons,” Doshi said.
After law school, Doshi moved to London to work with a big multinational firm and dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur some day.
“I learned a lot [in London], but I had a pact with myself which was, 'You’re going to pay off all your debt in three years and you’re going to leave because I don’t want you to get too used to the law firm salary and that lifestyle,'” she said.
Doshi managed to stick to her plans and decided to enter the business world by joining a legal startup called Axiom.
“I was trying to think of different business ideas at the moment, and I realized that I should go learn how someone else builds a company. I read about a U.S.-based startup which was opening an office in London and joined the team. I wasn’t working as an attorney anymore but it was in the legal industry,” Doshi said.
“It’s so hard to take the leap but once you do, trust your ability to adjust and evolve. When you believe in your ideas, people pick up on that. Maybe not immediately, but it’ll happen in time."
Eventually, she moved back to New York City and started working on Rank & Style during nights and weekends in addition to her day job. In 2013, the team officially launched their fashion startup, leaving their jobs to work on the website full-time.
But leaving a successful corporate career wasn’t an easy choice for Doshi, the daughter of first generation Indian immigrants for whom stability is highly valued. Getting adjusted to life as a startup founder after a successful legal career took some work.
“My parents thought I was nuts. I was raised very much with the idea that if you have a 401k and a health insurance, don’t leave it,” Doshi said. “They were very supportive, but I think there was definitely some hesitation around it, even within myself. The idea of getting out of bed and remembering that I don’t have a paycheck or health insurance—it’s really scary.”
But trusting instincts and approaching ideas with confidence makes all the difference in the world, Doshi said. “It’s so hard to take the leap but once you do, trust your ability to adjust and evolve. When you believe in your ideas, people pick up on that. Maybe not immediately, but it’ll happen in time," she said.
Doshi continues to build relationships and partnerships as the company grows. She hopes to move into more categories such as menswear, home goods, maternity, and bridal.
“Our tag line is 'We want to rank the world,' so I want to move into these areas, grow the team and do a million other things," she said.