Devika Srimal Bapna

MBA '15

Founder and CEO
KANABIS

What do you do professionally?

 

I am the founder of KANABIS—a fashionable, premium quality, vegan, and sustainable footwear brand for women. All our products are hand-crafted with high quality fabrics such as hemp, jute, and linen with a conscious effort towards sustainability.

 

Fuqua classmates wearing Kanabis

 

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

 

That I get to be my own boss, or more like my own slave! (Haha). As an entrepreneur of a start up, one has to wear multiple hats and do everything from strategic thinking to building the right team to administrative tasks. So, I enjoy that it’s very dynamic. Every day is a different challenge and an opportunity—depends on what I make of it!

 

Corporate visit for Fuqua students

 

What inspired you to start Kanabis?

 

As an animal lover and PETA volunteer, I gave up leather few years ago and had a tough time finding good non-leather shoes that were stylish, good quality, and affordable. I noticed the unstructured footwear industry in India: We either have the international players that are expensive and largely do leather shoes or the unorganized/unbranded segment where quality, price, make, etc., is questionable. It was almost a light-bulb moment when I thought, “What the heck, I should start my own brand!” And KANABIS was born.

 

What is the biggest challenge you face?

 

Challenges, phew…plenty and counting! I don’t come from a fashion/footwear background. From London to Delhi, finance to fashion, big corporate to a start-up, life took a 180 when I started KANABIS. Building a team, running a company, learning to sell, promote, and market a consumer brand has been exciting, challenging, and rife with learnings. Now that we are a 4.5 year old brand, the challenge is to scale and move to the next level of growth.

 

Devika winning the She UnLTD Award

 

What sorts of interesting places has your position taken you? Do you have a favorite?

 

I have travelled to all major cities within India for our exhibitions/pop ups and to meet with our retail partners. Last October I was invited to Sydney to pitch at Spark Fest, Australia’s biggest Startup festival, which was really exciting. This year we showcased in Dusseldorf and New York, which was a huge milestone for us.

 

Last year I had a meeting with a popular Bollywood actress at her residence for the business, and I thought on the flight to Mumbai that I wouldn’t have had this opportunity in any other role!

 

Diana Penty in Kanabis

 

What is the best professional advice you’ve received?

 

It’s all about execution! Some of the best ideas fail and sometimes even stupid ideas work. The proof of the pudding is in the doing.

 

Aside from your current role, what is your dream job?

 

I started learning Indian classical dance (called Bharatanatyam) when I was four, and continued learning till I was 27. I have been fortunate to have some amazing teachers train me and provide opportunities to perform in many cities and countries! Although I didn’t make a career out of it, dance will always have a special place in my life.

 

What do you like to do outside of work?

 

I like to do yoga after work. On Sundays I play badminton and go for bike rides with my husband.

 

What is the most important thing you learned during your time at Fuqua?

 

It’s the relationships one builds that last a lifetime. It was great to be in a classroom of accomplished professionals from different industries and geographies, and apart from the lifelong friendships, we built a great support system that one can count on.

 

Classmates at Kanabis launch

 

Who was your favorite professor?

 

Everyone was terrified of Accounting in the first term, but it was a tad easy for me since my years of rigor for Chartered Accountancy paid off, so I enjoyed classes with Katherine Schipper and was that student who secretly waited to be called on! Really enjoyed negotiations with Ashleigh Rosette and GMI with Jeremy Petranka as well.

 

What is your favorite Fuqua memory?

 

I participated in the Duke Start Up Challenge and made it to the final round. The entire process and the pitch night itself was a fantastic learning experience.

 

Duke students at Kanabis warehouse

 

What does Team Fuqua mean to you?

 

Team Fuqua is collaborative rather than competitive. When we first launched KANABIS in April 2015, my classmates were in Delhi and came to our debut launch event and were our first international customers! Each year when the Global MBA class visits New Delhi, we do corporate visits and pop ups. It’s wonderful to maintain that rapport with the faculty, students, and alumni office. This is Team Fuqua—a gift that keeps giving.