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Business, books, and bags

Madhu Challa
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In this episode of Common Scents, Madhu Challa talks about her launch of Pretty Pokets, a designer diaper bag company (the coolest), our favorite books, and how a storm that caused a 6.5 day outage wasn’t going to stop us from finishing this recording.

TAMAR: Hi everybody. Today we are in Episode 34 in the middle of tropical storm Isaiah August 4. I usually don’t say that but yes there is a storm. The storm has been brewing for quite a long time. But I’m so lucky because I have some sunshine somewhere else on my Skype right now with my daughter Charla. Thank you so much for joining.


MADHU CHALLA: Hi. Thanks for having me. Yes, it is very sunny right here. I’m from Bay Area California.


TAMAR: Oh yeah. And so, this is another one of these calls where we do see each other. So, is that natural sunlight that I see coming into your closet there?


MADHU CHALLA: Yes, it is natural sunlight and I’m hiding in my closet (laughing).


TAMAR: She works in her closet. My husband works in his closet. It is a normal thing in pandemic times. It is totally fine. No apologies. No regrets. You’re good. Don’t be shy. Don’t blush or anything. No, but it’s so cool. It’s cool. You get to see everybody’s fashion sense; you get to see how people live if they don’t have one of their fake backgrounds up like I do right now. If not the Coronavirus, my background is I don’t know what it is.

MADHU CHALLA: It’s like what.

TAMAR: It’s like a cell. Yeah, it looks like some virus. And when I use my zoom chats, I do have the Coronavirus I have collected. I went to the website, I got like 100 zoom backgrounds, and I downloaded all of them. And then I went to Unsplash and Pexels and I got the moving ones like the movies. And so now you see me and it looks like I’m in a 70s disco and all this music is moving around in the background. It’s fun. But no, I’m taming now I’m becoming a little tamer. But anyhow. Yeah. So, you’re in the Bay Area. Tell me a little bit about how you’ve been and how pandemic times have been treating you and yeah.


MADHU CHALLA: So, the pandemic actually, in a way, really helped me and also my family. I think we were already prepared or ready for it in a sense. Since I was working from home, I don’t have to drop my kids to school for classes. So that is one thing and the other one is I asked him where we go for a run or walk. So, all this haven’t really changed. So, I know other lives have been impacted in a lot of different ways. And I keep telling my kids mainly, be grateful that everyone in the family is safe. My parents, my brothers, everyone is safe. So just be thankful for that, all families say, so the gratitude is what we can experience during these times.


TAMAR: Yeah, it’s really interesting, it’s funny because obviously that’s not a question I typically ask during the podcast. I mean, obviously we’re kind of in the mode where now I’m just going to live in the present. So, today I am in New York, and we’re in the middle of Hurricane Tropical Storm Isaiah craziness right now. But I will say just going back to the pandemic, I think the hardest thing for people in general is  these people’s lives are disrupted that they don’t work from home. I work from home, I thrive in communicating online, it’s literally my livelihood. When I say it’s my livelihood, I love doing it. And when in our community, we’re shut down. As you probably have heard in the podcast, we were shut down two weeks before the rest of the country. And it was 1000 of us who are all at home and we created a WhatsApp group. And then we created offshoot of WhatsApp groups. First it was just our community and all of us in the pandemic, and then it was just like, let’s do a food delivery group. And then let’s do a quarantine 19 group, let’s lose our 19 pounds that we gained during the pandemic. And then there was a fitness friends group. And then there was another offshoot to off food groups. And then there was a moms’ group too. And it was all about putting the community together and people struggle with that because it’s not who they are. But for me, this is my thing. I was so excited about it. The pandemic has had so many people I feel like mentally it’s extraordinarily difficult and for the introverts like you and me. Like we know how to react. We know how to interrelate with our people, and I find it more of a gift in a way because it really brought our community together. And for me, it gave me an opportunity as somebody who felt like she was marginalized in her own community to finally come out and be like, people have acknowledged me, somebody nominated me to be like, some sort of hero of the community, to that President, which I’m still waiting for his acknowledgement, but people have done stuff like that. And people have told me that they’ve nominated me for a couple of things. I haven’t heard anything. So, I don’t think I’m going to win any awards. But being able to do that I literally worked 90 hour- weeks. So, it’s a little disappointing for all those people who might be listening. That’s happening. But yeah, moving on, let’s talk about you. Tell me where are you, what you do. And I know you have an interesting story, a career trajectory that I’d be interested in hearing. So, by all means, go ahead.


MADHU CHALLA: Okay, I’m the founder of Pretty Pokets, where I design accessories for women that give them confidence and simplify their day-to-day lives. So, add Pretty Pokets. It’s my mission to add incredible value to a woman’s life by making products that find harmony between usefulness, common sense and fashion. For example, I started with the diaper bag. So, it’s just not any diaper bag, it is a bag with the diaper dispenser, trash cover dispenser, and yet it looks trendy and fashionable for a month to can. So that is one of the products. So, I design based on functionality first, and then I take into account the fashion and the look of it. That’s how I design the product. But that’s not who I was. A few years back, I came to United States as a student, for master’s in electrical engineering. And all the way I’ve been an engineer. And I worked in Intel for 10 years. So, after eight years in Intel, I started feeling that I don’t belong there anymore. And that’s when I started thinking what is my next and how, what am I supposed to do, because engineering is the field that I was in. And whatever interviews I was doing, everything I was doing poorly, and all the interviews with an Intel. So, I finally realized that engineering is not the field anymore that I could be in. And by that time I already had my son and I was expecting my daughter. So, when I was in the process of thinking, what is it that I have to do? And I was looking for a diaper bag at the same time because I was expecting my daughter. So that’s when I was like, okay, I don’t like this bag, that bag. And finally, I’m like, okay, let me come up with something that I can design. And that’s how I sat down and did the design. And it did take me three years or so because I was completely an engineer, I was never a business person or I didn’t have any background. So, it took me some time to validate my idea and then launch it. So, from engineer to diaper bag designer. Yeah, that’s the story.


TAMAR: Yeah. And I will say that I did take a look, given that I had a really nice view of mother’s closet, I was able to see some of her accessories and they do exude confidence. They’re high level really, really sophisticated products. And I was saying to her if you’re familiar and if not listeners, I’ve just learned about this site called The Talent. And I guess is a membership site. It’s sort of like an upscale Costco where you buy bedding and accessories and clothing apparel at costs. Unfortunately, they don’t have the stuff that from our past lives tech in the electronic stuff. They’re not quite there yet. But there’s some cool stuff and I was like, it’s just the exact reminder of these things. It’s like LVMH, like Prato. Hi level stuff. So just trying to communicate the value prop here because I think that’s really cool stuff.


MADHU CHALLA: Thank you. I should try that. I’m going to try that website and then see that checked out.


TAMAR: Yeah, you’ll potentially get inspired. And it’ll be even amazing if you get on there because they’re trying to focus on the mainstream. So not so much the diaper bag world. But then again, I feel there’s got to be people who are looking to get on there and they would probably pay you what you need, because the way it is, I’m going to pull it up right now. Like, here’s an example. There they make a comparison. Like compare you buy knives, a set of knives. Well, now the slight change but so then forget it. So, you buy a cashmere sweater, and you pay $75. But yeah, it would be $100 at   flat one provider and  $450 at another provider. So, it’s really interesting stuff. And I don’t really know if you’re really saving. I mean, sometimes they use the same manufacturers, which is cool.


MADHU CHALLA: I’m going to check that out.

TAMAR: Yeah,


MADHU CHALLA: I have added products I just launched in April so probably if not diaper bags something and other accessories that I can try.


TAMAR: Yeah, there’s really cool stuff. They have sunglasses, they definitely have wallets. They have scarves, mostly cashmere scarves. I don’t know it’s cool. Although I can’t say I know what I’m going to want to pay for but yeah, like I’m looking here they have a lot of clutches and envelope clutches and crossbody bags and I see your products in these style, in this appearance. It’s the same manufacturer as Selena and product. So, that’s what they’re trying to do, same manufacturers Hugo Boss, Armani and Longtime.

MADHU CHALLA: Wow. Thank you.


TAMAR: Yeah.

MADHU CHALLA: Just your word saying that gives me such confidence.


TAMAR: Awesome. Awesome. It’s such a cool story. I mean, just to go out there. And, you’re solving a problem that you see as a need. And I want to wish that I was here talking to you five years ago, because I’d be like having a baby. I’d be oh, I need that right now. As you start building your product base, we’re going to definitely have to talk. Yeah. Cool. So, we talked about your story, but we didn’t really talk about I want to say, the crux of the Common Scents Podcast, but comes from usually the story of adversity. And I don’t really know anything about that. So, I’m coming in here, and I’m maybe throwing you in the deep end here to get an idea of tell me a little more about that particular side of your life.


MADHU CHALLA: If you don’t mind. I have a lot more challenges, I wouldn’t say any adverse stories. I’m not getting the avoidance, right.

TAMAR: That’s okay.

MADHU CHALLA: For example, when my daughter was born, I was going through postpartum till I really made a call. And that changed everything. So, is it something that you want me to talk?


TAMAR: Yeah, yeah, I mean, listen to my story. My adversity began with postpartum depression. And then I hit a rock bottom. I sometimes hone in on the rock bottom, sometimes I don’t, because that rock bottom still leaves me vulnerable, is still difficult to talk about. But it was my brand launch and the whole idea of TAMAR. And the Common Scents Podcast comes from the fact that I had a postpartum depression. And I think that people don’t understand, they don’t normalize postpartum depression. They don’t see it, like it was the same thing. I didn’t realize I was not happy until I hit a really low point nine years later.


TAMAR: Yeah. Yeah, please.


MADHU CHALLAH: So, in my case, my daughter was born in 2015. I didn’t quit my job yet. I took my sabbatical thinking once I come back, I might love my job. Because it was like, five months sabbatical that I saved for that long. It was 10 years already; I was like nine years working in Intel. And when I came back, I used to feel very low all the time. And I was never a person who would be staying low for a long time. But then I constantly felt that I was feeling very low. Like, I couldn’t explain what was happening. And when I quit intel, what happened was, I lost all my communications with my friends. And then the baby, she was one year old, I didn’t have any help at the time. And then also, I didn’t know that I was feeling lonely. And what happened was my husband would call me to check on us in the afternoons and I would quickly wake up and say, oh, I was just doing some work. Like, I used to feel guilty that I was taking rest, because I felt like I was giving you an excuse. And then finally, after a few days, I realized that I needed help. And also, I couldn’t understand that it would be postpartum. Until someone told me, why don’t you call the hospital and see. So that’s when I made the call. I literally cried in front of a total stranger for like, 20 minutes. She’s like, I understand what you go through, baby. And then you quit the job, no friends. And that’s when it hit me that I’m actually going through postpartum. And the reason I couldn’t believe is because it was almost one year. And I’m like, how can you be? You have postpartum depression after a year, right? Like, it hits any time is what I understood. But then, that time, I decided this is it. Like, I’m not going to let this take over me. And I’ll get moving. That’s when I would start going out and taking my kid doing my walks and runs, those took me time. I kept like, okay, today, five-minute run and then 15-minute walk.  Even walking and running used to be so hard to get I used to run and I run all the time. But simple running which I used to love and do became so hard during that time. Thank God, I came out of it. But yeah, it was super challenging. That is one of the things I always felt like, okay, I’m not going to let this happen to me. I got to take control and keep moving. So that is what they say motion creates motivation and movement. So that’s what happened.


TAMAR: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know if I ever didn’t hit a rock bottom nine years in I don’t think I would ever have known that. I was at a low point. I guess I never really was formally diagnosed with partly a depression. I don’t think any of us do. But we know. We have to do is look back at your previous self. Oh, here comes a way. Just as a warning, here comes the wind. I might hopefully I won’t lose you. But no, and I’m not editing any of this out. I’m not. We’re in storm season here. So yeah, so maybe I will. But yeah, looking back at my life, and you basically need to look at your life historically chronologically, reflect back and then you’re like, oh, wait a minute. Something doesn’t feel right. It probably happened when I had my child. I wrote this really extraordinarily vulnerable, raw personal piece about my postpartum depression. That was posted on Medium last week.


MADHU CHALLA: I did read that.

TAMAR: You did read it?


TAMAR: So, you know and it’s so hard. And I had a friend who’s like, I can’t read this. I’m really living my own trauma, a male which was crazy.


TAMAR: He’s like, I can’t do it. This guy’s in his 40s. And he’s just like, I can’t read this story. And I was like, wow, powerful.


 MADHU CHALLAH: Yeah, people need to know that. There is something like this that exists. And people do go through some of this and it need not be diagnosed. But so yeah, what you did was amazing. It is usually not easy to write that out.

TAMAR:  It wasn’t easy. It took me a long time. And I tried to pitch it to publications and none of them big. I think they kept telling me that it was too commercial in the end, which was interesting, because I want it exactly right. I said and the thing is, when I published it, it didn’t convert. When I finally published it on Medium, it didn’t convert. The people who supported me after that were people that I’ve been in touch with like asking them directly for donation, so support in some way. So, it didn’t come from writing about my story. So much for that. Thankfully there’s a platform. Medium is there for us. I think Evan Williams so much literally made it easy. People like oh, it’s well established shared media like, yeah, Medium  for everybody. But it’s great. It’s great to have that, quote unquote, built in credibility. But I’m wondering, maybe you and I should talk separately, and maybe we should, even with people who are listening, I like a lot of people, most people, I think the majority of people are not even aware that they’re suffering from a mental health problem.


MADHU CHALLA: I think that is the biggest challenge not knowing. Because in my case, that was the thing when I could not understand what was happening to me.


TAMAR: Right. Yeah. And I think we need to create a community, some sort of community where we can freely discuss our stories, feel we can’t be restricted. So maybe we should talk about that, too. I don’t know a Facebook group or something else. There’s a lot of groups depression and anxiety when I was at my hurt, my worst point, I joined all of them. I can say completely there’s such a wide scale of people and suicidal folks. It’s scary to be in groups like that.


TAMAR: Yeah. I don’t know. But for both of us I’m absolutely glad that you had eventually the recognition of who needed help, but you needed to get out of that. It’s hard because you could be in a funk and just not  I wonder how many people are living their lives right now with complete unawareness, of not knowing yet this reality. And looking back, you can’t do it when you’re in it. You can’t look back and it seems the same.


MADHU CHALLA: Yeah, yeah. It’s painful to go back again, why did we really go through that, is sometimes I keep questioning myself.


TAMAR: Yeah. But it’s most of our reality and then I debate whether it’s safe to bring a child into this world, when you want to protect as a parent, you want to protect your child so much, you want more than anything to protect your children. And then you realize you’re thrusting them in the world, forget the fact that there’s intolerance. There’s the political climate of the craziness and how there’s one party, they want to protect people by wearing masks, and then the craziness that we’re living in right now. I mean that’s what’s going on. And then you learn about crazy stabbings and murders and all these things, and you throw them in that world, but then you realize that I don’t know if that’s what I want to. What the main focus is, for us ultimately is the fact that we’re so emotionally fragile as a human species . And to put our children into that and know that they’re going to be suffering is like a default. And we have to figure out how to climb our way out of that, that it’s hard, it’s a hard reality. Yeah. But there is a way to potentially climb yourself out, you just need that awareness. Getting that awareness is the hardest, but to that point, I guess I would talk to you about, for me, my self-care started with experience of sense, the common scents. Tell me a little bit about your self-care, how you focus on yourself.


MADHU CHALLA: So, I realized that it is me that I have to work on. That was the first thing I realized, that I have to work on myself. So,  reading has become my number one channel to relax myself. And thus far, until 2017 I was not at all reading. Till then, it was mostly a helmet game, something related, but not any other book. But then from 2017 till now, I was like, okay, whatever book you give me, I would just eat it up so much. Every time I do wake up early before my kids wake up. So, first thing I do sit down and keep reading. I read for like, an hour, and then another hour I actually spent on learning. It could be some webinar or course or something. So, before they, it is my time where I’m not disturbed at all till they wake up. So, after that is when I get into my work or tell them no device, nothing. I don’t touch anything. So that keeps me grounded for a long time throughout the day. Then I go for my run and walk. So, eating, healthy eating and then running and then the book reading are my main channels.


TAMAR: Awesome. Awesome. Do you have any types of genres that you read?


MADHU CHALLA: So right now, it’s mostly self-help and business. Again, I believe I started trusting my gut a lot. So, a book has to speak to me, read me kind of thing. So, I go into that mode. So mostly, I’m looking at selling health and business. Just now I finished The One Thing by Gary Keller.

TAMAR: What is it? The One Thing, by …


MADHU CHALLA: Gary Keller.


TAMAR: Okay, I go t it. I didn’t even hear about this one. But it’s interesting.


MADHU CHALLA: Oh, this is a nice book.


TAMAR: Okay, good. The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results. Yeah, these are like, oh, apparently I own it. Yeah, you last purchase this item on June 30, 2015. It’s time to eat. Exactly. Apparently, I had it delivered to my in-laws. I have read all the other books on this list. But I didn’t read this one. I got to find it. Maybe I’d never got it. No, I remember all these other books. So okay. Interesting. Very interesting. So, I’m also in the same realm of you. I read a lot of the same books, I read a lot of self-help in business. It’s interesting because when you talk to entrepreneurs, they are all about reading about books that obviously make you feel like an empowered part of who you are. So, I love it. I love it. What other books would you recommend?


MADHU CHALLA: Um, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying  by Bronnie Ware.

TAMAR: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. I got it in front of me.

MADHU CHALLA: So, that’s also an amazing book to read. Again, your perspective of who you are, what you’re thinking, your thoughts, everything changes when you read some of these books. It’s amazing.


TAMAR: Right. One of my favorite writers is Robin Sharma. And he’s not very recognized. But I will say that everything he did really changed my life.

MADHU CHALLA: Yeah, all of these.

TAMAR: Good. Good. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to who tells me that they’ve read this. He’s weird. He’s a great, great writer, the leader with no title, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. I mean, I started to realize I don’t have to build my life on the idea of wealth.


MADHU CHALLA: Did you read the Who Will Cry When I Die? Or Who Will Cry When You Die?


TAMAR: No. Is that his also?


MADHU CHALLA: Yeah, that’s an amazing book.

TAMAR: Okay.

MADHU CHALLA: And oh, my God, the list will flow (laughter).


TAMAR: Yeah, that’s what I didn’t read.


MADHU CHALLA: Yeah, that’s another and I think another book is something with greatness, attitude or greatness something.

TAMAR: Yeah, The Greatness Guide, maybe.

MADHU CHALLA:  Okay. That is the one.

TAMAR: Yeah, he wrote that.  I think I bought that and I sold it on Amazon.



TAMAR: It’s more of a workbook, that book. And I mean, it really ties in his lessons in a very aggregated format. But I like the idea of getting it drawn out. The Greatness Guide is  really the notes of all his other books, but you need to get it written in a way that the consolidation is helpful, but I think you don’t. Anyway, The Greatness Guide, I think, is harder to find, from my understanding, at least my experience when I bought it. If anybody wants to start reading this stuff, The Greatness Guide, I feel the lessons have to kind of be pummeled in your mind. So, The Greatness Guide works in isolation, but it also works in tandem with the other books.

MADHU CHALLA: Yeah, okay.

TAMAR: Yeah. So, we’re back. Today is actually a week after the storm , as I learned later and I mispronounced it, Tropical Storm Isa, he’s not Isaiah. As I said earlier, I was in the middle of recording the podcast with Modou and we ended up getting an outage in internet, outage that lasted for six-and-a -half days. So, this is  fragmented, but now we’re putting it all together in a podcast where I’m able to ask you the last question now. And the last question, which I know you’ve prepared for potentially, unlike others who usually sit there, and they’re like, this is a great question. Yeah, it’s the Common Scents question. If you can give an earlier version of yourself a piece of advice, what would you tell her?


MADHU CHALLA: Hi, I’m back again. So yeah, obviously, it’s a great question. And there are multiple advises that I would love to give. But then there are two main things, two main advices that stand out. One is, you don’t have to fit in when you’re supposed to stand out. Because most of the time, what we try to do is try to follow a group of people and sort of friends or whatever you try to do, you try to just be normal and try to fit in. You don’t have to do that. You can be crazy, you can be whoever you are, you’re supposed to be, that is one thing. And the other one is you cannot make everyone happy. So don’t try to do that because you will burn yourself. So those are the two advices I would love to give. And actually, those are the two advices that I give my current self as well. Because I cannot change my past. So, I can teach whoever I am. And I want to become a certain person. And these are most important advice that I want to give to my current self as well.


TAMAR: Awesome. Yeah. Good stuff. Definitely, definitely appreciate that. And the value in what you have and what you’re suggesting here. And, yeah, I’m starting to recognize also I’m okay, I want to stand out. I want people to realize that there’s a lot more that you don’t want to blend in, especially when you’re a company founder. Because you’re just going to get lost, you’re going to be like a shark in the tank. Kevin says like a cockroach that someone’s going to step on. I’m going to be like the cat that they’re not consistent on the cat. The cat that they’re not kidding, because you’re bigger than the cockroach. But yeah, you want to be the behemoth that is obviously not lost among the crowd.


MADHU CHALLA: That’s right.


TAMAR: Yeah. So awesome. The last question I guess is where should we find you? I know, Pretty Pokets are without the C, but talk about that.


MADHU CHALLA: Yeah, the website is prettypokets. Pockets without a  c okay. P, O, K, E, T, S. That’s a website. You can reach us at Instagram as well, which is prettypokets. P, R, E, T, T, Y, P, O, K, E, T, S.   So, those are the two options.


TAMAR: Yeah. And I will say that this past week, I’ve been, as I said, out of internet but I went to your website. I saw your products here. I mean, I have purchased. And I don’t want to say the word crappy, but I have put this crappy diaper bags for much more money because I have a quote unquote, brand name around them. And then you see what model was created. I mean, they’re really high quality products that come at a very affordable rate, considering where the market stands for these types of products. So, if you’re in the market for I want to say luxury, it’s a luxury experience at an affordable cost. I mean, you have to buy her bags, because they’re just so cool.


MADHU CHALLA: Yay. Thank you.


TAMAR: Yeah, yeah. So, thank you so much for your time. And apologies for this hiatus that I couldn’t control, technology. And there’s still neighbors. We were out of power on Tuesday in the middle of this podcast. According to my Google, Wi Fi was down at 12:54pm on Tuesday, and I got it back at 7:31pm on the following Monday. And that was my internet. I had power. I was lucky but half of my neighbors did not have power for an entire week. Some of them got it back yesterday. People said, the internet is coming back. But some of them, the node that powers the internet to their homes are completely ravaged and destroyed. It’s crazy. And it’s just amazing that 2020 is throwing these curveballs, just like the arrow making. I don’t know if I’m going to make a prediction here. But the only thing that I don’t know if it would surprise me is if Facebook implodes in 2020. Because you would think that it’s such a powerful way of keeping us together. But this is 2020 and anything’s possible. So, here’s my prediction. If  somehow am right, I should have bought a lottery ticket, but if not, it’s 2020. So, chalk it up to that and anything can happen.

MADHU CHALLA: And that’s a fun experience Tamar. Thank you so much.


TAMAR: Yeah, thank you.


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