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How Feeling Excluded as a Child Drove this Entrepreneur to Start Her Own Company

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I remember having classmates over for a playdate once in elementary school. My friend walked by my parents’ room and peeked in. “What are those funny looking dolls? Why are there flowers in front of them? Why is there smoke burning from that stick?”

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I explained that it was my mother’s prayer area. As a Hindu, my mother prayed every evening after bathing, offering flowers and lighting incense. And those were not dolls; they were our Hindu gods.

“You pray to a statue with an elephant head?” she laughed. Our prayer area later became the talk of my second-grade classroom. The other kids just couldn’t understand why we prayed “like that.”

“Growing up as a Hindu, I also didn’t feel like I belonged in our Brooklyn community,” shares Amanda Ealla, founder and CEO of ISH Dolls. “I wanted to change that experience for my own kids. That’s why I started ISH Dolls.”

Although Ealla was one of the only Hindus growing up in her community, today demographics in the U.S. are rapidly changing. Hindu Americans are growing in influence and spending power. Today, Asian Americans have $1.2 trillion of spending power, with Indian Americans alone having more than $400 billion of that amount. 

Brands like Target, American Girl Doll, Shoprite, Costco and Lexus have all marketed Diwali, one of the largest and most significant religious holidays, to Indian Americans. Diwali symbolizes good defeating evil, and many Hindus offer prayers, light lamps, decorate their homes and exchange sweets and gifts. Although this movement in the marketplace is significant, there is still a large area of opportunity to increase the cultural awareness for our children. This is where ISH Dolls has an opportunity to make an impact in the market.

Related: How One Entrepreneur Is Attempting to Revolutionize the Mexican Food Industry — And Change the World — Using One Unexpected Ingredient

“The name ISH comes from the Sanskrit word Ishta-devata, which means cherished deity,” Ealla says. “My hope was to bring these vibrant and significant Hindu figures alive through our plush dolls. These are not just for Hindu children, but all children. Because when all of our families are more culturally aware, we won’t be as afraid of the unknown and can truly celebrate and honor all communities.”

Image credit: ISH Dolls

Ealla’s own childhood experiences of feeling like she didn’t belong drove her to start ISH Dolls. Here are three lessons she shares on her journey of starting her own business:

Know what’s important to you

When the pandemic began, Ealla had two small children at home. Like many working mothers, it was a pivotal moment for her. “I was homeschooling my kids while trying to make an impact at work, and I was struggling to find my balance,” Ealla says. “I remember being in the middle of a critical meeting, and my older child kept coming in needing help with his schoolwork while my younger one was having a huge meltdown. That was the moment I knew I needed to make a change.”

For as long as Ealla can remember, she has been passionate about starting ISH Dolls and creating a line of products her children would be proud of. “I knew what was important to me, and that was starting this business. The pandemic made me realize it was now or never.” With the support of her family and friends, and relying on social media platforms to get the word out, she quit her job and started the journey. 

Ealla recalls a lot of long nights, brainstorming sessions, planning, replanning and lots of packing and shipping products. She became a frequent visitor at Michael’s arts and crafts, set up her own Instagram shoots and learned how to use Illustrator and animation tools. “It felt right. It felt fulfilling,” Ealla says. “I knew I had found my purpose and the impact I wanted to make in this world.”

Related: How This Founder Is Challenging Us to Unlearn Toxic Expectations When it Comes to Beauty

Do your research

Over a successful career at Moody’s, Ealla had a track record of problem solving. When she started ISH Dolls she had no background in toys or manufacturing, so Google became her best friend. She researched everything she could to learn about manufacturing toys. She did virtual visits with manufacturers over Zoom, working through several iterations of product ideas. 

“Doing my research was key,” Ealla says. “I was unable to find any type of Hindu goddess figures when we launched in 2020. The ones on the market weren’t what I was looking for, and all the details mattered. I was on a mission to create quality products that did justice to these figures and their rich histories.”

When creating the Goddess Durga doll, the fabric the manufacturer sent to Ealla for the skin color was too light. “The fabrics would look one way, and when we produced the doll it looked another way, and we went back and forth,” Ealla says. “I knew from my research that Goddess Durga’s skin color was darker, and we needed to stay true to the deity stories.” When she reached out to trusted customers, their feedback matched Ealla’s research. Although Ealla lost some money on early iterations, she knew launching a doll with accurate representation was more important. 

Related: Why This VC Is on a Mission to Get More Women to Write Checks for Female-Led Businesses

Pay it forward

“I am the proud daughter of immigrant parents,” Ealla says. “I credit my parents for my entrepreneurial spirit. They faced a lot of hardship, but together they showed me the value of resiliency, perseverance and the importance of being resourceful.”

Ealla’s grandmother was also a source of inspiration for Ealla when she started out. Her grandmother raised 11 children in a small village in Trinidad, and she owned a small store that helped support her family. “She sold whatever she could get her hands on,” Ealla says. “She taught us to never give up.”

To pay it forward, Ealla has selected a manufacturing facility based in Trinidad. By 2022, most of the manufacturing for ISH Dolls will be done there. “This island has suffered a lot during the pandemic,” Ealla says. “Right now it’s a small factory, and as ISH Dolls expands, we will employ more people.”

As she looks to the future, Ealla wants to continue to expand ISH Dolls while balancing the line between cultural appropriation and celebrating and amplifying Hinduism through meaningful toys. Although its early growth can be attributed to word-of-mouth and digital marketing, Ealla is looking for investors to help scale and explore retail opportunities.

“As a Brown woman, it’s an exciting time to be a founder. There has been a huge shift in supporting women entrepreneurs,” Ealla says. “We need to trust ourselves and realize that we are capable of designing our own futures, even if it’s a future I could have never imagined for myself as a little Brown girl growing up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.”

Related: How this Founder is Disrupting the World of EdTech & Empowering More Students to Break Into Tech

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Southeast Asia insurtech Igloo increases its Series B to $46M • TechCrunch

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Igloo, a Singapore-based insurtech focused on underserved communities in Southeast Asia, announced it has raised a Series B extension of $27 million, bringing the round’s total to $46 million. The first tranche of $19 million was announced in March, and led by Cathay innovation with participation from ACA and returning investors OpenSpace.

The newest round was led by the InsuResilience Investment Fund II, which was launched by the German development bank KfW for the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and is managed by impact investor BlueOrchard. Other lead investors were the Women’s World Banking Asset Management (WAM), FinnFund, La Maison and returning investors Cathay Innovation.

Igloo develops its insurance products and then partners with insurers who underwrite their policies. Igloo currently works with 20 global, regional and local insurers across Southeast Asia. It distributes its insurance products through partnerships, and is partnered with over 55 companies in 7 countries. It now offers 15 products, including policies for gig workers, gamers, cars and farmers in Vietnam, and says it has facilitated more than 300 million policies and increased gross written premiums by 30 times since 2019.

Co-founder and CEO Raunak Mehta told TechCrunch that Igloo decided to raise a Series B extension because of investor interest after the first tranche of funds. The extension will give the startup a multiyear runway and will be used for hiring, infrastructure and merger and acquisitions opportunities.

Mehta said that the penetration rate of insurance in much of Southeast Asia is low, less than $100 USD per capita across Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Igloo was created to make insurance more affordable and relevant to the needs of communities in Southeast Asia. Igloo distributes insurance products that range from 2 cents USD for phone screen protection to $600 USD for comprehensive motor insurance.

Igloo provides the tech stack for its products across Southeast Asia, which Mehta says means the entire insurance value chain, from product discovery to claims, is available on one platform. This makes it faster for it to brings the policies it distributes to market more quickly, and significantly reduce the operational cost of claims.

Mehta said more than 80% of claims are currently managed in an automated or semi-automated way, and that big data management, along with machine learning and artificial intelligence, has enabled it to reduce anti-selection risks, false positives and fraudulent claims. By bringing down the cost of managing claims, Igloo is able to offer lower premium to customers.

An example of Igloo’s insurance policies include ones for gig economy riders that it sells through its partnership with Foodpanda in Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines, and Lozi and Ahamove Vietnam. Its policy for Foodpanda, called PandaCare, includes motor, personal accident and hospitalization income protection for workers.

Another, more recent one, is is Weather Index Insurance product in Vietnam. The policy uses blockchain-backed smart contracts and automates claims payouts by using pre-assigned values for crop losses caused by weather and other natural events. Igloo says the Weather Index Insurance is Vietnam’s first parametric insurance (or a policy that agrees to make pre-agreed payouts based on trigger events like a flood) and its first integration of smart contracts into insurance.

Igloo also provides products that Mehta says directly or indirectly benefits women, through a partnership with Philinsure in the Philippines. They have distributed more than 5 million policies that cover credit default, personal accident, family relief and natural calamity support to women micro-entrepreneurs and their families. In Vietnam, more than 65% of the agents who use Igloo’s Ignite digital platform to sell insurance policies are women, and they are also the main beneficiaries of the Weather Index Insurance product.

The insurtech’s distribution partners include telecoms like Telkomsel, AIS and Mobifone, and e-commerce platforms like Shopee, Lazada, Bukalapak and JD.ID. It also works with financial service providers, like AEON, Gcash and UnionBank, to sell policies for their customer base, and provides products for insuring goods in transit and protecting fleet drivers through logistics platforms like Ahamove, Shippit, Loship and Locad.

Other Southeast Asia-based insurtechs that want to increase insurance penetration in the region and have raised large Series B rounds include Indonesia’s Fuse and PasarPolis and Thailand’s Sunday.

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Cyber Monday shopping expected to set record but annual growth has slowed | Adobe

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Cyber Monday shopping sales hit at least $6.3 billion through part of the day in the U.S. today, according to the latest online shopping data from Adobe Analytics.

It’s not unusual for Cyber Monday and Black Friday online shopping results to break records, but it this economic climate it’s encouraging to see it happen. Still, growth has slowed from 2021 and 2020 holiday seasons.

Consumers spent $6.3 billion up through 3:00 pm Pacific time for Cyber Monday. Adobe expects that when the final tally is in, consumers will spend between $11.2 billion and $11.6 billion for the day, making Cyber Monday the biggest online shopping day of the year (and of all time).

Today, the top 15 hot sellers (not in ranked order) have included Legos, Hatchimals, Disney Encanto, Pokémon cards, Bluey, Dyson products, strollers, Apple Watches, drones, and digital cameras. Gaming consoles also remain popular, along with games including Mario Party, FIFA 23, Madden 23 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II.

Over the past weekend, the top sellers were included Hot Wheels, Cocomelon, Bluey, Disney Encanto, L.O.L. Surprise dolls, Roblox, and Fortnite in the toys category. Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 remain the top selling gaming consoles, with popular games including FIFA 23, God of War Ragnarök, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, Madden 23, and NBA 2k23. Other hot sellers included Apple iPads, Apple MacBooks, digital cameras, Roku devices, drones, gift cards and Instapots.

Black Friday online shopping sales were $9.12 billion, up 2.3% from a year ago, and Thanksgiving itself came in at $5.29 billion, up 2.9% from a year ago. Those were above Adobe’s projections. Last year, consumers spent $10.7 billion on Cyber Monday.

Strong consumer spend has been driven by net-new demand, and not just higher prices. The Adobe Digital Price Index, which tracks online prices across 18 product categories (complements the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, which also includes prices for offline only products and services like gasoline and rent) shows that prices online have been nearly flat in recent months (down 0.7% YoY in October 2022).

Adobe Analytics says Cyber Monday will set a record.

Adobe’s numbers are not adjusted for inflation, but if online inflation were factored in, there would still be growth in underlying consumer demand, the company said.

On a category basis, toys were a major growth driver in the days leading up to Cyber Monday, with online sales up 452% over the average day in October 2022. Appliances (up 305%) and baby/toddler products (up 289%) also saw strong demand, in addition to electronics (up 276%) and apparel (up 258%).

Shoppers will find record discounts today for computers (peaking at 27% off listed price). Deals will also be found in nearly all categories tracked, including apparel (19%), toys (33%), electronics (25%), sporting goods (16%), televisions (15%), and furniture (11%). Those looking to buy an appliance should consider waiting until Thursday (December 1), when discounts are set to peak at 18% on average.

Weekend spending remained strong

Consumers spent over a Black Friday’s worth of ecommerce over the weekend at $9.55 billion, up 4.4% YoY ($4.59 billion on November 26, up 2.6% YoY / $4.96 billion on November, up 6.1% YoY). Season-to-date (November 1 to November 27), consumers have spent a total of $96.42 billion online, up 2.1% YoY.

And while the big days (Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday) have reached new heights, consumers spent at record levels all season. Since November 1, shoppers spent over $2 billion every single day, with 19 days above $3 billion in online spend. Broad, early discounts were the main drivers for the shift in consumer spending.

“Shoppers have seen massive discounts this past week, which is the exact opposite situation from last season when supply chain constraints kept prices elevated,” said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst at Adobe Digital Insights, in a statement. “While discounting will have an impact on margins for retailers, it is also driving a level of demand that can help brands build long-term loyalty and net some short-term gains.”

Additional Adobe Analytics Insights

Over the weekend, online sales of toys were up 383% (compared to average daily sales for the category in October 2022), with baby toys seeing strong demand (up 252%). Other categories that surged over the weekend include jewelry (up 230%), sporting goods (up 239%), and apparel (up 217%).

With online spending hitting new records and inflation impacting consumers, flexible payments have become a big story this season. In the last week (November 21 to November 27), “buy now, pay later” orders have risen 68% and revenue has increased 72%, when compared to the week prior.

Over the weekend, smartphones drove over half of online sales for the first time (52%, up from 48% last year). Adobe expects mobile shopping to dip on Cyber Monday however, based on historical trends. Many people are back at work and using laptops, which will be the preferred device for shopping online.

Forecast for Cyber Week

Adobe expects Cyber Week (the five days from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday) to generate $34.8 billion in online spend, up 2.8% YoY, and represent 16.3% share of the full November through December holiday season.

Cyber Monday is expected to remain the season’s and year’s biggest online shopping day, bringing in between $11.2 billion and $11.6 billion. Black Friday generated a record $9.12 billion in online spend, up 2.3% YoY, while Thanksgiving brought $5.29 billion in online spend, up 2.9% YoY.

Adobe analyzes direct consumer transactions online. The analysis covers over one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, 100 million SKUs, and 18 product categories.

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Snowflake 101: 5 ways to build a secure data cloud 

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Today, Snowflake is the favorite for all things data. The company started as a simple data warehouse platform a decade ago but has since evolved into an all-encompassing data cloud supporting a wide range of workloads, including that of a data lake

More than 6,000 enterprises currently trust Snowflake to handle their data workloads and produce insights and applications for business growth. They jointly have more than 250 petabytes of data on the data cloud, with more than 515 million data workloads running each day.

Now, when the scale is this big, cybersecurity concerns are bound to come across. Snowflake recognizes this and offers scalable security and access control features that ensure the highest levels of security for not only accounts and users but also the data they store. However, organizations can miss out on certain basics, leaving data clouds partially secure. 

Here are some quick tips to fill these gaps and build a secure enterprise data cloud.

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1. Make your connection secure

First of all, all organizations using Snowflake, regardless of size, should focus on using secured networks and SSL/TLS protocols to prevent network-level threats. According to Matt Vogt, VP for global solution architecture at Immuta, a good way to start would be connecting to Snowflake over a private IP address using cloud service providers’ private connectivity such as AWS PrivateLink or Azure Private Link. This will create private VPC endpoints that allow direct, secure connectivity between your AWS/Azure VPCs and the Snowflake VPC without traversing the public Internet. In addition to this, network access controls, such as IP filtering, can also be used for third-party integrations, further strengthening security.

2. Protect source data

While Snowflake offers multiple layers of protection – like time travel and fail-safe – for data that has already been ingested, these tools cannot help if the source data itself is missing, corrupted or compromised (like malicious encrypted for ransom) in any way. This kind of issue, as Clumio’s VP of product Chadd Kenney suggests, can only be addressed by adopting measures to protect the data when it is resident in an object storage repository such as Amazon S3 – before ingest. Further, to protect against logical deletes, it is advisable to maintain continuous, immutable, and preferably air-gapped backups that are instantly recoverable into Snowpipe.

3. Consider SCIM with multi-factor authentication

Enterprises should use SCIM (system for cross-domain identity management) to help facilitate automated provisioning and management of user identities and groups (i.e. roles used for authorizing access to objects like tables, views, and functions) in Snowflake. This makes user data more secure and simplifies the user experience by reducing the role of local system accounts. Plus, by using SCIM where possible, enterprises will also get the option to configure SCIM providers to synchronize users and roles with active directory users and groups.

On top of this, enterprises also should use multi-factor authentication to set up an additional layer of security. Depending on the interface used, such as client applications using drivers, Snowflake UI, or Snowpipe, the platform can support multiple authentication methods, including username/password, OAuth, keypair, external browser, federated authentication using SAML and Okta native authentication. If there’s support for multiple methods, the company recommends giving top preference to OAuth (either snowflake OAuth or external OAuth) followed by external browser authentication and Okta native authentication and key pair authentication.

4. Column-level access control

Organizations should use Snowflake’s dynamic data masking and external tokenization capabilities to restrict certain users’ access to sensitive information in certain columns. For instance, dynamic data masking, which can dynamically obfuscate column data based on who’s querying it, can be used to restrict the visibility of columns based on the user’s country, like a U.S. employee can only view the U.S. order data, while French employees can only view order data from France.

Both features are pretty effective, but they use masking policies to work. To make the most of it, organizations should first determine whether they want to centralize masking policy management or decentralize it to individual database-owning teams, depending on their needs. Plus, they would also have to use invoker_role() in policy conditions to enable unauthorized users to view aggregate data on protected columns while keeping individual data hidden.

5. Implement a unified audit model

Finally, organizations should not forget to implement a unified audit model to ensure transparency of the policies being implemented. This will help them actively monitor policy changes, like who created what policy that granted user X or group Y access to certain data, and is as critical as monitoring query and data access patterns. 

To view account usage patterns, use system-defined, read-only shared database named SNOWFLAKE. It has a schema named ACCOUNT_USAGE containing views that provide access to one year of audit logs.

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