On Shubra Acharya’s 22nd birthday, her brother gifted her a Royal Enfield Classic 500, one of the most powerful motorcycles at the time, and as she puts it, “Life was never the same after that.” From touring the entire country right from Kanyakumari and Kashmir to starting her own travel company to leading operations at a corporate firm as the Chief Operating Officer, Acharya’s journey has been an adventure in itself.
In an interview with SheThePeople, Shubra Acharya talks about her journey as an entrepreneur and a leader, the challenges she powers through, and how more women are embracing motorcycles and bridging the gap in the industry.
Shubra Acharya Interview
When did you get associated with Offineeds?
Offineeds.com was started by my brother, Srikanth Acharya and his partner in the year 2005. It’s a funny story about how Offineeds (then called Gift Wrapped) came to be.
It actually started on April 1, 2005, as an April Fool’s prank. My brother, as part of the prank, told everyone that he was quitting his job at Infosys to start a business. As the day passed, with the various questions people asked him, he kept making up answers, and at the end of the day he had a solid business plan to set up a corporate gifting business.
You started Travelling Circus stemming from a passion for motorcycling. While more women are taking to motorcycling across the country, there’s still a gap. How has your experience been around it as someone who comes across riders regularly?
When I first started motorcycling in 2010, there were very few women riding motorcycles. But things have been changing very rapidly for the better. Now, there are huge numbers of women riding clubs too. Usually, the reaction of people on the roads (both in the city and highway) to a woman riding a motorbike is always positive.
They give an extra thumbs up and always offer a helping hand when asked for. I have always believed that India is also a very safe country for women to travel by themselves, and so to spread this message, in 2017, my friend and I did a tour of Kanyakumari to Kashmir on motorcycles ourselves without any backup, and we did it in a whopping 130 hours.
You’re pursuing your passion for both business and adventure. Was it always the motive – to expand across spaces and industries?
It was never the way I intended it to be as such. But having started my first business at the age of 18 and having successfully run it for 8 years, I knew I wanted to continue in this direction. The adventure aspect of it- travelling on a motorcycle was a huge passion of mine from my college days. And since both were things I have always loved, I have always balanced both aspects well. I believe when you have a passion for something, you will always find ways to make it happen 🙂
What factors can you recall that have impacted your growth as a businesswoman?
I think my biggest driver has always been finding solutions to problems. And as a result of this, I have had the opportunity to play diverse roles in our organisation, find gaps and voids, and regularly build processes to fix those problems. With time, the same methodology was implemented in finding ways to grow or elevate the business through process improvements.
I think the largest impact on my growth as a businesswoman has been my exposure to a wide variety of industries as well as all the departments within the organisation.
What were the primary challenges you faced in finding your way up to becoming a leader in both the gifting and travel industry?
In both Industries, I wouldn’t say I faced challenges as a woman as such. However, in the motorcycle travel industry, there was scepticism that I was a woman in a male-dominated industry. However, when you are doing a good job, eventually you gain the respect of your people, and that is what happened here as well. In fact, because I was the tour leader, many women started joining our tours too. In the Corporate Gifting industry, I haven’t faced any challenges that I can directly attribute to my being a woman.
How are you revolutionising the Indian market with your growth plans?
We are one of the largest players operating in an organised manner in India’s large unorganised Corporate gifting space. We are already building tech in our order processing and management, unlike any other player in India. Our solution of Official BrandStores, where we create white-labelled e-commerce stores for our clients where their employees can buy their merchandise, is a massive success and we already run over 40 such stores for large Corporates across India. In the next few months, we will be a complete Corporate gifting platform where we will offer a variety of services through corporate gifts to clients across India.
Apart from societal biases, what do you think is a major hindrance when it comes to more women being at the forefront of leadership?
I think it is a fact that a lot of women end up taking a break at the peak of their careers due to childbirth and wanting to be around their children during the first few years. I think once this break is taken, a few years later, to enter back into the workforce is challenging as things change so fast, and there might be cases of women having lost that old confidence. Due to a slump in their career at an important phase of life, I think a lot of women lose out on the opportunity of growing into leadership positions.
How do you suggest the Indian market can empower more women in leadership positions?
There are already quite a lot of schemes made available to women entrepreneurs to start businesses and avail loans for growing their businesses. I feel an organised education in entrepreneurship in schools and colleges, an increased exposure to actual plants and organisations being included in a school’s curriculum would play a vital role in increasing the exposure children (for both male and female) have to businesses and thus make them aspire for going in that direction.
What advice would you give aspiring women entrepreneurs?
My biggest advice would be to not take breaks from their careers because as I mentioned earlier, that slump in career growth is very hard to make up for in the future. If we are willing and able to continue our careers even during these difficult personal phases in life, there are way more opportunities for us to grow to leadership positions in any field of work.
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