Meet India’s women entrepreneurs who changed careers, started up again to make it big
When writing a women’s day article, I often feel conflicted. Do I ask for her equality, her empowerment, her rescue? Or do I look for reasons to celebrate that she stands firm despite the deeply ingrained norms that have been undercutting her dignity, and gnawing at her self worth since centuries? Do I look away from the ghastly revelations that came out in the MeToo movement? Or do I applaud her for rising to new ranks in an ever hostile world? Perhaps the best we can do is support each other and celebrate each other’s victory. I explore India’s women entrepreneurs who broke new ground, and launched themselves with new careers a few times in their lives.
This women’s day, I wish to celebrate few cool women and their advice to those who are just starting up. I asked six professionals and entrepreneurs what would be their advice to millennials and I got some kickers!
Nandini Maheshwari is a serial entrepreneur whose latest startup Betaout has been acquired by US-based retail technology marketing firm Bluecore. In her 14+ years of experience, she has seen it all.
“Back in my college days, I used to run an online directory and was earning a decent amount of money in subscriptions. But, my directory got banned due to the SEO-changes I made,” says Nandini. “From earning thousands of dollars, it dropped to zero. Instead of being heartbroken, I invested all my savings in my next startup. Back then, everyone advised me not to risk my savings and take-up a 9 to 5 job for some stability but I started Bornrich, which later on became one of the finest luxury blogs in the world. So, my advice to all the aspiring women entrepreneurs is to trust yourself. If you won’t then no one else will.”
Kavita Devgan is a Delhi based nutritionist, health columnist, speaker and author. At 48 years, she has some well-meant advice.
“First and foremost, take care of your health. You are at your physical peak in 20s, keep this fitness level as your benchmark and work consciously towards preserving it,” Kavita says. “Don’t take your career too seriously, instead work hard at following your passion. Find your own path, write your own template and leave the ‘box’ for others. You are here to write your own story and discover who you are meant to be – so do that. Make friends – few but meaningful. These angels will help keep you sane. Genuinely stay good, and think good for everyone. Understand how the principle of karma works, and practice it. Lastly, hone your patience (super)power. You will need it in huge doses at every step of your life.”
Don’t take your career too seriously, instead work hard at following your passion – Kavita Devgan
When I bumped into Ritu Soni Srivastava for a panel at IIT Mumbai, her smile and enthusiasm immediately captivated me. After flourishing in a corporate career spanning radio and MNCs, Ritu successfully founded a fitness app Obino which helps you lose weight and stay fit. She took a problem that she was facing (weight gain after pregnancy) and made it into a solution for everyone. But more importantly, did it without losing her peace. She shares her pointers for a fulfilling career:
It’s also ok to be scared but don’t let that fear hold you back. I remember being absolutely petrified when I quit my cushy, well-paying, fast-tracked job – Ritu Soni
“I believe that it’s ok to not know what you want to do with your life. I remember when I embarked on my career as a prime-time Radio Jockey with Red FM with no prior media exposure. It was an absolute wild ride that I look back at fondly as one of the best periods of my life.” She adds, “It’s also ok to be scared but don’t let that fear hold you back. I remember being absolutely petrified when I quit my cushy, well-paying, fast-tracked job as DGM, Brand Marketing for the mobile business at Airtel.”
She adds, “That too, for a startup in health-tech, something I had zero knowledge of. But I figured it out, and now I can talk health with the best of the experts. Lastly, it’s ok to have things go badly once in a while. I have failed so many times in my career – as an employee, as a boss, as a founder. If I stopped moving forward, I would fail less, but I would also reduce my chances of success.”
Millennial young should trust their gut and potential
Ruchita Mishra, a senior executive in Supply Chain Management, has seen the workplace biases for over a decade now. Rising to leadership positions in a male dominated sector has not been easy. She says that millennial young should trust their gut and potential.
“From being the only woman who visited shop floor during my tenure at General Motors to now seeing several women picking up roles in supply chain, a lot has changed with time. During your initial days, stick to your organization longer so that you can develop a stronger foundation.”
Ruchita says it’s important to learn from everything around you. “For example, when I need to negotiate with suppliers, I take inspiration from how my mom does it while running the household. And when it comes to motherhood, always remember that SuperWoman is a myth, ask for help when you need it.”
Many Indian women vie to rise the corporate ladder in the tech industry. To those, I have few golden words from IIMC alumnus Disha Chhabra, a Product Manager at Google who has previously worked with Amazon, Paytm and Yatra.
“I have been fortunate to work across different sectors, functions and levels. One of the things I personally felt is that females are shy of asking for their due. Since I became more vocal of my work, my communication with stakeholders improved and I was recognized for my work. At one instance, I saw how I was being grossly underpaid from the rest of my peers, where a 5 minute conversation with my manager was all it took for a salary correction. And lastly, always think of career in the long term and not just a couple of years and immediate promotions. I forego an immediate salary jump to get into the profession of my choice and I don’t regret the choice.”
I saw how I was being grossly underpaid from the rest of my peers, where a 5 minute conversation with my manager was all it took for a salary correction – Disha Chhabra
Who said being a mom is a hurdle on your professional ambitions? Kuhoo Gupta, a talented singer, poet, and youtuber, founded ‘The K Junction’ – a platform for conscious parenting. She honestly shares her biggest dilemma when she chose to quit her IT career after getting a MTech degree from IIT Mumbai.
“Sure, the job gave me a lot of money and job satisfaction but I had a yearning to do something else, for my own, to fulfill my soul’s purpose. It was after some personal life changing events, that I ‘had’ to quit the corporate. That propelled me to start my sacred entrepreneurship journey because I could not just sit around, doing nothing. In hindsight, I believe we should not let our educational qualifications govern what we do in life. Often we are driven by what the society thinks about a successful profession. Most choices we make are not coming from our own soul’s calling but from our childhood conditioning. My advice is to recognize our own key to a more fulfilling life. Hooking ourselves to a degree or an achievement in the past can limit our potential to grow.”
Sure, the job gave me a lot of money and job satisfaction but I had a yearning to do something else, for my own, to fulfill my soul’s purpose – Kuhoo Gupta
Lastly, as a woman who has led teams in India and abroad, who has worked in corporates and run her own venture, who has programmed C++ code for a living and authored multiple books – I believe women are uniquely poised to create an impact. By supporting women around us, by rising together as a united voice, we can break the barriers that limit us. Individually, we may not be the super woman but united, we are a super force.
Nistha Tripathi is the bestselling author of No Shortcuts that features the journeys of 15 successful founders from India. She is also the founder of Scholar Strategy, an education counselling company.