Shabnam Aggarwal’s obsession to ‘build’ things as a child attracted her to entrepreneurship. The move from Lego to real world business was prompted by her growing up in ideas-fertile Silicon Valley and the boredom of working in corporate cubicles. Shabnam runs KleverKid, a one-stop marketplace that curates and informs parents of the best programs and activities for their children in their city. She raised funding from former Infosys chief financial officer Mohandas Pai in 2015. From after school activity tutors, or specialist hobby coaches for your kid, it endeavours to building a quality relationship between parents and kids.
Shabnam has worked for five companies, lived in four cities, launched three startups, failed twice, and threatened to leave India once every month. Ria Das catches up with her.
What was your growing up like? Sometimes entrepreneurs discover their calling through an inspiration from their childhood
Yes, absolutely! I grew up in Silicon Valley amongst some of the most innovative minds out there. As a child I was obsessed with building things with Legos- I spent hours upon hours building rocket ships, flying cars, robots, and computers. My father would often tell me I could become the first female President of the United States. My mother would tell me stories of children in India who had little to nothing, and soon enough I was obsessed with building things for children in India.
Setting up a business in India is like getting into a war; before gaining success, you have to gain trust.
Initially I advocated saving kids from terrible teachers but soon realised that the real reason was to help kids have a little fun while they learn. Over the course of these seven years, I have worked for five companies, lived in four cities, launched three startups, failed twice, and threatened to leave India once every month. Setting up a business in India is like getting into a war; before gaining success, you have to gain trust.
How did KleverKid come into existence and where do you see its future headed?
I moved to India 7 years ago, to embark upon my dream to build things for kids here. I started out building a company that used mobile games to teach kids English. One day I found myself sitting outside a principal’s office, waiting to be admitted in. There I met a young mother fussing over her little daughter, looking worried and troubled. I asked her if she was OK, when she broke down into a long story of the trouble she was having finding a great pre-school near her home for her “over-active” child. As I listened to her story, I noticed her worry did not stop there. She wondered which dance teacher would be best for her daughter’s needs, which arts class would support her creativity, and eventually which math tutor would enable her daughter to pass her exams and attend a great college. She had so many concerns and yet the solution to her worries seemed so simple to me. That’s when the idea of KleverKid was planted.
I see KleverKid in the future as being the place for kids to discover their passion.
What part of entrepreneurship do you find most challenging?
Teaching. It’s easy to get angry and yell at your team for making a mistake. The hardest thing to do is to take a deep breath, think about what went wrong, and spend the time teaching your teammate something new or different or difficult, regardless of how long that takes and how many other things need to get done. I’m still not great at this!
If the hardest thing for you to do is Teaching, then what do you find most enjoyable of what you do?Teaching again! When I’m able to do it right, when my teammates grow because of something I helped them learn, it’s the best feeling in the entire world. I am in awe of people who spend their entire lives teaching others: it’s the hardest, most exhausting, frustrating role in the entire world. And more often than not, it’s the lowest paid role as well.
What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
Patience, belief, and empathy. I have varying amounts of each of these but I notice with the right balance of these three things, you can get a lot done.
The best entrepreneurs have to have a bit delusional optimism.
Who influenced you the most on your way here?
My mother. She has all the right amounts of patience, belief, and empathy. She is my biggest supporter and greatest challenger. She is the best teacher I’ve ever had. Everything I am today is because of her.
What do you think are the particular strengths women can bring to a workplace?
Women are naturally more empathetic and encourage a lot more diversity than men. A recent startup survey conducted by First Round showed that female founders had 44% gender diversity in their companies while male founder companies had only 25%.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement so far?
Building and nurturing a team of people who truly care enough to sacrifice high paying alternatives to change the world for children.
What’s the single most important reason for your success?
My teachers. I had great and some terrible teachers, but each of them taught me about the kind of leader I wanted to become one day. I’ve taken the good and the bad and found a path that I can finally say I am proud to be following today.
Advice for women who are starting out in entrepreneurship…
Find a great mentor- someone who understands and supports your passion and dreams, but who you can trust to challenge you in tough situations, and who can tell you the truth even when it hurts.