If people are doubting how far you can go, go so far that you can’t hear them anymore.
– Michele Ruiz, Emmy award winning journalist and CEO, Ruiz Strategies.
In these few words, Michele has rightly nailed the spirit of women entrepreneurs. Today our startup ecosystem abounds with such heroes, who are venturing into uncharted territories, scripting their own success stories, and leading many others with them on the journey to a braver, brighter, and newer future. These paragons of grit and determination have amassed a wealth of learning as they rise, fall, and rise again to success and glory. They inspire heartening stories, because being a woman entrepreneur in India is a different ball game altogether.
We spoke to some of these women, who are making us and the ecosystem proud, to learn from them their best kept secrets on the path to becoming a successful entrepreneur. We hope these nuggets of wisdom will serve as a beacon to many such other ladies in their journeys and inspire them to never give up! Or as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has rightly said, “Option A is not available. So let’s kick the shit out of option B.”
Sairee Chahal, founder & CEO of Sheroes.in, learnt about persistence and the need to invest in one self.
Says Sairee, “Good advisors are really hard to find, but when you find them, they will help you break all barriers and cross into new zones. They will also help you keep your heart and mind together. One needs to persist in their goal but change the execution as often as required. One also needs to invest in oneself – You can’t serve from an empty cup. Lastly, do your best and do not worry.”
Naiyaa Saggi, co-founder of BabyChakra, learnt not to be afraid to ask and owning one’s success. Says Naiyaa, “Don’t be afraid to ask; create leaders for success. As women we often expect perfection in whatever we do. We hold ourselves to a higher standard than is often practical and necessary. I’ve learnt to take a step back, look at all we have to do and ask myself: should I be doing this or is there someone in my team who can do this well or far better than I can. I trust deeply in my team and when there is trust, leaders emerge.”
Her second big learning has also been to own one’s success. Adds Naiyaa, “At business school, I finally learnt a term that made a lot of sense to me: the ‘imposter syndrome’. As women, we often attribute success or achievement to external circumstances. As a woman entrepreneur, that is particularly pronounced which is why in key strategic conversations, fundraising calls, etc., we are often not able to bring across the full impact of what we have been able to achieve. Over the course of my venture, I have learnt to own & explain our team’s success and share it proudly with external stakeholders. I equally own & have worked hard to be able to articulate the reason for our failures. Either way, the communication has changed to ‘we were lucky’ to ‘we achieved this because we planned and worked hard to get here’.”
For Upasana Taku, co-founder of MobiKwik, the biggest learning as a woman entrepreneur has been the ‘3Cs’ mantra!
Says Upasana, “The biggest learning is what I call the ‘3Cs’ mantra. Calibre, conviction, and confidence–the 3Cs–are critical ingredients of success. Lacking any one attribute could stifle one’s growth. One must keep working hard to improve on all three aspects.”
Manisha Raisinghani, co-founder of LogiNext Solutions, has been inspired by her past women managers to choose the path of technology entrepreneurship. Says Manisha, “While women entrepreneurship is not new to India anymore, women writing computer programmes, designing software architecture, leading technology teams and building scalable systems are certainly rare.”
It is heartening to note that besides Sheryl Sandberg, she takes inspiration from Ruchi Sanghvi – the Carnegie Mellon alumna who became the first woman employee at Facebook, and currently serves as a board member at Paytm (which happens to be an investors in LogiNext).
Swati Bhargava, co-founder of CashKaro.com, believes, “At the end of the day, your work should speak for itself and at that point it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman!”
Adds Swati, “Although, I see a change in the environment for women entrepreneurs from when I started in 2011. Sometimes we may still have to deal with stereotypes that questions a woman’s ability to work in tech or finance, or simply her stability at work. However, this also gives us an amazing opportunity to strive to be better, fight harder, be stronger and bring to life the incredible feats a woman is capable of!”
Meanwhile, Mehaa Seth Marwah, co-founder of online furniture company Modspace.in, learnt through her journey to believe in herself.
Says Mehaa, “As a female entrepreneur in a male dominated space, one main thing I have learnt is to believe in myself. As clichéd as that sounds, it really works. Recognize your skills and own up to them. They will always be of some value to your work and organization. By becoming a female entrepreneur I have become a lot more confident in my abilities, and know I can bring a lot more to the table and have adopted a You-Can-Do-IT attitude.”
Pankhuri Shrivastava, co-founder of Grabhouse, learnt that if you start up, giving up is not an option.
Says Pankhuri, “As an entrepreneur, I realized my ability to design different aspects of business and therefore, the freedom to get creative and work ambitiously to solve problems and then scale them. The bigger I think, the better it becomes, but also the tougher it gets. This challenge is the best part. Also, from an entrepreneurial standpoint, gender differences don’t matter. It’s always a business learning that comes as an experience.”
“There are no great women business leaders or great women entrepreneurs just like there are no great male entrepreneurs and business leaders. There are great entrepreneurs, leaders and role models. Some are men and some are women,” says Aditi Avasthi, founder of ed-tech startup Embibe.
Aditi used to run away from ‘women events’ at work, simply because she thought that it’s not a good thing to single out women for special treatment. But over a period of time she has come to realize how misogynistic stereotypes are deeply ingrained in the way we function, specially in India (but with #drumpf in the US, she takes that back!)
Adds Aditi, “It’s important to talk about this-for women to not lead with their gender at work and for men to not to embrace those stereotypes. As I have seen in 3.5 years of running a business in India, it’s the most convenient way out in most cases, but not one that will get us to economic growth powered by 100% of the population. Yesterday I had dinner with 4 bright women from NMIMS. A couple of them were still encumbered by relatives influencing their parents to create a deterrent on their independence because they are women. This is 2016. You are independent. No one can take that away from you or give it to you. With the Internet and your intellect, anything is possible today. Your family and career can be unified by your purpose to live a loving and fulfilling life. Understand your chains and then break free. #stillthesame13yearslater Its time to change.”
Nidhi Agarwal, founder of Kaaryah, learnt to imbibe a lot of patience from her journey.
Says Nidhi, “Being a woman entrepreneur I have had a diverse set of experiences where I have had to imbibe patience where perseverance was plenty. Each of these experiences made my resolve stronger and I got (subconsciously) tuned to bounce back faster and go-get stronger. The one fact that stood out clearly was that perseverance and unfaltering focus on what you do is the only way to do it well, and perhaps ensure success to your best effort.”
Shaifali Agarwal Holani, founder & CEO, Easyfix, learnt not to worry about what others think but about what one thinks and believes. Says Shaifali, “Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster ride – while some like the kick, others fear it. Women entrepreneurship is even more challenging, purely because of external cultural and societal stereotypes against women. Unfortunately, the belief that women are unambitious & unfocused is so strong from the society that they start to self-doubt themselves. Self-doubt can demotivate anyone from achieving what they want, be it in sport or art or entrepreneurship or anything else. We are judged for our gender, juggling family & work, and being unambitious and most women get convinced based on those prejudices.
I want to share with all women entrepreneurs that do not worry about what others think, but about what you think and believe. Embrace your ambitions and view it as your strength, rather than a weakness. We have to work harder than men to prove ourselves, so be it. Hopefully this will change someday, but till then don’t waste time fighting for it or using it as an excuse to get demotivated.”
Shaifali also said that she has been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a great support system that she could reach out to when Google couldn’t answer her curious mind. Thus she advises that all women–professionals or home managers–must definitely build a community of friends. A mixed variety of people to learn from, to get inspired from, to inspire, tell stories, or join fitness regime with. She sums it up aptly with, “Take your time very seriously and spend all your time and life in doing what really, really makes you happy.”
“I have always seen myself as an entrepreneur, and not as a ‘woman entrepreneur’”, says Sanna Vohra, founder & CEO of Indear.in, a one-stop destination to discover your dream wedding.
“Hence, I would get confused when people asked me about being a woman entrepreneur. However, I think the reason it is asked so often is – there are still many people in this country who see female and male entrepreneurs very differently, sometimes in terms of ability, sometimes in terms of commitment, and sometimes in terms of being able to lead a team. Much research has been done to show that this is not the case though – in fact, in many studies women-led companies have outperformed those lead by men.
Hence, my main learning has been that even though I do not see myself as different, some people do. So, when I am interacting with someone new, I try to be aware of their background, their opinions, and their biases so I can understand the lens by which they are viewing me. When you understand how someone thinks, it is a lot of easier to be effective in your dealings with them.”
Ekta Dalal, co-founder of Bookmein.in, learnt that every day is a new challenge in a startup! She says, “You need to tell yourself that you are a warrior and you will lead your army till you win it. Also, you need to make sure that your values stay intact, that there is no unethical practice which is being conducted in the organisation.
My strong suit is that I am unstoppable and will go all out to achieve my dreams. From sales strategies to day-to-day tasks, I have done it all. Having a right set of people is extremely important and therefore I personally handpicked every person working for the organisation.”
Shubhangi Rai, co-founder, Onetimejobs.com, learnt that woman must focus on securing additional resources with increasing entrepreneurial opportunities.
Says Shubhangi, “Even though female entrepreneurship and the formation of women business networks is steadily rising, there are a number of challenges and obstacles that female entrepreneurs face. One major challenge that many women entrepreneurs face is the resistance from the traditional gender-roles society still has for women. Entrepreneurship is still considered as a male-dominated field, and it may be difficult to surpass these conventional views.
Other than dealing with the dominant stereotype, women entrepreneurs are facing several obstacles related to their businesses, like, in general, women have lower personal financial assets than men. Raising financing is also an obstacle. This means that for a given opportunity and equally capable individual, women must secure additional resources as compared to men, because they control less capital.”
Priya Sachdev, founder and CEO of the elite online retail brand Rock N Shop, realised that women are naturally born to multitask. Says Priya, “In my journey, I realised that we women have the inborn strength and resilience to deal with any challenge which an entrepreneur faces on a daily basis, be it team management or business growth.”
For Priya, who was alien to technology two years back, every day has been a learning experience as she built a technology-based retail business. She adds, “I am still learning every day how technology will bridge the gap between the consumers and markets, be it online or offline, and change retail in a big way.”
Shuchi Pandya, co-founder of fashion accessories startup Pipa+Bella, has found the startup ecosystem fairly open to encouraging women entrepreneurs.
Says Shuchi, “Contrary to popular opinion and prejudices, I don’t think women today face difficulty in starting a venture or raising funds. However, what I think is that the number of such women entrepreneurs needs to go up as the present ecosystem is predominantly male-centric. Today women are becoming a larger target audience for many startups, as they are driving the purchase decisions for themselves and their families. Additionally, what we need is more female mentors and female VCs, who understand women-centric businesses. For instance, I, being in a jewellery business, found it a bit of a challenge at times to explain it to men!”