This article is part of Inc42’s latest series — Women in Leadership — where we will be featuring stories of women who have not only excelled in their chosen field but also empowered and inspired other women to go beyond their limitations and boundaries. Read more stories here.
“Excuse me, aap jo yeh bol rahe hain iske paise charge karte hain ya phir yeh muft ka gyaan hai?….kyonki chillar nahi hai mere pass”
(Excuse me do you give out advice for free or do you charge for it?… because I don’t have change to spare!)
This dialogue from the hit Imtiaz Ali-directed romcom “Jab We Met,” became one of its iconic moments when the movie came out in 2007. The cheerful and outspoken Geet Dhillon (played by Kareena Kapoor) telling off a middle-aged station master who scolds her for travelling alone on the train at night, made her instantly-relatable to women everywhere. For most women in India and the world-over, fending off unsolicited advice (both well-meaning and malicious) is a daily struggle.
Right from the trivial such as planning an unsupervised trip with friends (Go with your husband after you are married) to more serious ones such as right work-life balance after motherhood (you must quit your job, who will take care off the child), the constant barrage of such simplistic and often insensitive advice can be soul-sapping at times.
In India, working women make only 27% of the workforce (2018 World Bank Report), and women in startups form an even smaller demographic. With such a massive disparity, comes ignorance and worse still, more unsolicited advice!
As part of our effort to highlight the journey of women entrepreneurs on this International Women’s Day, we bring some of the best and worst advice an Indian woman entrepreneur gets on her way towards being a successful entrepreneur, handle family life, maintain work-life balance and much more. To balance things out we also asked women entrepreneurs what was some advice that actually drove them to their success.
Here’s what the women entrepreneurs had to say:
Suchita Salwan, cofounder, Little Black Book (LBB)
A quintessential Delhi millennial, Suchita Salwan started LBB in 2013 which is now a one-stop shop for everything from food and fashion to theatre and shopping in the city. Since its inception, LBB has grown to become quite the authority on all things related to lifestyle. It’s hugely popular among urbanites across India’s growing cities.
Talking to Inc42, Suchita Salwan shared that one of her best advice was: Just keep swimming.
“I think what separates good and great entrepreneurs is perseverance. There will always be a 1000 reasons to fail and not perform, but you’ve just got to keep getting up and keep going while learning from your mistakes,” she said.
The worst advice, which Salwan said is usually doled out as a part of what is seemingly- a requirement for the founders-to network, has connects within the VC and startup founder community.
“And a part of this advice was to do what it takes to fit in. I cannot disagree with this more- I think it’s extremely important to have and voice your opinions. Don’t be contrarian for the heck of it; but keep challenging your own, and others’, status quo,” Salwan said.
Tanvi Malik, Cofounder, FabAlley
Delhi/NCR-based online fashion store High Street Essentials Pvt Ltd (HSE), which owns women-centric fashion brands, FabAlley and Indya, was founded in 2012 by Shivani Poddar and Tanvi Malik.
The entrepreneurs with a knack for fashion turned the company profitable in the fiscal year 2018. One of the female founding team of a fashion brand, Tanvi Malik told Inc42 that the worst piece of advice is probably the time-tried method: “Fake it till you make it”.
“I feel it is a paper-thin business strategy for rookies and a fool’s game to real professionals. You’ll never trick those you want to win over, and you may just damage your budding reputation in the process,” she added.
At the same time, the best advice has been to truly listen and empathise with your consumers.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. If you want your startup to thrive, pay attention to what your customers are saying. They are your best hope in learning truthfully about the flaws in your products and services, so you can easily rectify them in future,” she shared.
Geetha Manjunath, CEO and cofounder, NIRAMAI
One of the startup’s in Inc42’s coveted 42Next list, NIRAMAI offers artificial intelligence (AI)-driven solution that detects cancer and abnormalities. Founded in 2016 by Geetha Manjunath and Nidhi Mathur, NIRAMAI’s Thermalytix is being used across hospitals and diagnostic centres in nine cities.
Manjunath has been in the IT sector for last 25 years and has several patents under her name. She has led various projects in Healthcare and transportation.
Talking to Inc42, Manjunath remembered the advice given by Ashish Goel, founder of Urban Ladder, to choose investors wisely. “They are important long term partners and need to be aligned with your vision for the company,” he had advised.
On the other hand, Manjunath has heard the worst advice on the need to balance work and life and being asked to set company goals accordingly.
Priyanka Kanwar, CEO and cofounder, Kite
With a passion about helping people from all backgrounds access modern finance, Priyanka Kanwar started Kite in 2017 with her high school best friend, Prabhtej Singh Bhatia. They wanted to empower businesses and their employees with innovative and low-cost payments, capital, and financial services.
Talking to Inc42, Kanwar shared that the best advice she has received is to dream big and have the most audacious ambitions, but work with extreme focus every day and achieve your goals one step at a time.
“For a startup, nothing is as lethal as unnecessary distractions or costs and nothing as impactful as strategic focus and daily persistence,” she added.
At the same time, Kanwar believes the worst advice she has received is from those that don’t have the risk appetite themselves. “Don’t start up so young, go into a job, the financial industry is too complex for a young person right out of college to navigate,” she was adviced.
Kanika Tekriwal, cofounder, JetSetGo
As Kanika Tekriwal told Inc42, traditionally dominated by men, the aviation sector is not an easy place to break into. Tekriwal and Sudheer Perla founded JetSetGo in 2014 as an Uber for private jets as it works as a marketplace that joins the dots between charter customers and operators on one hand and service providers with operators on the other.
Backed by marquee investors, Tekriwal says that she has “definitely received far too many backhanded compliments and prejudiced comments that have all implied that I don’t belong in this space.”
“At the onset of my entrepreneurial journey I did receive varied advice such as I should set up a bakery and start baking cupcakes. People told me that aviation was not my cup of tea and I should instead take up a business which is into making clothes. Someone during the inception days of Jet Set Go told me that I should rethink about my decision of venturing into the aviation space as it would be difficult to continue once I get married and have kids,” Tekriwal remincised.
She has also been told things like girls do not become pilots and she shouldn’t waste her time pursuing her dream coming from a traditional Marwari family.
However, some of the good pieces of advice like — she should never stop believing in herself and that one should never hesitate to apologize to an unsatisfied customer and be transparent in one’s dealings.
Pratiksha Dake, cofounder, INDWealth
In October 2018, Ibibo founder Ashish Kashyap announced his new venture INDWealth, where he brought together Pratiksha Dake and Varun Bhatia onboard to carve out a wealth management product for high net-worth individuals.
As cofounder and chief product officer, Dake is experienced in the consumer tech sector. Talking to Inc42, she shared that a few best advices include always push yourself to the limits and see how you perform, surround yourself with people smarter than you as you will learn a lot more than you can imagine.
On the other hand, some of the worst advices include being too ambitious is not good, you’ll never be happy. “I am glad I not only didn’t listen to this advice but also cut off people who gave me this advice at the right time. There’s no such thing as being too ambitious. The only crime you can commit is not to dream or aim big enough for yourself,” she explained.
Another worst advice for Dake was to outsource tech development. “I am glad I never listened to this advice. As a person who loves technology to its core, I would have never liked the suboptimal quality of work that you get by outsourcing tech development,” she said.
Natasha Jain, cofounder, Bent Chair
Natasha Jain with her father Neeraj Jain started her entrepreneurship journey in 2016 as the idea was to bring the products of artisans, skilled craftsmen, and homemakers directly to the consumer.
She has also ventured into restaurant experience by opening a one-of-a-kind restaurant where everything is for sale, Plum by Bent Chair. As a 29-year-old millennial, Natasha Jain always aspired to be an engineer and manufacture something using technology as she studied in the US.
Talking to Inc42 she shared that the best advice she received is to “stay true to myself and my vision. They advised me to never lose track of my goals and get washed away with the currents.”
Along the way, she has also heard worst advices which include modelling her journey around what other companies in the industry have done.
Priyanka Goel, cofounder, Go Grub
The young and versatile Priyanka Goel started healthy snacking brand Go Grub and has been chasing her way through the health-conscious Indians.
Talking to Inc42, Priyanka Goel shared that one of the best advices that came her way was to use the inborn advantage of women being multitaskers. She was adviced to use this in her startup journey because startup needs multitasking.
On the other hand, the worst advice passed on to her was to not hire fresh out of college girls, they are not serious about work and want to stay away/out to have a good time.
Sakshi Katiyal, CEO, HomeandSoul
Sakshi Katiyal ventured into real estate business when she launched HomeandSoul in 2014. With a passion towards the creation of aspirational yet functional homes; contemporary yet soulful, Katiyal and her team aim to provide homes that will be rewarding assets for the new age Indian who is striving for international quality of life.
Talking to Inc42, Katiyal shared that when she decided to put her feet into the real estate business, she got a number of advice ranging from not to limit her abilities and capabilities to have a clear picture of her business plans.
However, some of the worst advices that came her way were: “Being a woman how I will fit myself in the real estate business. How I will deal with developers, how will I build up company sales, how to achieve profit etc?”