At a Startup Saturday event organised by Headstart Network, women entrepreneurs spoke about perceptions regarding women, along with the highs and lows of building a startup.
Is there such a thing as women entrepreneurs? To answer the question, why is a meet never called on male entrepreneurs? These were some spunky thoughts that came up at the Women Entrepreneurs’ meet on a regular Saturday afternoon, set aside for startups by Headstart Network, to discuss issues that matter. They were also unanimous in their view that startups have to succeed “in spite” of the government, despite all the noise on Make in India, particularly those serving an international audience.
The speakers, which included Sairee Chahal, Founder, Sheroes; Mausmi Ambastha, Co-founder & COO, Threadsol; Sukhmani Singh, Co-founder, Seek Sherpa did mention moments in their journey where they had encountered prejudice. Sukhmani, in her early 20s, talked about how when she was quizzed on her future plans at an investor meet, she assumed it related to her venture, but the gentleman in question actually meant marriage and babies. Mausmi had a similar experience at an interview and also mentioned a well-meaning aunt who, impressed by her many achievements, wanted to congratulate Mausmi’s husband for allowing her to make it happen.
It was an interesting afternoon spent listening to the stories of women who made it happen. Sairee, founder of Sheroes, a job and community space for women, and mom to a nine-year-old, was refreshingly candid when she stated that for her, career came first and everything else followed. She also joked about putting together a book on running a delegated household, possibly through an app, and why it helped to have more staff than less. A serial entrepreneur, she gave up an offer from the India Today magazine, the place to be for her generation, to work on her first venture, a newspaper that created news capsules for those isolated on sea after a chance encounter with a retired marine. It taught her about world politics, besides everything about running a business. She followed this up with stints in the corporate world and a couple of other businesses or “startups”. Sairee recommends hopping on the ride even though the idea maybe someone else’s, as long as there’s passion.
It’s important to have fun, Sairee adds, since there’s no off-switch when working on your own venture, unlike in a job that you’re paid to do. “Be thankful,” she remarked, “if you get six hours of sleep a day and 10 minutes for breakfast.”
Mausmi Ambastha, Co-founder & COO, ThreadSol started her journey in Patna, where one naturally gravitated towards securing a seat in an engineering or medical college. She grew up watching her mom run their home, along the way realizing that “the amazing woman” who spoke no English, also virtually ran her father’s radiology outlet, handling accounts and procurement of X-ray machines. After studying computer science, she did an MFTech from NIFT, becoming part of a small nerdy gang in what was literally the hub of fashion. Her venture ThreadSol Softwares developed IntelloCut to help garment manufacturers cut down fabric wastage right from the purchase of the fabric to getting the garment ready. Mausmi, whose business took off after a large and unexpected order from Madura, now runs her venture from Singapore, for its ease of doing business with an international clientele. Asked if Make in India meant she could relocate to India, the answer was a firm “No”. It made sense for Indians working in India, but not others, she explained. Sairee agreed, pointing out that Indian banks treated a transaction of $5 million no differently than one of $5,000. During the panel discussion, moderated by Anamika Joshi, Co-founder, Utpatang, Mausmi recalled quitting her job to become an entrepreneur, and the feeling when her salary didn’t credit into her bank account. “It’s tough,” she admitted, “there are families to take care of, medical emegencies of parents; we invested some capital gave ourselves a deadline to make it work.” Well, it did work and the team currently employs over 80 people, taking tough calls along the away, like having to fire friends and family.
Twenty five-year-old Sukhmani Singh, an Army kid afflicted by wanderlust, got the idea for her venture Seek Sherpa after a trip to McLeodganj where a dog decided to follow her group through the terrain till, before long, the roles had reversed. The next day, they were guided by a monk on all the things to see and do. On the way back to Delhi, an idea was born and Sukhmani quit her job, which was taking her to Chicago for a year, to become co-founder of Seek Sherpa, which gets locals to offer unique experiences for tourists, and sometimes even long-time residents of a city. She summed up her experience with “You win some, you lose some, but you definitely learn some,” a spirit all entrepreneurs would identify with.
(For more information on Startup Saturdays, visit www.headstart.in)