Women’s Day has been celebrated for over 100 years to recognise the achievements of women, the progress made in terms of gender equality, and a reminder of what still needs to be done. This includes achieving equal pay for equal work, removing the glass ceiling and eliminating discrimination. These women have done some incredible work in their respective fields and continue to inspire millions of young women to follow their passion.
Dhara Mehta: Founder, The Opposable Thumb
Dhara recalls being fresh out of junior college and being clueless about her future. She was filled with questions about who she really was, what were her likes/dislikes, and what she brought to the world. Through an open counselling session at a college, she was told that she had a strong aptitude in Architecture and further was convinced by the counsellor’s personal story, and so she went ahead with it. She continued her quest for self-discovery along with her study in architecture.
She learnt to play the guitar and tried many other things when she finally landed in Shiamak’s dance class and the experience of Dance moved her deeply. During the dance classes known as ‘batches’, she found herself feeling way happier than she had ever felt before. The happiness seemed very surreal to her and she never wanted to give that up. Something inside her started shifting. Owing to her newfound passion, she quickly graduated to advanced batches that began alarming her parents. They were worried that she was getting distracted from architecture and eventually stopped funding her dance training. Hence, she continued her studies in architecture, and worked a part-time job, and saved money so she could continue her training.
Even as years passed and she graduated from Architecture and got a stable job, she could still feel the pull towards dance. At that stage, it was easier to fund her own training but she felt tired and drained of energy at the end of the day to train. She realised that she could afford all the dance wear and all the training she wished to attend but wasn’t really able to grow as most of her energy used to be directed towards her job and her commute to the job.
There was a point where she was working more than 14 hours a day just so she could continue her dance journey. It came to a point where she didn’t even have enough energy to eat food at the end of the day. That is when she knew, this wasn’t a sustainable solution in any regard and she couldn’t go on like this forever. The next steps meant making some strong decisions for herself which translated to her leaving a stable income source to have the energy for a career possibility of her passion. Her boss was super supportive of her decision and suggested that she go on a part-time payroll and figure out what she would really like to do with this passion.
This smoothened the transition process for her. She was extremely clear that she did not wish to become an entertainer or teacher within the profession as she did not identify with any of these professions and they didn’t seem reasons enough for her to make the switch. Her only realisation being that dance as an experience changed her– her mentality and experience of who she was. She felt that if and only if she could bring that experience to someone else her making the switch would have any value at all. So she put a year into exploring the ‘dance as an experience’ angle further which got her to connect and learn from some phenomenal international teachers that played a huge role in guiding her.
At this period she came to the realisation that being a freelancer was not easy. It is an extremely unstable terrain and if one isn’t mentally or emotionally stable they could easily spiral down a black hole. So she decided to take charge of her mental and emotional health before she took the big leap of leaving the job altogether.
Ready to take the plunge, she finally left the job and enrolled for a course in Dance/movement therapy offered by TISS, Mumbai while simultaneously exploring the co-relations of space and body in theatre. By the end of this one-year course, she had done so much theatre that she had managed to exhaust her entire savings that she had set aside before leaving her job. She now had a certification with no money with a lot of skill that she had developed in the 2 years of diving deep into the study. She looked out for trainers, institutes and other movement therapy professionals who could take her under their wings. But at the time, this was rare and these professionals worked individually and could not really afford to have a team. By this time, she was only left with a 3-digit figure in her bank account. She didn’t even have money to set out of the house for anything per se.
Soon came an opportunity, where she managed to connect with the CEO of a corporate event company that offered to give her a booth at their upcoming conference which was only a week away. With only 7- days at hand, she had to build a brand, educational content, and marketing material. That is literally how ‘The Opposable Thumb’ was born. She was actively presenting herself at any opportunity and continuously stretching out of her comfort zone. She had worked hard enough on her articulation of the concept and ‘The Opposable Thumb’ had a digital presence by the. Opportunities lined up to some big projects that kept her busy for most of the year. She was then being called for work all over the country while being paid for her service.
She finally managed to bring back the account balance, she had left the job with. She was getting tremendous work opportunities and was able to get proof of concept and so on only that at one point it stopped. She doesn’t know when and how but she stopped getting work and there was a dry period with no work at all towards the end of the year which made her question things. Not getting a stable income was one of the biggest trade-offs she had to make while giving up a job to take upon a business. That did not stop her, she consulted with professionals and continuously improvised on various techniques to position her brand.
The year after, she worked hard on some of these realisations and only when she thought she was on the brink of cracking it, the pandemic struck. She took a back seat thinking she could never do what she does online and so she decided that she should not do it. After a few months, very reluctantly she began experiencing virtual experiences that opened up a world of opportunities for her. She could now connect with the world and have them join her. It opened her up to an unexplored side of her work. She worked through 2020, connecting with people, innovating her work and so on.
It’s 2021, and she is on a pathway to sustain the movement practice and eventually generate employment for many artists who could offer tremendous value to make the world a better place. Through the many financial losses, her only gain continues to be her seld growth which she wasn’t able to achieve through a stable income flow.
Mridu Goel: Founder, Bansiwalla
Mridu Goel pursued her Chartered Accountancy and MBA from SPJIMR, after which she started her corporate journey with Cadbury India followed by Unilever India. But from early on in her career, she always had an inclination to run her own show, being a foodie at heart commencing a startup in the F&B industry was always in the back of her mind. After the initial fear and hurdles, she launched Bansiwala. With a vision to offer authentic Indian sweets and savouries to her customers. “The true pulse of a city can only be experienced by its local fair,” Mridu Says.Initially, the learning curve was steep, everyday was filled with new challenges. “But I always focused on my team, If you take care of your team, they will take care of your customers,” Mridu added. They were an offline focussed company with a presence in Modern Trade like Big Bazaar, Reliance, Star Bazaar. But when the COVID-19 crisis hit, her business came under jeopardy. Malls shut down, most of the employees traveled back to their home town and Logistics channels were disrupted.
But as they say, crisis brings opportunities – Learning, innovating, and rising from disruptions to put the worst behind. “We explored the unexplored and brought the concept of Online sweets. Increased the product range from 8 SKUs to 50+ SKUs. My website was up in 20 days straight and in the first 4 months of operations we have reached more than 4000 customers and received a Facebook grant for Small Businesses!” she recalled.
Apart from being a passionate entrepreneur, Mridu is a mother to a 9-year-old who she calls- “my biggest cheerleader and critic!” In her downtime, they bond over the love for food and also talk about business! Her daughter has a discerning taste even at such a young age and she gives her feedback on branding, product pricing, and the brands marketing initiatives!
Disha Selarka: Founder, Giftract
Disha Selarka is a graduate in Bachelors in Information Technology and hails from a business background. Disha Selarka has her own start-up, which customizes APP for its customers.She started the venture fresh out of college and got in the initial funds by taking up commercial projects and adding personal funds. Their first client was a friend who needed an APP for a birthday. The thrill of the experience helped them define how to plan their next orders as well.
Their biggest challenge was product validation. The idea was unusual and unheard of and was very difficult to explain in the beginning. But they got it right when people understood what they were offering. All it took was word of mouth to get the next orders rolling in.
She says that being an entrepreneur is a thrilling and exciting process, especially cause she is a young woman. She recalls going to interviews initially and get reactions like- ‘oh so you really own this business? You will be taking the tech round? You actually know how to code?’ from people. And she had no other choice but to affirm their questions by saying ‘Yes! I do’.
Selarka’s mantra is ‘to believe even when nobody else does. And to give it all you have and not give up.’ We live in a time when we believe that it is easier to replace things rather than to fix them. And she thinks that that’s exactly the difference between success and failure.
She says that at Giftract, there were a lot of mistakes in their approach, product, pricing, website, etc. There probably still are a million things that they need to change to grow even further. And there always will be. The key to where they are today, was that instead of giving it up, they chose to repair it as and when they needed to. She recalls changing their website more times than she can remember, re-branded the entire brand, re-created the products, fixed them and more importantly developed skills that she did not possess, till they got it right.
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