Mateshwari Karnani, Founder, Kissamago Professional Services
Of diffidence and gray cheer
But a will so strong, it steered ahead
A path she was meant to tread". - Canta Dadlaney
Kissamago Professional Services - The name sounds as enigmatic as the founder-entrepreneur of this business which encompasses various services like transcription, translation, moderation, research interviews and more. Ten years of sheer grit and hard work has not transformed Mateshwari Karnani's shy demeanor. She still retains a very child-like smile but there is an aura about her which tells you she knows what she wants.
Like a burst of sunshine on a rainy day, Mateshwari radiates her passion for encouraging housewives and the less confident women to become earning members in their own right and demand respect from a society which would otherwise shun them. "I know what low self-esteem is all about and the entrepreneur in me today stands for freedom of independence not in monetary terms but in freedom of speech and action, the will to prove oneself as a contributor to this world we live in".
A young energetic collegiate who always craved for freedom of expression, Mateshwari started her tryst with writing from her teenage years. 'Well actually it was poetry which I took recourse to when I was a teenager, having sent my poems to magazines like Chandamama and that led to free-lance writing as well'. But the truth is Matey - as people lovingly call her - was inclined towards the creative even as a kid. 'My Mom told me that I would collect the domestics of the house and weave stories out of thin air and apparently they were good', she smiles, 'because they would listen in rapt attention'.
Matey's freelance writing found a place in the interiors of magazines like the Eve's Weekly, The Times of India, Woman's Era and others. 'It was purely fiction that evoked the pathos in me. My articles always bordered on the 'within'. An avid reader, Matey continued to be a ghost writer after marriage and one of her articles in the Times of India, spooky as it may sound when you hear it won her a gift voucher of Gili jewellery valued at Rs 5000/-. 'It was about me going on my honeymoon and returning with my husband's ashes!' The words send a tingling sensation up your spine but she adds 'it happened to a cousin of mine who experienced a fire break-out in their hotel room duringtheir honeymoon and I guess I just embroidered it a bit' she adds humbly.
Born in a Sindhi household Matey, one of the two siblings - the other being her brother- was betrothed to a sindhi boy who was in the construction business. 'I had just completed my B.Com and before I knew it, I was married'. Matey set foot into an 'extended' family as she likes to put it and 'it was stifling for me because my every move was monitored. My parents were informed about every outing I indulged in which actually were the four-visits 'a- week to the library in Khar, it was just terrible! The family was large by all standards and my in-laws were tyrants. I used to go up to the terrace to indulge in my passion for writing, scared that they may stop me from pursuing something close to my heart'.
So how did she embark upon the business of transcription? 'It is all thanks to a friend who was given a huge assignment and was clueless on the final deliverables. I decided to give it a shot and though the initial attempt was laborious, I kept going. Ioutsourced it to a few known people. I remember how my friend and I used to walk it out to deliver the cassettes because we wanted to save the little money coming our way. However my friend moved ahead into setting up a day-care centre leaving me with this new opportunity which I have turned around', she beams with pride. That triggered a spark in me and I knew I could start off something on my own.
I started approaching research companies. I was not confident at all but with every new volume of work that came my way, with every new company approaching me, my confidence levels soared slowly but surely. I became an inspiration to myself!
I remember meeting this 55 year old teacher at a school in Bandra who made me realize that neither circumstances nor age (in her case) coulddeter you from your goals or vision in life but the person who backed me to the hilt is my brother'. And her husband? You can't miss her emphatic 'No'. 'He was supportive of me pursuing my academics after marriage but work, never! He derided me on my first cheque of Rs 250/- telling me that our domestics spent more on their daily expenses. That hurt but only brought to light the fact that I had proved my earning capacity. Break the walls and see if you can get the job done' is a mantra Matey coined and quotes to all.
From running operations at her residence and just 4 transcibers in 1998 to an office in in Bandra and a 150 transcribers in 2008 is an achievement which Matey could have never dreamt of!
The volume of work slowly started increasing. Matey spread the word around for her need of more transcribers. How did she choose them? 'Honestly, they were all raw, totally low in confidence, some being helpless housewives wanting to earn some money, others in terrible financial circumstances but I encouraged all those in whom I saw the determination, the spark to do something. I saw a lot of myself in them. However, the two key pre-requisites were basic knowledge of computers and knowledge of the English language. Of course there were college students, young house-wives and even men and many, many problems which came along with youngsters. There were times when some of these youngsters would goof up by forgetting a transcription cassette in the rick in which they were travelling or turning up at an 11th hour saying they had other priorities and those were times when I had to face the music alone but this is a part of life', she states without condemning anyone - you have to take the good and the bad'.
How did the change from transcription to translation and other services happen?'Well, the Proctor & Gamble arm of A.C. Nielsen wanted me to arrange for four (4) translators for a couple of interviews being conducted by foreigners. My transcribers who over a period of time had slowly emerged from their bottled lives were not ready for this and it was then that I donned the hat of a counselor as well which I guess I did have in me all along. I organized mock sessions for them and though there were many who questioned me whether they would be able to do it or not I would only respond in two words "Do it". These were the words with which my brother had always inspired me and I realised it was my turn to motivate those working with me. I started taking them with me for Group Discussions which I would organize for the various corporateswho assigned me their research work be it a launch for a product or a service. Slowly their belief in their skills increased and this was another achievement for me and them.
It was during this time that the Just Dial Services industry came into being and my brother prodded me to indulge in a little of publicity. When I approached them to insert my advertisement, they were totally confused as they had never come across an industry of transcription and all such services. So I just asked them to list me under 'Transcription services'. What happened next was truly magical. I guess this was another turning point. One fine day, I answered a phone-call to hear a foreigner request me for translation services to interview the head of the 'Dabbawallahs of Bombay'. I politely answered that she had got the wrong number and it was only when she explained in detail that I realised that I had been approached by someone from the BBC! I was overjoyed! However, I gathered my wits and realised that a safer bet would mean taking a Marathi interpreter as well. That assignment resulted in a huge success as I literally translated the expressions of the people interviewed and soon clients started asking for me in particular forall their interpretation work. They found me a natural at translating the expressions of the various individuals being interviewed. This assisted them in understanding the true feelings of those being interviewed, their views, their needs and opinions on the said subject. I guess with confidence comes a sharper business acumen and I decided to augment my earnings by charging more since the demand for me was truly evident! From transcription, moderation, translations, I now moved on to taking interviews'.
Were these interviews centered around only a certain segment of society e.g.Corporates? 'No', they involved people from all walks and segments of Society. Infact training my staff for taking interviews was a huge challenge. There is this one case of a typical Sikh lady whom I convinced of her innate strengths and I wanted her to enhance her career with me. She was unsure, insecure and held herself in acute low esteem. I speak to such individuals, make them realize the value of life, not to while away time watching meaningless television soaps and instead utilize that time in learning and earning. And I can proudly say that I have achieved a 100% success. Thus was born Kissamago Services - a one-woman industry without any finances, funding or external assistance but with the sheer determination of a strong-willed woman, Mateshwari,who dared to step out of her cocoon not to prove anthing to anyone but only to herself. 'The mental happiness which I have today is indescribable'.
So what about pitfalls, if any? 'I would be lying if I said there weren't any. Loads of them'. Surely being an all-women set-up would have invited envy if nothing else. 'Yes, of course, that is something you have to be prepared for and I was. I have had women who, after having learnt the ropes and having worked with me for a while, tried manipulating my business by contacting my clients directly. I maintained a dignified silence because my reputation in this business speaks for itself and these very same women came back to me, sheepish, guilty, apologetic butI took them under my wing again. I don't blame anyone for their cicrcumstances'. So what about helping wandering boys or men who would probably find this work more comfortable than sweating it out somewhere else?
'I did try giving a break to a few guys but somewhere along the way, I realized they got a bit cunning where money was concerned and none of them were dedicated likethe women folk so I decided to help the fairer sex instead'.
Today Kissamgo Services has spread its wings beyond the boundaries of Bombay and across Maharashtra and boasts of services to more than 80 established organisations. On any given day, Matey has at least 5-10 of her employees working as moderators or interpreters on assignments outside of their homes. The others are busy completing their assignments indoors. 'Ours is the only virtual organization with over 150 women today' . And competition ? Well, Lumiere is another set-up but I wouldn't call them competition. There have been times where we have worked together'. So the Kissamago USP lies in? 'In CHV', she asserts with a naughty smile knowing I wouldn't understand that terminology. It stands for Consumer Home Visits.
So how does a virtual organization deal with bonuses, a natural expectation from any employee. "That is a natural and I was prepared for it. During the festive season, we hike our rates and the staff take home the increase. On this last Danteras, I had one my staff earn a cheque of Rs 4,500/- . She had got so emotional she almost broke down and told me she had never expected to earn at all.
Why Kissamago? ''Well, the name is an amalgamation of four names which are a divine blessing' she states as a matter-of-fact.
In the recent past, the Kissamago Services were availed for the launch of the IPTVproject of Anil Ambani's BIG entertainment which had brought down Steve Balmer of Microsoft. The Taj Land's Hotel end at Bandra was the venue of a grand occasion which saw Mateshwari's diligent team work smoothly and as effortlessly as ever. Did she meet the man himself? 'Of course, I did, she beams - and I will treasure forever, his words of inspiration --always have a strategy for your goal-. An immensely humble person, it was touching to see how low a profile he kept". Had she ever imagined she would meet the likes of a Steve Balmer? "Never" comes her honest reply.
A decade of sheer grit has seen Kissamago offer services to industrious names like BBC, Reliance, Microsoft, Godrej and even the NSE. But the success has not impacted upon Mateshwari. "I have seen roaring businesses plummet and the 'thud' is unbearable. I have always been and will always be firmly grounded. I owe a lot to my brother, my inspiration who has been a rock-solid pillar in my efforts and it's with his positive support and perhaps a strong will that I have come this far".
Working with the best of the Corporate names leaves Matey unfazed. Her biggest achievement lies in the transformation of one of her staff members, Neelam who was a lost soul when they first met. "She couldn't speak English, was diffident, inhibited but needy. I saw the fire in her and moulded her though it took a while. Today, she owns her own house in Bandra even if it means paying EMIs, has both her kids studying in Poddar school at Santa Cruz. Neelam would have never dreamt of this. This is perhaps a magical phase to her life, a soulful fulfillment for me".
The future is sure to unfold many more challenges for this strong woman who dreams of reaching out to a maximum of women. "I want the Kissamago flag to keep flying high even after I am gone. This should benefit women from all stratas of society. It's not about the money only but also the emotional upliftment of women!She has earned the respect of not only those whose lives she has transformed but even her in-laws. She smiles and adds, 'there was a time when I actually had to finance my husband's admission into a hospital as it was late night and onlythe ATM came to my rescue' she waves off the memory gesticulating it as just another experience. The same man who had mocked at her first earnings of Rs 250/ only!
An angel in disguise to those who may have never dared to step out of their homes or dreamt of standing on their own feet, Mateshwari has become s a name to reckon with, offering honest and sincere services to a wide range of clients. The accolades keep coming in the form of mailers, letters of appreciation and verbal acknowledgements but she still is striving hard. 'I have a dream she looks beyond you, and you know it will bear fruition.'