When Tarunjeet Rattan was interviewed by investors for CNBC Masterpreneur, she was asked why a services business like hers should be on the shortlist. Her answer was simple but touched a sensitive nerve that will resonate with every founder of a services business – “Isn’t every business a people business? Should services businesses not look to grow and scale?” Unfortunately, after making it to the South Zone shortlist, Tarunjeet and her PR Agency – Nucleus, did not make it to the finals. Disappointed but resolute, Tarunjeet kept up her winning smile as she narrated her story to us.
Tarunjeet comes from a Punjabi family but grew up in Kharagpur. As a science graduate, she seems like an unlikely candidate for PR but she explained, “If you are a good student, everyone tells you to pursue science. So that was the discipline I decided to pursue for graduation.” Growing up in West Bengal, however, art and culture was ingrained in her upbringing and at Punjab University, she found an outlet for her creative passion. Tarunjeet immersed herself in managing the youth festivals at college and also got into art direction. Soon, her mind was set towards a creative profession and she enrolled at Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication for a Diploma in Communications Management & PR. She also spent some time at FTII, Pune, where she received some credits for her work on projects.
Learning the ropes
After completing her diploma at Symbiosis, Tarunjeet got her initial grounding in PR management at agencies like IPAN and Genesis. She then decided to put her knowledge to work as a corporate PR & Marketing professional and spent the next few years in companies like Star India and Space Designs. This mix of agency and corporate roles was very crucial. In Tarunjeet’s words, “Practical industry knowledge is every important. You need to figure out what you want to do and then build a solid foundation in it.”
Capturing her husband’s office space
After getting married, Tarunjeet had to move to Bangalore. She freelanced as a journalist for a while and wrote for Deccan Herald. This helped her meet a lot of entrepreneurs and gave her the confidence to start up on her own. Tarunjeet raved about the entrepreneurship culture in Bangalore – “Had I been in Mumbai, I may have continued working for someone else. But the entrepreneurship support I got in Bangalore, especially from communities like HEN India, WEConnect and BNI, was incredible.” Tarunjeet’s husband, a self-employed architect, was hugely supportive of her entrepreneurial pursuit and gave her a desk in his office. Tarunjeet proudly shared, “With Nucleus having grown the way it has, today he has one desk in my office!”
Building a PR agency
Starting Nucleus in 2010, Tarunjeet realized that it is not enough to be good at your job to start a company. While getting her first customer was relatively easy (an ex-colleague referred the client to her), the journey had only just begun. Meeting potential clients, she would often hear things like, “Where is your team?” and “You don’t even have an office.” Instead of getting dismayed by such reactions, she looked at it from the client’s perspective. She realized that clients want stability and that can be a major stumbling block for anyone looking to startup on their own. Her second breakthrough also came as a referral from an ex-colleague. This reinforced Tarunjeet’s belief in Karma – “It’s a giver’s game. You need to give before you receive. I used to initially feel reluctant about passing on leads to others. But I did that nevertheless, and it was this that got them to refer me when I started up.”
Ten months after starting up, Tarunjeet realized that she had to start building a team. She confessed that she had no experience in hiring. She just sent out a request on Orkut. There was only person who responded and during the interview, Tarunjeet ended up speaking to her about everything except work. But she got lucky and soon increased her team to four people. Soon she realized that she had to empower her team – “Tarunjeet Rattan was a bigger brand than Nucleus and that was not sustainable. The client may give their business to me but what is important is how the team delivers. So I invested a significant amount of time in establishing systems and processes to empower my team. After all, it is the next line that will take your company’s reputation forward.”
Mentorship and support are critical
Today, Nucleus has two offices (Bangalore and Mumbai), a team of 19 and has worked with over 250 clients. But this journey was not easy. There were times when Tarunjeet had just Rs 10,000 in her bank account and would stay awake worrying how she would pay her team. But every time she would question herself, her husband stepped in as a great sounding board and source of support. He would tell her, “If you shut this down, what will you do? Here, you are the one calling the shots. In a job, you will be just another employee.”
Another source of inspiration that kept her going was her mentor from the UK, assigned to her when she enrolled in the Chery Blair Foundation. Tarunjeet believes that having a mentor from a different background and industry really adds value as they can see things from a totally different perspective. One of the questions that her mentor asked her was that as a PR agency, who would do the PR for Nucleus? So now Tarunjeet’s team has dedicated responsibilities for handling Nucleus’ own PR.
Words of inspiration
We asked Tarunjeet how it had been as a woman entrepreneur. “You will always meet chauvinists who will ask you how you will handle XYZ situation, subtly hinting at your gender. It’s not just men but women also tend to question your ability. At the end, your work must speak for itself. If everything is smooth sailing and there are no villains, what’s the fun? The hero is only as good as the villain lets him be!”