Akancha Srivastava’s story is one of untiring spirit and dogged pursuit of excellence. These traits have helped her create a number of brands — big and small. HerStory caught with Akancha to speak about her company Azure and more. Excerpts from an interview.
Woman entrepreneur. What’s that?
After graduating in history and political science, Akancha studied mass communication from SNDT, Mumbai, which helped shape her future interests. “I took on the most challenging projects to understand my own interests better. These included photography and writing a biography of lyricist Javed Akhtar. It helped me structure my thoughts and hone people skills,” she says.
Her first destination after graduation was advertising, but she was soon poached by the company’s client. She joined a consumer electronics major as its brand manager and handled media buying for them in 1999-2000 to the tune of Rs 200 crore. This served her well and she travelled the country setting up dealerships, handling media houses, channels, publications and retailers. With so much of first-hand experience in her job, she was already itching to get to the next level, and that is where entrepreneurship became an option.
Akancha founded Azure in February 2003, and has worked with a variety of brands across consumer electronics, IT services & products, FMCG, VCs, Angel investors, professional services and fashion among others. While the initial years saw a growth of 100% YOY, over the last few years they have stabilised to growing at 25%.
While the Azure team is lean, they work with a network of associates — including creative minds, event managers, photographers and writers to fulfil client requirements. “When I started, nobody really used the term ‘entrepreneur’. “People called us freelancers who had given up bright careers to follow some whim,” she says, adding, “There were no mentor programs and we had to learn almost everything on the job. Technology wasn’t what it is today and getting a decent broadband connection itself was a challenge.” Working with these limitations and turning every adversity into opportunity is what Akancha did next. Never mind the freelancer tag, or the perception that people had, Akancha was clear what she wanted to do and the result is there for all to see.
She says there was also an underlying sense of discrimination whenever she was in a board room for client meetings. The fact that she was a woman doing business sometimes did not go down well with her prospective clients. “When I went to present at any senior board meeting, it took them a long time to accept that being a woman and that young, I could actually understand their business,” she laughs. Despite this, Akancha says she wouldn’t exchange this experience for anything in the world!
Akancha takes pride in the fact that the work she has done over the past 11 years has been through references, and she has never once pitched for business. Azure’s portfolio comprises a blend of Fortune 500 companies and start-ups.
“It’s tough to choose any one brand as a favourite. No matter how big or restricted focus a project may have, each one is equally important. It’s like being asked to choose your favourite child,” she reasons.
Azure has made a conscious choice to work with different categories of brands, including many in the startup space. Services offered by Azure are tailor-made for each client, and they work closely with them from strategy to execution.
Last month, Azure launched the ASL Kit to productize services most critical for a startup. “I realized that startups pay very little attention to the branding/marketing aspect until they realise that these are the pillars to building a successful business. ASL Kit is aimed at simplifying the required tools. They are also tailored for specific needs,” she says.
As she is also involved with a number of entrepreneurship bodies, Akancha also works with entrepreneurs on a non-commercial basis through her involvement with these bodies.
Though Akancha always has her hands full, she does take time to be with her close circle of friends, watch movies, read books and meet new people to re-energize. Akancha says she meets inspiring people frequently, “They need not be famous or successful. They could be a friend, family or even a stranger who triggers a positive emotion. I meet people with an open mind and they surprise me with their experiences.”
Akancha understands the need to be persistent in what she does, and doesn’t see herself hanging up her boots anytime soon. “Ten years from now I want Azure to be continuing its pursuit for excellence. I hope we have helped launch many more happy brands and a million more respectful relationships. Nothing will make me happier than knowing that we have given back to the world with our skills,” says Akancha.
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