‘The biggest thing holding women back is women themselves,’ Anisha Singh of mydala
Set up in 2009 and based out of Delhi, mydala is a merchant marketing platform that helps businesses, especially service businesses, reach the right set of consumers. Holding the reins of the company is Founder Anisha Singh. This is the second company started by Anisha, but her first in India.
Anisha calls herself a stereotypical sardarni who was born into a big joint family in Delhi. Her dad is ex-forces and runs a business and her mother is a dentist. Courtesy a slew of cousins, her growing up years were like being in a boarding school. She studied in the US and worked for the Clinton Administration in helping women entrepreneurs raise funding for innovative women-led businesses.
Not one to mince words, Anisha spoke about her life, the challenges entrepreneurs face and on what is holding women back in a freewheeling chat with HerStory.
HerStory: Tell us a bit about yourself? Please share some interesting anecdotes, experiences of your life that have influenced you or shaped your personality?
Anisha: I finished my graduation and MBA in the States. I spent 12 years on the East Coast – mainly in Washington DC, Boston and NY. I worked for the Clinton Administration helping women entrepreneurs raise funding for innovative women-led businesses. The digital space was getting big in the US and it led me to start a company which provided digital content to US companies. When it didn’t need me full time, I started thinking of other unique concepts to start with. I started mydala in 2009 and it’s been an amazing ride ever since.
While I was studying I wasn’t particularly ambitious or focused and wasn’t very sure of what I was going to do in life. One of my professors, who believed that I could accomplish much more, introduced me to entrepreneurs and egged me to pursue an MBA. His encouragement and faith in me went a long way in making me the kind of entrepreneur I am today. This led me to intern at an amazing company in DC that was run by a woman named Julie Holdren who was leading a startup of 400 people. Looking at her I knew that I wanted to be like her someday.
HerStory: How did mydala happen? What led you to this idea and why dala (sanskrit)?
Anisha: I guess I have a thing for unusual names, my first company is called Kinis. mydala comes from the Sanskrit word ‘dala’ which means group and the name literally means my group. The idea was to provide deals to customers in a group setting.
I was looking for ideas and came across the Chinese getting together and getting a discount. The same model seemed to be evolving in the US. It made sense to try it in the Indian market where it had not been tried. When we started as a group buying deals site we didn’t realize the need that existed in the market for a marketing platform.
HerStory: This is not your first startup. What are some of the common challenges all entrepreneurs face?
Anisha: Being an entrepreneur the second time around, I know that any business will have its share of highs and lows. There will be good days and bad days. It’s never going to be a cakewalk and you will probably learn more about yourself being an entrepreneur than in any other vocation. For us, getting people and convincing them to use a new service was a challenge.
Generally people say it’s tough being a women entrepreneur, but it is not. If you talk sense people will listen to you, and things will fall in place. Thankfully, I see a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs in general. Each day the support structure for entrepreneurs and startups seems to be maturing. There are a lot of angel networks, forums, incubators and support systems that are helping new entrepreneurs to get more innovative.
HerStory: What keeps you motivated? What is your greatest source of strength?
Anisha: My two daughters, one aged four and the other six months old, make everything worthwhile. I was fortunate to marry my best friend. He is my greatest source of strength along with my parents and in-laws who have encouraged me at every step.
HerStory: What are some of the common threads that you have noticed between women entrepreneurs in India and the States? How are they or their challenges and lives similar or different?
Anisha: While there are differences, there are parallels also that can be drawn in both cases – women in general tend to second guess themselves – all the time and across the globe. I guess it’s inherent in our nature. The glass ceiling exists in the US maybe slightly less than it does here, but it’s just that women in the US become independent a lot earlier as opposed to India where we have structural support. But I’ve heard more guts and glory stories there than here in India. We need more spotlight on women, we need more HerStory equivalents that can help inspire the next slew of entrepreneurs. Also women there tend to help/mentor other women and there seems to be more women entrepreneurial networks that foster growth. We see some of that here too but the scale needs to change. More women need to step forward and mentor, encourage other women to think without second guessing.
HerStory: According to you what are some of the things holding women entrepreneurs back from going after what they want?
Anisha: My conversations with several aspiring women entrepreneurs, friends and my own experiences
have made me realise that one of the biggest things holding women back is women themselves. This is my personal view and, of course, it does not apply to all women.We in general hesitate to speak, we doubt, we guess; if we stopped all this the world would see a lot more entrepreneurial stories. I also believe that women who are already successful should make it their responsibility to give back, to encourage and foster more women entrepreneurs.
We also don’t tend to create a strong network amongst ourselves. Men on the other hand usually have a great network and leverage it. I find this odd – either we see other as competition or there is some hesitation, but I feel that if more women worked at creating a network and leveraging it, it would really be very beneficial.
HerStory: Any thought or advise you would like to share with our readers?
Anisha: Women in India do have it harder than the men in many aspects and the fact is that no matter what you do, who you are, just the fact that you are thinking big deserves merit. Please give yourself a pat on the back because you deserve it. We never give ourselves enough credit. Also, women need to speak their mind. Don’t worry about not sounding intelligent. If we keep waiting for the right time and the most intelligent thing to say, the moment will be gone while some other confident person who asks first will be noticed. On my team of more than 350 employees, I’ve had a couple of women walk up and introduce themselves (usually it’s the guys who did this). I know that they will shine and I look forward to seeing them do that.
HerStory: What are your plans for the future?
Anisha: My vision is to see mydala as the de-facto provider of coupons and loyalty programs with the most extensive merchant base. I foresee that every single Indian will go on mydala first when they want to shop for food, travel or anything else! We already have a presence in 196 cities and over 100,000 merchants and our footprint in tier II and tier III cities is phenomenal.
It’s a good time for the online coupons and discount marketing industry. It is a very exciting space to be in with a lot of scope for innovation. Having said that, we are very driven by innovation and are always finding ways and means to enhance and improve the user experience. Recently, we forayed into the grocery vertical with product listings from categories including eatables, personal care and household items. Users can search for all available products at the nearby supermarkets or kirana stores. It is doing very well and we will keep adding new features to this segment to keep the vertical sticky. One other thing on my list is to ring the NASDAQ bell.