“I always wanted to build my own ship,” says serial entrepreneur Sowmya Nanjundaiah. More so given the environment at home – both her father and brother were entrepreneurs and she always knew that she wanted to follow their footsteps. At present, Sowmya is the CEO of INCITE.
INCITE is an award winning, consulting led, digital agency that provides end-to-end solutions to global clients. Over the last nine years, INCITE has provided digital marketing solutions to over 150 clients across various industries like technology, healthcare, retail, and manufacturing.
Although she started off by working for other companies, the desire to do something on her own never allowed her to sit back and have a ‘chalta hai’ attitude in life. Born and brought up in Bengaluru, Sowmya has a marketing background, followed by an MBA from the prestigious University of Massachusetts. While in the US, she was responsible for corporate fund raising for the United Way in Massachusetts, helping America’s largest non-profit organisation raise funds for its numerous outreach programmes.
On her return to India, Sowmya joined Nirvana as their fourth employee. A company largely into ITeS operation, the company expanded manifold given the huge BPO boom at that time. After steadying the ship in India during her 18 month stint here, she moved back to the US. During Nirvana’s formative years she was involved in defining the strategic vision and building several key parts of the organisation, including product development and sales. As head of the New York office, she was responsible for Nirvana’s expansion into the North American market, a stint which was a great learning experience.
“The experience was fantastic, where I worked across different teams. I grew with their business,” says Sowmya who had a five-year stay there. Having been there for so long, Sowmya imbibed a cross-border synergy, which till today stays with her as the CEO of INCITE.
The ‘Mantra’ of success
Sowmya turned entrepreneur with Mantra, which is an analytical firm. She now started dividing her time between Dubai and India and the firm built predictive models, largely focused on the financial services sector.
Always fascinated with data, Sowmya was keen on the growth of the company and her firm did particularly well in the first two years. It was around that time that the whole Middle East market crashed and Sowmya had to down the shutters on her dream venture Mantra.
“Failure teaches you a lot more than success and that is precisely what I learnt with Mantra’s closure. Although shutting down Mantra was one of the toughest decisions I had to take, I took it,” says Sowmya. It had reached a stage where to exist in the market, the firm had to take the funding route but personally Sowmya was not ready to raise funding for her company then.
Simultaneously, Sowmya co-founded a successful wine company, Naka Wines, which was run by her father. She was closely associated with the company, being entrusted with the task of launching the brand across Karnataka and the US.
She quit in 2010, but her father continued to run the show at the wine company for the next one year but eventually sold off the business in 2011.
The insight at INCITE
It was in 2010 that Sowmya joined INCITE, at a time they were essentially into design work. They then shifted focus on digital marketing and Sowmya started focusing on bridging gaps in a multiple stakeholder environment.
“We got solution architects too under one umbrella as they got with them a layer of domain expertise. Otherwise, companies tend to engage multiple stakeholders when looking at a solution,” says Sowmya. At INCITE, they look at providing holistic assistance rather than pieces of the pie which need to be stitched eventually.
Different work culture
Having worked in the US and India for substantial years in her fairly long career so far, Sowmya says, “There is a distinct difference in the way the two countries carry on operation. In India, a lot depends on personal relationships, of rapport with people within the organisation, it is kind of opaque here. In the US, decision-making is very transparent and they tend to define criterions very closely. There the reputation of a company to deliver results is given utmost priority over personal relationships.”
It was her stint at Nirvana which was her biggest confidence-builder, says Sowmya. Not only did she learn quality work, her personal ability to take risks skyrocketed.
She takes to swimming like a fish to water
A big Rishi Aurobindo follower, Sowmya reads a lot of philosophy. She takes particular interest in swimming and has to her credit participation at various swimming competitions in her growing up years.
“I took to swimming like a fish takes to water. But unfortunately my height caught up with me and I gave up after the age of 11,” she says with a grin.
An ardent psychology buff, Sowmya reads up a lot on Freud. Meeting and interacting with people across cultures and countries keeps her alive and going. Needless to say, she loves to travel as well.
Girls, stay in the game
Having tasted success after striving hard to be there, Sowmya has a word of advice for young girls – ‘Stay in the game and do not give up for personal reasons and because you have the option to do so. It would be fantastic to see women at the top across sectors,” signs off Sowmya.