“Never let your background or upbringing come in the way of what you want to do.”
Born in a typical Bengali family from Kolkata, where children are to follow in the same career path as their parents, Som Singh decided to break the tradition and pursue a career of her own choice.
As choices go, it was not an easy one for her parents to accept. The result was that they severed all ties with her.
Like the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way! Far from dejected by her family’s reaction, Som decided to pool all her energies towards chasing her dreams. With no family support and 1,500 rupees in hand, she moved to Bangalore.
Fast forward to today, Som is a mentor, entrepreneur, and even an angel investor. HerStory spoke with Som to know how with little money, passion, and talent she gave wings to her dreams.
The road less travelled
While growing up Som had seen her parent’s toil hard as surgeons and it was a profession that did not excite her. Her inspiration was her grandmother, who has been married at the age of 13 but went on to complete her graduation, bring up her children and pursue her career as a lawyer.
Her creative leanings were strong, so medicine and engineering were sidelined in favour of marketing. Reminiscing about those days she shares, “In the mid 90’s, marketing was never heard of in Kolkata and was considered nothing more than going door to door to sell goods.”
Because of non-availability of courses and determination to do management, Som decided to leave the city and move to Bangalore in 1997 armed with determination and 1500 rupees in her pockets.
The stepping stones
Som moved into a PG in Jaynagar, the lady who ran it told Som to, “not worry about it, the money will come.”
While staying in the PG, she learnt how to make chocolates from a girl residing in the PG. Soon, she started earning 6,000 rupees per month by selling those chocolates in her college. She also helped a boutique owner by giving her inputs to run the business, which yielded 1,000 rupees per month. She began writing data sheets for the first time and churned her first piece in two weeks. Since it was different and unconventional, it was well received. Writing was not new to Som. She had been writing since the age of 17 and at that age she used to make almost 500 rupees from it, a big amount in those days.
With her writing skills and other part time jobs Som saw herself through college. A top-notch student, she maintained the records this time too by topping her batch.
Som had been a very good student, but this time she had excelled without the support of her family. It was all a result of her efforts. She did the most natural thing, called her father and started crying profusely over the phone. “I thanked him and told him that if he had not pushed me, I would have never had the chance to learn how to survive.”
After her graduation, Som went on to work with companies like Akamai, Horizon, and Red Hat.
After working with multiple companies, she wanted to do something of her own and with that desire launched Unspun. Aiming to simplify and change the way people envisioned marketing, she built a platform: ACT to unearth the accurate marketing channels for clients. The clients provide a revenue number to beat and through ACT, the Unspun team tells which channels to leverage on and take ownership of it. The services are decided by the team for clients and not the other way round.
Within three years of functioning, she learnt that there is an entire B2C market wherein clients don’t have to directly come to Unspun and thus built a new platform to manage social media profiles. People can feed in their interest and profiles. Based on that, clusters are created of people similar to it which results in a followback.
“The goal has been that how we keep learning and evolving ourselves to product us so that clients or individuals whether B2C doesn’t matter, they can become more self-sustained. Marketing can become pragmatic, more automated, and simple.”
The many hats
There is more to Som than just Unspun. She has served as a mentor for many accelerator programs such as Target and Microsoft and mentored startups such as Chargebee, Mobstac, Hotelogix, TookiTaki, Explara. She has helped the entrepreneurs with some amount of her earnings as an investor too.
“Whatever little I have learnt, today comes to use of those who need it and they feel that I have been able to do justice to that need, ” she says.
Armed with an MBA and a PhD in management, she also teaches at many institutions like IFIM (Institute of Finance and International Management) and IIITB (International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore).
Policy makers and entrepreneurs
To bridge the gap between policy makers and entrepreneurs she conceived the idea of Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence (CEE). The aim was to help entrepreneurs ‘be heard.’ The CEE conducts works, webinars, etc., to educate entrepreneurs about the government policies and their benefits from them. It also conducts events to raise funds and use them to develop the technology platform to educate the entrepreneurs and help them communicate their ideas with the policy makers, internal practices of providing mentoring to the entrepreneurs under expert guidance that the entrepreneurs can leverage upon.
A full circle
As a young girl her parents were usually busy at work and she used to spend time with her grandmother, today her parents spend all the time they have with Som’s daughter. Life has come a full circle for her. She is happy to see her daughter enjoy all the love and attention of her parents.
Over the years Som has faced challenges and been through tough times too. As always she has held her own.
A passionate singer and an amateur golfer, she is full of energy. She leaves me with an important learning – desire or want is at the heart of entrepreneurship. If you don’t want it enough, you will not push to your fullest to achieve it.