Hat-trick entrepreneur and winner of Silicon Valley Startup of the Year, Poornima Shenoy on what to do when an epiphany strikes thrice
The circumstances that act as the ‘push’ for the proverbial ‘plunges’ that one was always destined to take, can be amusing sometimes. Some witness exemplary leadership and mentorship, and start dreaming of assuming the mantle someday; some start suffocating in their little squared-wall offices and wish to taste the freedom of being their own boss; some have terrible bosses and even worse routines and want to break free from the rut; some want their names etched on plaques for great strides and some want their names remembered for great deeds. Poornima Shenoy’s journey met all of these quintessential phases of an entrepreneurship story-in-the-making. And how she excelled is by converting each of these itches into opportunity.
As a serial entrepreneur, Poornima knows a thing or two about the epiphany that rings loud enough to drown out all shreds of doubt and scepticism. Let’s get to know all about those life-changing moments from her, as she gears up to see what entrepreneurship has in store for her for the third time.
Born in Mumbai and raised in Goa, Poornima is an economics graduate from Mount Carmel College in Bengaluru and holds an MBA from TAPMI, Manipal. “In a family of engineers and mathematicians, I was the only one who decided to go down the social sciences route,” she says of the peculiarity of her decisions.
She started out in market research and client servicing at Saatchi and Saatchi, where her boss taught her the ropes.
But she could hardly say that about her boss in her second job. “She was a nightmare. My desire to take to entrepreneurship set in that moment on.”
This was in the nineties in Bengaluru. She found herself in the wrong job and wished to leave, but it was a helpless situation. “Where do you go when you want to change your jobs- without the Internet, the discovery of opportunities was a lot tougher,” she explains.
Having experienced this problem first hand, Poornima decided that a solution to it must be engineered. And luckily enough, this would serve as the solution to her own problem, too – of determining her next career move! Her next career move, Nexus Consulting, was built out of helping others find their next career move. But between this decision and actually starting up arose an array of sceptics who expressed their doubts over her decision of starting up, over keeping her steady job.
“One needs support from all frontiers, especially at home, to make this bold move. And my husband was my rock of Gibraltar. One must revel in the good days, but get past the bad ones. It is about constantly looking for solutions to supposed dead-ends – because you cannot quit and shut-shop here,” Poornima says.
The headhunting outfit that went on to become No. 1 in the information technology segment, as she helped IT giants like Wipro, Infosys, Nokia and many more to find their talent pool. By 1999, Poornima saw that she had built a brand, and was personally saturated with her work there, so she and her co-founder set in motion the process of acquisition and sold it to e4e Labs in 2000.
Once smitten, twice try
Finding herself looking to get her feet wet again, Poornima was made in charge of setting up the first NASSCOM office in south India, after which, she took a three-month break as she got a scholarship from the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office to study a management development programme at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, USA and at Bradford University in the UK. “There, I met some incredible women who pulled me out of my cruise mode and made me re-evaluate what I want to do,” she says, of the experience. She then returned and after a short stint with the Manipal Group, took on the semiconductor industry, and helped establish the Indian Semiconductor Association in 2005. She was appointed president of the organization, thus becoming the first woman to head an industry body in the country.
One problem in the industry was that semiconductors need to have a separate identity, rather than being classified under software. Under Poornima, the body grew to a 157-member strength, and helped forge an identity for the semiconductor industry. She in turn, became a name to reckon with in her city, state and the country for her contribution as an entrepreneur and leader.
“I built it from scratch, with no money in the bank; simply goodwill from the industry players. We got one national and six State-level policies passed.When we managed to move semiconductor news up from the tech section of leading newspapers to their main business section, we knew we have achieved significant traction,” she explains.
Poornima was vis-a-vis a stalemate again. “There comes a point in everyone’s career when you get comfortable; you have achieved a great deal, people know and respect you… many people make do with that comfort, but I knew I didn’t want to be so complacent,” she says.
In 2011, Poornima stepped down as the president of the ISA and her firm, Latitude Edutech, forayed into e-learning for corporate trainees.
“India’s the biggest market in the world for online learning, and it hasn’t been tapped. And they say, if you can succeed in India, you can succeed anywhere in the world. Price pressure and a very long decision making process are what make it so tricky,” Poornima notes.
She kept her focus on corporate, in creating content and modules for the B2B space. “We were into training for the first two years, and then expanded to e-learning. Soon, we will move to the product mode,”she says.
This is the company’s first year as a 100-percent e-learning KPO, and the company not only raised seed capital funding from Mohandas Pai of Aarin Capital and Alok Sharma of Nature EcoVentures, but was also declared Silicon India’s Startup of the Year 2015.
She only makes it look easy
Along the road, Poornima stuck to her mantra of reveling in the highs, even as lows in the form of legal and ideological roadblocks littered and deterred her journey. “Only last year, banks asked me if I can get my husband as a core signatory, because I am a woman. Whether it is the 1990s, or whether it is present day, this is still the reality. They have not understood that a woman can be her own entity without the endorsement of a man,” she says.
Poornima swears by her three Ps of success, ‘People, perseverance and profits,’ especially the latter.She explains, “People often say women shouldn’t be money-minded. Why not? If you are working as hard and giving it your all, why shouldn’t you aim for profits? ‘Profits’ need to stop being a bad word for women.”