Ainara Kaur’s journey of being a high-flying executive to a solo traveller, and then to founding her own company
An interesting turn of events pushed Ainara Kaur, Founder of Canvilicious, towards entrepreneurship. After travelling 30 countries, this woman entrepreneur finally found her sweet spot.
For over two decades now, Ainara Kaur has been working non-stop. Ainara started teaching English to the students at her hostel at the age of 15, and years later, she became the head of marketing communications at Myntra.
The high achiever Ainara remembers to have always managed several things at a time. She remembers to have always been in control. But, that day, standing outside her Airbnb in Dijon, France, Ainara felt lost and confused.
Life always has other plans
The house was locked. Ainara had not carried her phone, as the whole idea of this vacation was to be away from work. But now, she stood outside a house, in an unknown country, waiting for a person she couldn’t contact.
Fate, however, had other plans. A young man noticed her standing outside with her bags. After her initial hesitation, Ainara accepted his invitation to stay with his partner at their home, while he tried contacting her Airbnb host.
And strangely for Ainara, that one hour she stayed at that stranger’s house, became one of the many highlights of her journey across 30 countries.
“Apart from making feel comfortable, the young French girl who didn’t know English tried to talk to me. She would type what she wanted to say in a translation app, pass it on to me, where I would respond,” reminisces Ainara.
Breaking the norm
Communicating with a helpful stranger in an unknown land, warmed Ainara’s heart. She decided to go on a road trip to over 30 countries. “I had travelled to Germany, France, Netherland, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Hungary and Spain, among others. I backpacked, stayed in hostels and went to places that a lot of people would not visit,” says Ainara.
It was during her travels that Ainara understood human behaviour and psychology. She realised that people are inherently nice — one understands this better when one travels alone. She says,
“In India, there is a clear path chosen for us the day we are born. I wanted to become a fashion designer but I was told no. But I did not want to follow the path chosen for me. I do not think we should get unconventional just for the heck of it, but we should follow what our heart says.” It was this thought that got her to head out and explore the world.
Help comes, even at unknown places
Another time while cycling in Bordeaux, in France, Ainara had not realised how hot it would get as the day progressed. It was Ainara’s first-hand experience of how things can go wrong and yet right things can happen when you travel.
Cycling down the picturesque paths of Bordeaux, the only thing she could think of was drinking water. A passing cyclist handed her a bottle of water and moved on. Such random acts of kindness changed Ainara perspective towards work and life.
“When I came back to India, I was much more confident. I thought I could now try new things. Things do work out, and even if they don’t, you can always go back. So, I decided to start my own company,” says Ainara.
Finding fortune in unlikely situations
Her trip around the world led to a remarkable change in Ainara’s life. She had worked for PR agencies such as MSL Publicis Groupe, and for the marketing teams of McDonald's, Yes Bank, Ameriprise Financial and other firms. Every job shift had been serendipitous and different. Speaking of her stint at McDonald’s, Ainara says,
“I remember how McDonald’s happened. I was 20 and had just graduated and was sitting inside a McDonald’s outlet in Delhi and wondering what to do next. I saw a pamphlet and went to the manager and asked to be interviewed. I think the fact that a 20 year was audacious enough to walk up to him and ask for an interview, amused him into talking to me and hiring me.”
A shock of a different kind
That was how she moved to different places. Mukesh Bansal called Ainara for an interview at Myntra, after he reached out to her on LinkedIn. But, at the interview, Ainara was in for a shock of a different kind.
“It was a culture shock. For the interview, I was overdressed, since I was from a finance background. I entered and I saw the chairman of the company in ripped jeans and I felt so overdressed,” laughs Ainara.
But at Myntra, Ainara felt at home — it was a beautiful coming together of a varied mix of people.
Being a part of Myntra’s amazing startup culture gave Ainara a great deal of confidence. The deliverables were the same, irrespective of one’s years of experience, and Ainara realised that if she left to pursue other interests, she could still come back. She believes that one cannot muster such confidence while in a traditional setup.
Finding her sweet spot
In the midst of all her travels, Ainara believes she became a stronger person. She explains,
“My reactions to problems have changed. If I see problems now, I do not react hastily. I am more at peace and my concentration has improved drastically. Now, when I am talking to you, I have nothing else on my mind.”
Last year, Ainara travelled to 30 countries, and towards the end of the year, she decided to launch Canvilicious.
About her venture Canvilicious, Ainara says,
“Canva in Spanish means change. I had resisted change all my life, but realised that change is delicious if the output is what you want. I wanted to work with companies where I could input change. The output keeps changing in terms of growth and you can never have the desire to have the same output. However, the input can be changed. At that point, I decided to start this company and work with new and interesting people.”
Ainara’s Canvilicious is an integrated marketing solutions agency with a focus on business goals and creative branding. It focuses on sectors like healthcare, fashion, consumer products, telecom, and financial domains. The first client Canvilicious was able to rope in was CureFit.
Mukesh Bansal, Co-Founder, CureFit, says, “Having worked with Ainara before, I appreciate her ability to marry business needs to the marketing programmes, which reflects in their work. We have hired Canvilicious on build-operate-transfer model on some of our key marketing initiatives. They are playing a key role in helping us establish CureFit as a holistic healthcare and fitness brand.”
Other than CureFit, Canvilicious’ client list includes Myntra, Wipro Enterprise Solutions, Aditya Birla’s MPower, CII, and Inito.
Ainara has also won several awards – India’s Greatest CEO of the year by Asia One powered by PWC, India’s Most Influential Marketing Leaders by CMO Council. She has also been a part of the CII National committee on e-commerce.
After travelling many countries and working constantly for all these years, Ainara has realised that new mandates excite her whereas doing the same thing, again and again, makes her lose interest. “Directionally, I like change and new things,” she signs off.