My biggest challenge as a woman entrepreneur and how I overcame itRekha Balakrishnan
When it comes to entrepreneurship, women have many odds stacked against them. But the instinct to face insurmountable challenges has made women entrepreneurs who they are – successful and a force to be reckoned with.
Why do women find entrepreneurship challenging? There are plenty of reasons – for some, it’s getting a foothold in what is still essentially a boy’s club. For others, it’s finding investors who take them seriously. We can go and on with many reasons. But to top them all is the proverbial work-life conundrum… a balance that is expected only from women.
So how have women entrepreneurs reached where they are now? How did they face each challenge, each obstacle, and every thorn in the path? And more importantly, what did they learn from the challenges and how did they overcome them?
HerStory asked women entrepreneurs from various sectors about the challenges they faced and how they faced them head-on.
Read on to find out more.
Work bottom up with a strong vision
“When I started out, nobody told me what direction to take. I had to make my own path. I believe that to venture on to a new beginning, what a person needs most is self-confidence. Sure, we may get inspired or influenced by the people we meet, or the stories we read, but nothing pushes you forward like the voice that comes from within, but ultimately, if you've to create something new, you've to work bottom up with a strong vision. I believe each one of us needs to probe within. Everybody is capable — it's the confidence that decides the path ahead.
That apart, there have been people who have inspired me to work hard all my life — my family, my parents. The idea of being a 'self-made woman' and making a difference is what has inspired me to begin my journey and take it this far.
Although, being a woman entrepreneur in India, I've had to face the glass ceiling along the way, I always had the confidence to get past those hurdles and carve my own niche.
Getting to the basics
“My biggest challenge as an entrepreneur was to keep myself going undeterred and committed to bringing mental healthcare to everyone, in the wake of too many setbacks.
An entrepreneur's journey looks glamorous and sorted and one wherein passion runs high at all times; but in reality, it's riddled with struggles.
A new idea, a new service that an entrepreneur knows will change the world, will not be adopted the day it comes out, especially if it's a paradigm shift.
One has to build the market from ground up. I too had to struggle incredibly hard to build a market for mental health services. And in this time-taking process, some people who joined my vision early on, started leaving, personal money got tight, the hope started getting replaced with hopelessness.
My own energy started fading — that was the most challenging aspect of it.
I overcame it by going to the basics first. Answering one question at a time. Is there a need for what I offer? The answer was yes. Is the need large enough? The answer was yes. Is ours a great service that can tackle this? The answer again was yes. Are these challenges impossible to overcome? The answer was no. This gave me a lot of clarity. I then started picking up small wins, finding answers for next steps. That allowed me to take failures in my stride and as a guiding light for the strategy ahead.
Any entrepreneur must not fear but look forward to the key clues that take the journey forward!
A belief I can do more
Being a woman entrepreneur in the late-80s, trying to scale up in a highly unorganised industry domain like beauty and wellness services was one of my biggest challenges initially. While people were familiar with the ubiquitous 'beauty parlour', the idea of a holistic wellness solutions provider which combined scientific weight management programmes with advanced hair and skin treatments was a new concept. I struggled to raise capital, and banks were apprehensive of something that was hardly deemed as sustainable and scalable.
The support of my family along with my persistence helped me overcome most of these challenges. My greatest inspiration has always been my mother. Not having conformed to the gender norms, I felt brave enough to give in to the feeling of venturing into an area that had always interested me. I could not have done this without the support of my husband Mukesh, who always had belief in my abilities.
The reason I chose this path was because of the belief that I could do more. It was sheer perseverance and my interest in transforming lives that made me stay on this path.
Women are more chauvinistic than men
In 2000, when I began my career in the nightclub business, I opened my first lounge bar in Bangalore called 180 Proof. My biggest challenge was that people didn’t know how to engage or have a dialogue with a woman. Was this gender bias or was it simply that they hadn’t ever seen a woman in this territory? I was perceived as a very young girl and looked younger than my years, so people wondered if I could stand my ground. The way I overcame this was by making my word very powerful — I only committed to what I could do or deliver. Over time, this became my mantra for success.
More recently, at Jagatjit Industry, I have faced bias from my own gender. Sometimes I believe women are more chauvinistic than men but I believe this stems from jealousy, resentment, and lack of opportunities for these women. For my part, I try to create a diverse workspace, give women opportunities and support their growth in different ways, which include mentoring.
Roshini Sanah Jaiswal
Promoter and CRO
Right kind of support helps
“Coming from a non-manufacturing background, starting my own venture in the space of electric vehicles, which is so technologically dynamic, was a big challenge. But I was determined to take up the challenge, as I believed that I would make it.
Also, with this venture, I realised that with the right kind of support, women can leave behind clichés and perceptions and carve a niche for themselves in any industry of their choice. As an electric vehicle manufacturer, we are proud of our 40 percent women workforce who work as a team in a sector which is conventionally dominated by men. And I must say, they are doing their job with great will and hard work.
CEO and Founder
Ampere Electric Vehicle Pvt Ltd.
Create a fine balance
It is certainly not easy being a working woman in any workplace. Men form the majority in most setups, and unfortunately, they form an alliance. It is therefore not easy to break into the proverbial ‘boys club’ and make space for oneself as a woman. The problem lies in deep gender biases and stereotypes of course — in their collective subconscious, a woman’s place is considered to be at home.
For me, I started my entrepreneurial journey together with my journey as a mother. Every day is a management challenge because I have to create a fine balance between my role as a mother and as an entrepreneur, both being very demanding.
Challenges are the same for both genders
We must stop thinking along these lines. I've never thought of myself as a ‘woman’ entrepreneur, rather just as an entrepreneur, who also happens to be a woman. The challenges are the same with people of both genders. Being an entrepreneur brings its own set of challenges — reaching out to investors and consumers, setting up the production unit was all a challenge in itself. But I was backed by a strong and supportive team that made all this happen.
Also, I believe, women cannot expect anyone else to fight for them. There are no handouts. You will have to stand your ground. I will work, travel, miss family events as much as my husband or my father. Having said that, as a working mother, I do find myself making adjustments to other people with kids and more so with working mothers.
Founder and CRO
Challenge more internal than external
As a woman entrepreneur, I feel my challenge is more internal than external. Two things, in particular, stand out for me personally. The first is a cautious approach. I prefer to weigh my next steps keeping in mind that it would have consequences on people, money, time, and effort. Go Big or go bust is not a personal philosophy! I’d prefer to scale as the business grows. While I may set my sights on X, I often hear of my male counterparts talking in terms of 100X.
Surrounding yourself with colleagues and external partners who complement your limitations is a great way to break out of your comfort zone.
Kiran Ray Chaudhury,
Jt MD of 80 dB Communications
Have a clear winning attitude
“My biggest challenge as a woman entrepreneur has been — managing my business in India from my two homes (Gurugram and New York) which are 10.5 hours apart; and having my child in New York, while continuing to stay highly engaged with my business, through my pregnancy and beyond. Following are the three ways I was able to overcome or address this challenge:
- a) Have a clear winning attitude and believing that this was addressable with little to no compromise. This made me more solution-oriented rather than defensive or apologetic.
- b) As I became more objective and clear in my articulation, it became easier for my spouse and family to sign in and co-own the solution.
- c) I adjusted my timeline and working styles to mould into the game plan. I started planning and anticipating things better so I was 'at hand' when required by my India-based team. It was an extremely fulfilling experience to overcome the challenge and create the right 'work life' balance as it’s truly meant to be.”
Conviction and concentration are key
A woman entrepreneur faces a plethora of problems when it comes to embarking upon her own entrepreneurial venture. Banks and other financial institutions often do not consider women entrepreneurs as "serious" applicants for setting up their projects and they are hesitant to provide financial assistance.
For me, the challenge was to come up with an integrated model to combine the strengths of hospitals, diagnostic centres, labs and path services with holistic approach to deliver an affordable and comprehensive preventive health checkup to the masses. Apart from the regular challenges of resource allocation, faced by every new enterprise, convincing the masses to practise the culture of prevention was a difficult task. The only way for me to overcome such barriers was to follow the rule of two Cs that is conviction and concentration. Conviction, to have faith and believe in my idea; and concentration, to follow the rule of methodological delegation.”
Founder and Director
Indus Health Plus
Need a change in mindsets
Changing biases and mindsets was the biggest challenge I faced when I founded JobsForHer in March 2015. I was told by a lot of women that they were being advised to hide the ‘gap’ in their resumes as most companies perceived the ‘gap’ negatively. The same was corroborated when we started speaking to companies to recruit women on a break as many brashly proclaimed that they didn’t want to hire women, women on a break, or mothers.
Over the last three years, we have made huge progress in changing the mindsets of both women and companies. Women are now confident about the ‘gap’ in their resumes and portray it in the right light. And companies are now not only taking back women returnees but firms such as Barclays, Capgemini, Citi, EY, Sapient, Dell, Mindtree, PayPal, Intuit, are also working with us closely for several engagement and recruitment solutions for their diversity requirements across India.
Founder and CEO
Facing many pressures
How seriously do people take women who want to run their own business in contrast to their male counterparts? A large majority will agree that the entrepreneurship plans of women are considered as frivolous at the first instinct.
I certainly believe that getting a buy-in from all stakeholders, both personal and professional, is one of the biggest challenges that almost every woman has to face when she sets out on her entrepreneurial quest. It’s the early stages of any new enterprise that require maximum amount of time, energy, and focus. These are the very years wherein women face far more added pressures than men do!
While proving myself, acquiring some amount of backing from my investors and being taken seriously at work as well as at home is a challenge, there is an added conflict in expectations. The professional life predetermines that I fit into a man’s role, the home front demands that I continue to comply with all the duties of a daughter-in-law, wife, and mother.
The perennial question, which I, along with many women have always been asked is, “how do you balance work and home?” I would love to see my husband fumble over that question if directed to him.
Priti Rathi Gupta,
Managing Director and Promoter
Anand Rathi Group
Spending time on the bigger picture
The biggest challenge I have faced is learning how to deal with daily fires that constantly need my attention, while still dedicating time to the bigger picture. From the moment I enter the office, my time is filled with working with our team to set goals, get updates, and figure out how to solve various problems, from vendor issues to tech bugs.
However, if I spent all my time dousing daily fires that always seem urgent, I wouldn’t have time to dedicate to bigger projects like our discussion board for brides, where we need to plan the best marketing strategy, and get customer feedback on features well in advance.
Hence, to make sure that I am spending time every day on the bigger picture, I actually schedule it in my calendar as an appointment with myself to ensure I am giving our larger projects the thought that they deserve!
Founder and CEO
The Wedding Brigade
"Entrepreneurship is hard, for men and women alike. Struggle with funding, scaling up, compliances and finding the right talent to make your dream profitable is always a challenge. Adding to that, as in my case, the challenges as a young female entrepreneur in a male-dominated and somewhat patriarchal industry were further heightened. Moving from an impression of 'just a young woman with a fancy degree' to earning my respect as a ‘businesswoman’ has been a struggle with people I have both worked and interacted with. However, the best way to overcome this was to not take it personally or let it bother me, and eventually gain the respect and trust by letting my work speak for itself. "
Founder and Director
Motherhood and career can complement each other
"I've faced a singular challenge since the beginning of my career: gender stereotypes. As the managing director for Rapaport India, for several years, my ‘well-wishers’ told me that the diamond business was cut-throat; therefore, there was no place for the fairer gender. When I openly condemned the influx of blood diamonds into India, I was again advised to back off from such 'bold' actions since 'it wasn't my place'. I never let stereotypes stop me then, and I still continue to battle them every day. Today, as a full-time mother and entrepreneur, people often ask me how I'm managing the ‘impossible task’ of juggling Healthhunt, my startup, and my little one, Aramnaya. A career isn't a woman's nemesis; in fact, I believe that motherhood and an active career can beautifully complement each other.... provided we purge ourselves of the stereotypical notions pertaining to the roles each gender is supposed to play."
Founder and CEO
Women hesitate to take risk
Entrepreneurship itself presents new challenges every day. Being a woman entrepreneur, you have certain advantages as well as disadvantages and a lot would depend on the idea/sector/execution bandwidth. A lot of times, we believe the challenge is bigger than it truly is. I have seen women hesitate to take a risk because they fear failure. That’s a strong factor that comes in their way to success.
Take onus of your actions
While the corporate world is still prejudiced and judgmental of working women, the entrepreneurship space is a level playing field. As a woman, I have not faced any issues and have always been taken seriously for my work.
As an entrepreneur, once you take onus of your actions, your gender will not be a driver or differentiator. Your actions will speak for yourself. And as the founder, homeowners, and guests have placed trust in me because of the work that I do, and not my gender.