She quit her corporate job to start up - Divya Kalra tells us all about choosing an alternative career
Most of us get our first jobs in a corporate environment, and we tend to stick to it because it provides a stable income. However, the repetitive lifestyle can become exhausting and take a toll on our health. Although it has its risks, deviating from the norm and pursuing a more fulfilling career can be the better choice.
Divya Kalra pursued a corporate career for 11 years in the United States, and continued her lifestyle when she returned to Bengaluru in 2008. However, she realised she was leading an unhealthy life and wasn’t able to devote enough time to her daughter because of her routine, and decided to venture into entrepreneurship.
In 2012, she founded ShopHealthy.in, a ‘one-stop shop for holistic health, wellness and beauty,’ and in 2019, she launched iCarry.in, a courier service for small businesses.
In a Community Chat on the HerStory Women On A Mission Facebook group, Divya shared her experiences and advice on getting started with an alternative career. Here are some excerpts from the discussion.
Q. What is the difference between corporate life in the US and in India?
Divya Kalra: In India, I have seen work and family life merge together as that is the culture here especially during festivals. Whereas in the US, that generally does not happen. Another thing is that in the US, a work-life balance is respected and expected, but in India, that part is really blurry! For example, in the US you have mums and dads both taking to drop or pick their children from school/daycare.
So if you say you have a hard stop at 5 pm, you will be able to leave a meeting at sharp 5 without being frowned upon. In India, whether it is an MNC or an India-based company, there is simply no hard stop! You are expected to either stay back for meetings or reach home and get online again to be available for calls.
Q. Corporate life provides financial security and stability. But on the other hand an alternate path seems a bit scary. How can one adjust?
DK: You need to be clear in your mind about whether the venture that you want to start or are running is your 'bread and butter' or your 'cream and jam.' If you are not ready for the next seven to 10-year journey of what an entrepreneurial lifestyle means, you should stick to your corporate job (maybe even a part-time one) and do this on the side.
This is the 'hybrid' approach to entrepreneurship and works for many who are testing the waters to begin with.
Q. An alternate career path sounds exciting, but at the same time it could go downhill. Financially, what kind of steps should one take before making the big switch?
DK: Not every entrepreneur makes it big and I have learnt that many who start on this journey are also happy being a mid-size business and do not want to necessarily make it too big to manage. That being said, here is what you should do financially before making the switch:
- Try to minimise any debts you may have before you take the plunge. Make sure you have adequate savings that will keep you afloat for at least a couple of years before you take a full-time plunge.
- Take away the safety net. If you have thought out the business plan carefully, then having a corporate job along with pursuing the startup will be like having your feet in two boats. You will never give it your 100 percent to make the business grow because you have a fat paycheck to keep you afloat.
When I embarked on www.shophealthy.in, I did not quit right away. I quit my day job only after a year or so when the viability was established and I was confident about the future.
Q. What are the basic points I need to keep in mind before starting up?
DK: I have realised that validating the feasibility of the business came first, and that is followed by the formalities of GST, company incorporation, other paperwork, etc. I have seen many people embarking on this journey the other way round. They run to raise funds, incorporate their companies and formalise a team even before they have tested the waters first!
Each startup idea needs to be researched with someone you trust – find your sounding board who can give you an honest feedback on its viability in today’s market.
Also remember – ideas are a dime a dozen but the devil truly lies in the details – which actually means the execution. Not everyone can execute every idea to the minutest detail without adequate industry knowledge, domain expertise and a solid core team with a vision who will stick with you for the long journey ahead.
Q. Is it risky to switch careers after working in a particular field for over a decade?
DK: Absolutely! It is risky to switch careers. But isn't everything we do towards a better career or job a risk anyway? I'd say just think through each aspect before taking the risk. You will be outside your safety zone so you will need to work harder and learn faster.
You will also be competing with others in the new field who are much hungrier and younger than you are. But you do have an edge of having more experience as well, so it plays both ways. Think it through and go for it - maybe partially to begin with.
Q. When is it too early to move out of a career? If I quit my job to start up and the venture fails, what are the next steps for me?
DK: It is never too early or too late to move out of a career. There are success stories of people who have started out in their first year of a job. Example – the Bansals of the Flipkart fame. And then there are people who have started their entrepreneurial journey in their late 40s as well. Both have their pros and cons.
What is important is the fire in your belly and the thoroughness with which you begin. If it fails, it still teaches you valuable lessons that you may never have learnt if you stuck to your corporate job all your life. And if you do plan to go back to a job, you are more marketable to many employers who will value the learnings you bring to the table through this journey. You will have learnt what it takes to work in each kind of role - be it sales, marketing, accounting, business development, technical, and much more!
Or like in my case, you will figure out another problem you want to solve and start a new business - this time with much more wisdom and learnings under your belt.
Join the HerStory Women On A Mission Facebook group to be part of more such discussions!
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)