How this woman entrepreneur started up with Rs 10k from her home and now runs a 100-member communications agency
Akshaara Lalwani has always believed that there is no better way to be in charge of your destiny than by becoming an entrepreneur, because “you can build as high, as fast, as broad or even as slow as you want”.
As a child, she was fiercely competitive, and moving forward, “taking charge of her destiny” meant first following the conventional path to test the waters and then plunging headlong into entrepreneurship.
After majoring in Economics from Jai Hind College, Mumbai, Akshaara became a financial adviser and investment banker. On introspection, she felt she did not want to limit her career to just one field. A family friend suggested that since she had a knack for communicating effectively, she should look at public relations. At 23, she started a boutique PR firm. And thus, Communicate India was born.
Starting up with just 10K
She began the firm from a makeshift office in a bedroom and Rs 10,000, of which half the amount were gift vouchers for a printer, given to her by her friends.
“My first client was a restaurant in Bandra that believed in my passion and enthusiasm and signed a six-month contract. In fact, bootstrapping was a blessing in disguise. It taught me frugality, and how to be more creative and differentiate myself from the clutter. Luckily, I was in a service business and didn’t need too much capital to get up and running unlike a product-based service. Like Elon Musk said, ‘I was hell bent on making it work’,” she recalls.
Initially, Akshaara faced some hesitation from clients who were not too eager to trust a 23-year-old with their mandate, wondering if she had the experience and vision, even if she possessed the passion and enthusiasm.
Believing in the vision
She also faced other challenges; there were many who didn’t want to join a startup, and it was also difficult to make senior team members believe in her vision.
“When I got a deep understanding of the business and myself that’s when I believed my business started growing. Setting the right expectations with clients and not just agreeing with them had short-term ramifications but helped the business scale up long term and retain clients over the years. When you have a great team it helps free up your time to focus more on the overarching goals and strategy than day-to-day activities,” she says.
Eight years into the journey, Akshaara says Communicate India is a strategic full-service firm that partners with customers to work alongside to achieve their communications and marketing objectives.
It has a diverse team working across sectors, corporate, infrastructure, travel and tourism, healthcare, solar energy, cement, real estate, food and beverage, and others. “From the smallest of companies to Fortune 500 firms we help create brands irrespective of size, sector, or geographies,” she adds.
Setbacks and challenges
In the middle of the journey, Akshaara suffered a serious setback when her office at Mehdi Cottage caught fire and was charred. “It was a huge blow for us but also our biggest turning point. We decided to upgrade from a small creative boutique space and scale it up to a strategic and corporate entity of what we are today. It was really high stakes as we put in every bit of our savings and invested in the business,” she says.
Conquering her fear is what has made this entrepreneur forge ahead in the last eight years. “A lot of our employees went to our competitors and have come back to us because they loved the culture here and that makes me happy in the truest sense that we must be doing some things right for former employees to come back to us, year after year.”
Communicate India also has a 90:10 female-to-male ratio, as Akshaara believes in “empowering women on merit, wherever possible. I feel women bring a lot of stability, broader vision, and multi-tasking abilities to the table”.
Currently, the company is looking at setting up offices in two emerging markets and has a presence through its alliances in the US, the UK, Australia, Southeast Asia, India, and Europe. Akshaara is hoping for a 100-percent market share as “an ideal company is 100 percent net profit and 100 percent market share”.
Akshaara says it’s interesting to be a woman entrepreneur in India. “India is evolving massively. There is equal opportunity, competition, and growing respect for women entrepreneurs. There’s no glass ceiling. I believe in getting the job done, irrespective whether someone is male or female,” she signs off.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)