This woman entrepreneur is leveraging the power of storytelling to help businesses and individuals
Debleena Majumdar loved both mathematics, and stories but thought “the twain would never meet”. As crunching numbers seemed like the obvious choice that guaranteed a promising careers, she completed a bachelor’s degrees in statistics from Presidency College, Kolkata, and an MBA in finance from Delhi University, and worked as investment banker and manager, and data science professional at corporates like JP Morgan Chase and Hewlett Packard.
Today, Debleena is leveraging the power of storytelling to help businesses, organisations, and individuals work towards their purpose through Kahaniyah, a management consulting startup she co-founded with Venkat Subramanian, in 2016, as a side hustle.
Debleena Majumdar, Co-founder, Kahaniyah
Her creative comprehension skills also helped her gather insights from data when most of her colleagues struggled and reached out to her while preparing for presentations and analyses.
However, the fact that storytelling could solve major problems in organisations became clear over time. Seven years ago, she ventured into the social impact sector with VC firm United Ventures to learn how social impact is created in sectors like education where India needs to pull up its socks.
“It was no different here, people have purpose-led organisations but are not able to share their stories in a meaningful way. In fact, the differentiator between a good entrepreneur and someone who is still trying to make it, most often, lies in how clearly and authentically they are able to share their stories at multiple levels,” says Debleena, who has also authored crime novel fiction, A marketplace for Murder.
As a data science professional working as a venture capitalist, people started seeking her help to craft their brand and business stories. Soon, the co-founders started conducting free sessions before structuring their service into a startup with numerous global banks and some of India’s largest NBFC and technology firms.
Debleena spells out three frameworks that the startup follows today. This includes finding one’s story, telling it, and living the story. The entrepreneur says she has been unconsciously following this framework throughout her journey with Kahaniyah.
The book Lead with a story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire by Paul Smith, gifted to Debleena by her husband, also prompted her to pursue her passion as a startup.
The entrepreneur began in the niche of data storytelling, banking on her decade-long experience and expertise in the field. Focussing on big data firms, the startup developed a module for companies to understand the audience, utilise story structure, and develop insights from data in different ways.
She explains, “For example, a digital media company would have lots of data on their customers, especially different audiences that find different stories interesting. One can also look at any change among their readers post COVID-19 and what kind of articles are piquing their interest. Stories will come out of analysing this data.”
The service of storytelling
Along with starting Kahaniyah came the responsibility to bust certain myths regarding storytelling. She believes there is science and art to the craft. While it is understood plainly as an act of narrating the stories of famous personalities like Steve Jobs, Debleena explains one must learn the craft and structures, audience understanding, and delivery that makes a story great and apply to relevant situations and make it unique.
The experience, she says, is also a practice of mindfulness. The duo has designed a session that combines storytelling and music to achieve peace of mind, as a need for a time when we would hopefully leave the pandemic behind.
Kahaniyah also offers training in leadership storytelling, with emphasis on restructuring difficult conversations, management, and leadership communication. At the same time, she says, one should not make up stories but use it according to their personal styles, be it through humour, metaphor and poetry, data, or true personal stories.
As a B2B startup, they have trained more than 2,000 individuals across 15 companies through workshops or yearly contracts. The COVID-19 outbreak has compelled it to move online and explore B2C opportunities as well. By the end of July, the Kahaniyah will be launching a separate platform for B2C consumers who want to pursue data storytelling, startup storytelling, and leadership storytelling, likely to be priced at $100 each.
Debleena narrates an interesting incident that reflects the general thinking towards women entrepreneurs. When she was filing documents for the startup, she was asked if she was doing it for her husband’s company. She recounts these instances as hilarious and telling of the society’s stereotypes and does not let the challenges hold her back in her mission to shape businesses and individuals through storytelling.
She also believes no individual can claim ownership of the art of storytelling. “It has existed for centuries beginning with cave paintings. Many people may have forgotten this art amid the corporate jargons and PPTs and a few of us are trying to bring it back.,” she adds.