[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Meet Sonal Biyani—investment banker by day, stand-up comic by night
Sonal Biyani is an investment banker by day and a stand-up comic by night. A former analyst, she is one of the founding partners of—an investment advisory firm that helps startups raise funds.
Hailing from Jodhpur, Sonal jokes that she naturally developed managerial skills while living with her big, 40-member joint family. After completing her engineering degree from J N Vyas University, Jodhpur and MBA (Master of Business Administration) from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi, she joined the erstwhile Lehman Brothers in 2007. However, she notes that the timing was wrong as the firm sank during the 2008 financial crisis.
Sonal says she always had a funny bone and had a knack for lightening up the room. So, she decided to juggle the B2B textiles business that she had co-founded with her husband as well as pursue stand-up comedy.
“I have always been a chirpy and witty character and was very observant. One of my seniors at work introduced me to stand-up comedy. She encouraged me to do my first open mic, which I won. At that time, the B2B business was also flourishing. While the textile business was meant to make money, stand-up comedy was food for the soul,” she recalls.
But moving back to Surat, a Tier-II city, created unexpected challenges.
“I convinced my husband to join me in the B2B business and return to Surat. But in Tier-II cities, women tend to not work. If they are from even a slightly well-to-do family, women are asked to rely on their husbands’ finances. Again, people here did not really understand the concept of stand-up comedy,” recalls Sonal
Sonal dealt with all of them patiently, one at a time. She opened one of the first co-working spaces in Surat and established a production house that hosted local comedians. She then founded her current venture, Basic Roots Consulting in 2017.
Talking about how she dealt with biases, Sonal says, “I was born in a joint Marwari family where some of my uncles suggested that I take commerce and not science or engineering. In college, as well, I was questioned about doing an MBA. But I dealt with those comments rationally. Most importantly, I was always conscious that if I put my mind to something, I can do it no matter what.”
Sonal advises upcoming women leaders to stop calling themselves ‘woman entrepreneurs’.
“Just call yourself an ‘entrepreneur’ instead of a ‘woman entrepreneur’ to face and overcome the same problems as all entrepreneurs. Women also need to become assertive and polite to deal with society,” Sonal says.
Edited by Kanishk Singh