Breaking the glass ceiling in tech: Meet the founders of Kinara Capital, Melorra and Good Glamm Group

Ahead of Women’s Day, HerStory spoke to Hardika Shah, Founder and CEO, Kinara Capital; Saroja Yeramilli, CEO and Founder, Melorra and Priyanka Gill, Co-founder, The Good Glamm Group; to know more about their journeys and challenges, and gain from their lessons and learnings.

Breaking the glass ceiling in tech: Meet the founders of Kinara Capital, Melorra and Good Glamm Group

Wednesday March 08, 2023,

8 min Read

Today, women hold 17 percent of board seats in India, up from 9 percent in 2014, and this upward trend isn’t slowing. The glass ceiling is finally being broken with more and more women making a name for themselves in the world of business and tech.

Through our AWS Women In Tech Series, we put the spotlight on three inspirational leaders, who are role models for many other women. On the occasion of Women’s Day, HerStory spoke to Hardika Shah, Founder and CEO, Kinara Capital; Saroja Yeramilli, CEO and Founder, Melorra and Priyanka Gill, Co-founder, The Good Glamm Group to get a glimpse into the highs and lows of their professional journey, and learn about how they embraced the challenges they faced on their road to success.

While Kinara is a fintech firm which is leading the vast financial inclusion of small business entrepreneurs, Melorra is one of the fastest-growing, fashion-inspired fine jewellery brands in India. The Good Glamm Group on the other hand has made a name for itself as one of South Asia’s largest beauty and personal care conglomerates. Each of these women entrepreneurs has built a household brand leveraging their diverse backgrounds and unique skill sets. But it is also interesting to see the similarities between their journeys.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

YourStory (YS): While we see a lot more women in tech and business, only seven percent hold executive-level positions. In 2023, what’s still holding women back in terms of societal roadblocks, equal access to opportunities, etc.?

Hardika Shah (HS): Women often face societal and cultural challenges. Alongside this, networking hurdles can prevent many women from forming meaningful connections with colleagues and leaders, making it harder for them to access opportunities for career growth. Having women in leadership roles is crucial to addressing these challenges as they inspire other women, create a more inclusive work environment, and promote diversity in decision-making.

Saroja Yeramilli (SY): The biggest barrier to more women joining the workforce is the pressure to perform and excel in all roles - at home and at the workplace. After joining the workforce, women give up at some point despite being naturally gifted with multi-tasking skills. Recruiters should hire women at all levels and be supportive with longer maternity breaks and work-from-home options, which can help women stay in the workforce.

Priyanka Gill (PG): A big hurdle many female leaders continue to face is unconscious bias, pay disparity, and unequal access to opportunities. It’s important to normalise and equalise the work entrepreneurs do, regardless of gender. 

YS: You are a role model for many entrepreneurs, especially young women looking to build businesses. What advice would you give them to navigate certain biases and roadblocks?

HS: It's crucial for women in the workforce to develop tougher skin, and this is especially true for entrepreneurs. Women face a lot of systemic bias at every point in life, and this is only exacerbated in boardrooms and pitch meetings. Women will have to be prepared to face questions that nobody would ever ask their male counterparts. So, don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself and your business. Be confident in your ideas and don't let anyone undermine your expertise or authority.

SY: Being an entrepreneur necessitates determination and grit, mixed with the right amount of craziness. The latter may seem odd but imagine getting rejected by investors repeatedly and yet going strong every day with your belief. When I first pitched my idea to a friend, he laughed because I had little more than four to five slides to showcase my business plans. There was no revenue, product, or concept. Six months later, Melorra raised a seed fund of $5 million.

PG: My advice to young women would be to keep their eyes on the goal and keep hustling. While you’re at it, learn to adapt to the market and don’t be fixed in what you’re building.

YS: What’s been your mantra for success when it comes to your brand and its USP?

HS: Being clear about the mission - financial inclusion - and finding mission-aligned investors and partners have been the most important aspects of establishing Kinara Capital. This was critical as even the concept of collateral-free business credit was met with bemused looks in the early years. Now that it is proven, recognition has come on the back of what we have built. As far as my USP goes, you always get what you see!

SY: My success mantra is to be very clear about what I want to offer and be extremely time-efficient. One of my many reasons for starting Melorra was to feel younger and connect with the youth. In fact, Melorra in Norse mythology means forever young and beautiful. So our designs reflect a contemporary style, and that is our USP. We are aware of consumer trends and provide simple, common-sensical solutions to consumer wants and needs.

PG: It's very important for a brand to truly understand consumer needs and fill a gap in the market to establish its USP. While building The Good Glamm Group, we realised that we could use the power of content and creators to cut down on marketing costs. This realisation made us work towards becoming a beauty and personal care conglomerate, and today the company is the result of several unique brands coming together under one umbrella. I would say establishing a successful brand requires clarity in strategy, consistent communication, and endless passion.

YS: What’s your secret when it comes to time management and work-life harmony?

HS: I try to focus on taking adequate downtime and doing things to help me unwind and relax. This includes travelling, reading, connecting with friends and family, and taking care of a few community dogs.

SY: Planning. I am exceptionally good at planning my time. I am capable of multi-tasking to extreme levels sometimes! Plan your days well and you will be able to manage on all fronts with aplomb.

PG: For me, compartmentalising my day helps me find the balance I need. I put all my focus on one particular task at a given time. When I’m done with work, I cease to be an entrepreneur and focus on my family and myself. Striking a work-life balance has a lot to do with adaptability. 

YS: Most organisations talk about diversity, but don’t always implement it. What steps should be taken to solve this?

HS: Change begins at the top. So, incorporating Inclusivity as a core value and promoting women in leadership roles as we have at Kinara has helped us build a strong culture. We have 50:50 gender parity in our head office, with representation of members of the LGBTQ+ community and persons with disabilities. We have created a safe and positive work environment for all employees by promoting a culture of respect and inclusivity.

SY: A cultural shift in society is required to get more women to participate actively in India’s workforce and contribute to nation building. Women need an empowering and supportive environment both at home and work.

PG: Having thoughtful, adept people in leadership roles brings about significant impact. Together with a strong HR team, it is up to the organisation’s leaders to build a culture of inclusivity and make sure that employees feel like they belong.

YS: How are you embracing new technologies to innovate and deliver the best experience for your customers? How has AWS enabled you to do better?

HS: Being among the first to take a data-driven approach with tech-enabled processes has led to furthering our use of AI/ML, which has removed human bias from our credit decisioning process, and provides fast and easy access to credit for the MSME sector. AWS has been critical for us; we run our website, loan applications, and data warehouse systems on it. We are consistently dealing with highly-confidential data, and it provides secure, encrypted, high-availability, and observable environments where our tech can run seamlessly.

SY: Melorra has been digital-first since inception and AWS has enabled us to build a strong digital presence. We currently use a range of AWS products like compute, networking, and content data networks. This suite gives us the confidence to innovate and take Melorra’s consumer experience to the next level. 

PG: New technologies and continuous innovation form the very base of our product delivery cycle. Embracing latest technologies helps us scale existing business and speed up global expansion. AWS is a reliable partner for us in this journey. With its portfolio of services, we focus on providing the best end-user experience to customers. Infrastructure setup and scaling becomes much faster and simpler.

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