Shilpa Sachdev, Naaree.com’s reporter at the Women In Leadership Forum India 2011, caught up with Kanika Dewan, Group President, Bramco, Founder of KA Design Atelier and also the winner of Leading Woman in Business Award, to learn about her achievements and source of inspiration.
When do you know that it is no longer an idea in your mind, and that you can really turn it into a lucrative business?
Intuition tells you that. Of course you have to your primary research and go to the basics levels of business. When it is a B2C idea, a lot depends on the confidence in you and in a B2B domain, your funding must be in place.
What inspired you to start on your own? How has the experience been so far?
I always inherently had the concept inside me to do something different. I was driven by this passion to innovate and make a difference and you can do that only in your own thing.
It is all about the energy you put into a project; your output will be determined by the input – how much of heart and soul you put into the task at hand.
I wanted to do business not only with the objective of making profit but to create something that does not exist. I worked as an investment banker for two years.
I did not want to join my family business and wanted to make a difference on my own. We started from malls and celebrity trade shows to now having a full- fledged organisation. It was like constant entrepreneurship.
What are some hurdles you faced initially when you started out? Your advice to women entrepreneurs on overcoming them.
For me, I started a business which was predominantly male dominated – the field of design and build. I faced two issues – firstly I was female and secondly, I was young. Some people also had the perception that I was born with a silver spoon.
But my boarding school experience taught me some tough lessons early in life, which helped me significantly to deal with these hurdles. When you are an entrepreneur, the buck stops at you all the time.
My advice to women would be that when you go to meet your men clients, be technically sound, be assertive and vocal. Have an opinion. Demonstrate your knowledge and promote yourself in the first interaction itself.
Before starting out, can you give us a checklist of all the things that you need to keep in mind i.e apart from the great idea, what do you need to be armed with?
You need to have energy foremost of all. I have a 5 point acronym for that which I keep defining differently from situation to situation. Apart from the great idea, one needs to STRIVE when you are an entrepreneur. S stands for Singularity of approach, T stands for Tradition that brings back to your core value system.
The lessons you can learn from older people like I derive a lot of inspiration from my grandmom, who can do Excel calculations even at the age of 82. Concepts are generally repeated, the world doesn’t change, human beings don’t change, the world behaves in a similar pattern and hence the importance of tradition.
R refers to responsibility because your workers look up to you. Stand by your decisions and that will make you wake up every morning. I is Integrity. I have stronger views on this – we strictly follow a ‘no-bribe’ policy and I face a lot of opposition for this. Your business should make a difference.
V is for value system – how far are you willing to go to reach your targets? We work directly with the end user to cut the corruption. There have been instances where people demand a cut outright.
E is for environment. Environment consciousness is a business interest. The work you do has a karmic cycle. You have to give back to the world, else you face the repercussions. We have strict quality control systems in place to make sure we don’t tamper with the environment.
Is it beneficial to have a mentor when you are starting out on your own? What value does a mentor bring to the table?
Mentorship brings support, motivation, reinforcement of whether you are going in the right direction. It is your first test case and is necessary for ‘constructive’ development.
How did you recruit your fist team? How difficult was it to get people on board during the initial stages?
It was difficult to get women on board because they wanted to work in fixed times. We had a high employee turnover in the first year of business.
What are the 3 key things you have learned in your time as an entrepreneur?
When I was at Wharton, I read it and I heard it but now I have learnt it. For becoming a successful entrepreneur, you should have three body parts working well – your heart, mind and the gut.
Keep your gut strong. When I took up the Delhi Airport project, there was something very instinctively positive that pushed me to take it up. And it has been one of the most fulfilling experiences. What I started to look for, I achieved with this project.
By heart, I mean that you have to passionate about what you are doing. I have rejected projects that don’t allow me to make an aesthetically unique statement under an integrated model.
To back up your intuition and passion, you need a string mind that gives you the confidence at a statistical level. The mind helps you to know the positive from the negative. It helps you in justice issues and empowers to say a NO when you must.
Have you been using social media marketing? How has it helped?
In fact we do none. I personally believe that Facebook has acted more to be a de-socialising mechanism. However, we are working on taking the business to the next level through social media. We should appear soon.
Can you share some tips for women entrepreneurs to maintain a balance between work and family life?
One needs to be introspective and have an inward thinking that will help in spiritual growth. The other is time management – it brings both focus and clarity.
Entrepreneurship is very scientific; it taught me a lot about life. My professor use to say, if you have to start, do it when you are young. There are not enough resources and you have to prove yourself much more. I guess I always liked it tough.