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Naaree Interviews Entrepreneur Sumati Parmar of Bharatsthali

Sumati Parmar is a young co-founder on the cusp of a sustainable fashion breakthrough. Her startup, Bharatsthali, is a conscious and contemporary approach to get handloom sarees to your doorstep.

A saree is often seen as a byword for cumbersome affair in the times of slide in and get moving clothing. At Bharatsthali, she is trying to make sarees a part of day-to-day life for those for it isn’t. She aims to make sarees fashionable and feasible by bringing utility and aesthetics together for the quintessential women of today.

Naaree caught up with her to find out about her motivations, vision and learnings from her startup experience.

Please describe the vision for your startup, Bharatsthali.

I think about the saree in a contemporary way. Before Bharatsthali, I would ask myself if I was buying an original handloom saree or was paying the right price?

In fact, there were times, I would like to buy a handloom saree but there were no means to buy it. Unless of course, you travel to the place and get it personally. Not exactly a pocket-friendly and sensible idea.

We have collaborated and partnered with artists and weavers directly to bring the best in natural fabric. We are transforming a saree, maintaining its traditional connotations while asking women to adopt it as a fashion trend– just like any other outfit.

That’s the only way forward to strike a balance between traditional and modern sensibility. It is 2018 already. Don’t you think it is high time to bring forth a change?

We are asking women to think of a saree as an outfit that embraces them as they are and is perfect for Indian weather. While we are proud of its being a cultural icon, there is much more to a saree than just representing India on a global stage.

As far as offering sarees are concerned, we ask for a price that the work and art deserves. No middle channels between us and the artists mean that we have a robust framework in place that governs the quality and financial well-being of the artists. This fair trade is what makes us unique.

We believe if our work model is harming anybody’s interest along the value chain, our purpose is defeated. Therefore, our customer pays the reasonable price and the artists/weavers get the best value for their work as well.

What does Bharatsthali offer and why is it unique?

We want people to understand the value of a handloom sarees – especially the kind of efforts and perseverance that goes into it.

We want the buyers to know how a weaver sits and manually weaves for 8 hours a day for a month or two, to bring you a saree that is forever and for generations to come.

Our exclusivity lies in the fact that we have partnered with weavers and artists directly to promote a fair and ethical marketplace. We have the direct control of the quality whereas the weavers get what their art deserves.

We see sarees from a woman’s point of view. The sarees at Bharatsthali are handpicked by women. Issues like a fabric being too sheer and not apt for a workplace or an event are eliminated.

This is an important process because we are introducing the saree in their lifestyle. If they are facing a problem as small as stitching a fall to the saree and getting a tailor-fit blouse, we can’t do that. Therefore, we have everything for them as a one-stop destination for saree shopping.

The landscape of a saree is beyond the 9-yards and GI tags. It is extensive and volatile. A lane beyond the said address and you can’t have the GI tag to ensure the purity and originality of the yarn.

This makes it very tricky because if you don’t know the processes, understand the technicalities and have a thorough knowledge of what you are bringing to the fore, you lose your exclusivity and originality.

Bharatsthali silk sarees have recognized by Silk Mark India for their purity and authenticity. The sarees on the portal are the result of our extensive travels through the handloom villages and communities all over the country. So, we know what we are talking about.

What inspired your achievements?

The risk and potential of calling something of my own! My husband made sure that I do because I think more than me, he believed in what I can be. I am glad that I mustered the courage and tried it out! I guess, it has turned out really well!

What are some challenges that you faced initially when you started out? Please share specific examples with advice to other women on overcoming their challenges?

Don’t try to have it all! There will be some testing times when you would need to set your priorities all over again. So be it.

Women tend to feel guilty when they can’t strike a balance between their family and professional life and my advice to them is – don’t. You can’t have it all, so there is no point to bother about it. If there is a PTA you can’t make it to, owing to your pressing schedule, ask your spouse to fill in for you.

There might be several people trying to explain things that you know about and work with. How crazy it might seem, but you need to maintain your calm. This calmness is going to take you a long way.

What are all the things that an entrepreneur/achiever in your industry needs to keep in mind? Apart from your great idea, what do you need to be armed
with?

Perseverance and common sense! You need to think contemporary that has a reflection of times ahead. You can’t be working on an idea that might be dead within five years. That is a sheer waste of time and resources.

There is no substitute for knowledge. A great idea, when combined with knowledge becomes unstoppable and invincible.

Did you have a mentor to guide you through your journey? 

Throughout this, my mentor has been my husband. He encouraged me to explore my entrepreneurial side and it is still unravelling!

While the decision-making and core management is my KRA, I seek out his advice when I am stuck and need a fresh pair of eyes to look into something that is troubling me or I can’t find a solution of.

How did you recruit your first team? What advice do you have for building and nurturing teams in your startup?

A team that is as passionate about sarees as I am and is bursting with energy.

We are a bootstrapped startup and we need to understand that no matter how hard we try we have certain limitations and our energy, zeal and desire to create something awesome can’t replace the money.

We needed a team that looks up at the stars and keeps feet on the ground. I got lucky, I would say.

Please describe some successes and failures you have experienced as an
entrepreneur.

I still have trouble putting forth the idea that handloom sarees are supposed to be worth a fortune – literally and figuratively. They are going to be a treasure trove for you, as well as cost you extra. You are paying for a human connection and efforts here and that can’t be bargained with.

My success is the reason I am here. We have put together sarees from every state of India at one place. Our extensive travel and research has brought artists and weavers and drove such an unorganized industry to a digital stability.

What are 3 key lessons that you have learned as an entrepreneur? 

  • Your mind matters and so does your point of view to see things. Never underestimate your perspective to look and understand things.
  • Learn to take everything in your stride, be it bouquets or brickbats, success or failure. You don’t have the time or energy to stop midway and take everything to the heart. If feedback is constructive, take it and implement it but don’t overthink anything.
  • Start seeing your business and time in terms of money. I know this is something that you have been advised against all your life and that, money can’t buy you everything, but if you value your time and others’, this advice is going to have your back in long run.

Naaree Interviews Minal Anand, Founder and CEO, GuruQ

Minal Anand is a young enthusiastic millennial entrepreneur and the founder of her first venture, GuruQ, a unique digital integrated platform that connects tutors and students with ease.

As Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) she is the innovator at GuruQ, an ed-tech platform that promises to bring high-quality standards and new age methodologies to the way education is delivered in India.

She completed her degree at Boston University in three years instead of the designated four with a sparkling alacrity to join the professional world where she could apply theories to real-life situations. She returned to India to join Delhi-based HPL Additives as Assistant Manager – Corporate Development.

However, the urge to do something in the field of education drove Minal to explore the Ed-tech sector – one of India’s most prolific segments. She had previously taught several underprivileged school students and it is this very experience that helped her with the business idea.

Minal sees the importance of equipping tutors with the latest teaching methodologies and keeping them updated with international and national innovations. Her quest for doing something innovative made her delve deeper, understand the challenges and create a platform that would revolutionise the education system.

Hence, she conceptualized GuruQ as a single, simplified & cohesive ed-tech platform that provides online and offline tutoring and designed it based on insights drawn from comprehensive consumer research to address the need-gap for quality tutors.

Naaree.com caught up with Minal Anand to discuss her startup and the lessons it taught her about entrepreneurship.

Please describe your startup, GuruQ. What does it offer and why is it unique?

Guru Q is an educational technology or Ed-tech company that provides customized learning solutions to students through a structured tutor-connect platform. The company lays a zealous focus on assisting tutors and equipping them with the right tools and processes to recast the focus of the test-prep industry.

The online platform offers tutor connect for primary, secondary, higher secondary, undergraduate and postgraduate courses including Gmat, Jee IIT and other entrance courses.

What sets Guru Q apart is the fact that it provides value-added services that are paybacks for tutors including seminars by reputed personalities, awards and competitions.

With the Indian Edtech market pegged at over $70 billion in 2017, Guru Q’s inimitable services have found several takers thanks to its online platform that comes equipped with a technology tool on the dashboard that is a one-stop solution allowing students to schedule classes, receive assignments and take tests.

It also allows tutors to keep a track record of the student improvements. The payment system is managed by Guru Q eschewing the need for tutors to collect fees from the students.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

During my college education in the USA, I saw a dramatic difference in the education system there, vis-à-vis that in India – its quality, the predominant use of the digital platform and ground-breaking teaching methodologies.

Even back home, I witnessed a huge disparity between students who had studied abroad and those who had not. A big reason for this difference is that the educators in India are not well-equipped or well-versed in innovative teaching methods.

I realized that the need for quality education in India is palpable. Also, since many Indian parents are highly dependent on tutoring, there is a pressing need for the ubiquitous tutors who can guide students.

What are some challenges that you faced initially when you started out?

 The journey so far has been one of exploration and experimentation. This is best exemplified by the fact that just 5 months into operations and we have already begun revamping our entire digital infrastructure including the website and dashboard.

While the challenges have been across various areas such as the processes, technology, design etc. but we have overcome them all keeping only one thing in focus – the ‘Experience’ we are able to provide by integrating the various ingredients of our operations.

It has been only 5 months since its inception and GuruQ has got over 15000 tutor registrations and has certified over 1500 tutors on its platform. We just completed 500 hours of tutoring and the best is yet to come after the launch of the GuruQ Platform 2.0.

Our focus is on Delhi NCR for the 1st year but we intend to eventually cater to all major cities through a phase-wise expansion. But we have begun online tuitions Pan India since the medium transcends all boundaries.

What are all the things that an entrepreneur needs to keep in mind? i.e. apart from your great idea, what do you need to be armed with?

  1. A Good & reliable Team cause nobody can do it alone
  2. Financial backing – unfortunately this is the hard truth of life, to succeed you need some form seed capital and then continuous funding if you wish to grow your business at a rapid pace
  3. Perseverance – without hard work and the utmost dedication nobody can achieve success – there are no shortcuts in life

Did you have a mentor to guide you through your entrepreneurial journey? In your opinion, what does a mentor bring to the table?

No, I didn’t really have a mentor in particular, but I did have people that I idolized and wanted to embody starting with my father and grandfather whose sense of business and drive has always been a huge source of inspiration for me.

Furthermore, prominent female figures like Sheryl Sandberg, Indira Nooyi, Priyanka Chopra who have been trailblazers, influencers and conquered their respective industries have been an embodiment of courage, strength and perseverance proving that hard work & dedication does lead to success

How did you recruit your first team? What advice do you have for building and nurturing teams in your startup?

I recruited my employees through various HR consultancies and firms. Surprisingly in a country with a population of approx. 1.3 billion, finding and forming a team with reliable, responsible and motivated people is probably the toughest part about starting your own venture.

Therefore, my biggest piece of advice will be to not settle for the first few people you meet. It is important to fully pre-vet the people and ensure that your visions align.

Today’s youth is much more exposed and require very high levels of job satisfaction. Therefore it is vital to keep your team motivated though incentives and provide a conducive and engaging work environment.

Please describe some successes and failures you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur.

My successes are closely tied to my failures, and which is what makes me sure that the more failures I encounter the more assured I can be of future successes.

So the first success was due to my failure of choosing the wrong partner due to the lack of technical knowledge. But behind this failure was a lot of learning on what I needed to know to get the right platform developed.

The second success was due to my failure of not prioritizing my expenses. This experience made me money wise and helped me cut down on unnecessary expenses, and treat the necessary expenses as investments that have their own returns.

The third and the most critical success which is yet to come is due to my initial lack of foresight but with time, experience, constant learning and engaging with my peers in the EdTech sector, I have now developed the vision of what direction I should take GuruQ towards.

What are 3 key lessons that you have learned as an entrepreneur?

My first key lesson is that successful organizations are built on ‘people energy’ and successful entrepreneurs need to know how to find the right people for the right task-activity-job.

The second lesson is that entrepreneurs need to develop a balancing act whereby internally they should be like a student – constantly learning and evolving – while externally they should exude the self-confidence of a Maestro – inspiring and motivating everyone around.

And last but not the least, entrepreneurs should have the single-minded focus on how to provide ever increasing value to their customers. For this, it is essential that they remain in constant touch with their target audiences and develop the empathy to comprehend their ever-changing needs.

© Naaree.com

Interview With Cari Samalik, CEO Of Livnfresh

Cari Samalik is a Michigan based entrepreneur and Mom and the CEO & co-founder of Livnfresh – a state related T-shirt brand. Previously, she worked in the healthcare, and food and beverage industries before marrying into a screen printing business.

Living in beautiful Michigan and having a love for the outdoors inspired her to produce a brand that represented that beauty. Naaree.com interviewed her to find out what inspired her entrepreneurial journey and how she dealt with its challenges.

What inspired to become an entrepreneur? Did you always love it or was it something you got into?

I never thought I would be a CEO to a clothing brand, but falling in love with someone that owned a screen printing business help direct me in that way.

I finally realized one day that Livnfresh wasn’t just another t-shirt business it was a lot more than that. The effect it was having on people was turning us into a brand. People can relate to our design and want to show their pride for their state.

When do you know that it is no longer just an idea in your mind, and that you can really turn it into a lucrative business?

I started this business with my amazing husband Dave who shares the same love and passion I do. We had a few other ideas for a T-shirt line but none of them took off.

We never gave up and would start all over again. We finally knew we had a winner when we saw people’s reactions to our designs.

What inspired you to start out on your own or with your partners? What learning lessons can you share from your startup experience?

Being a Mom and trying to start a business was not easy. I was trying to be a stay-at-home mom of two and trying to get our business off the ground.

Whenever you start a business money is always a problem. We didn’t have the money to pay someone to do what I was trying to do, so I could just be a stay at home mom. Today I have an entire staff of other people doing what I wanted to do myself.

What are some of the challenges you faced initially when you started out? Do you have some examples to share and advice to women entrepreneurs on overcoming them?

If you want to be an entrepreneur, never give up. If one idea doesn’t work, move on to the next one.

Learning when to let go of an idea before it puts you in big debt is something you need to learn. Don’t get so attached that you can’t let go.

Do women entrepreneurs find it tougher to get funding for businesses? If yes, why do you think that is?

It very well could be. We started our business with our savings. If someone wants to start a business, my best advice would be not to take a loan, as loans can put a strain on your new venture.

Invest your extra cash, and if you don’t have any, get another job to fund your new start up.

Is it beneficial to have a mentor when you’re starting out on your own? What does a mentor bring to the table?

Having a mentor works for a lot of people. For me seeing others around us succeed and grow just give me the push to do it better.

cari-samalik-1

How did you recruit your first team? How difficult was it to get people on board during the initial stages?

As we grow, we constantly are having our team change the way we do things. In the beginning, we had each person on our team doing 3 to 4 jobs.

As we grew and hired more employees, we have everyone doing one job, and that makes them much more productive and have more ownership of their responsibilities.

You always have growing pains. If you don’t, you’re not growing.

What are 3 key things that you have learned as an entrepreneur?

Three key things that I have learned being a women entrepreneur is how much I can handle.

I have learned how to delegate. I’m someone who likes to do everything myself so I know it gets done and done right.

The last thing would be to let go and not be stressed about things I have no control of.

What would you describe as your biggest moments of success in your business?

Our biggest moment came within the last couple of months. Within a few weeks, we had several different incredible opportunities open up.

First, we were asked to allow our products to be placed on the Female lead role for an independent movie being produced in Michigan. The movie will be released 2017.

Second, we were approached by a national retailer asking to carry our products in their chains. They have since asked us to expand into several different states and location.

Third, we found that there are several outdoor shows that had purchased our products and started wearing the product while they were doing their shows. They loved the product so much that they are making them a part of their daily wear.

Fourth, we completed an interview with Eagle 101 talking about the way our products connect others, creating common ground to find new friends. This last year has seen a double in our wholesale retailers and our online sales have increased between 500 to 700%. We are blessed to have seen such rapid growth.

Interview with Woman Entrepreneur, Preeti Mittal of BlueBit Systems

Preeti Mittal founded BlueBit Systems in 2010 and the company has it’s headquarters in Mumbai. Her passion for online marketing changed the course of her career and turned her into an entrepreneur.

She holds a bachelor degree (B.Tech) in IT and Masters Degree in International Business Management. As a founder of BlueBit Systems, she has served over 100 clients, including market leading brands from a range of industries. She has become renowned for their commitment to innovative techniques and technologies.

Preeti Mittal bluebitWe caught up with her to find out how and why she embarked on the entrepreneurial journey.

What inspired to become an entrepreneur? Did you always love it or was it something you got into?

I decided to become an entrepreneur after 5 yrs of my graduation when I was working for various companies but never felt challenged enough. I required some business and industry exposure before I start my venture. Entrepreneurship is doing something that I really love to do.

What learning lessons can you share from your startup experience?

Always trust your team but have checks and accountability.

Create an awesome culture at your startup and promote continuous learning.

Ask for inputs from your team and create transparency in communication.

What are some challenges that you faced initially when you started out? Do you have some examples to share and advice to women entrepreneurs on overcoming them?

When female starts business in India, it is mostly taken as hobby and not as a bonafide business. You need to overcome this challenge.

Women also face additional cultural pressures to be the “perfect mom” and a successful businesswoman at the same time, and this can cause tremendous stress for women entrepreneurs.

You need to outsource some of your homely chores; and spare time to devote to your family and business.

What are all the things that a woman entrepreneur needs to keep in mind? I.e. apart from your great idea, what do you need to be armed with?

Apart from great idea, you need to have a good work-life balance and a highly motivated and strong team. Leverage technology to increase efficiency.

Do women entrepreneurs find it tougher to get funding for businesses? If yes, why do you think that is?

Our business is self sufficient and we never tried for funding. I don’t think women find it difficult to get funding these days. Now the mindset of venture capitalists is different and we have lots of successful women entrepreneurs.

I don’t think there are any such road blocks. If you have the courage and determination, then nothing can stop you from becoming successful.

How did you recruit your first team? How difficult was it to get people on board during the initial stages?

Building my first team was a unique and fun experience. I wanted to have a team by the time I have the possession of my office. So I arranged the interviews in a nearby mall and finalized the candidates.

It’s quite challenging to form a startup team. You need people with high enthusiasm and innovation. People are not aware of your brand and attrition rate remains high. Make sure you understand in details the skills you require.

What are 3 key things that you have learned as an entrepreneur?

While you are working, make sure you are open to feedback from your clients. Always welcome constructive criticism.

I think networking is very important and hugely beneficial especially in the early stages. Take time out to network often.

Entrepreneurs! Don’t waste your time and get your business running. Why do something tomorrow when you can do it today?

How important is social media in building a business today? How has it played a role in helping you build yours?

I setup BlueBit with the simple vision of helping startups leverage technology to improve their advertising, and till today this vision drives us. I have realized that online marketing and social media marketing is one of the most effective ways to build brands.

Can you share some tips for women entrepreneurs to maintain a balance between work and family life?

Definitely, it’s tough for women entrepreneurs to strike a work-life balance. I utilize my time only on activities that add value to my work.

I set my priorities and work on them. As I plan my schedule for weekdays, I make a plan for the weekend so that I have sufficient time with my family as well.

© Naaree.com