My Journey as aWoman Entrepreneur in India
As a woman who was married at a young age into a conservative family by arranged marriage, starting my own business felt like a miraculous life-time achievement. In my community, it is frowned upon in unwritten, bold lettering for a woman to do anything other than look after the home. After coming so far as to get my degree and start the process of setting up my business, I found myself faced with crisis after crisis, software glitches putting a hold on progress, and difficulties with suppliers dismissing me as “just a housewife” wanting to “play business.” I felt defeated, mentally and physically, and knew I needed support.
I got the idea for my business while taking my Masters in Psychology through distance learning, as I knew I would not be able, nor allowed, to attend full-time college. I was working with special-needs kids and realized there was a huge gap in treating them. In India, we did not have psychometric scales to assess children before middle school. However, if problems are identified early, measures can be introduced to ensure kids are able to adapt and learn. I decided, after many wrong turns and lots of time spent in thinking and doing, to assess human personality from an Indian perspective. I felt it was more holistic and well-rounded, and would give me a complete picture as compared to western methods.
I developed scales to assess personality, taking into account the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects, namely the Tridoshas and Trigunas. I had to standardize the tests on a sample of 1,200 people. If I did this manually, it would take a minimum of one week/person to analyze. I realized that I needed software to do this or I’d spend the next 10 years of my life doing the analysis! I identified a software development company to help me, but this is when the real challenges started. It took nearly two years for them to deliver a product, which collapsed time and again when people took the tests.
At this point, a friend told me about a network that helped women entrepreneurs through mentoring over the internet. I jumped at the opportunity and applied to join. Shortly afterwards, I was connected to a mentor who is an IT specialist. I was wary of starting this relationship given the most recent fiasco in my professional life. Like in any other relationship, there is a certain amount of give and take, and a need for genuine warmth and interest in each other’s lives.
This was a perfect match. From the word “go”, I felt a rapport with my mentor and was able to discuss the problems I was facing. I got her unbiased opinion and advice on how to handle them, and on the ins and outs of doing business as a woman! We focused on software development; why the company I hired was unable to process my work; whether to go to some other person for the development of my system; and which issues needed to be handled as a priority. My mentor’s ideas also opened up a different business segment I had hitherto not considered.
I can now confidently say that I have a product out in the market which is competitive. The issues with my software development and more have been sorted out with lots of help and support from my mentor and the Mentoring Women in Business community. The tests are now online and I have developed a software/algorithm to do the analysis within a few minutes. I have applied for a patent for the software, revised my business plan, and published my work in peer-reviewed, scientific journals. Because of my mentor’s advice to tap into different geographical areas and clients, I entered into an MOU with an organization in the US last month. The final process of marketing and bringing my site on par with other technologically-advanced sites was daunting, but with the help of my mentor I seem to be navigating the pitfalls pretty well!
I am in constant touch with my mentor through email and Google chat. This gives us space and time to think, and helps me try out ideas and incorporate her suggestions. The blinders that most of us have on are taken off through mentoring. In daily life, you do not want to take another’s opinion if they are too “close to you” or “biased”. The tendency to overlook advice is strong, but in a mentoring relationship, that is not the case. You know you are speaking to an expert who is helping you without bias. You don’t know them from your circle of family or friends, so you can make mistakes. They have a different take on things, which helps you modify your pitch to suit different needs. Also, this has proved to be a genuine two-way conversation in that my mentor has also used this opportunity for some enthusiastic learning about unfamiliar topics and is happy that this has been an enriching experience for her too.
It was one of the defining moments of my life to reach out and ask for help! The feeling that I am not alone trying to stumble along is indescribable! It has the added advantage of knowing that someone is not out to take me for a ride and that there is a support system I can depend and fall back on at any point for my professional needs.
To see the results of Shilpa’s work, please visit: https://www.swayamassessment.com
To learn more about the Cherie Blair Foundation's Mentoring Women in Business Programme and support accomplished, ambitious women entrepreneurs like Shilpa by becoming a mentor please visit: http://www.cbfwmentoring.org/apply-now