I have a story to tell. Surely, it would be nice if someone else submits it or write it, but for mine, No body will know in its entirety. They only know phases. But if I can do it.. Anybody can. Anybody with a dream and grit can. The way I have structured this is what I have learnt in different phases of my life. And that is exactly what I will be sharing. Cos the lessons are my messages to you. So, while narrating my journey, I will break and talk about the beauty and applicability of those lessons.
OK.. So I was 14 then and in Class 9, a student of my dad, tells me, "Devika, your personality is more suited to take a deep dive and go abroad after Class 12" to which my dad snapped 'that's a 17 year old'. My father's student, who is now a senior scientist at National brain research centre, Prof. Prasun Roy, decided not to further the discussion.
For me, that comment was a kicker, it stayed with me till the time came when I had to make up my mind if to go the IIT / JEE way or the SAT / TOEFL way. One thing which I believe in is discussing or taking advice from the 'right' people. By 'right' people, I mean someone who has walked the walk that you are about to embark on. Though regardless I knew it would be ultimately be my decision, I still wanted to meet up with a fresh grad of Princeton, who Prof. Roy had referred. After that, I met with an IIT grad and a JU grad... They were easy to find, given that both my parents were PH.D's and heavily into academics. So, the decision was made in my head of going the US route. I have never been fond of opinions and hence prohibited any and all family and extended family discussions with about what 'Devika's plans were' after Class 12. Spoke to my mother and took her into confidence. So my exciting journey began ....
Lesson 1: Check a person's background before asking for advice. It's imperative to make an 'informed' decision which is not based on 'opinions' but facts and figures. Guidance from the 'right' source can change the course of your life.
Now, I got in a few schools and colleges but none with full scholarships. I wasn't a class topper nor with perfect SAT and TOEFL. But I wrote a compelling essay about my purpose in life and also had my share of extracurricular and leadership activities to show. Anyways, now came the funding part, I needed a loan of $15000 to make it happen and get myself enrolled in Clark University. Being a child of academicians there was no way for my parents to furnish that amount, also given I have two younger siblings. I wasn't anywhere close to giving up...So here's my D-day... My mother's first cousin comes to Kolkata for his business. I called him up and scheduled a meeting ..At the meetup, I tell him I need a loan and that it will be a loan to me and not my parents and he can charge interest if he wants. Did not need much convincing, he readily agreed. Later on he told my mother, he couldn't say anything but yes to the fire that he had seen in a 17 year old girl. So, I was funded and was off to the US. Every time I imagine the first day I walked in to Clark, I get teary eyed just thinking of the number of people who contributed to that journey up until then and always pray for their well being.
Lesson 2: See life just as it is. Then you can come up with solutions better. There was nothing positive or negative in any of these situations which I see a lot of people term it as. .
Lesson 3: Gratitude .... I am blessed to feel grateful. Unfortunately, some people miss seeing the beauty in it. They are scared that the credit from who they are may shrink. On the contrary, being truly grateful for anything is an unparallel feeling and you always come across as a genuine individual which eventually in life goes a long way.
NI knew the responsibility I had taken on myself. Right from freshman year I started to work on campus and see if there can be any off campus jobs. Went to the career center where they said 'freshmen don't put their step in here'. But they were graceful and gave me all information I needed for an off campus internship in summer. I studied all how to make a resume stand out and by god's grace I had two well paid internships before my sophomore year. My week days were super hectic and my weekends were spent 'shaping my mindset' by simply hanging out with super successful elites of the US who always kept reiterating that I should always think abo
Today I will tell you that those weekends if I had not spent the way I did, I would not be who I am today. So, absolutely hanging out with the right people is one of the keys to success.
Lesson 4: Keep great company .. Always. They shape you. They make you.
My work life began as a QA lead at one of the leading payroll companies in the US after graduating with a dual major in Computer Science and Mathematics. Yes, it was more money than the internships but I wasn't saving a penny also cos of all the loans that I had taken. To top that off, my younger sister insisted on coming to the US. I remember telling my mother that if she spent on me, I would make sure I stand by financially with my siblings till they graduate. Sure, that was an emotional statement, but the truth was I wanted to do it all. As luck would have it, a recruiter called about a position that would be reporting to the VP of operations at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The title was Senior Project Manager. This was a consulting gig, hourly for 4 months. If I got it, this would put me in the coveted six figure salary bracket. On one had I had a secure 'not so bad' job and on the other hand the lure of accelerating my career goals. I decided I had nothing to lose and I will take the interview. Fresh out of college, facing a VP of operations, my friends were way more terrified than I was. For me, I had taken her title out of my mind, and was going in to meet someone who was interested in learning more about me. Also, I had convinced myself that even if I do not get the job, I will enjoy the experience of meeting someone who has actually 'climbed' the corporate ladder in America and nevertheless I will learn. As long as I learn, I never lose. Now, I barely came down the elevator after the interview, the recruiter called inquiring about when I am available to start.
Lesson 5: Be fearless. If titles intimidate you, take the title OUT of the person's name. Or maybe PUT a title next to your name - like CEO of your name. The truth is that you are the chief executive of your life. So, why not? For me though, I like 'connecting' with people. So the former works better for me. It's always one 'person' connecting with 'another person'.
Let us not forget that thus far, I was a full time employee only for 4 months, which means I was barely 22 at the time and just graduated. Of course, I have never reported to someone who is that high up and was certainly not used to the higher management terms. Everything seemed different, I was horrible at the job. My boss would ask me for SOW and clearly without me knowing the term I had to google what it was. Google was more than my best buddy - my true guide I can say now. I would dread going to work everyday, but I still showed up. 'She' criticized me to no end and my work but I kept my effort up and kept delivering. My friends by then thought I was losing it cos I would leave at 6:30 am and come home at 9 pm and then sit down with my buddy 'google'. For unknown reasons, my boss got transferred to a different location and the management offered me a full time position with money much lower than what I was getting. These 3.5 months of utter grueling was more than an MBA for me. I learnt so much in those months, than I ever have in my life. After that, there was no looking back for me. I then also knew how to 'handle' upper management along with my technical skills. My interviews turned out to be me 'choosing' my clients than them selecting me. I had a line of consulting gigs always lined up and was delighted to serve elite Fortune 500 clients like JP Morgan Chase, John Hancock, Staples, Gateway Computers, Putnam Investments, State Street Global Advisors, ADP payroll, etc to name a few. I loved my consulting gigs – built an amazing network of smart people and made some genuine friends at work who became family. Most times, I heard people refer to me as ‘one of the most genuine people I’ve met’. I in fact liked the stamp .. took it as my personal branding.Out of curiosity once asked my then boss and he told me that everyone thinks I take genuine interest in people and projects around me and always interested in the bigger picture.
Lesson 6: Stick to a difficult situation. What doesn't break you will make you stronger. Do not make anything personal at workplace. When she was being critical about my work, I knew she had nothing against me, it was just that she does not like my work. I knew I was not performing and there I had my chance to learn and turn up the voltage of my performance. Build yourself every day. That is the best investment you can make – ever.
Lesson 7: It is very important to always brand yourself. Like we know about business brand building, it is also important to do 'personal' brand building. What is your USP? How do people view you? Can anyone count on you? All of these aspects are super important and eventually if you ever think of going into business for yourself you will see your journey becomes so much more smoother just cos of your personal brand building. Maybe your best friend will fund your firm or maybe your gym trainer will. These are aspects you will never know unless you start the journey but it is always prudent to nevertheless have a personal brand. So start out with taking a genuine interest in people around you and seek to serve. See your life change after this.
It was during one of my projects where we needed to work from 6am to 1am for one month, that my next venture happened. I have always been a day spa visitor for my massages, manicures and all kinds of pampering needed. At one of the project meetings, I asked all present 'Wouldn't it be nice guys if we had a spa just come to us'? Unanimously, both the genders applauded and asked if there can ever be something like that. Then they talked about how it is such a needed service, would turn employees more productive during deadlines etc. Huh! So, just one question and my market survey was complete along with the decision that I will start such a service sooner than later. That is how 'mobileSPA' was born. Being the 'first' in its kind in the United States, the venture became a media magnet and they featured me as the founder in Wall Street Journal, CNN money, Lucky, Vogue, etc to name a few. Our tagline was "we bring the day spa experience to you'. Our experts would turn conference rooms to relaxation havens - such was the decor. We soon started receiving calls from Pricewaterhouse Coopers, McKinsey and Company, Google, Microsoft, etc to go in for their employee appreciation events. mobileSPA was honored to a part of the ELLE, Aveeno and Cocacola Suites in the Oscars thus far. It is now an elite and sought after brand in the event management space where we do 300 events in one day at times and work with all known brands that one can ever think of.
Lesson 8: A problem is just the 'top', if you delve deep the solution is hidden right below. Every problem is an opportunity for the betterment on an existing situation.
Lesson 9: To get to this space, the secret was that immediately, after launch of mobileSPA, I worked on the brand image of mobileSPA. I see brand building like we build personal reputation. Branding is an important element in all businesses. In the service industry brand building can be tricky ... And that's where the founders role comes into play. It is very important that every single person representing your brand understands your vision. Treat them as business partners and not employees. The power of genuineness is what I emphasize in here - care - this word can take you a long way. Care for your clients, care for your employees / contractors. Do not have the attitude 'What's in it for me' when dealing with humans. So two things - Train your team to be intrapreneurs and The power of Genuineness - these two will put your brand building on a fast track. These two fit in to the SET we call QUALITY.
With such success in media we started getting enquiries from across the world about franchising. Not just from the US, from all across the world. We were barely a year old. People came to Boston to just meet with me and convince me to let them own a mobile spa in their state. I decided to franchsie. I have always been a proponent of lean and that is what I encouraged them to do, however, most of the franchisees started advertising in high end magazines, newspapers, hotels etc. I had cautioned them about not overspending and the importance of lean marketing. Their budget almost got dry and the ROI was not close to what they had spent cos they were in for instant gratification which did not work for mobileSPA cos it was still a baby itself. This was a mistake, I realized. In any models, it is hugely important to test out for at least 3 years before licensing or franchising cos that just works on branding and branding takes time. So yes, lesson learnt.
Lesson 10: Do not rush for expansion. First build a solid foundation, if you offer value, expansion will happen in due time.
Now, mobileSPA happened while I was a full time consultant - I was a consultant at Fortune 500's during the day and a complete dedicated business owner at night. I loved it. Enjoyed it. At one of my consulting jobs at a leading investment firm, we were using a super expensive automation tool which was not so user friendly. After I reviewed it, I thought of developing a QA tool which will be affordable, be user friendly and deliver QUALITY. I started to put a team together in India remotely. We had a lot of it in place but me not being there wasn't working in the infrastructure and so that did not materialize.
Again, I learnt a lesson 10: It is important for the person with the vision to be with the team during conception. It is your vision and baby, you can delegate only so much. It is in nobody's interest but yours to take it forward.
With the birth of my son, I quit consulting and pursued mobileSPA full time. The little one still in the cradle inspired me to go out there and make the world a better place. I learnt so much from him. Only if we watch a child carefully we will see how much we can learn from our children. When a child is trying to stand up, he never gives up easily ...finds ways and looks at anchors to see how he can. Every time, I saw my son do that, something touched me very deep inside and I would just marvel at life itself.
My interest in fashion and pampering has always been a part of me. So now, I wanted to start a community of fashion lovers called 'Fashionguilty'. As we started our work in it, I thought of incorporating products which will create a global product brand as well. Lack of Indian brands in the global platform has always pained me. So, I started my workshop in India. We bought shoes and bags from across the world and the craftsmen were trained in making shoes and bags that would be of global quality. We spent 2 years in testing. In our testing phase, happened by chance that I met a mom whose daughter was in design school. She casually told me 'Why don't you give an opportunity to my daughter, she is really good at what she does'? That question stuck with me and I took down her number. Thought through it and tweaked the business model to be 'inclusive'. Our upcoming brand will now be a platform for aspiring designers to showcase their designs. We provide a one stop solution to all designers – aspiring and existing. It is like a publishing house, we like it, we create it and an Haute deisnger is launched and they get royalty. Existing designers can also order products through us - for them we have the JUST IN TIME inventory model in place. So, here we went from Being exclusive to being inclusive. The launch is slated for Dec 2017. Please visit us at www.hautetotesetc.com.
Lesson 11: Be receptive, keep your eyes and ears open as an entrepreneur. You are trying to solve something, nothing better than being inclusive in your business model itself.
I made frequent India visits, I was determined not to make the previous fallout happen again. I knew it is important for me to be physically present in India. Initially after shuttling back and forth for a few times with my 3 year old, I decided to move to India temporarily. In the US, my son was exposed to fun, project based curriculum already. When he was given a set of lego, he wasn't given any instruction, he built several new things out of them aside from what was there in the booklet and was applauded for his imagination and creativity. All kids were - they were given a set of legos and toys and could build whatever they think they could. In India, when we came it was the exact opposite, during play sessions, the kids were given clear instructions on how to build it. If the child tried to do something different, the parents would panic and some even went ballistic. I have calmly tried to ease situations saying 'let the children be creative' - some took it well, some did not. Realization dawned that nothing changed from the times when I went to school - it has remained the same. We had memory tests then, we have them now. Keeping my son in India for my fashion label and not exposing him to the opportunities he would have in the US, seemed unfair to me. I wanted to start entrepreneurship education for school students. The timing of it worked wonderfully as well, my sister, who previously co-founded a tech company, completed her MBA from Johns Hopkins and was deciding between US and India. A project like this seemed like a no-brainer to her and she jumped right on board and 'Youngpreneurs' was born. Our mission is to connect education and entrepreneur ecosystem in India so that we can have Mark Zuckerbergs coming out of India and not just Indian kids wanting to be a Facebook or a Google employee. Research has proved that Without entrepreneurial education, the enterprising spirit of children dramatically declines over time and is almost non-existent by the time they graduate from high school. So, let's start now and let's start early. Tomorrow's future, starts today! Please visit www.youngpreneurs.in for more information and also please connect with me on LINKEDIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/devika-majumder/
Lesson 12: Let's group with solution makers.
In my entrepreneurial journey, THREE key messages that I would like people to hear:
- Be grateful and see not just your business, but your entire life fall in place. Be genuine to the core - and again you will see the power of genuineness takes you a long way and again puts things in place. Just do it - and see your life change for the best.
- Secondly, When I have had any ideas, and when executing, I have detached myself from the idea. That has helped me tremendously. Do not be emotional about your idea when implementing. Become robotic... Have a to do list and execute. There have a job like mentality. Results will follow if there is any value to your offering. Just have a founder’s grit.
- Thirdly, keep good company. Research has proved now that the 'company' you keep defines pretty much all your actions and the overall performance. During my college days, I have had the fortune of hanging out with my uncle who always encouraged me to think differently. I derive inspiration from books. I have read a lot of self help books to keep me on track.
- Inner Engineering – Sadhguru
- The magic
- How to win friends and influence people
- Rich dad, poor dad
- Stop worrying and start living
- The Dalai Lama’s on What matters most
- Louise Hay – You can heal your life
- The Lean Startup
- The Silva Mind Control Method
- Companion of God – By Dadi Janki (Brahmakumaris)
Miles to go before I sleep ....
As my guru Sadhguru Shri Jaggi Vasudev says 'A world full of love, light and laughter - its time has come. Let's make it happen.'