I’d often tell Anshika that I think I’d be more inspired by a woman in a leadership position than anyone else. To see what they achieved despite the biases would be more powerful than most lessons. That would be representation for me. Think of it as the equivalent of seeing someone like you on TV.
Over the past year, I’ve actively sought lessons from remarkable women who are building businesses, making an impact, and living lives that resonate with me.
In my attempt to make this a seamless piece, and distil my thoughts, I’ve focused on some key themes. Here you go.
The ‘Why Not’ Attitude
Before Leap, Ragini spent 6 years with Zomato, across departments and in different cities. And, she was happy, comfortable, and content during each of these stints. And when you are comfortable, you rarely think about the next step. It is almost like a bean bag, pulling you back in each time you think about getting up to grab a packet of chips.
While in the Bangalore office, when she was asked if she’d move to Delhi to work in product, she said, “Why not?”.
The lesson? Growth and comfort are mutually exclusive.
With each thing you do (if you do consistently), you get good at it. For Ragini, it was sales. For me, in 2021, it was content writing.
Think about what that is for you. Imagine that one thing you can talk about / get done even in your sleep. That. It is bound to become a part of your comfort bubble.
And so, if you want to grow, you HAVE to seek things that challenge you. Say yes to what comes your way,
even especially if it is uncomfortable.
How do you do that?
1/ One, when I’m unsure about whether I’ve made progress, I ask myself, when was the last thing I did something uncomfortable? And no, I don’t mean tattoos or a difficult conversation with friends. But at work. And with projects.
2/ Two, I go back to this thing @saurabh told me about. When you think about doing things outside your comfort zone, you have to find this overlap. If I asked you to run a 100-mile marathon, you wouldn’t consider it. And walking on an inclined plane for 2 minutes would not be exciting AT ALL. The overlap is the sweet spot.
In the past two years (since I graduated), I have said yes to everything that came my way and taken big leaps. And it is what has defined my journey. A thousand sweet spots of the comfort zone.
With Decoding Draupadi, a for-profit, social enterprise solving for women’s issues, the approach is similar. When we started, we didn’t know what we were building. But we knew that we wanted to spend time identifying gaps and coming up with solutions for them.
And so, with each idea, we said, ‘why not?’.
Oh, if you are young, it’s easier to do. You’ve got more time. You can take bigger risks.
Conviction, Change and Long-term Games
Another theme that I observed in Leap’s journey was conviction. If you know Leap and have followed them, you know that they did not aggressively raise when they started out. And while there were supporters, there were also people who raised questions:
How will you scale as a women-only network?
Other businesses are raising millions, why isn’t Leap doing the same?
But, Ragini knew two things:
This was an idea she could give the next decade of her life to (a long-term game!).
She had conviction in the idea and approach. She knew that there was a real gap, a real problem, and it needed to be solved.
Leap grew because of these foundational mindsets. The lesson for me was that if you are a mission-driven startup, your mission will drive you to success. It will get you your first users. It will help you turn your users into champions. And, most importantly, it will serve as a reminder to keep at it.
On change and pivots:
Leap had not planned to be online; when they onboarded their first 30 members, the pandemic happened. And they had two choices: pause or pivot. And you know what they picked. As they grew, they also went from being a professional network to a community-led business.
The lesson? Every startup pivots. And a startup that began with the intention of solving a real problem will sustain all pivots.
Golden startup lessons
1/ Be shameless when you are starting. When Ragini started Leap, she texted EVERY person she knew. She’d share each Instagram post with her network / family / friends / acquaintances on WhatsApp.
Could it be spammy? Sure. Will some people get tired of hearing it? Sure. But your responsibility at the time is to ignore those thoughts and shoot your shot.
This lesson has been living rent-free in my head because I’ve not mastered it yet. With Decoding Draupadi, I’ve not been entirely shameless. And so, this served as a reminder to ignore imposter-y thoughts and do the thing I need to do.
2/ Some people identify a problem and build a business to solve it. Some build businesses and attach a problem statement to them. You want to be doing the former.
3/ Play long-term games with long-term people. I am reiterating the point I made above. Ragini said, “I know I’m doing this for the next 10 years”. You need to be doing something you can say that for. The second you know you’re in it for the long-term, all your actions align accordingly. You are not hiring short-term anymore. You are not worrying about a mistake that takes you back by 2 days. And, you are not giving up easy.
4/ Work-life balance rebalances at startups. Businesses don’t get built within the constraints of 9 to 5. While talking about hiring for Leap, Ragini mentioned that she tried to look for people who understand that startups operate at a certain pace, those who take ownership and risks and do not have an attachment to their ideas.
With Decoding Draupadi, I might have almost been afraid to codify these thoughts. We’re young and small. But Ragini’s confidence in her hiring methods reaffirmed that defining what kind of people your startup needs is easier than experimenting. Especially if you are young.
5/ Not a startup lesson per se, but a note to EVERY women-focused business that worries about competition, Ragini said, “Leap needs a 100 leaps for people to start looking at it as a viable business.”
Today, the idea of a women-only network is not novel, and that’s because someone decided to say, “Let’s give this a shot”. All the progress we women have made today can be traced back to another woman, or a group, that stood up. It isn’t a rivalry. We do stand on the shoulders of many such women, and it is a collective movement.
If you want to check out the podcast, here’s the link to Indian Silicon Valley’s episode featuring Ragini.
Until next time,