You might be a 25-year-old department head in a multinational company, living a cushy life thinking your circumstances are what people make memes out of on the internet, tagging it ‘Goals’. But the story you are about to read will convince you that you have missed the bus, somewhere. I know I did. A woman, or should I say girl, achieved for herself in college what we put ambitiously at the end of our 10-year plans. She was 20 when she conceived the idea for the personal care cosmetics line Kallos, which is selling its products in six different states, in over 100 stores in each state.
Meet Priyanka Agarwal, the prodigy entrepreneur
Choosing the specialised personal care line for her business aspirations was as accidental as becoming an independent prodigy entrepreneur. She never fancied herself a risk-taker, let alone endeavouring to start out so young.
“Interestingly, my choice of courses was history, political science, and sociology and my love was for sports and dancing. Even my childhood was safe and secure without uncertainties. If I look at myself back then, I can’t imagine myself as a risk-taker,” says Priyanka.
But leaders are those who manage to answer the door, when opportunity knocks. “It was when I started going to my father’s office daily during college that I developed interest in starting my own business too. It had nothing to do with the personal care or cosmetics. I wanted to open a salon! I joined a short-term course of hair and beauty at a reputed institute because I thought one should be passionate and interested in what one’s doing, so I decided to get into the depth of it. To my dismay, I found I didn’t really enjoy it.”
Without slowing down, she started researching on what else she might venture into, to channelise her immense enthusiasm. “After a few months, I discussed it with my father and realised that what I really liked doing was business development. He suggested I start a personal care line instead. I laughed at it first.
“At that time when I started out, I did not know the systems, practices, and processes of the FMCG market except for what I had seen at office. Since most of the people considered me the owner’s daughter who is just there to kill time during a summer break, they would just indulge me by telling me broad facts. Neither had I done my MBA or for that matter, even BBA.”
When nothing seems to be in your favour
The fact that she was in college not only caused complications for her in terms of juggling two equally paramount
priorities, but also invited some hard-hitting criticism and condescension from doubters. “We had to postpone the launch till I completed my studies. It took about another year after college just to get the people back on board and we had to revisit our strategy all over again. The inactive year had left everyone thinking it’s not going to happen and you yourself tend to put things on the backburner. Therefore, to build a team, start production, and then roll out the products in the market with a clear positioning statement took time to build up after a year of stalemate.”
I saw my fair share of critics and doubters – some of them would repeatedly be skeptical and try to bring my morale down. In case of women, the urge to prove to the world becomes even more difficult due to a deeply set gender bias. Some would think it’s some sort of ‘time pass’ that young girls do before their marriages. We have to know that even if we are ‘the best’, we might just fail because somewhere something went wrong. The best way to overcome these is to listen to them, reflect on the ones that are actually fair enough, and then keep doing your work. I always thought I have to achieve for myself because that is where you experience more satisfaction rather than when one wants to prove to others. Be around the ones who bring support and energy around you and let things unfold. That’s what I did.”
The rainbow at the end of the storm
Sure enough, like any startup, Priyanka went through the complete grind too. Even in the face of pressures of starting out young, and the added scrutiny that comes with being a woman, she was quick to learn from trial and error. A cardinal error, one could say, was to attempt to utilise the existing team of her father’s food division. “For the first two months, operations were slow and haphazard due to that. We had stocks to sell and there was no way that I could just waste the Rs. 10 lakh investment my father had entrusted me with. That was when I decided to get my own team working under me, a team of four, and we created a clear vision in our heads. We started focusing on tier 2 and tier 3 cities by slowly penetrating with our own distribution network that classified the type and number of stores and the areas where we would place our products. Demographic profiling became the top priority.”
The gold at the end of the rainbow
With her father’s support in the first stage of production, they managed to generate money out of that core investment. “From Rs. 10 lakhs, we have been able to generate a turnover of a little over Rs. 1 crore in the past few months. For many people it may be nothing, but for us it was exhilarating. This is pure marketing and you have giants like HUL, PG, Dabur, etc., as well as hundreds of regional players in the same market and new entrants every month. From no queries, we now receive a couple of queries from distributors and customers alike, asking about our products. It is very easy to be out if the strategy, the supply chain, and the distribution logistics are not maintained.”
This young entrepreneur, who has only just entered the second most crucial part of her academics studying MBA at S.P. Jain, employs people who have resumes far more evolved than her, and she has no qualms in accepting their expertise while making business decisions. “It’s important to give and take respect, especially when you are the youngest in the team and the boss. I like to keep the communication going, be patient, be assertive where necessary and praise talent. Until now, I haven’t faced or sensed problems of gender bias at work and hope that will continue.”
She attributes this welcome shift in the attitudes, thus making it more conducive for women entrepreneurs to thrive, to more women occupying top jobs and taking initiatives.
“The second one is even more important because that is what signals the going away of fear and uncertainty. A lot of startups these days are founded by women and it’s really encouraging and exciting to see the trend. The whole scenario speaks volumes of women not being second fiddles to their husbands, fathers, or colleagues anymore.”
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