Voices

8 Things the Lockdown Taught Me as a Startup Founder and Single Mom

Arundhati Kumar launched her new sustainable accessories brand Beej just before lockdown hit. Here's what she learnt.

By Arundhati Kumar

During my corporate career, every year end, I would sit with the team and review our performance for the year while we set goals for the next. As a performance consultant I have facilitated multiple such sessions. It’s easy to do this for others, but awfully hard when you are doing it for yourself. It requires extreme honesty and the ability to be passionate yet pragmatic at the same time.

In October 2019, I gave up on my 17-year career as an HR professional to start my own fashion brand of sustainable accessories. With no prior experience in either business or fashion, many called it a foolish move, while I called it being ‘foolishly brave’.

Foolish because my entire life was in a bit of an upheaval then – I was going through a messy divorce, my daughter was just nine and upsetting a stable career that I had painstakingly built didn’t seem very wise. Brave because, despite it all, I had to try, and to me it seemed as good a time as any other.

Arundhati and her daughter Ekvira

I launched Beej in January 2020, and invested my entire savings in opening my own design studio in Mumbai. In retrospect, what a year it has been to start a business! However, I truly believe that no other year would have pushed me as hard, which actually makes it the perfect year. Old habits die hard, so here I am, reviewing my learnings and sharing my takeaways.

Celebrate small wins: I haven’t done enough of that this year but I want to start. As a founder, I am responsible for the team’s morale and that starts with my own. Little wins – that first big corporate order, that new design that got us international mention, that one media article we always wanted and a glowing customer review – are all wins that we should have patted ourselves on the back for. It’s always good to keep your eye on the bigger goal, but if you stop enjoying the journey and the moments that come with it, it’s no fun.

Resist the urge to compare: Much easier said than done. In a world where social media drives perception, resist the urge to continuously compare your likes, followers and engagement to that of others. I’ve done a lot of it this year and it really serves no purpose other than to psyche you into thinking everybody else is doing so much better. That’s not really true… They may just be projecting better.

Arundhati at Beej

Stop believing it’s all in your control: Hasn’t this been the single largest learning for everyone this year? There will be delays and hold ups and sometimes we can do little about it. Business requires us to work and collaborate with many people and there are times things don’t go according to plans or set timelines. It will happen… learn to work around it rather than fret about it.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help: I have learnt you can never do it all alone, and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Be it reaching out to a neighbour to drop my daughter for football because her classes clashed with an important meeting or asking a friend to help with the number crunching while I worked on my business plan, a lot of the support I got this year was because I wasn’t shy to ask.

Keep learning: Sustainability is a very new space and I had to research extensively and educate myself before I got started but I quickly learnt that’s not enough. Learning is a continuous process and the good thing is, information is easily accessible today.

I follow some great Instagram handles, blogs, online magazine resources and open courses that help me understand the space and teach me something new every day. While it’s very hard to make time between being a full-time mom and running a business, I consider this as an investment.

Arundhati with artisans at work

Allow yourself to fail and make mistakes: Nothing prepares you for entrepreneurship and if you are a single founder, it’s often harder. The decisions are yours, along with the successes and failures that come with it.

Make no mistake, you will make mistakes. Don’t be too harsh on yourself if you do. Learn from them, don’t repeat them and continue to make new ones. There will be days you will want to curl up on the couch and not go into the office (I’ve had a few of them this year), and it’s okay – take that time, as long as you show up the next day.

When you hear no consider it a ‘delayed yes’: When you send that email and there is no response or someone you reach out to refuses you because you are still too small to be interesting, it’s okay. In business when you hear a no, consider it as a ‘delayed yes’.

I’ve had multiple instances this year when we were rejected and written off initially; however, the same people came back to us a few months later.

Trust in your kids: If you are a single parent like me, there will be moments of acute guilt, times when we are just unable to balance our roles and their demands. It’s okay to prioritise different things at different times – it doesn’t make you any less of a mother or a leader. Speak to your child and you will be surprised. We often underestimate our children and their ability to step up when we need them.

Every entrepreneur’s journey is different with its own set of challenges. Every step takes enormous courage and self-belief. When you have that, the rest just falls into place.

First published in eShe’s January 2021 issue

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