How to do a steady job with a part-time startup

What are part-time startups and why are millennials doing them?

Since June 2017, Bengaluru-based Saswati Suchipadma has led a hectic life. She is a full-time technology consultant in a multinational company and runs a handmade jewellery start-up. “I have meetings with clients in the US, and deadlines both at office and with my personal business clients,” says the 26-year-old. “All my free time during weekdays and weekends goes into designing jewellery and marketing my brand over Facebook and WhatsApp.”

It’s like keeping two jobs together, says Suchipadma. However she doesn’t want to quit either. “My technology job is what I studied for and the start-up is my passion, what my mother taught me,” she says, “and now I’ve learnt to manage both together efficiently.” Her manager at work has also accepted the start-up since her work hasn’t suffered. In addition, Suchipadma feels being in a job is actually good for the start-up as she gets more clients for her jewellery designs.

Riding in two boats

A whopping 90% of Indian start-ups fail within the first five years, according to a study titled Entrepreneurial India by IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics in mid-2016. The most common reason for failure, according to the study, is lack of a unique business model and new technology.

Gurugram-based Aparajita Roy, a 28-year-old photographer and corporate trainer, is happy managing a start-up and a job while she learns more. “I am from a middle-class background and want financial stability in my venture before I quit my job,” she says.

Since five years, Roy has been working as a corporate trainer in a UK-based financial firm. Her start-up, an event planning and photography venture, began a little more than a year ago. The going has been good with 15 clients in one year, but not good enough for Roy to quit her job. “A full-time job guarantees regular pay and being in a corporate environment exposes me to a lot of business and networking tactics,” says Roy.

Your job can teach you how to run a business

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New ways that founders are doing business meetings

Startup founders are doing meetings in newer ways to save time, increase their efficiency and also be much more productive.

When Mithun Srivatsa, co-founder and CEO of Blowhorn, a logistics startup, began his company, he had a small office in HSR Layout in Bengaluru, which could seat only four people. “I did five meetings a day, and it got too stuffy being in a room all day long,” says the 34-year-old. That was the reason he moved meetings to a beautiful park nearby. “I’ve interviewed possible employees, held training sessions and discussed growth plans with angel investors, all in that park,” he says, adding that he loved the idea so much that he has continued doing what he calls ‘park meetings’ once every day, even though the startup has a bigger office now.

Founders get out of the office

“A park changes the mood, eases the context and gives you space for small talk. It’s better for heated discussions too,” he says, adding that all kinds of possibilities open up in a meeting at a park. In one such incident, Srivatsa recalls, he was interviewing for a possible senior role position on a park bench, when the meeting turned into a lengthy discussion about the startup’s vision and mission. “At the end of it, this person wanted to put in her own money into my startup,” he laughs.

Creative meetings are a walk in the park

A 2014 study from Stanford, agrees with Srivatsa. Upon researching on people meeting at offices versus walking, the study found that walking boosts creative inspiration and leads to divergent thinking, where you explore many possible solutions to a problem.

That’s the reason, like Srivatsa, Archit Gupta, founder and CEO, ClearTax, an income tax e-filing solution, keeps his Sunday meetings with his co-founder, Srivatsan Chari, at Cubbon Park, one of the popular public parks in Bengaluru. “As we talk about growth strategy, Srivatsan, plays with stray dogs,” says Gupta, 33. The relaxed atmosphere makes them come up with creative solutions for their business and also reconnects them over fond memories of growing up together. “Mobile meetings are not only good for blood circulation but great energy boosters and diminishes hierarchical boundaries, putting everyone at ease, allowing free flow of dialogue and creating stronger personal bonds,” says Gupta, who has since then turned a couple of his everyday meetings into walking meetings.

Archit Gupta (right) with a team mate at a park in Koramangala for a mobile meeting. Photo: Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint
Archit Gupta (right) with a team mate at a park in Koramangala for a mobile meeting. Photo: Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint

With international work teams and timing, and smartphones with applications like Zoom, Skype and even Whatsapp, meetings on the go are a norm. However, overwhelmed with a continuous stream of meetings and communication, people are taking innovative, individual routes to keep meeting fatigue at bay.

Don’t let location distract you

Bhavin Turakhia, founder of many startups like Flock and Zeta, has over 100 meetings, every month. Over the last couple of years, this self-confessed stickler for meeting productivity has taken individualization to the height, building customized workstations in all the offices he works from—at his home in Mumbai, as well as his offices in Mumbai, Dubai, London and Los Angeles. “I don’t like to waste time when I travel for meetings,” says the 38-year-old.

“This way, I literally, pick up from where I left off, no matter which office.” Turakhia has a “specification document”, which lists down what he needs in a customized chair, arm rest and desk, including a Benel-designed custom-made chair with dual motors and a sit-stand, seven-feet long desk, which costs anywhere between ₹ 80,000-Rs 1,50,000 per set. “I’ve customized this system over time, creating an exact configuration of three external monitors, monitor stands, exact lighting levels, video conference units and my distance from the entire arrangement.

This minimizes distractions for me, no matter where I’m working from,” he explains. Since travel time to his Mumbai office has increased, he has even had his Innova modified with a work/entertainment station that includes a monitor, so his meetings continue when he is stuck in Mumbai traffic jam.

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How do I set up a cooperative start-up in India?

The cooperative start-up structure is still a nascent idea in India. Every morning, Nirbheek Chauhan, 30, gets ready and heads to his office—another room in his apartment in Bengaluru. There, he connects with the other six members of his team, based out of UK, Greece, France and Australia, and starts work on his current project.

Chauhan works at the software consultancy Centricular, a flat-hierarchy, co-owned start-up, which is collectively managed by all its partners—who are employees as well. For clients, Centricular is a company like any other. It’s the internal set-up that sets it apart from the regular corporate model.

In cooperatives, all employees have a say

“In a cooperative, every member has a single vote, irrespective of how many shares they own in the company,” explains Chris Chroome, administrator for CoTech, the largest online forum for cooperative technologists in the UK, and a member of a software cooperative, WebArchitects.

In other words, it’s a democracy and all employees have an equal say. “Decisions are taken collectively, which means we are both the board of directors and employees of our company,” says Deepa Venkatraman, one of the founding members of Nilenso, a Bengaluru-based software consultancy founded in 2013. Venkatraman’s day-to-day routine is like anyone else’s: You work on a project, together or individually, and then shut down your laptop to spend time with friends and family.

What is a corporate cooperative?

But, rather than founders owning and operating the business, Nilenso, a “corporate cooperative”, as Venkatraman calls it, is owned by everyone. All 16 Nilenso members annually elect two executives who are responsible for making operational decisions, like staffing, facilitating meetings and interacting with external stakeholders.

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Did Amy Ingram just set up that meeting for you?

Amy Ingram is a secretary. She sets appointments and meetings. She works for top-level executives, including CEOs, in the IT, start-up and finance sectors. If you work in these industries, you’ve probably received an email from her.

But Amy is not a real person.

“She” is the creation of x.ai, a US-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) start-up, and was built for one purpose: scheduling meetings. For people like Karthik Palaniappan, 38, CEO and founder of August Academy, a career counselling start-up in Chennai, who has to work with 40 clients a year and set up an average of 25-35 calls a week, the AI assistant is a bargain at $29 (around ₹ 2000) a month. “I run a consulting business and have online meetings with clients from across the globe in different time zones. That’s two or three iterations before a meeting is set, which is quite cumbersome. With Amy, I’ve offloaded this mundane task,” he says.

Now all Palaniappan has to do is copy Amy on an email conversation with a client—the AI assistant takes over the scheduling part of a meeting seamlessly. Other than the ease, what he likes is that his contacts follow up with Amy thinking she’s a real person.

“Ninety per cent of the time, if I don’t tell the other person that Amy’s a bot, they don’t recognize from her emails that she’s a digital assistant,” he says.

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Employee engagement is a lot of work today

Employee engagement for millennials takes constant motivation, feedback and training.

Sudakshina Ghosh, team manager at SAP India in Gurugram, is happy with her 12-year-old job. The 39-year-old has been with the company since 2006. She has worked on assignments that range from sales and customer account management to building customer relationships, sales strategies and go-to-market strategies. “To deliver my best, I have to be engaged and encouraged,” says Ghosh. She credits SAP’s numerous programmes for professional development with ensuring she grows personally and professionally.

Shraddhanjali Rao, who works in HR at SAP India in Bengaluru, says her job is to cater to the personal and professional needs of employees like Gurugram-based Sudakshina Ghosh by helping them to access courses and other development tools at work. Photo: Jithendra M/Mint
Shraddhanjali Rao, who works in HR at SAP India in Bengaluru, says her job is to cater to the personal and professional needs of employees like Gurugram-based Sudakshina Ghosh by helping them to access courses and other development tools at work. Photo: Jithendra M/Mint
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Bonding turns colleagues into friends

Bonding is essential for workplace dynamics. When Debadutta Upadhyaya joined Yahoo! India in 2004, she hit it off with her hiring manager, Neville Taraporewalla, immediately. “He had a knack for detecting issues, was caring and took me under his wing, helping me learn things that helped me grow professionally as well as personally,” says 45-year-old Upadhyaya, who credits the guidance from Taraporewalla for her rise from an account manager to sales head in the company within three years.

In 2012, Upadhyaya started her own company, Timesaverz, a home services start-up. She approached her friend and mentor for advice and guidance. “He not only encouraged my entrepreneurial dream but also helped us secure initial capital and an angel investor for Timesaverz,” says Upadhyaya. This was the reason he was the first person she thought of when forming the board for Timesaverz.

Kwan Entertainment’s Nandita Sachdev (in blue) and Anirban Das Blah (second, from right) say that having a good work environment helps increase productivity. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Kwan Entertainment’s Nandita Sachdev (in blue) and Anirban Das Blah (second, from right) say that having a good work environment helps increase productivity. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
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Working abroad can boost your career

Working abroad broadens your mind. A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions, the saying goes. It’s no wonder, then, that working abroad, in a foreign country can be an incredible career experience.

According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review in May, living abroad increases self-concept clarity (your mental picture of who you are as a person), and thereby promotes clearer career decision making.

Working abroad makes you question

“When people live in their home country, they are often surrounded by others who mostly behave in similar ways so they are not compelled to question whether their own behaviours reflect their core values or the values of the culture which they are embedded in,” says Jackson G. Lu, professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, and one of the authors of the study. This changes when you live abroad, since exposure to newer values and beliefs forces you to re-examine yours.

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How Shivajinagar found itself in Anantya Tantrist

There’s something about some roads that change you as you walk through them, almost like they are portals to other worlds. A friend and I had been planning to create a heritage walk app and decided to explore Shivajinagar, Bengaluru, one Sunday afternoon for research.

After a satisfying ghee-filled masala dosa and coffee, we reached Shivajinagar and tumbled out on the Mariamman Temple circle. Afternoon was brisk business at the circle. Vendors called out, their carts loaded with flowers, bangles, footwear, cosmetics, and rusk. Bikes, cows and people wove around each other.

Vendors called out, their carts loaded with flowers, bangles, footwear, cosmetics, and rusk.

Did Plague Amma strike down Bangalore in wrath?

Legend has it that it was Plague Amma, as the goddess of this temple is colloquially known, who controlled the Great Plague, which hit Shivajinagar in the 19th Century.

We took the Shivaji Road off the circle, desirous to see Elgin Talkies, the hippest hangout in 1896 when it was turned from a theatre venue to a movie hall. Now, it’s a marriage hall, though the façade remains the same. We sneaked inside and found a caretaker who told us it used to be a ballroom before it became a cinema hall.

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Midlife career change can work, with a few challenges


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A midlife career switch can be a good idea—but be prepared for challenges along the way. In 2014, over a beer, childhood friends Kamal Karanth and Anil Kumar Ethanur decided to quit their high-paying jobs as managing directors of competing international staffing firms and start a business together.

“We never imagined we would start our own company,” says 45-year-old Ethanur, “but I saw entrepreneurship as the ultimate challenge and wanted to give it a shot.” Karanth felt his career was stagnating and wanted to tap into the fast-growing staffing industry, pegged to grow to a $20 billion (around ₹1.3 trillion) market in India. “We weren’t making any difference to our clients beyond filling their recruitment needs,” says 46-year-old Karanth.

Childhood friends Kamal Karanth (left) and Anil Kumar Ethanur quit high paying jobs as managing directors of international staffing firms in their 40s to start their own venture. Photo: Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint
Childhood friends Kamal Karanth (left) and Anil Kumar Ethanur quit high paying jobs as managing directors of international staffing firms in their 40s to start their own venture. Photo: Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint
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A millennial’s guide to negotiating a better salary

Never accept the first salary you’re offered, in desperation.  HR managers, and even hiring firms, are incentivised to keep hiring salaries low and negotiate hard with individuals. Which is why, the first and foremost rule for good negotiation is that you should be able to walk away if required, says Kanchan Mukherjee, professor, organizational behaviour and human resources management, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

“Desperation or your need for the job shows in your body language, how you speak, and that’s used by companies to hammer down salaries,” he explains. In India, with high competition for jobs, this desperation level is higher, giving an edge to companies.

“Our research shows that you will end up losing up to ₹2-4 lakh per annum on a base salary of ₹10 lakh if you don’t negotiate,” says Soujanya Vishwanath, co-founder, Pink Ladder, a career support company for women based in Bengaluru.

Start early

The negotiation starts with the first interview. “The interview is all about building your bargaining power,” says Mukherjee. “You need to make the company and the interviewer want you and realize the value you’ll bring. The more the company wants you, the better you will be at the salary negotiation stage.”

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