Women are taking the world by storm. Today’s story is about one such woman, a mother of two, CEO, and founder of India’s largest discount coupon site and self-proclaimed Queen of Averages. Her venture MyDala.com describes the fire-spirited sardarni as Hurricane Anisha.
In a long conversation with KenFolios, Anisha Singh shares her life experiences, twists and turns in the journey of making MyDala, and how she pitched in the idea when she was four-months pregnant.
I grew up in a typical Sikh joint family, in Delhi. I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents, as my parents were busy building a life. My father had just started his own business and we were going through a tough time. He worked in Air Force, so I studied in the Air Force school.
As a child, I was an average student. When I went to college, I felt like I have made a big mistake. It was an excellent college, in Delhi, but I was not encouraged by the teachers, because I was just average. It was hard for me to be constantly reminded that I have limited talent.
I swore to myself at a very early age that I will never be an entrepreneur, as I saw my father going through a lot of hardship when he started his business. We did not have money even to pay my fees. It seemed like a tough life to me. I was not motivated and had zero ambition. One day, my cousin told me about Discovery Channel, and I happened to bag an internship with them. While I was working with them, I realized that the world was slightly bigger than I thought.
After a few days, I took a chance and applied in the American University for the Political Communication programme. They were number three in the US. Surprisingly, I got through and my parents let me go happily because a post-graduation would increase my chances of finding a good husband.
After I attended one elective class in the business school, instead of doing an MA, I ended up doing MBA. Fortunately, I met a professor who kept me pushing me and that’s how I found myself. I figured out that I, too, have a voice and brain, and I could use it. The more I used it, the more I wanted to be someone.
In the business school, I saw phenomenal women entrepreneurs. I started interning with one of them named Julie Holdren. In my head, Julie could walk on water. She had twin babies, ran a startup with a staff of 400 people, and used to do 30 pushups. I knew I wanted to be like her. I have heard that there are a few moments that define you, change you, or make you, and that was the moment in my life when I ended up finding myself.
My parents were horrified. People would tell them that I am over-qualified to get a suitable groom. However, they also realized that I have found a voice, and learned to respect and encourage it.
While in business school, I started working for Clinton administration on an initiative that helped women entrepreneurs to raise funds. That job changed me. It opened my eyes to see some amazing women who saw no limits. The more women I came across, the more it fascinated me. I worked there for four years.
I got two job offers during that time. One from Washington DC and the other from Boston. I decided to go to Boston. It was a very lonely time, as I had moved myself overnight to a white town where I was the only brown person. Although, it was the best learning experience. I started worked with an e-learning company. After four years, I felt that I wanted to come back to India and do something of my own. So, I came back in 2005 and started working on KINIS (her first venture).
I realized that watching your head does not translate into a great business case. In my mind, the company was going to be an overnight success. However, I had to put my savings in it. There were nights I spent crying because I had no money to give salary. Fortunately, I had some goodwill built in the US. We started getting projects from the digital content space and after some time, KINIS became a profitable company and signed a joint venture with a US-based company.
After four years, in 2009, I started looking for other things. I had moved back to the US, got married, and was looking up for work. When I was exploring different aspects, MyDala just fell into my lap. Essentially, the only industry that had taken off in India back then was the travel industry, where you had to take an online ticket and you got and offline experience of travelling in the plane.
At that time, Groupon had just started up in the US and it seemed like a great idea to take to India. That was when I came back.
I met Deep Kalra of MakeMyTrip and explained what I wanted to do, and he was very encouraging. Back in 2009, a pregnant woman trying startup was not the coolest thing. However, we did it and it just took a different trajectory. We started in a small space, which was shared with my mother’s dental clinic.
Being a women entrepreneur in any part of the world has its own set of challenges. In India, I think it is more because we have started talking about it now. Back in 2009, there were just three women. The other two do not work with the same company they started with anymore. Therefore, it was very rare to see a woman entrepreneur in the dotcom space.
I used to be judged on everything, be it trying to go out and raise funding when I was pregnant or multi-tasking. People would express concern for my children, suggest my co-founders to expel me from my own firm. However, I had the good fortune of having great co-founders who believed in me.
Many people get intimidated thinking they are not good enough because they have not been to IITs or IIMs. This is not true at all and I know that now, more than anything. The criteria for success is always defined by the person. As they say, it is not the size of the dog in a fight; it is the fight of a dog.
Today, Anisha’s venture MyDala is valued at over Rs 1,000 crore. She is an inspiration to all the people, and specially for those who get intimidated by what people and the society says. She has conquered all odds and is working relentlessly to encourage other women.