“She did it, so can I – is our mission” Tarana Gupta, Founder of Connectedreams

“She did it, so can I – is our mission” Tarana Gupta, Founder of Connectedreams

Some people give up on their dreams very easily and compromise with the situation and circumstances. At the same time there are few rare brave hearts who just do not give up on their dreams and keep it alive in some form or the other and also help others achieve their potential against all odds. Tarana Gupta, Founder of Connectedreams, is one such brave-heart who is helping women achieve their career ambitions by connecting them with a network of people who had chosen a similar career path!

 

1.Tarana, tell our readers about your venture Connectedreams? 

Connectedreams is an online data-driven networking platform aimed at bridging the role model and mentorship gap for young Indian women.

Our mission is to promote the feeling of "She did it, so can I".

We aim at a newer and advanced outlook towards mentor-mentee relationships that is best suited for the incredibly fast and crazy 21st century we live in.  People can now easily expand their networks and perspectives by meeting/speaking with others they have a lot in common with, but didn't know such people existed.

Connectedreams’ algorithms connect people with their best fit role models and mentors through 1-on-1 recommendations whom they can relate to aspirationally, culturally, demographically, and professionally. 

You can connect with many mentors instead of just one, and then approach a problem you face with many perspectives instead of just one. The Connectedreams’ app provides you the chat feature but you know the best and decide to connect via video or phone call or even meet in person to pick from different brains.

For instance, even your 20 minute calls with a person can turn into a lifelong connection, or even a short conversation or chat can be the solution to your queries.

 

2.Tell us about your journey of becoming an entrepreneur. What was the reaction of the society, were your parents sceptical. And how did you overcome them?

 

I never wanted to become an entrepreneur.  Before last year I had never pictured myself starting a venture on my own.  Nonetheless, the idea for Connectedreams was born when I attended Clay Shirky’s “Hacking Higher Ed” class back in 2014. Ideas like “traditional schools are obsolete” were being tossed around (especially after a guest lecture by Kio Stark, the author of “Don’t Go To School”).

 I found it very troubling especially in context of South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh etc. College/ Higher Education is important for girls/young women in order to empower them. They give us a possible escape route so we can make decisions for ourselves.

 College lets us step out of our comfort zone, our parents’ protection and their guidance. It is like a melting pot of cultures and lets us make friends outside our own community and our locality, especially if we migrate to a different city to attend college.  One can interact with many new interesting people with diverse perspectives. Diversity doesn’t just remain a textbook term when you go to college, but becomes a wonderful part of your reality and an experience as you find new role models in your friends and teachers.

 It also got me thinking that not all of us in India are so lucky to find mentors either in their local family circles or within extended network at school/college.

 After graduating from NYU and over the next year or so, while I was working at MIT, I couldn’t help but constantly think about ways to solve the problem of “mentorship gap” for women.

 I come from a small city (Sonipat) and I understand the immense potential that lies in young Indian women. All they need is a nudge at the right time.  Indian women, especially in second and third tier cities,  don’t have many relatable role models to look up to and get stuck in traditional societal and family roles after ,and sometimes without,  completing their education.

About 4 out of 5 female undergraduates never join the workforce. While a large role is played by societal pressure to get married ‘timely’, it is also because they never meet women who have overcome these odds to fulfil their ambitions. Also in contrast, there are many Indians doing exceptionally well professionally. However, there are no means to connect with them for guidance/ advice if you don’t know they exist.

Another troublesome aspect of the problem of lack of guidance is that it afflicts people who have the best education and resources at their disposal too. Many professionals are hesitant to reach out to experienced co-workers and seniors as they might be busy, or may not even reply.

Also, mentors are needed not only for young women but also for their parents to see possibilities that are beyond what is “conventional” and “acceptable” to them.

I spent many sleepless nights worried that no one is working to solve this problem.

We have various websites here in India to get two strangers married.  But there is no website that people can exclusively use for creating their personal knowledge source, by connecting with many like-minded people. The irony never fails to amaze me.

Another interesting anecdote that helped me solidify my belief in the power of networking with right people at the right time was when my parents pressured me to get married back in 2012. They set up meetings with prospective grooms, while all I thought about was how I can learn from their professional experiences and expanding my connections. Some of them became my friends and I learnt a lot from them. All of them were working in prestigious organizations and some of them were doing interesting research. While marriage was off the cards for me that time, I ended up interacting with many cool strangers who shared their work with me and taught me a lot.

That is when the idea of Connectedreams came to me.

You can read about the research that went behind the idea of Connectedreams here:

https://medium.com/readers-writers-digest/how-can-we-empower-human-networks-to-create-more-relatable-role-models-397c45b459d1#.adpetnto5

We also made a short video to express motivation behind Connectedreams:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjreqmIUBjs

There is always scepticism when you leave the comfort of a full time job to start out on your own. Most of this scepticism actually came from within, not from my parents or husband. My dad even offered seed funding.  My mom, since the beginning, had ingrained in me that I can do much better than I am doing currently and ultimately encouraged me.

I took up part time freelance projects a couple of days a week which helped me fund the initial development of Connectedreams. It took me a lot of trust in myself and I am glad I could muster it at that time.

 

3.You took a bold decision to take the risk of quitting an easy living life to being what you are today, what challenges did you face?

Working full-time on a startup is very isolating despite the fact that you are working with a team. Having previously worked at MIT, at times I missed building robots and solving new problems.

But then I started drawing strength from everything I could to help me power ahead. There are a lot of naysayers and you’re constantly bumping into roadblocks, like while working with a developer or while writing even a simple article in order to be able to execute your vision. I put blinders on at times and kept ploughing ahead. I keep telling myself that I have a vision and I will make it happen. It takes a lot of perseverance. I think once you’re clear with your vision, it is a lot easier to take steps one-by-one.

It took me time in the beginning to be clear about exactly what it was that I wanted to do,  what I wanted the brand to be, and who the customer was. Every time that I bumped into walls or had to make a decision - which is multiple times every single day -  it was  a lot easier after having a sense of  clarity around what Connectedreams’ vision was. It sounds very simple, but it’s not. Getting to the point where you’re super focused and clear about what you’re doing is hard because you always want to do more. 

Once I started, I had to work constantly with almost no breaks. There are no Saturdays or Sundays once you become self-employed. There are days when I work straight for 20 hours and hit the pillow with complete exhaustion!

At the same time, I am grateful as I have learned a lot. I have expanded my network and knowledge about things which I wouldn’t have otherwise like developing content, how to market and in the area of sales. Initially it was hard to work with different people with different skill sets but I think I have become better at people management as well.  Every day brings a new challenge, and I learn to take it in my stride.

 

4.What does your normal day begins with? And what motivates you to keep going?

I don’t have a fixed schedule as I work with a scattered team. Some people are working in India, some in Canada and some here in New York. My day starts with meetings that continue well into the afternoon.   I have to manage teams and wear a lot of hats in the process. On most days, I forget to eat breakfast, because of my jam-packed morning agendas and meetings. But on some days, I’ll give myself a break and have a 9 hour sleep

Being an entrepreneur comes with its fair share of blues. Every day I feel like quitting. I miss working on new technologies, building robots, and discussing politics with friends.  If you are a designer reading this, you will understand that after figuring out a strategy and a solution to a problem you want swift execution so that you can move on the next big challenge.

But then I receive mails like these:

“I saw your web portal and also the video featured on it. It's very inspirational. In the end, when the mother tells her daughter to take a hand from somebody who can help her, is a tender part where a person feels the warmth of being understood. I had multiple opportunities in the last two years to be a speaker at events but my mom simply told me not to with the reason that there was no need to attend them.

There were many things I wasn't permitted to do like attending the International Robocon, giving a TEDx talk, taking the CAT/GRE or even studying further.  Many of my memories are blurred as I don't wish to remember them. If I do I can't breathe even for a moment. I wanted to study out of my small hometown because I hated it.

I always had a crazy childhood dream to create a hologram computer. I thought it would be realized if I ever got a chance to be at the MIT Media Lab. Right now I am learning and working in the data science domain but somehow it's too difficult because I never get time to study. I am expected to learn household stuff. I am just a simple girl from Nasik trying to explore the world. I am an average person and already came a long way that neither I nor anyone else could have dreamt about. A lot of times when people think about a career, I find myself thinking about how to live. Some dreams are crazy. A data scientist, a researcher, just a girl or a dead soul. I don't know what I will be.”

Such stories keep me going.

Oh! By the way, she is a part of our team now :)

 

5.How important is family support in this journey? How well has your husband and father supported you? Give this piece of advice to other fathers, brothers and husbands.

 

I told my dad once that I am very tired of doing this. It is 24x7 work and that soon I will have to raise money.

He said “How much are you looking to raise? Make me your partner.  Also, it’s always good to be busy and nothing happens in this world easily. You have to struggle. “

I was really amazed that my dad was saying all that. Couldn't stop smiling the whole day!

Our husbands and fathers are our natural mentors and give advice/help unconditionally.  They didn’t have it easy themselves in a world that still views men as the “bread-winners” or the providers. They understand the struggle and have been under a lot of pressure too.   It’s very important they hold our hands at places and help us cross hurdles.

I never shied away from asking either as I never felt that there was/is anything wrong is accepting that there are many things I don’t know.

My husband is my permanent mentor, both emotionally and work wise. He has been a constant support throughout.  He even lets me know when I am acting like a bitch :P

 

6.Do you realize that you have broken a number of social taboos? For instance, "Ambitious women are not good mothers" etc. What do you have to say about people believing in such things?

I am still not a mother but have been under a  constant pressure from both our parents to be one. I really can’t comment on this question since I am terrified of such a big responsibility as well.

I  respect my mother a lot  and all the mothers who raise their kids every day. Kids are like projects that you can’t drop midway  if something goes  wrong, and  say “I am done with this. “

I have grown up watching women who are homemakers and those who have worked hard to maintain their careers after motherhood.  Both of these kinds of women are equally inspirational and devoted to do the best they can. However, I have also seen that people, especially women themselves, judge each other a lot. Homemakers are judged for being financially dependent while working moms are judged for not giving sufficient time to their families.

 I have always believed in the power of collaboration to bring each other forward  and that being a homemaker is as wonderful as being a working wife and mother. If women could bring an end to this hostility among themselves, we can go miles ahead in the right direction. 

 

7.What sacrifices have you made in your personal life to be a successful womenpreneur.

I’ve been very lucky to get a supportive family and much more supportive husband.

I do miss being social, just having a cup of tea in the evening with work friends  and talking about world politics, current affairs  and culture which I used to love doing while being at my job.

I also find myself pressed for time a lot. Sometimes I don’t get time to take care of myself or go out and be carefree.

 

8.What are the biggest challenges that you face in work (Product, strategy, hiring, selling etc.)

I have been told that I am bossy. If a command comes out of a man, he is called ambitious. If the same words come from a woman, she is tagged as “bossy” and “demanding”.

 It is very hard to work with Indian men as some of them are conditioned to not take a woman in charge seriously. When I was hiring developers, one of the developers asked if I will actually release the application or is it just a class assignment. I have been asked multiple times whether I am running it alone and that my husband must be helping me.

Yes, he helps me an hour a month when I reach out to him for feedback.

And yes I am running the full operation!

 

9.Tell us a little about how you have grown as a person in this journey.

I think I have become more grounded. I don’t get anxiety attacks anymore if we miss a deadline or two. Building a company is a lot like running a marathon, not a short sprint. You have to constantly evaluate when to be patient, and take your time and when to speed up.

I also understand my co-workers better in terms of what drives them and what excites them. It is absolutely critical to work on your idea and understand how to come closer to your vision with each passing day.

 

10.Please do give a small piece of advice for future women entrepreneurs.

There is always an opportunity to learn and reinvent yourself.  I’d encourage women to be open to different opportunities. I feel anybody can do anything if they are passionate about it. Don’t be afraid to go after what you love, even if it means changing your career. It is okay to explore new paths. All you need is perseverance and a lot of hard work.

Look for many mentors and differing opinions. Multiple people who are experts in what they do. The point of all these diverse sources to draw inspiration from is that you get clarity about what you want with your life. Learn from their failures and their success. They have been in your shoes too before and are the most reliable source of insight on what the future can hold for you.

I also think that it’s super important to be open to trying different opportunities and to keep learning, especially in today’s world. It is changing so fast every single day that you have to be willing to embrace it and learn whatever is coming your way. Identify what those opportunities are and go after them. I don’t think anything can stop a woman, neither age nor experience.

 

Website Link: connectedreams.com

Your Fb Profile Link: https://www.facebook.com/tarana.gupta

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taranagupta

Your Twitter Handle: @taranagupta

Startup Fb Handle: https://www.facebook.com/connectedreams/

Startup Twitter Handle:@connectedreams

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