You cannot learn swimming by looking at a swimming pool - Ruche Mittal, Founder, HEN India
Can you kindly introduce yourself to our readers?
Ruche: I have many roles, both as a person and as a professional. As a person I am a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a wife, a sister and so many things. Professionally I am a graphic designer and an entrepreneur. After my schooling in Kolkata I wanted to pursue Psychology as a career and for that I wanted to go to Bangalore but my parents refused to let me. So I decided not to graduate right then because I wanted to do something that interested me. That led me to dabble in graphic design and I enrolled for a course in Kolkata. Within 3 or 4 months I won a competition and earned my first income for a logo design which gave me the taste for freelancing. Since then I have been working and studying simultaneously.
You were selected for the Goldman Sachs 10K Women initiative? Tell us more about this initiative and how did it help you?
Ruche: I initiated ideaPerfect Communication in Kolkata before my marriage and we were a team of 4 to 5 people then. I had comitted lots of mistakes in my business and had experienced cash crunch. After my marriage got fixed I shifted to Bangalore while simultaneously I was learning things about business. I shut down the physical ideaPerfect office in Kolkata and started running my company virtually. I had a lot of questions regarding cash flow, team management and profits etc. When I was looking for an answer to my problems I came across Goldman Sachs 10K Women Initiative, a programme to educate 10,000 women entrepreneurs all over the world. This programme helped me understand a lot about business. When I was exposed to this sea of information I realised many of my other women friends who were working and had similar business problems could benefit from this .This is when the idea for HEN – Her Entrepreneurial Network - originated.
What made you start HEN India?
Ruche: I feel as a woman we juggle between lots of roles and this leaves most of us with very little time for work. I always felt if there could be a space where a woman meets only and only to talk, learn, share, discuss business – it would be nice. It would give a platform for people to get exposed to lots of learning and provide solutions and opportunities. We initiated the network on 5th Jan, 2011 and now we are over 1500+ members in the group.
Our mission statement is – Her Entrepreneurial Network is a platform to bring indian women entreprenerus together to inspire, inform and support each other to create successful businesses along with balance lives.
Is HEN a commercial venture or a not for profit venture or is it a social but self sustaining enterprise?
Ruche: Currently we are not making any profit however we are working to create a business model around HEN. Whatever money we earn goes into the running operations of the organisation.
How does HEN empower an Indian businesswoman? Why should a woman entrepreneur consider joining this network?
We create value to our members through three things: inspiration, information and support. We inspire each other with day to day business activities – the success stories shared here inspires the other women, that others around are making it big. Women are also inspired by the way a certain problem was handled and can learn from it. The exchange of information helps them to find solutions faster than they would get from researching on the internet. It’s easier for them to reach out to a wider group of people. They get support in the form of correct references and leads– they won’t have to go anywhere else, they can just talk among each other and get whatever they want in terms of information and help.
We also conduct many workshops and seminars addressed to smaller groups (max. 20 per group ) and we teach business skill sets to women entrepreneurs.
We hold networking meets, workshops and seminars in different Indian cities/towns. We identify the problems that women face and we tailor workshops around these problems. We customise the sessions and make them flexible and affordable.
Tell us a heartening success story of any one of the members of HEN.
Ruche: A success that comes to mind is a pair of entrepreneurs from Kolkata, one was a photographer and one runs a design agency. Once they joined HEN they connected with each other and have done a number of projects together and are great friends. So professionally and personally both benefited greatly.
How does one join your initiative? Do you have a physical office?
Ruche: The world is a smaller place thanks to technology, so we operate virtually. We have a page on Facebook where our community discusses issues and solutions, our members are all entrepreneurs who run businesses and a small percentage are aspiring entrepreneurs. We share stories, info on Facebook and notify the community of workshops and events. We also send out email notifications to our members – and that’s how our community is a fast growing one!
What is one common challenge you have observed which most women entrepreneurs face?
Ruche: Time management is a huge concern for all women, across the board and they need information on how to handle time better and how to divide their time equally in such a way that will benefit their work. I am sure men also face this problem, but again, I reiterate, a woman has far more responsibilities on her plate than a man. If today, I have guests coming over I probably have to take leave to cook or prepare for them but my husband can choose to go to office.
Do men entrepreneurs also face a similar challenge or is it specific to women entrepreneurs? Why did you make this group specifically for women?
Ruche: There are already so many groups for all entrepreneurs and we decided to make it only woman because women will understand what other women are facing. They juggle so many things all at once – the home, family, time and their own selves along with their business. A man is not so involved in housework and tiffin making and taking care of guests as much as a woman is – she has to give priority to such things as well as her own business. That is why we wanted a space solely for women. For example for men it is easy to commit to a workshop which lasts for say two complete whole days morning till evening. For a woman this might not be possible since she has to take care of her family’s needs and can’t be away for the entire day. Our workshops are tailored to meet these needs. We collect the data in advance to make optimum use of time and our workshops flexible according to availability. We are always trying to be extremely accommodating.
What would be your message to thousands of women who toy with the idea of starting a business but are still sitting on the fence?
Ruche: You cannot learn swimming by looking at a swimming pool can you? You need to dive in and that is what all aspiring women entrepreneurs should do. India is a hub of activity for entrepreneurship and there are many women who are running businesses from tiny nooks and crannies – you do not need a large space to begin with or a lot of finances. You can always start small. There has been a significant increase in opportunities for both women and men and women are taking the lead as they are coming up with interesting and innovative ideas. Be proactive. The time to start something new is now.