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This Women's Day, A Big Thank You To The Men

My startup success story would not be the same without men who had faith in a pregnant woman with no experience!

08/03/2017 12:37 PM IST | Updated 08/03/2017 5:18 PM IST
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I know that International Women's Day is all about celebrating women and how we've gotten so far as a gender, but I wanted to shine the light on the fabulous men who support the women in their lives. A heartfelt thank you to all the men who have stood by us—from the husband who drops his wife to the office to the man who puts the kids to bed so that their mother can study for her upcoming foreign services exam, and to the friend who stands up for you when the college bully thinks it's ok to harass women. Today, on International Women's Day, I'll talk about some of the challenges that I faced along the way—the ones that have shaped my journey as a startup entrepreneur. But most importantly, I want to talk about all the men who've been immensely consequential in the voyage. The ones that have led me to believe that every supporter makes a difference, be it a man or a woman.

When I started mydala, I was three months pregnant... My founding team members, mostly males, took a pay cut to work at the dental clinic that served as our office.

When I started mydala, it was just me and my idea. I started it when I was three months pregnant so technically it was me, my idea and another little one yet to be born. I'm not sure I realised back then how fortunate I was to get co-founders who are my biggest champions and a founding team who believed in the idea of mydala. To put it in perspective, in 2009 startups were not the cool thing. My founding team members, most of whom were males, took a pay cut to come to a dental clinic, which functioned as our office. This made them either seriously crazy or amazing people—who I am, now in hindsight, eternally grateful to. This amazing belief of the mad cool bunch has led me up to a path that has been beyond my imagination. It is what has made mydala what it is—a strong, stable company in times of uncertainty in the startup world.

Knowing that you are surrounded by a strong team that has undying faith in your dreams in spite of coming from different backgrounds gives an entrepreneur the push to achieve the extraordinary. And if you hear mydala's story you'll know that our survival and market domination is nothing short of extraordinary. In our initial days we became popular quickly and had three term sheets. Of the three term sheets, we went ahead with the one that we thought would give us great growth and great distribution. But the outcome was strikingly different. A week before the money was being transferred, the investors ended up calling to say that they had issues with one of the founders and weren't sure if the deal could go through. This is after three months of diligence and adding of people according to them. It felt like a wedding being called off! It was devastating.

I had just given birth and there was so much uncertainty. I'll be lying if I say the thought of packing our bags never crossed our minds.

We didn't know how we were going to support our team; we took the last of our savings and put that to use. It was actually the darkest period ever because I had just given birth and there was so much uncertainty. Fifty-two competitors including Snapdeal that was then in the deals space, on the other hand, kept creating a lot of buzz in the market. I'll be lying if I say the thought of packing our bags never crossed our minds. But the best thing about having strong co-founders, and a good team is the strength that binds you in dark times. We built out alliances, again with the help of supportive partners who were predominantly male, but kind enough to work with a small startup to innovate.

Of course, there have been challenges as a woman—and I won't downplay those. Truth is that there are biases. As entrepreneurs, we are always trying to raise funds; by the time I had my second baby, I think people were just used to seeing more women out there so it got better and the process was less biased. But during my first, in 2009, everybody had an opinion about my pregnancy. Inconsequential queries came my way—from how long I'd be pregnant to views on how I would definitely not work post having a baby. I also heard that I was too pregnant... till then I didn't know there were degrees of pregnancy. I always thought you were either pregnant or not!

We built out alliances, again with the help of supportive partners who were predominantly male, but kind enough to work with a small startup to innovate.

Fortunately or unfortunately, it turns out biases are not unique to India. Working in the US, I faced plenty of awkward situations too. One thing that I actively learnt was that if someone speaks inexplicably about you, call them out publicly. When you do that, it changes the equation. But, it is not just about being a woman facing problems in the big bad world. If you are an entrepreneur, challenges come with the package. They might be challenges of a different kind but the initial days of any venture is more about guts and less about glory. Any entrepreneur can attest to this. What drives us is the high of tackling those challenges. The challenges keep changing with the scale of the business but they are always there. For instance, with mydala, first the challenge was to recruit the right people, then it was funding, and now, it is all about how to get global, and which countries to expand to. Challenges are not going anywhere, what is required is that we don't stop, which only happens when you have a great support structure, be it the men or women in your life... preferably both.

In the gamut of dotcoms and startups, mydala is akin to the tortoise that had a slow start with all the hurdles; we were really at the back of the race. The rest were ahead of us, getting all the applause, which now, to think of it, has led to a burnout. We had to figure out a path to survival, to profitability and what did this for us was the change in the game. I think our ability to look at challenges with more clarity was also different, because at that point, every decision was big. And now that we know that existence is not questioned, it's really about how big you are going to grow, and if you are willing to take all the risks.

I don't just mean [just the support of] our husbands, boyfriends, fathers—I mean the colleagues, the friends, the merchant who gave you the first deal...

Back to the point that I was making, though, for most of us women—and I take the liberty of generalising for the women on my team, since I know their stories—I know they have all thrived on the support men who have known us have shown. I don't just mean our husbands, boyfriends, fathers—I mean the colleagues, the friends , teachers , the merchant who gave you the first deal because they believed in you, the uncle who extended credit at your dhaba because he knew you were working hard and would pay him back for the food; to the investors who back women, Nirbhaya's friend who stood up for her, Keenan and Rueben who stood up for a group of girlfriends, and to many more who do the same on a daily basis.

This article is a big thank you to all the men who have stood by us. To the uncle who took time out to write a handwritten letter to tell me that he cut out my article to show his daughter, knowing that lit a fire in me to be a better person; to my dad and dad-in-law who believed that I would get it together; to my ex-driver who sent his daughter to college when people said he was making a mistake; to my friend's husband who takes their kids to school. This is a shout-out to the all the supportive men; may you be them.

Of course, I can't sign off without wishing all the fabulous women I know—Happy International Women's Day. May we be the change we want to see. To the women at mydala, my appreciation for you all will be in person at the all-girls happy hour today.

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