India is fast emerging as a starkly dichotomous social landscape. Where on one hand an astounding number of #MeToo appeared on my Facebook newsfeed, how boardrooms are not the best behaved places, how most wives wish their husbands would understand them better; my biggest enablers have been men in my family!
I have never shied away from speaking openly about how as a (1) a single founder, (2) a single woman, (3) a single woman founder, my entrepreneurial journey has been very, very tough.
I have been threatened with rape and murder by a dissonant vendor thrice over the phone. I have had gun-touting goons enter my factory premises twice demanding money for “charity”, when we had none to give. I have been called a b**ch by ex-employees and asked to my face what right I had to fire them. I have been hurled profanities at and threatened about my safety during what one expected to be a professional, business related conversation.
Funnily, I have often been introduced as the daughter of so and so (while I am hugely proud of my parents), despite having a top-tier MBA and having proven my mettle as a businessperson and then again as a businesswoman. After all, I did run a business that was $2 million in annualised revenue run rate with less than $1 million invested within 24 months of setting up.
People will not believe how many times I have been asked “What does daddy do?” and I have responded with “nothing!” out of sheer exasperation.
Investors who I have pitched to, who declined funding my company KAARYAH, did not hesitate from telling me how “fit, formal and fashionable” I was “just like your brand”. How they were concerned that in a skirt my legs would show and that it wasn’t right given I worked on a factory floor. Some have expressed openly how they are surprised I don’t seem rattled.
Or for that matter, how a single woman who is an entrepreneur may fall in love with a guy in New York and then their investment may be damned. During my first pitch — to an Angel Network — in 2014, a gentleman yelled from the corner of a room of 80 people. “Tell her she is not getting funded here!” – it was unbelievable.
You can imagine what a contrast this was to what I thought of business leadership by women or what a woman’s place in the world was becuase I was raised amongst 13 boys. I was the only girl child on the paternal side of the family, but I never felt any different from others. I was director, strategy, to a Fortune 100 Industrial Goods company where the global head of strategy was a woman. My friends who are women are all very well-placed women who are now India business leaders or function heads of multinationals.
All my sisters-in-law are women who live their lives at their own terms and the rest of the family fully supports that. My KAARYAH team, which was 80% women was fierce and family-like and I respect them for that.
My friends who are guys do not just look at me as one of them but seek my counsel on business and life matters just as I do theirs'. My career advisors are all truly empathetic men. My father enabled me in every way possible to live life on my own terms all towards the single outcome of my health and happiness. He continues to drill into me when I get swayed by emotions that I must deal with this life like it’s my own.
The only way I settle with this dichotomy is that I have made peace with the fact that I am not supposed to have it easy where very few of us have set out to prove we can, just as anyone can; and I am grateful that I have a home and friends who I can come to, to let that armor down where I am sure I am not just secure but enabled unconditionally.
Nidhi Agarwal is an Entrepreneur in Residence at Your Nest Venture Fund. Up till recently she was the Founder & CEO of KAARYAH, a tech enabled brand of western wear for women. Nidhi’s columns will take a deep look at the world of women entrepreneurship from the vantage of her experience.