For Women in India, Are Start-Ups a Tougher Climb?
Nidhi Aggarwal – Founder & CEO, Kaaryah
New Delhi: For 34-year-old Nidhi Aggarwal, it was her frantic search for a simple white shirt after she spilled coffee on herself right before a business meeting that gave her big inspiration to launch a start-up in September 2013.
“It was something so hard to get that I wondered if I was the only one, or there were other women as well who look out for well fitted, western and non-casual wear. The idea of Kaaryah, kind of came from there,” she says.
But on her way from idea to implementation, Nidhi soon found out that in the start-up world, while it doesn’t hurt to be a woman, it certainly helps to be a man. Before getting a yes from the biggest names for her project, she was turned down 113 times.
Kaaryah completely reinvented the way sizing was approached by women. We developed an algorithm ‘What’s my size” which helps a buyer to discover her right fit using a measure of her bust, waist, and hips; and secondly its data analytics software studies fashion trends, consumer behavior and feedback to decide on what kind of products to have on the site. The algorithm of ‘What’s my Size’ also promises upto 85 per cent accuracy in sizing, according to Agarwal. On the back end, we are only making what the customer wants. And we go from order to dispatch in 48 hours,” she added.
Although India’s information technology boom was a tide that lifted all boats, for any sustained growth and achievement, innovators still have to shine through challenges and prove their potential before they are in the clear.
According to a NASSCOM report, India is the world’s youngest start-up nation with 72 per cent founders of new ventures younger than 35 years. Fresh graduates, many from top tier colleges, are choosing the start-up way instead of the usual route of taking up a lucrative job with a multinational corporation.
But there’s more to the sunny start-up mythology than meets the eye. Many quickly find out that it’s all about frustration, chaos and iterative experimentation. Only a very small fraction of start-ups succeed and most fade away in a blink. And challenges multiply when you are not from the right gender.
“The largest problem I faced was the ability to gather funds. My friends and family put in all they had in terms of my seed fund,” she says, adding that most investors declined funding to her company because it was led by a woman.
However, there was light at the end of the tunnel. “The Saha Fund invested in us. This year Mr Ratan Tata himself invested in our venture,” she says.
Things have changed since the first rush of success the IT world witnessed has settled down. Today, India is a relatively young country, with quite a lot of global exposure. The nation is impatient, and hungry to succeed, like never before.
But the gender divide remains an issue. Even in India’s tech capital Bengaluru, a mere 6 per cent of start-ups are women-owned, a study shows. Thankfully, though, that tide is turning. In 2015, several women-run start-ups besides Kaaryah, such as LimeRoad, Zivame, CashKaro, and media tech companies like YourStory and POPxo and women-only job portal Sheroes have attracted investments and are scaling business significantly. Ultimately, it’s sheer mettle and tenacity that counts.
“We have proven stability even through the toughest times. We were not funded for a year but Kaaryah didn’t shut down. So Kaaryah has a track record of giving incoming folks a sense that it is not a start-up that gives up easily,” Nidhi says.