Your maternity leave is coming to an end, and you are frantically looking for a daycare centre that’s convenient, safe and trustworthy. What seemed like a simple enough task (after all you see daycare facilities dotting the roads all around town), appears impossible now that the well-being of your child is at stake.
Divya and Ketika saw this as a potential area where new parents needed help. But where others see problems, they sensed an opportunity and turned it into a successful business. ProEves, an online portal that aggregates, verifies and engages with preschools and daycare centres across India, services parents and corporates to finalise a childcare centre that meets their requirements.
We spoke to Divya Agarwal, a driven first-time businesswoman, and mommy of two, about her entrepreneurial journey.
Divya: So, I was a corporate workhorse (Ketika is also a workaholic par excellence!), but with motherhood, some priorities shift. I loved my work in HUL – the team and the work environment were fantastic, but I was itching to do something of my own. Naturally, both of us had discussed this idea of connecting parents to good daycares.
During my maternity leave (with my second child) I felt its now or never! So, in 2016, Ketika and I bootstrapped our company and started our business with our little kids sleeping beside our desks!
Divya: A lot of parents don’t know what to ask or check when they go scouting for daycare facilities for their kids. I mean we check reviews of restaurants before we go out for a meal, so how can we rely on word of mouth for our kids! Basic questions about staff and first aid kits etc. are never touched upon. There are no legal requirements and licenses for day-cares in India, the industry is not transparent, and it does not provide flexible options to parents.
So we come into the picture as a daycare aggregator, we help corporates and parents discover, decide and book centres. There are features like mom references, block a visit, counsellor chats that parents can make use of.
On the other hand, many local, regional childcare centers are not tech and marketing savvy. The investment in infrastructure and staff is sizable, but they only end up relying on word of mouth to attract business. They don’t know how to manage social media or get reviews or do reputation management.
ProEves helps both sides of the child care spectrum; we help parents by ensuring that the daycare centres meet all requirements and we help daycares by streamlining their marketing and giving them a trusted platform.
Divya: Well yes, any business is challenging. For us specifically, the biggest bottleneck was creating a large network of preschool, daycares and getting inroads to our target customers of new parents. It took a while to talk to managers and owners and explain the concept to them and get them on board and to create a list of standardised features that everyone followed - safety, first aid, staff training, etc.
Also, as we were bootstrapped, we had financial constraints. Putting together a good team took some effort as we were looking for like-minded professionals.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 gave a good boost to our business – it made crèche facility mandatory for every establishment employing 50 or more employees. By this time, we had already connected with over 600 daycare centers and had honed our knowledge of the whole ecosystem (in fact we were the only ones in the field).
This helped us work with corporates as consultants – they outsource their entire process to us. We shortlist facilities, conduct audits and manage the entire front end between the creches and parents.
Our corporate business has helped us grow and sustain our other operations. Now we are ready to go in for a round of funding in 2019 to expand our B2C business.
Divya: Increasing the depth and breadth of our network, technology-enabled bookings and ramping up marketing is a priority for our business. We plan to roll out various services like event booking, hourly daycare bookings etc for our customers
And yes! We also continuously conduct large-scale surveys and research with corporates the whole year round. Extra funding could help us increase the scope of these as well.
Yeah! So, lots to do! We have big plans!
Divya: Well, to be honest, not really. The field is largely women dominated. There is a perception that women don’t have a good head for figures, so maybe we will face these biases when we start tapping investors for funding. But I am pretty confident that in our field we are the experts and we have a tested business model, so I am not too fussed with how we will be perceived by investors.
Divya: Business is not easy, setting up a new concept or service is even harder. I wouldn’t lie – there were times we wanted to give up. But am glad we hung around.
I have been blessed with a great team that has grown with us and with the support from my family. For both of us, Ketika and I, things worked out great – we found a good business idea that we are passionate about and a complementary partner in each other. She is meticulous in her work, plans for the next things and brings the big picture thinking, while I focus on executing with excellence. Maybe starting a company with a 6-month-old baby wasn’t the best timing – but there is no perfect timing for everything in life!
Divya: You need to let go of the salary mindset. Initially, for the first year, I was validating when the business outflows will be matching my corporate salary. It took me some time to realise that when you are building a business you need to think long-term and you need to think big. What excites me now is - what is the growth rate of our business, how many customers are we acquiring, how soon we will hit the 30 Crore, 50 Crore and 100 Crore mark.
Divya, Ketika and their team are doing a commendable job of helping women get back to work without worrying about daycare centers. We wish them all the success because therein lies the success of many women returning to work.
If you would like to share your entrepreneurial journey, then drop us a quick note or a comment below. We would love to hear from you.
The last few years have seen a huge resurgence in conversations about women returning to work. The concept is not new – generations have seen women drop out of the workforce for years to care for their children and their homes; some returned, some couldn’t quite make it back.
Like with everything else in the world, digital technology, and the Internet has opened new opportunities for millions of women – either as job opportunities or as online support systems and job boards.
One such leading online platform is JobsForHer, a connecting portal that is designed specifically to help women restart their careers after a break.
We chatted with Neha Bagaria, Founder and CEO of JobsForHer to find out how she channelled her personal experiences as a restarter to help other women.
Neha: I was the usual career woman, and when the children came along, I decided to take a break to raise them – the break ended up being more than 3 years long.
During this personal journey, I became aware of the various difficulties a woman faces in order to re-enter the workforce. There are innumerable accomplished and qualified women around me who just stopped working for personal reasons such as marriage, motherhood or elder care, and then never returned to the workforce.
I started delving into the reasons behind this female brain drain, and it became clear that there are many re-entry challenges that need to be addressed in India.
Something as basic as school pick-up becomes a huge issue – most schools get over at 2-3 pm; offices go on till 6 pm at the very least – unless you have someone to take care of your child during this time how can you hold down a full-time job?
This is just one situation – women returnees not only need flexibility but also need help to regain their confidence and retraining to enter the workforce properly.
On the other side of the spectrum, companies and employers need to overcome gender biases and change cultural mindsets.
My own experience made me determined to enable other women to restart their careers and connect them with whatever they require to do so. And this idea grew to become JobsForHer, I founded it on International Women's Day, March 2015.
Neha: I’ve always been a social entrepreneur at heart; during my last semester at college, I founded my first company Paragon to introduce the Advanced Placement Program in India, and I also became the College Board Representative of India.
When marriage brought me to Bangalore, I started working with Kemwell, a pharmaceutical services company, in the fields of HR, Finance and Marketing strategy.
The growth and development that I experienced at Kemwell were immense, but social entrepreneurship was my first love and after I took a few years out for the kids; it all just fell into place. I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. But apart from my gut feeling, I had enough experience to understand the gap that existed in the market and how I could fill it.
Neha: Well yes, when I decided to start JobsForHer, there were a lot of challenges - to put it mildly.
Firstly, I had started working after a long career break and untangling motherhood responsibilities from work demands was difficult. It was a challenge to figure out how to divide my time between my kids and my new business.
I hadn’t yet started working full-time, and I felt that not picking up my children from school was a deal-breaker. I was fighting against the traditional stereotyping where women are made to believe they are the sole caretakers.
The last time I had founded and run a company was 12 years ago, and I didn’t have kids then so the challenges of balancing work-life was different at that time.
Professionally, there was also the challenge that my past work experience was in education and pharma, which was diametrically opposite to the fast-paced rollercoaster world of tech start-ups.
However, slowly but surely, I started piecing it all together. I started with strong advisors to fill in the gaps in tech, HR and to build a scalable start-up. This gave me immense confidence in my idea, and I felt I could achieve the scalability I had envisioned.
Neha: I think we are our biggest hinderances. Through my entrepreneurial journey, I have realized how often women tend to hold themselves back because of fear.
It is so important to recognize our fears and to name them; only then can we find a path to overcome them. Whenever I am at a crossroads, I ask myself this question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” It is critical that we don’t let our fears hold ourselves back and stride on, confident of figuring things out - eventually.
Neha: I strongly feel that for a woman entrepreneur to succeed in the competitive business landscape, it is imperative that we become comfortable giving equal importance to our careers as we do to our other obligations, roles, and responsibilities. And for that, we need to build a thick skin and a strong support system.
Because until we don’t, we won’t be able to create the ecosystem required to support this challenging journey to the top.
We will need to rally the troops and have our support structure firmly in place - parents, in-laws, extended family, friends, and yes, husband too. We will need to stop caring about people who don’t understand and help the people we care about to understand us. We will need to make sacrifices and compromises about being there for everyone all the time and having everything perfect. And we will need to stop feeling apologetic about it.
Neha: More of the same! We have come a long way in the last 3 and half years. We have made huge progress in changing the mindsets of both the women and companies. Women, so that they feel confident about the gap in their resumes and portray it in the right light and companies, so that now they are not only taking back a huge number of women returnees but companies like Dell, Epsilon, Facebook, Diageo, Sapient, Credit Suisse, etc. are working with us closely to reach out to this candidate pool.
It gives me enormous satisfaction when I hear of women restarting their careers through JobsForHer. We’ve seen success stories of women who restarted their careers at companies ranging from large enterprises to SME’s. I see them happy and confident and excited about regaining their financial independence and a sense of self-worth. In fact, we have launched an e-book called “Way Back to the Way Forward” to chronicle some of their restarter journeys. Whenever I read this book and delve into their challenges and achievements, it makes everything feel worthwhile.
Neha: Working with SoaringEagles has been a great experience!
Since they offer a wide range of professional development courses and JobsForHer is India's largest portal for women returning to work post-sabbatical, we found a perfect partnership.
Run by a fantastic and empathetic team, the courses they run are perfect for women returnees to reskill themselves before dipping their toes back into the professional world.
Neha: Not let guilt and fear hold me back from dreaming big!
Neha and her team are doing a commendable job of helping women get back to work after a break. We wish them all the success because therein lies the success of many women returning to work.
If you would like to share your entrepreneurial journey, then drop us a quick note. We would love to hear from you. If you want a sounding board to grow your business fearlessly, click on the Request Consultation button above.
All of us have hidden strengths that come forth when we are challenged or inspired. And at SoaringEagles we love to hear these stories of human endurance and ingenuity. Of dreams – big and small – becoming a reality.
Every month, we try to catch up with a woman entrepreneur or business leader for a quick chat to understand how they do, what they do!
This month, we spoke to Nirali Sanghi, Founder & Owner, Indiaparenting.com
Indiaparenting.com is India’s first and largest parenting site catering to the needs of parents across diverse geographies, culture, and language with nuanced content that is relevant to their local culture.
“I had a 5-month old baby; we did 18-hour days, and I couldn’t wait to get up the next day and start again.”
This is the sentence that sticks to mind from our conversation with Nirali!
Here’s the rest of the talk -
Nirali: Well, after I had my baby in 1998, like all new mums I went on the Internet to look for advice and information and saw a huge gap – there was no information that was India centric. All the biggest websites and forums were either US or UK based. Things like Indian baby names, information on mundan ceremonies, etc – things that are specific to our culture was just not discussed online.
So right off the bat, I knew that this is something that has enormous potential! By the time my baby was 5 months old, I had a team of 15 people working out of my bedroom - there were desks and laptops all around and a baby sleeping on the side. We launched the website in May 1999.
It was crazy, but also really great! We were doing everything in that one room; writing, designing, programming – you name it.
You have to remember this was the dot-com boom period and the website really took off very very fast. We even had an offer to sell it. We got funding in 2000, just before the huge dot-com crash!
Nirali: Well I have around nine years of experience in Banking and Marketing, so when it comes to approaching investors, I knew what I was doing.
At first, the idea was to use the funds to acquire other similar parenting sites and expand the business, but with the crash, the market was quite iffy, and in 2003 I decided to return the unused funds. Our investors had entrusted it to us and as we didn’t need the funds anymore; I was sure that returning them would unlock the investment for someone else, so we gave the investors their money back.
Our website was self-funded and making money. We didn’t need the extra funds, and it was the right thing to do.
We did a whole redesign and relaunched the website in 2008, and then the market crashed again in 2009!
Nirali: In the beginning, naturally the struggle to just get it off the ground was immense – there was no office, very few employees, I had to keep a tight rein on the cost because it was all coming out of my pocket and also it was all so new.
Plus, I have very strong opinions on what I like regarding content and style and managing a diverse team of creative people with different mindsets was something I had trouble with in the beginning.
What I find professionally challenging and also very exciting is to create new products and develop them from scratch – its all yours, like a baby. That’s what keeps me going really.
Of course, along the way, there were products and services that didn’t work very well – like an e-commerce venture for baby products. We realised that people are searching for specific information when they visit us, and the mindset was not receptive to pitch sales.
Nirali: I didn’t have any specific challenges being a woman.
Now things are a bit different, but at the start, we would go for meetings, and people would just look at the male employee, they just expected the guy to be senior, I guess (laughs). Men focus on men! All that has changed a fair bit now, so many more women in boardrooms now.
Nirali: We are the largest Indian parenting site! And the first, other sites came and went, but we are still here and growing. I couldn’t have done it without my outstanding team. We have 15 permanent employees now, and every single one of them is fantastic. I give them a completely free hand and no matter what the challenge – they just crack it! I know it sounds like a cliché, but we are like a family.
Nirali: Well actually I am getting several opportunities to speak at forums and conferences, and I thought I could use some help.
What I discovered is that I am part of the vast majority of average speakers (laughs) - we are not too bad, but not great either. So, the course really helped spike my confidence by correcting some important points – like dealing with negative situations or structuring the ppt.
What I really liked was how to make your presentation memorable – I never really thought in that direction, so that was quite refreshing.
Nirali: From my experience, its family support. Your husband, your children, and your extended family matter a great deal – they can either make the journey fun or make it harder.
As the digital world expands and fills up our homes, we are quite sure that Nirali and her team will continue to grow with it. We wish them continued success!