Entrepreneurs can - and do - make mistakes while starting and running their businesses. The key is to learn from these mistakes and avoid repeating them in the future.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Shubhi Agarwal, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Locobuzz, an AI-powered customer experience management (CXM) platform, looks back and shares lessons she learned during the journey so far and discusses specific challenges woman entrepreneurs face when starting a new business and ways to deal with them.
Agarwal, who comes with over 17 years of experience in strategic partner alliances, overseeing product development and envisioning long-term productivity of incremental changes, upgrades, and innovations, is currently responsible for creating visibility of the product and curating beneficial associations between businesses and opportunities in Artificial intelligence and digital customer experience.
Prior to co-founding Locobuzz, she has worked with Tata Motors, Integriti planners, YEN Management consultants, UTV Software Communications Ltd, Bigflix, Hungama, BoxTV- Times Internet, and Spatiallideas.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when starting your business? How did you overcome them?
We started Locobuzz in 2015 as a social engagement monitoring and analysis tool based on our understanding that unstructured social media data could be effectively harnessed with the right technology. However, we faced significant challenges in establishing our business due to a nascent market, with many enterprises unaware of the need for our solution.
In fact, the platform we created was entirely new to the market, which made it difficult for us to gain traction. The challenge of convincing businesses to pay for a technology that was unfamiliar to them proved to be the most daunting aspect of our journey.
To overcome these obstacles, we identified individuals who were willing to take a chance on our startup. We demonstrated our ability to address the market gap that no other product could fulfill. These clients were seeking solutions that were not currently available in the market, and they were willing to take the risk of investing in our business, not necessarily financially, but by providing us with their patronage.
Ultimately, we persevered by focusing on the unique value proposition that we offer and by identifying early adopters who could appreciate the benefits of our platform. Through this approach, we were able to build a strong foundation for our business and establish a loyal client base.
Did you face any specific challenges or obstacles as a woman entrepreneur, and if so, how did you deal with them?
I personally did not face the typical obstacles women entrepreneurs face, but I do acknowledge the challenges that women leaders face.
One such challenge is the difficulty in voicing one's opinion in a boardroom that is disproportionately represented by men. However, I have learned that if you have confidence and conviction in your ideas, and if you are providing a solution to an existing problem, gender becomes irrelevant. While it may be challenging initially to secure a meeting, presenting a strong solution will ultimately speak for itself and gender will no longer be a hindrance.
Were there some of the mistakes or missteps you made when starting your business? What did you learn from those experiences?
In retrospect, one of our biggest mistakes was being content with relying solely on word-of-mouth referrals and organic growth to drive our business forward.
While we were initially happy with the results, we now know that investing more money into marketing would have had a significant impact on the perception and positioning of our product. This has taught us the importance of investing in marketing from the early stages of a business. Moving forward, if I were to start another company, I would prioritise making initial investments in marketing to ensure its success.
What advice do you have for other women who are thinking about starting their own businesses?
My advice to fellow women entrepreneurs or women who are considering starting their own businesses is to focus on building a robust support network, seek out mentors, and surround yourself with positive and supportive people.
Having a mentor is highly beneficial for both personal and professional growth. Participating in various learning communities and organisations like TIE, NASSCOM, and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women can provide you with valuable lessons that accelerate your growth and help you avoid common mistakes. While you will still make mistakes on your journey, having access to a mentor and a supportive network can offer a sounding board of experts and a community to share challenges and receive feedback.
By learning from others' experiences, you can evaluate the effectiveness of your plans and strategies more efficiently, saving time and effort. Remember that success encompasses more than just financial or professional milestones; it involves creating a business aligned with your values.
Stay true to your vision and celebrate your achievements.
How did you fund your business in the early stages, and what advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are looking to secure funding?
In the initial stages of our business, we were able to operate with minimal capital requirements, as we conducted operations from a spare bedroom and invested solely in necessary computer equipment. To fund the ongoing development of our product, we reinvested the revenue generated from our services back into the business. Notably, we are proud to have been exclusively funded by our customers, who purchased our platform and services.
During these early stages, we placed a strong emphasis on revenue-based growth rather than depending heavily on external funding sources. Fortunately, our customers believed in our platform, allowing us to fund our business through earned revenue. Their support boosted our confidence and gave us the positive energy needed to continue pursuing our goals, ultimately resulting in significant positive outcomes.
We also maintained a focus on our initial clients, prioritising exceptional service and issue resolution to establish positive relationships and generate referrals. This approach was instrumental in our growth within the first year of operation.
My one piece of advice to other women entrepreneurs is to not solely focus on funding.
It is possible to secure initial investments through personal savings, friends, family, and close connections. Additionally, there are organisations that provide Angel investments, as well as funding for women-led businesses and crowdfunding options available, which can help resolve funding issues.
Instead, I recommend focusing on your vision and optimising your operations. Your product or technology should be best-in-class, and you should have customers who trust your brand and have confidence in purchasing your product. By prioritising these aspects of your business, you can increase the likelihood of success and minimise the need for external funding.
How did you go about building a diverse team and finding the right people to work with you?
At Locobuzz, we prioritise meritocracy in our hiring process and team-building efforts.
We evaluate candidates based on their skills and capabilities, without any biases related to gender, sexuality, or other factors. Our focus is solely on what they bring to the table and their potential to contribute to our team. We have previously worked with individuals from the LGBTQ+ community and believe in creating an inclusive ecosystem that removes biases and provides equal growth opportunities to everyone.
Our goal is to nurture a culture where individuals are valued for their merit, and not judged based on their background or identity.
How do you balance the demands of running a business with other aspects of your life, such as family and personal time?
Balancing the demands of running a business and personal life can be a challenging task, and there is no easy answer to this. I have learned to prioritise my time and delegate tasks whenever possible. It is also essential to set boundaries and communicate clearly with family and colleagues about when I am available and when I am not.
Additionally, taking breaks and time for self-care is crucial for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
As women, we are wired to multitask in various aspects of our lives, whether it is managing a business, taking care of children, or looking after our families. It is natural for us to find our own balance and create an algorithm that works best for us.
There are no set rules to follow, and it is essential to prioritise what brings us comfort and joy while maintaining our passion and drive. It is crucial to surround ourselves with a supportive community that cheers us on and provides assistance whenever we need it. By focusing on what makes us happy and staying driven, we can achieve whatever we set our minds to, despite the challenges we may face.