Ask a 22 year-old me this question: What do you want to do?
My response: “Change the world by building something that impacts millions of lives’’.
Ask a 12 year old me the same question…
“Change the world when I grow up after I win Miss World.”
Sometimes change is the only hope we carry. I spent my childhood in the town of Chandigarh, raised in a single parent household as an only girl child. Growing up, I saw my mother wading through many social and financial limitations, giving up on her dreams in the process. Still, she always encouraged me to fight for mine. As a testament to her sacrifices, I yearned to break the shackles, succeed, and make a difference in life, always carrying this unflinching desire to change things. I hoped to change my life and the circumstances of those around me. Why? Maybe it is because I related to adversity a little more than my peers. Responsibility and struggle came early in my life. Somewhere while growing up, I just recall being insanely passionate about my dreams – one of those being winning the pageant. In retrospect, most of my goals revolved around doing extraordinary things that impact people’s lives.
A WHIRLWIND CHANGE
In 2012, I was I was crowned Miss India World, making me the country’s official representative at Miss World. That night, my mother was congratulated by hundreds of acquaintances about how I made her and the nation proud. This momentous victory made me realize that self-belief can do wonders and human resilience can overcome all odds.
Due to a lack of exposure, I had a limited view of what the world really needed. But my new-found life as Miss India Titleholder helped me gain real-life sociocultural experiences that no college degree could offer me at that time. My job presented me with stark polarities every single day. One day, I would be swamped by media reporters as I launched a multi-national brand. Other days, I would be delivering keynote speeches at premier educational institutes and meeting a variety of leaders. Many times, I would be working with charities and non-profit organizations. This journey dramatically evolved my worldview.
A natural career progression for Miss India winners is to join Bollywood – India’s multi-million dollar movie industry. While my time in the industry was quite self-exploratory, I was happy not to follow a path widely expected of me and rather do something I truly wanted to. To date, I feel confident in my decision.
TAKING A LEAP OF FAITH
Instead, I initiated my start-up in 2015 after negotiating for an equal stake with my two male co-founders. Never did I think I could start my own venture — and I did that right out of college too. I do not come from a business family, nor was I born in those riches to take those risks. If there is one thing I know by now, it is that money is one of the last things we need to follow our dreams.
I can very well testify to this considering where I came from and how I ended up. At 19 — and with minimal resources — I found myself on the world stage representing India at Miss World. I had stepped outside of my hometown very little while growing up. During the Miss World competition, I was surrounded by women who were talented, smart, well-travelled, or more experienced in life than I was. I want to define my winning moment at Miss India 2012 as an unbelievable moment. Truth be told, I always believed in myself. And self-belief was all I needed to win and even to overcome any failure. Self-belief has a funny way of turning to resilience when things do not go your way! As an outcome of my journey, I could fathom the courage to follow the untrodden path and start my own firm.
I started Twysk, a public and private event management platform. The idea came out of my own experience of getting hassled while attending events where I would find it difficult to coordinate time, schedule, and location with other attendees, As a result, I would miss out on the most important aspect of panel discussions: networking. Here was my concept. Imagine a platform, where you could network with your favorite entrepreneur whom you met at an event but did not get a chance to exchange business cards. Twysk meant to be one-stop platform to manage events.
TIME TO PIVOT
Without any business and digital trends know-how at the time, everything was meant to be learned on the job and that was indeed a slower process. After releasing prototype and some market feedback, I saw considerable hinderances in establishing a go-to-market strategy and decided to pivot.
The idea this time was to create something that plays to my strengths! Hence came up the idea of SummerLabel – a tech platform to curate small and medium fashion and beauty labels. SummerLabel would enable these SMEs to help them gain wider consumer reach while simultaneously allowing shoppers to access interesting products that otherwise they would not find.
During my time as a Miss India, I was styled numerous times by amazing designers who were not relatively known, nor did they have the resources to invest in their brand’s marketing. If I, having been part of the industry, could not know them, then how was it possible for regular consumers to find them? Hence, SummerLabel was aimed at such niche brands and also products created by local artisans and craftsmen to empower them by providing a one-stop-all solution. This enabled them to focus on creativity, while SummerLabel would take care of the marketing and business side for them.
After months of boot-strapping, we launched SummerLabel as an android and iOS app, designed from scratch. The platform gained considerable traction within 3-4 months of launch and we finally raised capital. During this time, I also decided to move on. Biggest takeaway: people make businesses, money does not. It is an enabler but not means to the end. I had also become more aware of the shortcomings I had as a founder, and many of those are what I am currently overcoming at IIM Ahmedabad. Here, our core curriculum focuses on touching upon finer nuances of all important aspects of general business management, including operations, finance, and marketing.
LESSONS OF BUSINESS SCHOOL
Anyone who has never ran his or her own start-up, would assume that it is quite glamourous. However, people rarely talk about the crazy fights, disagreements over product vision, opportunity cost of founders, and the excruciatingly painful team building process. For me, it was normal to work day in and day out, 7 days a week. The concept of weekend completely lost as days and weeks just merged together. My mantra was just take a break when you need to a mental refresh. Nevertheless, those were also the days where I learned the most without the cushion of a high end corporate job. As an entrepreneur, I didn’t have the benefit of a team always being there to help with conflict resolution and resource management (and, of course, funding)!
Having joined IIM Ahmedabad now, I wish I could’ve applied half of the things I have learned to my start-ups. Negotiations is a good example. My term III elective, Negotiations for Managers, is a fun course where we engage in live case simulations and negotiations during every class. Through this exercise, I have randomly tried to negotiate a deal with a batchmate I have never worked with in the past. Deal or no deal, the class teaches you how to plan and adjust your approach with different personalities, objectives, and stakes. Currently, I am even working on a group presentation titled ‘Negotiations in the Film Industry’ which I hope will be insightful for the rest of my classmates.
Looking back, with all the highs and lows, I can proudly say that I took that step. I took that risk, strived hard, learned a thousand lessons, and fiercely pursued my goals. Had I not tried, I would not even have a story to share!
My only advice: ‘Just follow your dreams.’ They will either take you to glory or life lessons, and both are equally sweet.
Vanya Mishra is an accomplished professional with experiences deeply embedded in media, entertainment, entrepreneurship. Having won the coveted Miss India World title at the tender age of 19, she performed a tectonic shift in her career by starting her own venture SummerLabel and played a pivotal role in the growth story of Indian telecom giant Reliance Jio. She currently is pursuing her MBA degree from the premier Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.