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'Don't be disheartened by failures'


...says Divya Gupta, founder of Aliame and an alumnus of NMIMS, as she shares her life’s trajectory that led to her true calling— designing jewellery. In an interview with Kalyani Majumdar, Divya talks about her experience, from being a corporate professional for more
than a decade to a life as an entrepreneur.


Q. You did your MBA from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies while you were working. What was that experience like?
Actually, since I’d always wanted to be financially independent, I studied and worked simultaneously ever since I was 19. 
As far as the MBA is concerned, let’s be honest, when you do an MBA after working for a few years, you get a whole new perspective about what’s being taught. You can connect to the course material, and it does not seem like mere theory. And it really helped me, as I didn’t learn for the sake of learning.  I learned the principles and the concepts that I’d already applied in my job, but to give them formal shape and form helped me improve my skill-sets. For me, that was the learning.

Q. How did jewellery design come about?
I’ve always been a creative person, and knew that I wanted to be in a creative field. I was also good at accounts. But I could never visualise myself sitting at a desk, auditing people for the rest of my life. I wanted to do something different, something that was different from the herd. And this was the time when fashion designing was at its peak.
So I started exploring jewellery design as an avenue. I studied design, computer aided design (CAD) manufacturing from Jewellery Product Development Centre, Delhi, and I became a certified diamond grader and gemologist from the Gemological Institute of India, Mumbai.

Q. You have worked more than a decade in different industries. What was the job function that you enjoyed the most?
 I enjoyed Marketing as a function and I knew I wanted to do that role and it didn’t matter which industry I did it for. From the beginning, I was industry agnostic. I worked with a high-end home decor company, then with a hospitality company, and so on. I feel understanding an industry and how it works is not really rocket science. I may not know much about hospitality, but it took me a month or two to get the hang of it. And once you understand the industry, you can apply the principles of Marketing for that industry.

Q. Tell us about Aliame. How did it come about?
As an entrepreneur, you need to try different things till you find your fit. I was constantly asking myself: What do I really want? What is my true calling? That is when it occurred to me that it could be jewellery. My family and friends supported that decision as I also had professional training in the field.
Back when I was 19, my mother and I had started a small jewellery-making venture. I used to design jewellery and show it to people, and once a design was selected, I would make that piece for the buyer. It was made to order. During that time, I faced a few setbacks and I couldn’t really recover from them. I felt let down, and the result was that I got really scared of setting up a business and being on my own.
That was perhaps why for more than a decade, I just studied and worked. I had to get over that initial phobia before getting back to jewellery making. Eventually, the idea of getting back to my jewellery venture excited me enough for me to dive back in, and since then I have not looked back.

Q. You worked in corporate firms and now you are an entrepreneur. What are the major differences you feel in your approach to both?
A corporate job has a very structured routine. Your boss defines the structure of your work day, giving you deadlines, and you have set timelines to meet. When you are running your own business, you get to decide your own routine. So yes, there are times when you can be extremely hard on yourself. It is a very different journey!
For instance, when I was in a job, I was never unduly stressed if something took longer than expected. I would follow up on the delay, of course, but the delay itself would never bother me. But when the same thing happens to me now in my business, I react in an entirely different manner. Things impact you at a very different level when you run your own business. You take everything very seriously and you have to constantly remind yourself to not do that. This is a downside of being an entrepreneur.
On the plus side, you get do what you want, how you want it done, and at the pace you want to be in. The satisfaction that you get is very different, and at a totally different level. For instance, when a design is translated from paper to an actual piece of jewellery, it is an excellent feeling. After that, when somebody buys that jewellery, the satisfaction is beyond compare. No job can give that kind of satisfaction.

Q. What were the initial hurdles that you faced while launching Aliame?
You know, when you’ve just begun to work on your project, the entire picture looks rosy. You are excited that you are starting something. But then you actually get down to it, and you see the reality. And for an entrepreneur, the struggle starts from the first day. You don’t start making money immediately!
I don’t come from a moneyed background, and worked for many years to save enough money to start my own business. I had a limited budget, and had to be extremely cautious about spends. Also, when yours is a product company, you have to spend a lot of your time, effort and money, and you won’t really see any return for a very long time. That’s when the struggle gets very real.
In my case, getting the jewellery produced was the biggest challenge. When you get into a new business or a new industry, you want to do something different from the others. That’s how you plan it out. I wanted to stand out. I wanted to design something that people haven’t seen before. I could not offer my product cheaply because I don’t produce mass volume. It’s all handmade.
Also, for my designs, the biggest challenge was to find the right karigars (craftsmen). I have spent months travelling to every nook and cranny of different cities to find the right karigars. This is a constant struggle in my business. It is a hurdle I was crossing when I started out, and it is still a hurdle I face today. Ultimately, you’re going through a process, and you keep evolving and improving.

Q. How did you approach the business at the beginning?
Since it had been a long time that I had designed jewellery, my first thought was one of doubt, about whether I could even design anymore. So my first step was to put stencil on paper and see if I could still design. I designed a lot of things and asked my friends and family for their views. The fact that it was all positive showed me I could still create good designs. So for me, the beginning was to start from designing and see if people liked my designs.
Secondly, I had to design packages. I wanted to build a brand, not something run of the mill. I had to find someone who would be willing to produce it in smaller quantities. Then I had to find the platform on which to build my website. I had to decide on the payment gateways, I needed a photographer to click photos of the product, tie up with a shipping firm and so on. When you are running a business, you start to see the chain, the lifecycle.

Q. Did you face any challenge as a woman entrepreneur?
I sometimes think the challenge is more in our head. Personally speaking, I never felt that being a woman was a stumbling block. I travelled to different cities and sat with karigars, but was never treated differently. Besides, there is so much happening for woman entrepreneurship and the Indian government is trying to promote women entrepreneurs.
Of course, at times one’s family does not provide support. The lack of such a support system makes taking up the challenge of a new venture very difficult for a lot of women. This lack can easily lead to giving up. But I have been very fortunate to have that support system in place. You need constant support and encouragement, and if you get it, nothing and no one can stop you!

Q. As an entrepreneur, what is your take on the concept of work-life balance?
Honestly speaking, it is very difficult, as the line between work and life gets really blurred when you are running your own business. Your work is your life. I am constantly thinking about it. An advantage I have is that my husband has a fulltime job, so when he wants to switch off, it helps me switch off too, which helps me remain sane!

Q. How important do you think it is to have a mentor?
To be honest, I wish I had a mentor. If as an entrepreneur you find one, please hold on to them; I say this from personal experience. In fact, I even joined a mentorship programme so that I could discuss things with someone and look up to someone. It was a conscious effort on my part. So yes, I really think a mentor can help.

Q. What is your take on management education in general?
A good management programme can actually help you put structure to your thought. Firstly, if you’re planning on pursuing management education, you should get some work experience, because until or unless you have dealt with some real life issues at work, you won’t be able to connect to a lot of stuff taught in an MBA programme. A good course helps you structure everything you’ve learned and then apply that knowledge in a structured format later.
Personally, without an MBA, the knowledge that I had gathered was probably rather ad hoc, but the MBA programme gave that ad hoc-knowledge a structure, shape and form.
If I had to quibble, I’d say that more courses related to digital marketing should be added to the present MBA curriculum.

Q. What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?
Irrespective of whether you are an MBA grad or not, you should keep a few things in mind if you want to become an entrepreneur. First, you need to build structure and discipline otherwise things can go awry very fast. You will watch as days, weeks and months fly past without you having ostensibly achieved anything, and that happens. So create and stick to your routine, because since you’re your own boss, there is no one guiding you!
Secondly, don’t be disheartened by failures. It is always going to be a challenging journey. Step into it thinking that the first few years are going to be terrible. Don’t expect to start getting clients tomorrow, along with the money flowing in. The next two to three years will be a lot of struggle and a lot of hard work.
Finally comes emotional stability. You have to keep a hold over your emotions. You have to be strong, and keep learning. If something doesn’t work one way, try another, but don’t give up, keep at it. You have to keep working, and gradually, things will fall in place.