Delhi-based Anisha Singh (42), founder of online coupons platform Mydala and venture capital fund SheCapital, calls herself an ‘accidental entrepreneur.’ After having witnessed financial hardships as a child, there was one thing she was sure of: to have a stable job with a big pay cheque. Her father, an ex-serviceman, had started his real estate business which failed. Anisha didn’t want to go down that road.
As a young girl, she had no bone of ambition, and was an average student. But while pursuing her undergraduate studies from the College of Art in Delhi, she interned with the Discovery Channel, and happened to meet someone who had studied Political Communication. Inspired, she applied to the American University for Masters in Political Communication, and got through. It was at the AU that she met Julie Holdren - the woman she credits her success to.
“Julie, who was the founder of the Olympus Group, ran a startup of 400 people, could do 30 push-ups, all this while taking care of twin babies. I think you need role models in your life who are making a huge difference to the world. That’s what changed my perception of entrepreneurs. The minute I saw her, I wanted to be her,” she says. Armed with a newfound ambition, Anisha decided to pursue MBA.
At 21, she began her stint with the Clinton administration, helping women entrepreneurs raise funding. This was her first tryst with entrepreneurship. Next, she moved to Boston to work at Centra Software, an e-learning company.
“At this point, I had already worked with several entrepreneurs. I wanted to do something of my own. At Centra, I was suddenly exposed to the possibilities of technology. I started deliberating if I should return to India,” she recounts.
The makings of an entrepreneur
In 2005, she returned to Delhi, and started her first company - Kinis Software Solutions, a digital marketing firm that focused on US-based clients.
Anisha knew that if things didn’t work out, she could rely on her parents. But her perseverance made her first venture a success, and she decided to take the next step. She recollects, “I was ready to give birth to two babies - my firstborn, and my second venture- Mydala, which I started with Arjun Basu (my husband) and Ashish Bhatnagar in 2009.”
According to Anisha, there were hardly any woman-led startups at that time. “On top of that, a heavily pregnant woman coming to pitch to you is something investors are not used to. My co-founders were often told ‘if you ditch her, funding is a great possibility’,” says Anisha.
After pitching to numerous investment firms, the trio decided to continue as a bootstrapped startup. Call it a stroke of luck, Anisha met with Sanjeev Bikhchandani and Hitesh Oberoi from Info Edge, just two days after, and they agreed to invest in Mydala.
Breaking the glass ceiling
The hardships faced by women entrepreneurs are strikingly different from their male counterparts. Yet, Anisha feels that men can’t get all the flak; it all boils down to conditioning. She says, “Bias comes from other women too. I think it is a cultural thing, and we need to change it. Once we have more women breaking the glass ceilings, things will be normal.”
Anisha is also the Founding Partner of SheCapital, an early-stage fund that invests in high-growth women-led businesses. The firm aims to empower women founders with collaborative mentorship and provides access to a network of industry leaders too.
Recently, SheCapital made their first investment in food tech startup Samosa Singh.
It was Mydala that paved the path for SheCapital. “I feel that’s where I started understanding the startup environment better. It became important to start a venture fund when I found that only two percent of global funding was going to women-led businesses,” Anisha says, adding that it was not because women were incapable but because there weren’t enough opportunities to prove themselves.
“There is a huge gender disparity when it comes to funding women ventures. While several people might contest this view, and say a great idea is all you need for funding, the numbers say it all. I realised there was a need that had to be fulfilled. If people who are in a position to make changes do not, who will?”
SheCapital’s journey has been rather rewarding for Anisha. “We set up something to make a difference. I really want it to be a butterfly effect, besides the 16 companies that we are looking to fund. We hope this is the next wave of making unicorns.”
Anisha, the mother
Anisha credits her family - her husband, her two daughters aged five and nine, as well as her parents, for her success. But she has an advice for women: “I think Indian women love to pile on guilt and overthink everything. Earlier, I would have a lot of mommy guilt, and I have had to make a conscious effort not to be hard on myself.”
She adds that she is mindful of what she teaches her daughters, especially since they are at an impressionable age. “I have always been careful about not projecting women as ‘damsels in distress’. In fairy tales - be it Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella- women are always rescued. That’s why I haven’t read these to my daughters,” she adds.
Whether it’s being an entrepreneur, investor or mother, Anisha stays true to herself - and that’s why she is at the top of her game!
(Edited by Athira Nair)