Born and brought up in Alwar, Rajasthan, Meghna Agarwal grew up in an all-girls family, with two younger sisters and progressive-minded parents. Her father was a first generation entrepreneur, and supported his daughter’s education at any cost.
Alwar is a small town but had an army base and industries. “We had Anglo-Indian teachers and a lot of migrants in the city. I grew up knowing that I have to make the best of everything,” Meghna tells MAKERS India in a recent chat.
And she surely did make the best of it too. With multiple startup ventures to her credit, Meghna has established herself as one of the most prominent women entrepreneurs in the country today.
“Entrepreneurship happened by chance; but if not entrepreneurship, I would have ended up in some corporate career. I’ve worked hard for it,” says Meghna. “As a kid too, I was quite forthcoming, and people would say, “You're not supposed to be so aggressive. Being a girl, you have to be a little timid, and you have to go by the rules.” But I was not having any of it,” she recollects.
Corporate Career to Entrepreneurship
Since her cousins were all into chartered accountancy as a profession, Meghna was also expected to do the same. But she dared to be different. Meghna did company secretary course at the Institute of Company Secretaries of India, and later MBA in Finance from IMT Gaziabad.
Meghna had wanted to be a banker or a trader, and even did a short stint in Singapore Stock Exchange (in trading). “I wanted to be in Wall Street next. But while I was preparing myself to do, the September 11 attack happened and the (US) economy was in shambles. I did get a few offers; but it was not lucrative enough,” she recollects.
It was around that time that she met Rishi Das, who later became her husband and co-founder. Time was perfect for embracing entrepreneurship, as they both had the fall-back option of corporate careers. Together they launched HirePro Consulting, a recruitment outsourcing agency, in 2003. Meghna worked there for almost four years, after which she took a sabbatical due to a complicated pregnancy.
By 2009, Meghna was back to being an entrepreneur - this time in an entirely different sector. “My father was diagnosed with Throat Cancer at the time, and he was going to sell the business as there is nobody to take care of it. It caused him a lot of emotional turmoil; so I decided to try it. But I told him, “Before I take over, let me make my own money. Let me start this venture in Bangalore and see if I can work through it.” That was the beginning of Ultrafine Minerals. Headquartered in Bangalore , with Plants across South India and North India , they are leading manufacturers of Calcite Powder , Dolomite and Soapstone Powder.
Meghna recounts, “But this is an extremely capital-intensive industry, and it is a commodity market. So, I cannot add value; even 10 paisa will change my customer loyalty. I was competing with 100 year old companies owning mines in South Africa, Europe, and Australia. So once this company was stabilized (and my dad was also fine by then), I decided to move on.”
Hoping to come back to the corporate world, she took charge at HirePro again. “We got a building with 50,000 square foot area and sub-leased a part of it to our clients, mostly startups. Later, when we requested them to move out, they were upset –because in our building, we were providing gym, food, etc. When we saw their hesitation to leave, we realised there is a big opportunity: a mid-market segment, something between tech parks and residential areas, for SMEs and startups. That’s how we started IndiQube (in 2015).”
Third time luckiest
IndiQube being her third entrepreneurial venture, Meghna says there was more clarity in what they needed. “We had a system in place by then – especially in HR and company culture,” she notes. Asked about gender parity at their organisation – which has one male founder and one female founder- Meghna tells MAKERS India, “We hire for performance, not gender. But I think women are particularly good at interior designing, hospitality, and conceptualizing, two areas relevant for us as a company in real estate sector. We have 30-35 percent women in our workforce. We provide paternity leave and work from home options for male employees too.”
Today, IndiQube is a team of more than 400 people and has a clientele of more than 450 companies. The startup has more than 50 properties with 3.5million square feet total area, across six cities- Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Noida. IndiQube has also raised $15 million from external investors.
Meghna claims that they have been profitable from the very first day. “We have never burnt cash. Currently we are at an annualized revenue of Rs.400 crores.”
Being a woman leader
While supporting more opportunities in education for women, Meghna reiterates that education should not be confused with the pedigree. “I don’t think that only if you're from a certain institution can you make it big. I think there are a lot of other factors which comes into play – like your awareness and life skills. Education is important, but it is just not the only important thing,” she says.
As a woman in leadership position, Meghna elaborates on ‘having it all,’ saying, “To me having it all is being able to work towards making an impact through IndiQube - creating a platform where we can actually create a social impact. I have a supportive husband and cofounder, and my kids; this beautiful family is an ecosystem for me. Having it all means , you're happy in all the aspects - personal and professional. God has been kind.”
(Video Producer & Editor: Urmi Chatterjee)