StartupTalky is one of the strongest community in India and we have a lot of professionals who are doing great in their lives. To share their learnings and inspire as many people as we can, we are interviewing all the StartupTalkers in our "Know the StartupTalker" series.
Today, we have Ayushi Gudwani as our interviewee. Ayushi Gudwani is the founder and CEO of FableStreet. She has been a work-wear consumer for years and went through the predicament of finding great pieces to wear to office. She always found it hard to find styles which fit well, but more importantly are comfortable and long-lasting. This was the starting point of FableStreet. It started as a vision to make women feel confident and beautiful about themselves, by addressing their work-wear needs. You will learn a lot from this story of Ayushi Gudwani in her own words.
Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are today. What keeps you motivated at what you do?
I was born and raised in New Delhi in a typical Indian family, with a strong focus on academics. I was a topper throughout my high school and undergraduate studies, and completed my engineering as rank two from NSIT (Delhi). I then pursued an MBA from IIM Calcutta where I graduated as a silver medallist. Post this post I joined McKinsey & Company in 2008, before venturing out to start FableStreet in 2016. So I have a geeky, typical engineering + MBA background, not very exciting! Personally, I am an optimistic person as well as a dreamer and executioner. I derive my energy from people around me and rely heavily on my teams and family. My hobbies and interests include CrossFit, travelling, music and indulging in Thai food once in a while.
Take us through a typical workday. How do you recharge or take a break?
Being an entrepreneur is fulfilling but chaotic, in all honesty! It means having a never-ending workload that just seems to pile up like Jenga. This is what my daily routine looks like: I am usually up by 6 AM and start the day with a nice cup of tea and newspaper. Then I make a to-do list of the agenda I need to take care of that day as well as the week which is then passed on to my team. I also spend some time on my phone to check how the previous day's sales are doing and resolve any urgent issues that need attention.
My teammates know how much I love going to the office on workdays and meeting them and engaging with them on a day-to-day basis, be it to discuss work or simply share a laugh. A typical workday would consist of team or one-on-one meetings, problem-solving, focusing on product development, etc. At the end of the workday, I love coming home to a nice, home-cooked meal (my weakness) with my husband and we share titbits of how our day went followed by Netflix and then going to bed.
What are your job responsibilities and how they have changed over time?
After pursuing an MBA from IIM Calcutta, I joined McKinsey where I spent 7 years consulting various organizations on Strategy, Growth and Scale across sectors before venturing out to start FableStreet. As a single founder, the first couple of years, in terms of job responsibilities, were different than they are now. I managed operations, oversaw the hiring process and pushed myself to learn every aspect of the business, all by myself.
But all that has eased over time, as the team grew and now my core responsibilities include the following: Problem-solving to ensure that we are on the right track, as teams and as a brand, thinking through a strategic lens for the business, focusing on team health to build capabilities, boost morale and support them professionally and personally, networking and building partnerships and looking at opportunities for future funding and growth. Lastly, I also make a mental note to be prepared every day to face and solve any last minute fire fighting circumstances that may occur in any of the teams, no matter how big or small.
Mention Challenges faced in your startup life and how did you overcome it?
As a business owner and strategist, one is always experimenting with new things every day - it is a continuous trial and error process. We need to understand and accept the fact that 1 out 3 ideas will work in any set-up/venture. Eventually, counting each and every setback is exhausting and also takes the joy out of working on your ideas. So, whatever I am working on, I try everything and give it my best shot. One day at a time - that is the only mindset I function with.
Tell us about your superpowers!
Tenacity, multitasking, passion, a strong belief in my business idea and knowledge of my target audience and competition along with strong people skills, emotional quotient and understanding of what drives people.
Which online tools/services/apps do you use the most and would like to recommend as well?
Even though I like being connected to people and my teams, I am not a big gadget freak and do not use multiple tools/apps. I follow the traditional method of making to-do lists, either on paper or Google sheets and Excel sheets for tracking and planning of daily work. I prefer one-on-one discussions and team huddles to operate my business. Lately, Zoom and Google Hangouts have been helpful for remote team discussions.
Relevant read: Ingvar Kamprad: The IKEA Founder's Rags-To-Riches Journey
Who/What would you consider to be a significant influence on you professionally?
A big part of who I am today, professionally, is largely thanks to my previous work experience at McKinsey & Co. and the people I worked with, in terms of leadership skills, problem-solving, my aspirations and vision. They have shaped me into the person I am today - working with such inspiring people helped me learn what leadership means and how to care for individuals and teams.
I saw people genuinely care about my professional growth and that is something I would like to give back to my organization. I also learnt how to dream big and act small with no end to visioning - that if you can’t solve the problem, no one else can. At a personal level, it has been my family and the values they have given me which have shaped my views and how I lead my life.
What’s your favorite shortcut or hack which make your professional life easy?
One hack that I always follow is making a physical to-do list at the start of the day, on what needs to be done and dividing the tasks into: Must do/Good to do tasks - so that I’m clear on what needs to be closed and accomplished during the day. I also make sure that I get some “me” time for half an hour every morning and evening, before I start and end the day. During this time, I avoid work thoughts or tasks and devote my energy into either watching something or unwinding with music. It helps me relax, recharge, stay sane and gear up for the next day.
What’s your work space setup like?
We have an open seating arrangement at work to ensure open communication, approachability and quick problem-solving within all teams. I am usually placed between my team which is how I like to work when I am in the office.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
One of the best pieces of advice I have got is that people are your best asset. As an employer, you need to make sure that you genuinely do right by them. From a business point of view, it would be to think big, act small and conserve cash. This is something that holds true everywhere.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I am currently reading “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by author and entrepreneur Ben Horowitz. It is helping me learn quite a lot, as a founder, and that I am not alone in this and a lot of people have gone through this, especially when it comes to taking tough decisions in this journey.How do you keep track of what you have to do?
If you get a chance to start your career again what would you do differently this time?
The only thing I would like to change is getting a B-school degree from out of the country, primarily from the USA. The reason being that the quality of schools and education is fairly different. I love my alma mater IIM Calcutta but I also had an opportunity to spend some time at UCLA Anderson School of Management and I absolutely loved it! Apart from that aspect, I would not do anything else differently because today, I am a function of who I am, what I have been and my past experiences and would not want to change much about that.