(India Today Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) In 2009, Anisha Singh, 37, decided to bring the concept of vouchers to India for the first time. After months of struggling to raise funds and sharing a small office with a dental clinic, Singh managed to raise an investment of nearly Rs 1.1 crore from a group of angel investors, which included the founders of CX Partners. "I was eight months pregnant at the time, running from investor to investor and trying to sell the idea of bringing a voucher portal to India. It took a lot of hard work but in the end I managed to chalk up a viable business proposition and raise enough seed capital," reflects Singh.
Her perseverance paid off and today her company, Mydala, has not only partnered with over 1 lakh merchants in India but it has also spread to 200 cities and received a fresh round of funding ( of around Rs 27 crore) from Info Edge India. Group buying or vouchers is still a relatively new concept in India. Mydala, the first and oldest voucher website in the country, works by offering customers a deal or discount from a particular retailer. Some deals work on particular days while others are available for redemption within a specified time period. The customer gets the discount or offer, while merchants benefit from bulk orders. "In the US, vouchers account for nearly 7 per cent of total retail sales. It is a billion dollar industry and statistics predict that one in four customers is likely to redeem a mobile voucher each year.
While consumers are equally interested in discounts and deals in India, the reason vouchers were initially slow to take off was because the service was not as organised or technologically- advanced," explains Singh. Despite a number of new voucher sites coming up in India like Snapdeal and Groupon, Mydala remains the first and largest website to partner with merchants for vouchers. Singh offers an easily redeemable and fully trackable voucher system that won over major clients such as Vodafone for My Delights and Tata Docomo for the M-coupon service. "I used to see customers walk into Hermes and ask for discounts and recognised the potential for vouchers in the country.
Mobile vouchers in particular are doing extremely well today as they are convenient and easily tracked," says Singh. As proof of the booming voucher market, Mydala recently clocked a 300 per cent growth in the last financial year. "We are growing at an increasingly fast pace. In the telecom sector in particular, nearly all mobile vouchers are run through us. We are also big in the spa, restaurant and recreational weekend package market.
This growth isn't just concentrated in the metros though. Interestingly one of our biggest potential markets is Siliguri. We have also started getting calls from merchants in smaller towns such as Rajkot and Gwalior - indicating the growing popularity of vouchers across the country," she adds. But it wasn't always smooth sailing for Singh, who holds a masters degree in political communication, as well as an MBA in Information Systems from American University in Washington DC. "It took me a while to really find my true calling. I had initially studied commercial art for my undergraduation degree.
Back then I had wanted to join the advertising industry. I moved to the US in 1998 and went on to launch a software company, Kinis, in 2004," says Singh. Kinis is now a joint venture providing customised e-learning solutions to Fortune 500 companies. When Kinis turned profitable and self-sufficient, Singh decided to look for other areas to invest her time in. This is when she decided to bring the voucher model to India. "When starting out in India the biggest challenge was to convince people that I could make it here as well and that the voucher market was a profitable idea. My family and colleagues gave me a lot of support, especially when it came to finding the right work-life balance. One can always achieve success if you stay committed to what you believe in," she adds.
It also took Singh some time before she could build a reliable core team for Mydala. "As more and more voucher companies started coming up in India, some of our employees left us. But luckily our core team has remained with us from the start. This really showed me the importance of having a trustworthy and loyal team," says Singh, who jokingly calls herself C2C, CEO to chaprasi. "When running a company, you can't be confined to just leading or raising funds. I have 300 employees and am involved in every department. No task is ever too big or too small for my attention. I don't think it's fair to put the burden on your team and just supervise from the top.
It's all about collective ownership and passion," she adds. When she does get some spare time from work, Singh likes to relax by practicing yoga, playing snooker and catching up with friends and family. "I am often asked how I manage my time. The answer is easy. You just figure it out and keep on going with the flow. Life will never be perfect. Real success lies not in trying to control situations but in learning how to deal and adapt to them," says Singh, who gave birth to her second child last week.
"Investors are often skeptical about working mothers running a company. After my first child I returned to work within ten days. Now with my second child, getting back and running was even easier. I don't believe that a woman has to compromise on either the work or family front. Just be organised and put in a little bit of an extra effort," she advises.
In the years ahead, Singh wants to give a little bit back to the start-up community by starting a support system for women entrepreneurs seeking funding. "I used to work with the Clinton Administration in the US on Springboard; an initiative that helps women entrepreneurs raise funding for innovative ventures. I think such a model is greatly needed in India as well.
With family, societal stereotypes and hard work hours, it's difficult to start out," explains Singh, who was herself inspired and mentored by the Founder of Olympus Group, Julie Holden. "I interned at her company. Watching her run an entire firm right after delivering twins and doing around 30 push-ups a day was an eye- opener for me. I wanted to live and work with the same amount of dedication and enthusiasm as her," she says. Today, the greatest satisfaction of being an entrepreneur is to be able to inspire and motivate others around me," she says. When asked about what she would advise young entrepreneurs looking to launch their own business she says, "I would strongly recommend they just go for it. Don't overthink or over-analyse. If you have a dream, work towards it. You have nothing to lose except for a few months of your time and maybe some investments. But you can always recover and bounce right back."
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