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From Failing in Engineering to Co-Founding a Million-Dollar Company : Varun Agarwal

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Varun Agarwal, Million Dollar Company, Anu Aunty

In a world where everyone around us want us to “think” and follow the conventional route to success, Varun Agarwal shares a very different mantra of success, “Don’t think”. Watch as Varun shares his fascinating story of starting India’s largest college merchandise company and becoming a bestselling author, while braving a certain ‘Anu Aunty’.

Varun Agarwal is a 25 years old filmmaker, entrepreneur and a bestselling author. He is the co-founder of Alma Mater, India’s biggest college apparel/memorabilia company, author of bestseller ‘How I braved Anu Aunty & Co-founded A Million Dollar Company’, and also the co-founder of Reticular, a social media marketing firm. The pursuit of his interests brought about collaborations with A.R. Rahman, Preity Zinta, and many others.

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Business Corner

Dr. Karishma Shah: Evolving Lives Through Nutrition and Wellness

A conversation with nutritionist Dr. Karishma Shah on importance of mental health, spiritual health, well being and dreams.

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Karishma Shah

Dr. Karishma Shah, a dedicated nutrition consultant, is on a journey to revolutionise the way we approach health and well-being. Born and raised in Mumbai, India, she hails from a culturally diverse background, belonging to a Gujarati Jain family with roots in Punjabi traditions. 

Completing more than 8 years in Nutrition Consultancy and Health, Dr. Karishma has built a brand which believes in holistic development and well-being of the people. Through this great opportunity to interview her, we got some insiders into her journey, the daily highs and lows, and her approach to health and well being. 

Early Life: Turns & Twists

Dr. Karishma Shah, initially a science student, shifted to management studies in her undergraduate. However, soon after, she made the decision to return to the field of science, pursuing a Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics along with postgraduate diplomas in Clinical Nutrition, Weight Management, Diabetes Management and Counseling Psychology. 

This shift in focus was influenced by a significant family history of diabetes, going from her great-grandparents to her own parents, uncles and aunts. She had witnessed her family struggle with the challenges of diabetes and the constant battle with medications and fatigue. A personal tragedy struck when she lost her aunt due to complications from diabetes, which made her realise that she wanted to break this cycle and make a positive impact on the lives of others. 

Key Learnings and Lessons from Her Practices

After completing several of her certificate courses, Karishma had the opportunity to work closely with two doctors before she started her own practice – one with a prominent doctor in diabetes and another with an Endocrinologist.

One of the fundamental lessons she gained from her experiences was the importance of addressing the root cause of health issues. For newly diagnosed individuals, she observed that medication alone was not a comprehensive remedy. Instead, incorporating changes in nutrition, lifestyle, mental practices, and spiritual well-being led to significantly better outcomes, often reducing the dependency on medications.

This is how she also noticed why all her family members had so easily become diabetic – the trend of indulging in large carbohydrate-rich meals without prioritising physical exercise. She realised that diabetes then is not a genetic disease, but a food and lifestyle disease. 

Factors such as travel schedules, excessive use of social media, and consumption of junk food inadvertently affect our physical and mental health. To counteract these influences, she advocates for a mindful approach, encouraging individuals to slow down, pay attention to themselves, and embrace positive changes. 

Dr. Karishma Shah: “Food Issues Don’t Exist in Vacuum” -Understanding Mental Health and Well-Being

We had a fruitful discussion on mental health and wellbeing with Dr. Karishma Shah. According to her, mental health remains largely taboo, whose conversations gain traction only on social media. There is a lack of mental health practice on the larger ground. Making people comprehend that their dietary challenges are intertwined with mental health helps them overcome their shortcomings from the very root.

To illustrate this, Dr. Shah shared an example of a teenage girl experiencing hair loss, weight gain, and irregular periods. Rather than simply addressing the physical symptoms, she delved deeper to uncover underlying emotional traumas affecting the individual’s eating habits and exercise routine. Once she understood the root cause of what influenced her relationship with food, most of which stemmed from her past emotional traumas, she was able to help the girl in a more nuanced way. Dr. Shah strongly believes that understanding the mind is crucial, as many diseases, including thyroid issues, hypertension, and diabetes, often manifest from mental and emotional states.

Coupled with this is what Karishma calls the ‘well being’ of individuals, which, according to her, is the inner divine light of people, called the ‘Ojus’. Dr. Shah rightly says that while all of us are constantly working on beautifying our external selves, we often forget that the best of our physical self is the reflection of a healthy inner self. A healthy inner self comes through self-care, empathy, self-worth, self-esteem and self-content. We should be obsessed with becoming better versions of ourselves and carry that positive aura and energy to other people. 

This is something Dr. Karishma Shah herself follows closely. She shares how she enjoys spending time alone by herself. Reading, listening to music or introspecting, helps her clean off her depleted energy and infuse it with refreshed energies. Looking after people with serious food and mental health problems comes with responsibilities which, in due course, gets her overwhelmed, strained and tired. Only when her inner light is bright enough, can she extend the guiding hand and support to her clients. Channeling her empathetic, intuitive, and compassionate self, Dr. Karishma calls herself a natural healer.

Dr. Karishma Shah’s Message of Transformation and Empowerment

For Dr. Karishma Shah, a nutritionist’s job is to make a genuine difference in people’s lives. She encourages aspiring professionals to keep learning more and more and meet and talk with as many people as possible. This is the reason why she did her first 100 consultations for free so that she could meet people and truly understand their problems. Unless and until you don’t apply practical knowledge to your learnings, you can’t empathise with people, and will always lack in alleviating their distress. Real transformation comes from understanding and addressing the intricate connections between physical, mental and emotional well-being. Ultimately, she believes that by empowering ourselves and others, we can create a ripple effect of positive change and build a happier, healthier society.

Lastly, Karishma also says that it’s never too late to go after your dreams. It is indeed a blessing to find something that completely resonates with you. So shut down people’s negative warnings, and no matter what age or time, go and take that journey. Do not let your potential go down the drain, because this potential would not only rock your soul but could also bring gains to other people around you. 

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Challenging The Status Quo with MIVI Co-founder Midhula Devabhaktuni

Today on International Women’s Day we bring you a look inside the life of a trailblazing woman entrepreneur and leader, Midhula Devabhaktuni.

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Midhula Devabhaktuni

Oh to be a woman!

Being a woman is a journey unto itself, with its joys, hardships and rewards. It’s deeply personal and somehow fiercely unifying. We can’t help but wonder whether we really need to circle a special day in the calendar to celebrate all women when logic dictates that we should be doing that everyday— without exceptions. But what this day represents most strongly is hope, a bridge. It’s a testament to all the women before us and a promise to those after us. It’s a vision of a day in the near future where respect and opportunity are so generously given to all women everywhere that we won’t need a day like this anymore.

But until then, let’s take a minute and learn about one of these incredible women who are heralding us into a better future, Midhula Devabhaktuni.

I’d like you to picture a young girl in the beautiful river city of Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh. Growing up with a younger sister and brother, she imbibed the values of entrepreneurship very early on from her father, who instilled deeply in her the importance of carving your own destiny equally in her and her siblings. At the age of 2, she started going next door to learn classical dancing after being enamoured with it & picked up Sulman Rushdie in 6th class. And by 8th standard, she had an X-ray like clarity on her future. Which took her from a Bachelor’s in Computer Science from Jawaharlal Nehru Technical University to a Master’s in Computer Science from Florida State University (and an MBA too!). Not to forget the dance diploma as well.

Today she, along with her loving husband is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Mivi-one of India’s most beloved homegrown electronics brands.

On Passion

Passion is central to Midhula’s exceptional journey. In India, engineering courses are considered the most obvious thing to do until challenged. This has led to a culture where many kids get into it without a real love for it. Midhula on the other hand has always been obsessed with innovations in computer science and thrives on the challenge that coding poses. She knew very early on that she wanted to bring her own solutions to the table by becoming an entrepreneur (a love shared by her husband as well). After several stable & well-paying jobs in the United States of America, they took a calculated risk of filling the gap of high-quality electronics in India. 8 months of R&D later, Mivi was launched. She says, “if you’re not passionate about your business and how you solve a problem in the market then don’t do it”. Even though there might be thousands of other competitors, they shouldn’t be the reason why you enter the business. It should all come from within you.

For youngsters trying to discover their passions, Midhula very wisely advises, “you don’t need to be passionate about everything, just always be willing to learn and absorb as much as you can from all different domains. And soon, you’ll find your ‘own’ areas.”

A look into her personal life

It’s with this exact fervour that she also parents two toddlers under the age of 3. Motherhood like everything is a learning process and through time she has learnt the valuable lesson of being open to help. Willingness to seek help is a very underrated and dare I say, underappreciated trait in modern times. This is why Midhula detests the image of a ‘supermom’. It shouldn’t be expected of a mother to be an innate supernatural multi-tasking machine when the same is not expected from both the parents.

Her call-to-action to young parents is to raise a generation that learns the concept of respect, unity and kindness early on. “It will only take one generation to raise people who all know how to respect and encourage women” she posits. Which is where her love for reading comes in. Reading can give you the exposure and the wonderful gift of seeing the world from the window of another’s mind. Always up for a challenge, the top item on her bucket list is to keep improving at negotiating and sales skills as well as to master the Hindi language.

Before we go!

Her message to all young women out there is to follow your heart always and never look for validation outside of yourself. Filter every decision through the ‘inner you’. For all young hopeful entrepreneurs, her number one tip is to learn to be “patient and consistent. Value people and give them time, results will surely come later”

Once again, wishing all our dear readers a very happy International Women’s Day!

Listen to the full Podcast by Tunvey Gogia!

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Breaking Through The New Normal: Stuti Srivastava

Stuti Srivastava talks about the mentality that we need to adopt, as a collective, as a response to the increasingly isolated world we find ourselves in.

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Stuti Srivastava

The world has changed greatly. Disruption, be it social, cultural or economic, lays the foundational stones for emergent ideas and innovative strategies. In the aftermath of the pandemic, this becomes especially relevant when it comes to navigating the markedly different work environments we find ourselves in. The manner in which corporate organizations, from established multinationals to growing startups, have adapted to the changing circumstances is a testament to the ability of the human spirit to face and overcome any challenge that is thrown its way. At a time, where distance is becoming increasingly important, the digital connection has managed to bring us closer than ever.

Consequently, when it comes to growing organizations or budding entrepreneurs, the need for a structured digital outreach programme, under the current circumstances, is paramount. And, if you read on, you would understand the manner in which individuals, such as Stuti Srivastava, are helping people navigate the limbo that comes before having an established digital presence. 

With over a decade’s worth of professional experience, Stuti Srivastava has had an interesting journey, to say the least. From sharing her own experiences in tackling challenges in a dynamic work environment to helping others understand the intricacies of navigating the digital space, Srivastava has been doing this much longer than you or me.

Born in Patna, Srivastava had the opportunity to acquaint herself with different cultural values and beliefs from a very early age. Coming from a family of teachers, Srivastava recalls a natural affinity towards History, with all the stories and discussions during family gatherings instilling a natural curiosity in her from a very young age. Even today, when she travels, especially in India, Srivastava feels a certain sense of familiarity with the places she visits, on account of all the stories she has heard about them.

When starting out in her career, in the hospitality field, Srivastava states her first experience with a work environment was extremely organized and structured. Working in a larger corporate organization, Srivastava explains, comes with the benefit of having a standard of procedure when it comes to problem resolution. There are guidelines one must follow. That, however, does not imply that there is no space for creative problem-solving. It merely means that there is an established way of doing things. 

On the other side of things, when she did make the shift to a more dynamic work environment, Srivastava realised that there are a whole host of other responsibilities that are expected to be shouldered by an employee. Often, an individual, working in a start-up organization, is expected to be able to handle multiple fronts with relatively little support. This is especially true for a rapidly evolving field such as Digital Marketing.

And, while all of the added responsibilities may seem like a daunting challenge to most, Srivastava explicitly states that these added challenges are what fosters growth and innovation. From her own professional experience, Srivastava has taken bits and pieces from her mistakes and managed to grow as an individual.

This sentiment that Srivastava expresses is extremely important to adopt, especially considering the circumstances we live in now. Covid-19 has forced such a rapid shift in work culture and environment that individual navigation of issues has become critical.

Speaking of the new normal we live in, Srivastava, too, recognizes the manner in which Covid-19 has affected working professionals and organizations. With increasing importance given to work efficiency and the urgency to navigate relatively new ways of doing things, especially in start-up environments, Srivastava states that there is a growing need to understand the magnitude of the digital resources that are available. As stated earlier, having a digital outreach and being able to connect with the respective clientele is something that is critical. This is something that Srivastava is deeply passionate about and excels in, wishing nothing but to help others navigate this space. 

That’s not all that Srivastava has an insight on, however. When we talk about the need for the inclusion of mental health awareness and issues related to women in workplaces, Srivastava brings up some incredibly structured resolutory points. This is where the previously mentioned dynamic problem-solving skills come in. Amidst some of the examples she states, Srivastava touches on the need for a general strengthening of Human Resource guidelines and the creation of policies that allow for greater retention of female employees.

When you really get to examine the points that Srivastava puts forward, you get the idea of the kind of individual she truly is. Just recently, Srivastava became a mother. Amidst all the chaos of Covid-19 and the responsibility that comes with raising a child with one’s partner, Srivastava has not faltered once. That’s not something she would admit to, however. After all, Stuti Srivastava is constantly looking to grow, not just as an individual but also as a professional. And, to be frank, I think we could all do with taking a leaf out of her book.

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The Bells Ringing Beyond The Horizon: Kamiya Jani

Kamiya Jani, the founder of ‘Curly Tales’, talks about the driving motivation behind bringing you a new world to discover.

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Kamiya Jani

It is nearly dusk when we begin our conversation, the sun setting slowly and leaving us all in a twilight bathed glow. As I would go on to find out later, it is, in fact, her favourite time of the day. There is something about twilight that makes Kamiya Jani feel especially blessed. And, ‘blessed’, perhaps, is the best word to describe her journey so far. From having a career, spanning over a decade, in the Media industry, working with established news channels, to setting up her own content platform, ‘Curly Tales’, Jani has had a journey that can be categorically summarized as being inspirational. 

Ever since she was a child, Jani has had deep rooted ties with Mumbai. Born in the suburbs of Ghatkopar, she remembers her earliest years with some fondness. As part of a larger extended family living together, she grew up surrounded by her relatives. Soon enough, she ended up moving to Chembur, which, as she states, was largely a Sindhi neighbourhood. As part of the Sindhi community herself, Jani grew up with a strong familiarity with good food. That, perhaps, informed and evolved her own fascination with how food can actually go on to tell the cultural story of a community. I drag on, however, Jani, herself, neatly sums up her experiences so far by saying, “I was born in Ghatkopar, raised in Chembur and married in Powai”.

Credit: YouTube (Curly Tales)

Before going on to establish ‘Curly Tales’, Jani went on to have an illustrious career in the Media industry. In fact, her desire to pursue journalism started when she was really young. Her mother, while watching the news on television, would, often, remark, saying that one day she wished for her daughter to become a news anchor. This stuck with Jani. Fortunately, a year before she would go on to pursue her Bachelor’s degree, a  Bachelor’s course in Mass Media had just launched. Slowly, but surely, things were working in her favour.

Finishing her degree, Jani went to work with CNBC TV18, working as a writer in advertising. Two years later, she went on to work as a producer for an auto car show production, where she was involved in writing scripts, assisting the anchor and the videographer and the host of responsibilities that come with post-production work. Three years later, Jani got the job that she always wanted ever since she was fifteen. She was hired by ET Now as an anchor. She spent 6 years working at ET Now, finally achieving everything she ever hoped to. During her time there, she, occasionally, hosted travel shows. This would, later, become foundational in her setting up ‘Curly Tales’.

Having had a career, spanning over 10 years. in the industry she dreamt about, Jani, now, looked towards doing more. Recalling her time spent hosting travel shows, she set out to establish a channel on her own, one that would focus on bringing the experience of travelling to an audience, helping them to not only get a chance to become familiar with new places and new cultures but also in realising their own desire to travel. This would become the founding idea for ‘Curly Tales’, an idea that would help establish the platform as a cornerstone for not only travel-based content but also for stories focusing on the human experience. 

“I realized I have achieved what I wanted to. Now, what next?”

Kamiya Jani

Diving deeper, Jani explains the core philosophy behind ‘Curly Tales’. For Jani and the creative team behind ‘Curly Tales’, it is always about what the audience can take away from their content. The primary motivation for them is to be helpful. As such, it is the need to help people discover what they, otherwise, would not. Of course, there are iconic places, figurative monuments that have stood the test of time, that ignite a timeless passion and fascination in the viewer. And, while she asserts that it is important that they cover those places in question, there is also the idea of bringing, to her audience, a curated experience that would help broaden their own cultural horizons.

Talking about some of the challenges that need to be navigated during the process of creating and curating content, Jani touches on the volume of the actual content that needs to be put out there. In point of fact, ‘Curly Tales’ puts out twenty five new content pieces on a daily basis. That’s twenty five new discoveries every single day. Let that sink in for a bit. Even so, it is a creative process that she and her team thoroughly enjoy, with each member of the team being passionate about what they do.

Credit: YouTube (Curly Tales)

Now, Kamiya Jani has experienced a lot more than, say, the average person. Her travels and discoveries have, as a matter of fact, given her a new perspective on the world out there. It would go amiss if I actually didn’t ask her about some of the things one should do while visiting a place for the first time. After all, who better to ask that from than her? 

As she says, for her, travelling is a different experience. Visiting a new place comes with some explicit responsibilities. When she travels, she is there with the express intention of creating content. She doesn’t mind it, however, because, to her, that doesn’t really seem like work. Even so, she doesn’t really keep a certain list of things to do when visiting some place for the first time. It is always about immersing yourself in the place you are in, whether it is in the culture, the food or even the way people talk and greet you. Jani reveals that upon reaching a destination, she keeps her first day there unplanned, only going about the place and understanding the cultural legacy and the way of life that exists there. 

“For me, travelling is more about meeting people and soaking up the culture.”

Kamiya Jani

One thing she would always try to do, when going somewhere in India, is try to have a meal at a local home. That experience, as she believes, is crucial to understanding some of the socio-cultural norms that exist in a place. She does add, however, that the one thing she loves to do, and this purely for her own self, is to look for the best spots, in any place she is in, to watch the sunrise and sunsets from. 

Positioned at the very helm of ‘Curly Tales’, Jani has managed to turn it into something that is now foundational to understanding and experiencing the world around you. This was, by no means, an easy feat. In fact, that period of transition, from her career in the Media industry to setting up ‘Curly Tales’, is one of the bravest tasks she has undertaken. However, as she adds, it was not a blind leap of faith. In her decision to start her own platform, Jani had, in fact, assessed the situation thoroughly before she set out.  And, it paid off.

Talking about the success and the journey behind ‘Curly Tales’, Jani, now, realises the impact she has had on the lives of her audience. Indeed, she still finds herself surprised by the love and support she receives from people. One thing that she absolutely feels is necessary to hold on to is the transient nature of things. She does not spend too much time celebrating success nor does she waste time wallowing in self-hesitation and doubt. For Jani, it is always about the journey ahead.

“The kind of engagement and the love that I get from the community, I get very surprised.”

Kamiya Jani

Speaking from her own personal experiences, Jani states the importance of assessing the situation completely before setting out to pursue something that you are passionate about. It is important to weigh the risks involved and to understand what you can actually bring to the table. Creative vision must be bolstered with an ability to see things as they stand. And, Kamiya Jani can clearly see the bells ringing beyond that horizon.

Credit: YouTube (Curly Tales)
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Business Corner

Meet Shubham Bansal: An Entrepreneur Helping People Live A “Life Beyond Wishes”

The founder of Topbeat, Shubham Bansal is an IITian who left his high paying job to start a Music School to help people fulfil their dreams, shares his entrepreneurship journey with us.

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Shubham Bansal

Everyone has this one thing that they have always wanted to do, a skill they want to learn. Maybe a dance form like salsa, or writing or photography. Maybe learning to play the guitar like John Mayer or Arijit Singh. Just imagine, being able to strum strings like them as you sing heart-breaking romantic songs professing your love to someone.  Well then, Shubham Bansal is here to help you. Topbeat is one of the easiest ways to learn guitar. And they have already helped over a 1000 people learn this musical skill.

Born in Kota, Rajasthan, Bansal comes from a family of entrepreneurs. He completed his graduation from IIT Bombay with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 2012. But this didn’t happen without struggles. While he wasn’t able to clear the IIT entrance the first time, his hard work and determination gave results when he cleared it on his second attempt.

Life is short and there is no room for regrets.

Shubham Bansal

Bansal admits that leaving a well-paid job to follow his dreams was probably one of the most courageous things he’s ever done. But music and entrepreneurship are his passion as well as his motivation. And while he couldn’t have done it without the support of his wife and family, the leap of faith was worth it. His family also knows this as they support him without questioning his decisions.

But every journey has its own hurdles. Covid-19 lockdown certainly affected Bansal’s business negatively. One of their committed investors backed off and their revenue suddenly dropped to zero in the month of April. But everything happens for a reason and there’s always a solution. Once they started conducting live lessons, their business has been growing consistently. Without having to raise external capital, consistently and they have a positive cash flow.  

Bansal’s biggest inspiration is his father (so wholesome!). Though he does say it isn’t because he is Shubham’s father, but because he is a phenomenal businessman. Successfully navigating through all struggles, it’s the perseverance of his father that inspires him. One of his biggest inspirations apart from his own father is Steve Jobs. He admires Steve Jobs for the sheer disruption he brought to multiple industries.

When we talk about entrepreneurs, fundraising is a big task. Shubham while sharing his two cents on the topic, talks about two very important things that are demanded from a good entrepreneur. The conviction in one’s idea and the ability to accept a no. End of day, you have to remember that you don’t really need a hundred investors. All you need are 5 investors who believe in your vison. And this belief only stems out from confidence and belief in yourself.

If I was not an entrepreneur, I would have been a music composer.

Shubham Bansal

Bansal has always had the touch of business within him. In fact, he had his first experience with entrepreneurship when he started selling stickers and mehndi books, or just chocolates at a very young age. But apart from business, music and reading also bring him joy. In fact, he’s composed a lot of songs and performed professionally too!

A firm believer of following your dreams and passions, Shubham Bansal reminds us before leaving, that no profession is unconventional. In the end, it’s about what you love and what you don’t.

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