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Life as an entrepreneur


MARCH 24, 2019


Jo Agarwal, Founder and CEO, Wysa, Bengaluru

I always had an entrepreneurial mindset. When I joined Infosys in 1994, my aim was to learn how to set up a company like that. My entrepreneurial journey started when I joined the founding team of Silatech, and my husband and now co-founder Ramakant Vempati quit Goldman Sachs to join me in the venture. We worked on creating jobs for young people in conflict areas such as Yemen, Iraq and Syria. We had access to hundreds of millions of dollars of funding and the backing of major institutions. That gave us the confidence to move back to India and start Wysa in 2016, so as to bring down our cost of living, and free up capital to chase ideas of how technology could be used as a force for good.

Your inspiration

The growth of mobile phones was our biggest inspiration. When we started, the smartphone industry was still in a nascent stage, but we had seen the difference access was making to the remotest communities in the world. Instead of going through NGOs, government offices and finding beneficiaries, it was possible to reach millions of people within weeks if you offered something of value. It seemed like we were at an inflection point, and it was exciting to relook at some of the bigger problems in the world through the lens of mobile access. We picked up mental health, and so far our work with Wysa has helped a million people globally to learn how to be emotionally resilient. In Wysa’s case, there is no stigma attached with anonymous conversations with a bot, so people are able to share mines much more easily. They can get support at 4 am when they can’t sleep without having to confide in another person or apply for a service.

Entrepreneurial aspirations

It is like jumping off the cliffthe actual action is not that hard. What you have to deal with is fear and anxiety, and you have to ask yourself really hard why you are doing this. For me, I wanted to build a workplace where everyone could be at ease and still work in a data-oriented and market-focussed way, on real social issues. Creating my own company helped me create the culture from ground up and build the principles I felt deeply about into the DNA of the venture.

But, it was hard. With a middle-class upbringing, even equity feels like debt and your reputation is all you have from your career. That is the biggest risk I feel one takes as a late-stage entrepreneurthe risk of staking the goodwill earned over decades on a single start-up idea. We’ve been fortunate in getting supporters who believe in the mission as much as they believe in us and are walking with us on this journey.

Finding a support system

Our first mentors and supporters were our angel investors and also friends who were founders and venture capitalists themselves. I remember once during initial days of Wysa, I was scared of losing investor money and was considering closing the company and returning the angel funding, But, a close friend and angel investor said to me, You are investing more than any of us. If you don’t believe in this, close it. But if you are ready to take the risk, so are we. I understood why those investors are called angels.

There are so many such stories that shaped our journey. Partners such as Swiss Re and Philips helped us think about insurance and healthcare and build connections there. We learnt how to grow Wysa’s user base 10x without spending any money on customer acquisition and create 360-degree experiences for our users across channels.


Geetha Manjunath, Co-founder and CEO, Niramai, Bengaluru

As a computer scientist, I have always enjoyed working on challenging problems requiring innovative solutions. In my previous role, as head of analytics for a multinational, we were working on several innovative projects with business relevance. During that time, two of my close family members were suffering from breast cancer and I saw the pain the disease causes to the entire family. I thought we need to address that issue and we started a research project to explore approaches to solve the issue using artificial intelligence. After some initial success, I decided that this needed my complete focus. So, I quit my job, and founded Niramai in 2016 along with my co-founder Nidhi Mathur.

Making the journey smooth

We received a lot of support from the ecosystem during our Niramai journey. For example, during our Google Launchpad Program, we had the opportunity to learn from many successful entrepreneurs, and we got pointers on scaling up, team behaviour, commercialisation, and business operations. Philips HealthWorks helped us to understand the medical device industry better and Axilor made good introductions to hospitals and medical experts.


Naiyya Saggi, Founder, BabyChakra, Mumbai

I graduated from Harvard Business School, US, and had a great job in Boston but something was just not right. I kept reading about the changes happening back home in India, especially vis-a-vis the Internet, and I knew I had to come back to be part of that change. Becoming an entrepreneur was the best way to ensure I could not only participate but also create the change I wanted to see.I wanted to help Indian families online solve real problems and create meaningful change harnessing technology.

Key triggers

India as a country has always inspired me. I deeply believe that if you can scale a product in the country, the product and learnings can hold you good at a global scale. In particular, what inspired me to build BabyChakra was the fact that digital products and innovations happening in India were restricted to a few sectors and spaces. Large markets, opportunities and problem statements such as maternity, childcare, support services, and family health were not being addressed. These have been endemic issues reflecting in child and maternal health statistics. Given the percolation of technology even in small towns and villages today, I was inspired by how much change we could create by building a trusted ecosystem for parents and families online to guide them in their journey as parents.

Starting from scratch

As an entrepreneur, I have made and will continue to make many mistakes. However, I have learned from these mistakes and they have made me stronger and more focussed on what works and what doesn’t works. Having a great team is also the most important part of being an entrepreneur. For any company to thrive, you need a mission driven, entrepreneurial team in place that comes with a start-up mentality, and understands that a start-up will be tough and have ups and downs. One has to be willing to experiment and roll with the punches.

Need for mentoring

The best mentors I have had have been fellow entretpreneurs at other start-ups, venture firms or currently working in the front lines of technology. By exposing us to fellow start-up founders from all over the world, we developed a new way of thinking about building such a valuable product.


Akanksha Hazari, Founder and CEO, m.Paani, Mumbai

I built my first organisation at 21 with a group of friends. It was incredible to build something that solved a real world problem, became profitable, scaled to a team of 200 plus across three countries and four cities in the first few years. Most importantly, we built something that outlasted the founding team to become a 13-year old organisation in nine countries today. I knew from that first (ad)venture that I wanted to come back to India to build something that could have a meaningful impact on a large number of people and contribute to India’s growth story. At m.Paani, our mission is to empower India’s local businesses to survive and succeed in a quickly changing retail environment. We help in the growth of local businesses that are an important part of every community and are responsible for 40 per cent of employment in India.

The guiding light

The Google Launchpad Studio Program gave us great insight and best practices towards becoming an ML (machine learning) first start-up. We were fortunate to learn directly from leaders in their fields as part of the programme including the amazing Peter Norvig. Meeting him was an absolute fanboy/girl moment for everyone in our tech and product team. Our programme mentor also guided us in implementing best practices in product design and development.


Programme Manager, Google Launchpad Accelerator, India

Inspiring Goals

How Google Launchpad Accelerator Program is a boost for women entrepreneurs

There is ample research to show that diversity of thought leads to better problem-solving. We have been very focused on ensuring that we share all our learning and insights at Google, with the wider tech and startup communities through our Google Launchpad Accelerator programme in India that focuses on mentoring startups that have set up to work on real issues in India.

A leading pathway

In the last two years, we have also conducted mentoring programmes for all-female-founder, intending to address the issues that are specific to the female founder’s experience. We also ensure that we grow our mentor pool to be inclusive and provide balanced insights. Over the years, the number of female founder applicants to the Launchpad Accelerator programme has doubled and it is heartening to see compelling examples of universally relevant products made by women-led diverse teams.

Widening opportunities

In a similar vein, it’s very important to fix the women-in-tech talent pipeline at its various choke-points to address the issue of representation be it addressing the vast drop-off that happens between women entering to pursue undergraduate courses in technology and moving to the postgraduate level or addressing organizational policies that can help women re-enter the organization after a sabbatical, with options like ramp-back time and up-skilling opportunities.