Anisha Singh was two months pregnant when she started Mydala.com, a website that offers deals online. People thought she was crazy. Maybe she was.
On April 5, 2009 she left office at 10 in the night. Work was in full swing. Mydala was growing fast. Singh had forgotten it was the week that the doctors expected her to deliver. After reaching home she started getting contractions. Her husband, Arjun, rushed her to the hospital, where she gave birth to their first child.
“Those were the days,” she recalls. Those days Singh shared Mydala’s office with her mother’s dental clinic. The deals business was on the rise in India; 70-odd companies had started to offer everything on discount: food in restaurants, gym membership, and salon services, dancing lessons, body art, adventure sports…
Not much of it was left after two years as the deals business came down crashing. Companies shut down. Some, such as Snapdeal, pivoted to become online marketplaces. Singh stayed put. She was the only woman in the deals business — all the other companies had been founded by men.
“I know I have a great business sense,” she says. Fast forward six years. Mydala has been profitable for the past two, and enables Rs 4,000 crore of retail.
Singh was one of the early birds in e-commerce, which has a rising number of women entrepreneurs. According to Sreedhar Prasad, partner, e-commerce and startups at KPMG, 15% to 17% of entrepreneurs in e-commerce are women. “A few years ago, there were just 2-3%.”
Mother, wife, entrepreneur
Sabina Chopra quit her cushy job with Japan Airways to start ticketing website Yatra.com with two male co-founders in 2005. Back then, she was the only woman in the trade. India had only 21 million Internet users (250 million in 2015). Chopra would get excited when the site sold 100 tickets. Today it does 25,000 a day. “Women need to stop feeling guilty about not spending all their time with their children,” says Chopra. She doesn’t.
Nor does Radhika Aggarwal, co-founder of Shopclues, who believes women are more versatile. An angel investor herself, she feels comfortable investing in a company headed by a woman. Aggarwal manages her home and children as she steers ShopClues, which has become a billion-dollar company. She looks after branding, marketing, acquisitions, sales, hiring and product mix. “People stereotype women, but women can do the job just as effectively as men,” says Aggarwal.
Not just as effectively as men, maybe a little more, considering the evidence. Nidhi Agarwal’s startup, Kaaryah, promises clothes for every female body type. “We studied 1,500 body types across the country and incubated our own stitching units. We make clothes suitable to almost every body type,” she says.
Suchi Mukherjee’s Limeroad is into social commerce, and is changing the way people dress. It allows people to create their own style. Not just clothes, they can curate an entire ‘scrapbook’, or look, with all kinds of accessories such as shoes and jewellery, using products from 2,000 vendors featured on Limeroad.
Some find more than just their calling within the venture. Upasana Taku, co-founder of mobile wallet company MobiKwik, fell in love and married her co-founder Bipin Preet Singh while building the company. Regardless, MobiKwik’s angel investment depended on Taku’s views on becoming a mother. “I assured them that whenever I planned a child, work wouldn’t get affected,” says Taku. However, she did not take money from the motherhood-fixated investor. And she did go on to have a child. It did not come in the way of MobiKwik becoming the country’s second-largest mobile wallet company.
Just a step away
Even the world of glamour isn’t untouched by the e-commerce phenomenon. While Deepika Padukone launched her fashion line on Myntra, lesser-known Priya Sachdev has become a serial entrepreneur. Her company, RocknShop, has partnered many designers and tailors to develop premium clothing. “E-commerce does not give special advantages unless you are doing women-centric products,” she says. Many of Sachdev’s suppliers are women, who sell on various ecommerce sites.
Aarti Goel was a housewife before she started selling on e-commerce marketplaces. She started with a single product, and now ships 10,000 orders a day. Her husband has joined her in the business. “Earlier I was someone’s wife or daughter. Now I have my own identity,” she says.
In the last two years the number of women among sellers on online marketplaces has grown five-fold to 35%. They mostly sell apparel, art and craft and boutique items. Who knows, some of them may go on to set up their own companies.