Ladies and gentlemen, meet a female entrepreneur!
If ten years ago someone had told me that I would be introduced like this, I would have been nicely surprised and had a good laugh. But yes, here I am.
In an era when start-ups and small enterprises were trending in India, I too stepped into this world and started my own company. I started KontentEdge, an elearning company in the skill development domain, with two other partners, both of them experienced businesspeople, while I, on the other hand, was a novice. Gradually, my company grew, and I learned the tips and tricks of trade and operating a business. However, after five years, my partners and I split, and I took sole ownership of the company. And it has been now two years when this plane is being flown by a single pilot. I took this as a challenge – the thought of being an Indian woman entrepreneur owning a company excited me.
Embodying Goddess Durga
In India, being a woman entrepreneur has been a real pleasure. On the work front, I have got the highest respect from clients, co-workers, other vendors, and of course, my own team. People in general have been really helpful and polite while dealing with me in the harshest of situations and the friendliest and outwardly open at the best of times. Indian women are really known to be multitaskers (I believe all women are, but I really want to mention my patriotism here because of the metaphor I’m going to use) and are often compared to the goddess Durga.
Now, why would I bring this here? Because as soon as I was managing my own company alone, I had to really be a multitasker – balancing home, kids and their extracurricular activities, parents, and ‘me’ time. That’s despite a supportive husband, my life for Le Cirque, with me juggling these different roles and wanting to expand my business. I was managing different roles at work – director, marketing and sales representative, instructional designer (this is my expertise and I love it), negotiator, mentor, trainer, event planner and so on.
This is where the challenges began. We had ample work coming in, as well as a wonderfully skilled team, but recovery of payments was a task.
And that is when I thought of getting a loan. The loan process with a bank took them three months to complete, at the end of which they told me that only one-fifth of the requested loan amount requested, at an extortionate interest rate. As per my calculations, my loan amount would have gone only in paying off the EMIs (equated monthly instalment) that the bank had set, and so I had little option but to decline the loan. I went to another bank, which again explained they were “willing” to give a business loan and “pleased” to receive my request.
It’s easier getting a business loan with a male co-applicant
But then they told me this: as a female entrepreneur running a private limited company, I am not an ideal candidate for a loan unless I have a male co-applicant.
I tried to reason with them, that for the past seven years I have been a director of the company as well as its head of operations, and not to mention solely running the company for the past two years, even surviving the pandemic and its lockdowns. They too declined my loan request.
I came to learn that the banks in India want a company requesting for loan to have a high tax filing, which means raising invoices for higher amounts, which in turn means I need to scale up and do more work, eventually hire more people, which means I need a loan, but hey, I will not get a loan until my tax filing is higher.
In India, GST is paid when the invoice is raised, not when the amount is received. But in the skill development business, payments to vendors are generally made after deliverables are complete and review feedback is received. Even then, they are regularly significantly late. This creates a working capital issue for businesses like ours.
The show must go on
If I want to open a boutique, salon, chola-bhatura outlet etc, it seems to be easier to get a business loan, but if I want a business loan for my private limited seven-year-old company, then sorry, but my bank statements don’t support the loan.
But as they say, “The show must go on.” I’ll keep struggling and fighting to make my company survive, overcome all challenges, and try to grow new wings. The trick is not to give up as a female entrepreneur and I hope there are better times to come. My learning in the past seven years has been really fruitful and enlightening in many ways, and despite of several obstacles, I call this My Success Story.