It is 2010, Jyoti Sehrawat Dabas is at her desk at Yes Bank. Neither the arrangement of this branch’s infrastructure is proper nor is her interest in the job. There is stability, financial security and other perks with her at this moment. With that, there is also a clear indication that her potential is being left untapped in this corporate setup. We are in 2020 and it has been ten years since that phase in her life. CEO of Institute of Nutrition and Fitness Sciences (INFS) and having founded Fittr, an online health consultation platform, Jyoti turned the tables. Today, with the success of her start-up ventures, she is part of the small yet growing group of “successful women entrepreneurs in India.”
As I ask her, who Jyoti is, she replies with rumination, “She is passionate about the work she does. She is someone who connects well with people. She is someone who works on her self-development and growth a lot”. During schooling, many people dream of becoming a doctor, engineer, businessman and likewise. For Jyoti, excelling at who she is at the very moment is more important. “I wanted to become a good student. I wanted to do well in studies. Since I was decent in studies and my dad was in civil services, I thought maybe a shot at it was likely. Though, being the avid reader that I’m, I read business books. I got to know about how these things work.”
The quest to learn about business and grow in it did not take long. After her time at the University of Warwick, she got her first job at the CITIgroup where she worked at the equity derivative desk as a tech analyst. There Jyoti learnt about trading instruments and company stocks. Though, after a while, she came back to India for her MBA with the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIMC). While talking to Dutch Uncles she admits the experience at IIMC was a humbling one. with cutting edge competition, Jyoti had to find her bearings.
You have to understand and assess your weaknesses. You have to accept the shortcomings. And this can’t be just learnt in business. It starts with everything you do. So, I don’t like to mix things up. It is better to be honest.
Accept the reality and move ahead
She opens up about this phase and it has a strong message for budding entrepreneurs. “It was a new world for me. It was my return to academic life, so it was fun that way. However, from day one I realised this place has a different level altogether. It has a competitive mindset and the success this institution has garnered is immense. I had to buckle up. It was really a realisation. There are so many brilliant minds out there. I had the best of schooling available in Delhi. I was sure, I’ll do well from the start. It wasn’t really the case. I had to give my best after a few semesters in order to match up.” While sharing this experience Jyoti shows exemplary honesty, in which she says, “See in entrepreneurship, or in anything, living inside a bubble will never help. You have to understand and assess your weaknesses. You have to accept the shortcomings. And this can’t be just learnt in business. It starts with everything you do. So, I don’t like to mix things up. It is better to be honest.”
Entrepreneurship is often not the first thing that might come to an individual who is interested in business. It can be a result of years of doing many different things which did not fruit into self-satisfaction. Jyoti’s journey and her insistence on patiently exploring the opportunities are an example of an entrepreneurial trail. “After IIMC, I got the job at Yes Bank. It was a hasty choice. I was cold calling people and doing things that weren’t really the art I’m capable of. I knew my skills could be better put to use somewhere else.” After Yes Bank’s role, Jyoti goes on to do her consultation job at Feedback Ventures. For years into professional life post her academic cycle at IIMC, she still wanted something different. As fate would have it, it was there in the making. “My time with the corporate circle as an employee ended after 2014. I got married. I gave time to myself to figure out something meaningful for my life. I focused on my fitness and read a lot about how fitness is perceived. I was disillusioned with the kind of wrong idea of fitness that there is.”
Jyoti converted the break she took into a remarkable opportunity to explore a new idea. Her exploration of the fitness-related businesses around Gurgaon led her to even more surprising revelations. “People had no idea how crucial health was. Some offices were trying to connect the dots of health but most were still clueless. Streamlining these services and talking to gyms in order to connect them with these corporates was the plan. This is coming after my liking towards fitness. It is quintessential to give yourself time instead of being caged in something that pays well and does well.”
As the entrepreneurial life goes, everything is a risk. Especially when you are leaving a stable, handsomely paying corporate job. On risks, Jyoti shares her thoughts with Dutch Uncles, “I don’t fear risks. But I would also not go stupid altogether. There is something called calculated risks. You have to understand what Plan B is. There are so many things you learn from these risks as well. The rigour that I went through during my corporate career, the ups and downs, the hierarchy of power in the company and similar learnings are all there with me, just because I went through these experiences. Like It or not, the lessons should keep on coming. For example, I was able to call these gyms, corporations with the full ‘cold calling’ feel to it. If Yes Bank experience had not been there, it would have been really difficult.”
The lonely ride of entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is like going on a solo trip. You are on your own. Being cautious in your steps is important. On this Jyoti remarks, “It is so true that entrepreneurs are on their own. This is a knife with sharp edges on both ends. With the independence that an entrepreneur enjoys, it also provides him or her with some freewheeling attitude. That should be balanced with a neutral perspective from the world outside of their close circles. It is essential to go to a neutral audience. Ones who would tell you if they really like your idea or not. And not to appeasers. Especially during a product launch.”
After Jyoti found out her orientation towards health and fitness, the opportunities started coming her way. Destiny’s magic led Jyoti to an online fitness company, Fittr. Like a hand in glove, it was a perfect fit. This is evident from the fact that today, she went on to become the founding director of the Fittr company.
Jyoti connected with the Fittr group after one of their users told her about them. After going through the Facebook page of Fittr, which had a growing community, she told them about their shortcomings. Her zeal and experience of health-related topics eventually resulted in her joining the team full time. She actively took part in the hiring process of trainers as well. This resulted in the genesis of the sister concern of the Fittr group, INFS. There on, she went on to guide the Fittr group to success after success. In entrepreneurship, Jyoti preferred over moving from one challenge to another in a reluctant way. Though things have changed. “I was a reluctant entrepreneur back then. I used to think I wouldn’t overstay my welcome anywhere. I wanted the idea to come to a stage where it is sustainable and then it shall be given to some other leadership. However, I realised that is a wrong thinking process, as far as the company is concerned. Today, I think of the growth of the company. If it progresses under me and I’m required, I won’t just give blind eye “On being asked, if this kind of mindset hampers individual growth, she says, “No. It doesn’t. The commitment to the company and idea is also an entrepreneur’s job. Nobody asks you to stay forever. Although, leaving at the right moment at the cost of vision is an axe on the foot of the company and not you.”
As the independence that an entrepreneur enjoys, does also provide him or her with some freewheeling attitude. That should be kept in check while launching a product. It is essential to go to a neutral public. Ones who would tell you if they really like it or not. And not to appeasers.
Lows, highs and representing your startup
Jyoti goes on to share when she has felt the lowest and how to come out of such lows, “Whenever my ego has been hurt. I have felt bad. When I feel someone is not giving attention to the idea or to a talk that it deserves. I have felt that I’m being edged towards, kind of dejection because of it. However, I talk to my husband about it. He gives his fresh perspective on it. That way, I become a witness to all that I’m going through. That gives me a wider look and helps solve such issues. So always open up to other people and get it analysed retrospectively.”
Entrepreneurship means owning up to success and failures both with equal heart. It is about being the face that is out there taking the brunt and applause, both. Marketing wise as well, a faceless company does not entail much trust either.
Today for Fittr, Jyoti is the face of the company. When it comes to interviews with fitness enthusiasts, talks with experts, discussing the company’s vision through posts, Jyoti is there. Being a public figure wasn’t the case for her a few years back. She, however, decided to turn things around for Fittr and INFS. “I realised, we needed to have a company face. The leadership that shows confidence in our work. The one that is out there, vulnerable. To take the criticism head on and communicate with people. I tried to gather confidence for doing all this and with all grace, it is working out well, what do you think? (chuckles)”.
On being quizzed about the turning point of her life, she preemptively replies back, “Leaving my corporate job. That was a much-needed decision. Comfort of the corporate could be a spiral that you can get stuck in but I think my decision played a pivotal role in my life. I could then freely go on to do what I wanted to.” Would she go on and change something back in life? “Oh yes, maybe choose a different company during IIMC placements. But then its okay learning was still there. Other than that, I would change nothing. All good. I’m satisfied.”
Today she jokes that she used to sleep better when she was in corporate given how busy an entrepreneur’s schedule gets. Though she adds, “My conscience is clean. I’m in a business which is doing good for the people around me. I like it. I sleep good 7 hours a day despite the responsibilities.”
Gender issues and the idea of merit
Jyoti is amongst the top women entrepreneurs of India. This is a big feat given the fact that as per a Bain and Company report, in India, only 31 percent of urban entrepreneurship is owned or led by women. “I understand that there are certain societal tendencies to create the wrong impression or to undervalue us but fortunately I have never faced it. Small incidents here or there still do happen but the solution for a woman in the business field is to put her foot down. She has to hold her ground. Don’t let anybody objectify you. Everything shall be decided on the basis of merit and that is it. If we all, by all I mean both men and women decide that it has to be just our work that shall be the deciding factor, then we can win. This is the penultimate solution to create an equitable society,” Jyoti remarks.
Her message to the entrepreneurs is that one should try to do a better job while thinking about finalising a product. “People are often launching products without even a proper discussion with the target customers. No that cannot happen. Also, employees, take care of them. Take good care of all who work with you. It is the holistic approach of working style. Don’t ignore their interests at all. That is defeating the purpose of changing lives. This simply translates to having a purpose in life. Just passion won’t do. Even if it does, its value to the society would be extremely limited,” she concludes.
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