Ahead of the launch of her new book Follow Every Rainbow, Rashmi Bansal, writer and entrepreneur, speaks to PaGaLGuY about her new book and the insights that she attained during the course of writing this book:
What is your new book based on?
Like my earlier books, the theme is entrepreneurship. It’s based on women entrepreneurs. The first three books were written in a very gender neutral way. Then one day, someone asked me why my books did not feature many women. In business, there aren’t many women who are visible on the radar. When we talk about women entrepreneurs, the only woman people mostly talk about is Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. Also, when you look at woman achievers, people generally talk about women who have climbed up the corporate ladder and become CEOs. But the achievements of these women cannot motivate ordinary women – the ones travelling by local trains, studying in b-schools, stay-at-home moms who cannot go back to a full-time job. The purpose of my book is to reach out to those women who always wanted to do something but haven’t had the direction or focus maybe because they haven’t found the role models.
I have divided the stories in this book in three segments – Laskhmi, Durga and Saraswati. Lakshmis are the women you do not typically expect to start businesses. They are not very educated and many of them are housewives. They have started these passion led businesses. Once these businesses start growing, many of the family members join in. You cannot build a business alone and women are very comfortable having family members take care of certain aspects of their business. Durgas are women who have faced personal tragedies in life, perhaps death of the husband or divorce because of which they had to stand up on their own feet. Once they took up the challenge, they were up for it. They did a lot of things they thought they weren’t capable of doing. The third kind of women are Saraswatis who are the modern educated women armed with professional degrees. At some point, they decided to drop out of the general rat race and start their own enterprise. Some of them have done it for flexibility or because they found their corporate jobs meaningless.
In an earlier interview with PaGaLGuY, you mentioned not finding enough women entrepreneurs. Has it changed?
What I meant was that there are not many women entrepreneurs who are running very large business that are visible. If you go only by size and scale, you will not find many women entrepreneurs. The majority are in the SME sector, they will be running small businesses. Scaling up is a major challenge for these businesses. In this book, like my previous books, I haven’t gone for only successful people in the conventional terms. I am trying to motivate people through these stories.
How are the challenges different for men and women entrepreneurs?
Men are in a very big hurry to get somewhere and are willing to pay any cost to get there. Some of them told me that they did not even know which class their child was studying in. These are very normal things for them as somebody is taking care of rest of their life and they can concentrate all their energies on work. Women cannot do that. They have to achieve some kind of harmony and balance in their life. Men may have emotional support system of family but not many of them use to scale up their businesses. They may choose to use other partners who are not their family members. Women are passionate while men tend to be more rational in their approach. Women also do not take undue risks.
Do short-term courses in entrepreneurship help?
These courses help people brush up the basics of marketing, finance and other skills. Their horizons definitely open up with these courses. Interacting with other people who have faced similar issues gives them a good support structure. Networking is the foundation of a lot of businesses and these programs give them the opportunities to network. Lot of women also come from very conservative families and these courses help them boost their confidence and personality.
Have women entrepreneurs found answers to the eternal dilemma of kids, family and societal pressures?
You do not give up one for the other but you can’t be perfect at both the things. You can’t be a perfect mother or a business leader. You do the best you can. Each woman handles it in a different way.
Successful women are stereotyped in the sense that ‘they have challenged the odds of society'. Will the examples in your book break these stereotypes?
There would be more focus on challenge of balancing of family life and career which may not be present in other books. Men did not talk about it much because it was not their priority. So, it did not come out that strongly earlier.
Have you seen a shift in the kind of businesses women entrepreneurs are pursuing over the years?
Even today, majority of women are more comfortable with businesses such as garments, foods and beauty. They understand these businesses better. This book deals with a wide spectrum of businesses. Lot of women are also doing export-oriented businesses.
Rashmi bansal's new book which will be launched today
How different was your treatment to the stories on your earlier book?
This book has a little more emotional element in it as women are more emotional. Women talk more (laughs!) so it is more difficult to do the chapters and highlight the essentials.
Do you see your book as a compilation of a few exceptions and is not a reflection of reality?
They are certainly not exceptions. Women entrepreneurs have always been there but they haven’t been very visible and networked. Many of the women I know are getting educated and are not content with just being housewives. Entrepreneurship is a good option as it gives them the flexibility to grow it at the pace they want.
What’s the takeaway for men from your book?
I do not want this book to become one which you would want to give your mother, sister or wife. Men can read these stories to understand the approach of these women. Also, men should understand that the things that hold women back are very small. For example, the atmosphere at home should be supportive so that women can go ahead and follow their dream. You need to have a family which needs to understand that you are not going to sit and make chapatis every evening.