A life-changing and fulfilling experience
By Monica Mehta
While India remains strongly entrenched as the third largest startup ecosystem in the world and added 1300 startups in 2019, the moot point is what makes people take this leap into entrepreneurship? And what happens after this leap? Entrepreneurship is tough, and 90% of startups in India fail within the first five years. So, what does it take to sustain a long-term business that one builds from scratch? One thing I’ve learnt from experience is that not everyone is cut out for the life of an entrepreneur. It’s not an easy road, and navigating ups and downs, highs and lows, and peaks and valleys are the norm.
Most entrepreneurial journeys start with an epiphany, a life-changing experience, or a desire to create an impact and make a difference. My entrepreneurial journey has been no different. I was earning a graduate degree in global management in the US when the massive difference in the education systems in the US and India struck me. I wanted to bring back the best practices from the US to India and bring about a much-required change in the Indian education system. That was my starting point and the birth of “The Great Circle” – my education venture.
I started off with a degree in management, $5000 as capital, and a strong desire to make an impact in the education sector in early 2001. I spent the first six months researching the state of the Indian education sector and finally narrowed down on career guidance and counselling for kids in K12 as a starting point for my venture. And I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough – before diving into something, do your research, figure out the market needs, and drill down on your niche. Achieving success is difficult if you are not clear on what you are planning to do in the first place.
Another important trait for an entrepreneur is perseverance. Like all entrepreneurs, I struggled in the beginning. The first few months were especially difficult, but I stuck it out and soon had my first few clients– schools that believed they wanted their students to make informed career choices. The Great Circle grew over the next two years as I added the verticals of Study Abroad and Consulting for IB accreditation. The team grew to 10 people, and with time, I had this feeling of accomplishment from the numerous lives that I touched. By 2009, The Great Circle had started skilling programs in Retail, Real Estate, and BFSI as well, and I had also brought in a partner to join me on this journey. I had a young family and had to constantly balance my professional and personal life, but I don’t regret anything. It was indeed the most fulfilling journey.
Life is about moving forward, and in 2009, I was faced with a decision. I was offered a position as a partner in a first-time team that was building out a plan for India’s first Private Equity Fund focused on education. After much deliberation, I decided to make the jump. I sold The Great Circle to my business partner (not an easy decision) and started another journey of entrepreneurship with my new partners at Kaizen Private Equity. What started in a 500 square foot office in old South Bombay, where a rickety staircase led us to the dimly lit first floor, ended up as a $70 Mn fund with a swanky office in the span of two years. We deployed the fund across 11 investments and the 6.5 years of this journey were the steepest learning curve for me.
Finally, this chapter of my life came to an end in 2015 when I decided to move to an impact investment firm. Looking back, however, the 15 years between The Great Circle and Kaizen Private Equity were the most exciting and satisfying years of my professional life. For anyone who is considering foraying into entrepreneurship, I highly recommend it as an experience – your professional life would never be complete without experiencing the thrills and drama of being an entrepreneur.
Monica Mehta is Executive VP – Wadhwani NEN, Founder – The Great Circle and Former Partner – Kaizen Private Equity