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Chaitali Pandit, Co-Founder of Changemaker.be

by Bharath ChowdaryMarch 19, 2014

Today its time for all to know about a serial entrepreneur or you may also call her as a social entrepreneur. Today the chit chat is with Chaitali Pandit, Co-Founder of Zumbl.com, Changemaker.be and an active member in Nirmaan. With Zumbl.com Chaitali proved that ‘Sometimes, we just need to talk’ and with Changemaker.be she proved that Youngsters are the change makers of the world. Now let us know more about Chaitali from her own words.

bottom.letterheadZumbl-Services-Private-Limited

1. Have you ever thought of doing something on your own, from your child hood?

As a Child, I had a very inquisitive mind. Besides being good at academics, I always explored different activities like tennis, art and painting, fashion, singing, various forms of classical dancing etc. I also never gave up on any chance to lead like by serving as the Head-Girl of the school and bringing about some much required reforms. I feel each of these activities added a different shade to my personality and I learned more about myself. It also led me to think more dynamically, challenge what was given in the text books and go beyond them to explore more. Imagination led from one thing to another, leading to ideas that could build up into something. 

2. How entrepreneurship attracted you? What is the situation that changed you from a job to entrepreneurship?

My first encounter with entrepreneurship happened during my first year in college. I became a core member of one of the most esteemed E-cells of the country called the CEL (Centre For Entrepreurial Leadership). I later went on to become its Vice-President. Being a part of this organization, I got to interact with many entrepreneurs from different walks of life and this greatly inspired me. I got attracted to product development, marketing and social entrepreneurship. I co-founded RED (Rural Entrepreneurship Division) that aims at the betterment of lives of those residing in rural sectors through technology. We also help in creating more employment in the area by acquainting the women on how to use their traditional skills like candle making, handicrafts etc. to earn a better living.

I co-founded Zumbl.com along with my friends from IIT-Delhi in my second year at college. Zumbl is an interest based anonymous chatting portal. It was created with a belief of bringing all these people, who have common passions and topics to talk about, closer so that they can keep exploring and discovering across boundaries in a safer environment. I majorly handled content writing,PR and Communications for Zumbl. I was always a very active member of the brainstorming sessions and some of my ideas led to features that increased the customer engagement. I also did social media marketing for Zumbl and we have about 42k likes on our FB page.

I also served as the VP, Product and Brand Development with Spectrum Casuals. Our aim was to re-invent the way bulk merchandise operated in the country. We began with supplying high quality t-shirts and other bulk items to college fests at the best price and with the least amount of time. We became known for our hassel free deliveries and high customer satisfaction. We served some of the countries biggest fests of the most reputed colleges like the IIT’s, BITS and NIT’s. Spectrum later moved into Corporates.

Over the past 3 years, I have also guided some start-ups and have been involved with many events both national (like TGP) and international (like HPAIR(Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations)) and I realised that taking risks and innovating is something I want to do for the rest of my life. 

3. What do you think entrepreneurship is all about? (Your definition for entrepreneurship) ?

Entrepreneurship for me is a way of life. It’s about identifying real problems and formulating innovative solutions for them while keeping a customer centric approach.

4. How you started Changemaker.be?

I served as a volunteer at a NGO called Nirmaan for about 2 years. This gave me a chance to understand how non-profits work and what major hurdles they face. I also used to interact a lot with the contacts I made during tours, conferences who were into the non-profits or had their own social ventures. I made a very non-obvious revelation about this sector, which was that even though people support the actions of such organisations in spirits there are very few who actually contribute through active volunteering or help in fund raising. India has over 3.3 million NGOs but most of them die out or become inactive because of these reasons.

NGOs are non-profit organizations and hence, unlike any commercial or corporate enterprise, monetary gains aren’t their primary focus or not a focus at all. Therefore, business is clearly not their option of getting the finances they require for their projects, and they have a hard time seeking elsewhere to raise enough funds to put their plans into action. Yet, even if they manage to reach that destination somehow, all is not fine. Human resources would be the next stumble in front, where they do not have enough people to carry out what they want to. Their plans of a pan-country or a pan-state or even a pan-district project would require adequate human force, which would not be available always. Today’s scenario and societal outlook where anything social and non-profit is ‘generally’ looked down upon as a second-grade waste of time, is utterly disheartening and adding to the difficulties of NGOs even more. This setting needs a transformation. This landscape needs a difference. This panorama needs a CHANGE. This, is where ‘Changemaker.be’ comes to play. 

We at ‘Changemaker.be’ are a group of value-driven youngsters who are creating a platform to bring the change-makers of the society together, namely Corporates, NGOs and Volunteers . We aim at the overall development of our society right from the grassroot level with effective cohesive mutually beneficial collaborations between these three sections of change-makers. Fund-seeking NGOs or technology driven projects aimed at societal development have a direct trail ahead in ‘Changemaker.be’ to attain their goal through the funding provided by the many corporates on board, depending on the projects, while the socially active and responsive corporates can effectively put their ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ into direct action, by choosing the right NGO with the right project to suit their need, based on our suggestions or their own intuition or analysis, which would keep up with the expectations. With the increased awareness about CSR and the new Companies Bill, many corporate are looking forward to give back to the society but majority of these companies end up doing acts of charity when they can actually put their resources to a much better use and create more good will and a better brand image for themselves as well. Our platform will serve as a successful channel through which companies can carry out your CSR where they can meet the people on the other end, ideate, plan out and execute, based on our suggestions and statistics. 

’Changemaker.be’s volunteer database is the NGO’s reservoir for all the human resource they need, in the geography and stream they seek, to carry out their activities. The volunteers, in return get to be associated with the cause they want to support and the NGO they want to work with, and gets to go home with a sense of having made her/his contribution to the society, in addition to the perks the NGO would provide them.

We began this journey 4 months ago with a team of 6 members and have made ourselves visible on platforms like Startup Dosti, IUCN, HPAIR. We are very positive about the future ahead of us and are gaining expertise required to scale up so that we can benefit more non-profits and customize CSR for more corporates.

5. What hurdles you faced while starting – up ? How you managed to overcome them?

One of the major hurdle a student faces is the expectation from the family to do well in academics. Being good at academics since my school time, I was expected to perform well in my college as well. Dropping is never an option for most Indian students and hence it gets very difficult at times to manage grades and a start-up simultaneously. There were nights when I had to tackle issues with customers and also prepare for the exam the next morning. However, I feel these situations have only made me better at managing my time. I also had to get my parents into confidence and explain them that I am actually running a small business and it wasn’t just a hobby! They have been very supportive since then.

Another major hurdle most student entrepreneurs like me face are monetary issues and the daily frustration of having a business idea but the inability to get a foot in the door with potential investors or decision makers that can turn a business idea into a reality. I realised that college can be a hamper because investors like to see a full-time commitment from the entrepreneurs they invest in. We have pitched to the investors at various occasions and realised that they are waiting to see if we will move out of college and still continue with it.  So for changemaker.be I decided to stay in touch with investors who are potentially interested in investing in us and take the plunge when the time is right. For all student entrepreneurs, I would like to suggest that you should do a lot of networking and attend events, apply for B-plans. This might sound like diverting from the focus but it’s not.  At Zumbl, we applied for many B-Plans that got us some money to run as well as got us in touch with potential investors. Many investors come as judges for these competitions and believe it or not applying for such events will get you into their eye. Staying in touch with Investors always helps as they keep giving you a reality check from time to time, which is very much required especially because entrepreneurs have the tendency to fall in love with their idea.

Also, I decided to optimize my time in college. I began to leverage professors in areas of expertise that are core to my business, use their network and  some of them have mentored me for a while now. The reputation of my college has also helped me a great deal in getting in touch with the right people. We have access to resources like high speed internet and 24X7electricity and a huge supportive alumni base. So there is always a blessing in disguise.

6. Your favourite quotation?

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

– Bill Gates

7. Your inspiration?

Swami Vivekananda have been the greatest inspiration in my life. In one section of his book called Swami Sishya Sangbad, a transcript of conversations with his disciple he urges his student to start a business. This section spoke to me about the worthiness of entrepreneurship.

Also one of his famous quotes “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.”  So Swami Vivekananda wasn’t thinking of startups or entrepreneurship when he spoke these words. But they are definitely words of wisdom for today’s startups and entrepreneurs. The power of focus and the discipline to leave every other idea alone. 

8. What do you think the firms to be taken to increase the number of entrepreneurs in India?

Almost everyone I came across in college wanted to do something to make the world a better place but only a few were doing something about it. Many students wanted to make a positive impact in the world after they worked for a few years and established themselves financially. However, the reality is that as the years pass, responsibilities add up and it becomes harder and harder to get rid of the inertia and comfort of the corporate life to make a difference. Entrepreneurship should be imbibed as early as possible. Students in schools as well as colleges should be encouraged to come up with innovative solutions and think out of the box. Merely having courses and books on entrepreneurship will have no significant influence on entrepreneurial propensity. Time has gone when it was more important to study harder, get good grades and take up a good job. Today it is about creating jobs, making innovations and providing better living standards for the ever increasing population.

Moreover the E-cells of most of the reputed colleges in the country work independently and sometimes in competition with each other rather than in collaboration. I feel the E-cells of colleges like IITs can greatly benefit other E-cells in terms of the scale of the events, the experts involved and the resources spent.

I also feel that there should be a better ecosystem to support the entrepreneurs financially. Most great ideas die out due to monetary support rather than lack of expertise. Almost a dozen startups are launched in India every week. But for every startup idea that sees the light of day there are at least four more that remain in the dark due to prior financial commitments of the would-be entrepreneurs. Equated monthly instalment obligations are the biggest hurdle for a young professional today to live their dream of entrepreneurship. Many young people cannot venture into starting up or joining a start-up as their EMIs become a threshold for monthly earnings or savings. As hard as it may sound, people should be debt free before diving in for their ventures. Also, opportunities like sharing space, resources with other start-ups should be available. 

I would like to highlight here that inspite of several steps taken by government to support the entrepreneurs, the benefits have not reach them. For example very few are aware about the National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB),Technopreneur Promotion Program (TePP), Technology Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship Information Service (TIME), a joint project of NSTEDB, DST, and Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the DST-Lockheed Martin India Innovation Growth Program which are some of the major steps taken by the government of India to foster entrepreneurship.

Last I would like to say that Indian women should be encouraged to come forward and lead start-ups. Indian women have to go a long way to achieve equal rights and position because traditions are deep rooted in Indian society where the sociological set up has been a male dominated one. Moreover women entrepreneurs have to face a stiff competition with the men entrepreneurs who easily involve in the promotion and development area and carry out easy marketing of their products with both the organized sector and their male counterparts. Such a competition ultimately results in the liquidation of women entrepreneurs. Women’s family obligations also bar them from becoming successful entrepreneurs in both developed and developing nations. The financial institutions discourage women entrepreneurs on the belief that they can at any time leave their business and become housewives again.

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