“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better” – Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote has been a guiding refrain in my professional life. It has taken me from a reception desk of a five-star hotel to becoming a founder and an entrepreneur. The journey has not always been easy – but it has been fun and exciting, filled with learnings that have shaped my passion and interest in what I want to do. And what I want to do is make a difference in the lives of people who are marginalized and vulnerable. Coming from a blue-collar background, I realized very early in life that education is key to ensuring social and economic mobility.
My interest in early childhood stemmed from my years of working at Sesame Street, India where I learned about the power that media has to transform and impact at scale. A decade ago, television was that media. Today it’s the mobile. What if I could identify a big unmet need in early childhood education and build a solution that uses technology to impact at scale? There is already a body of evidence that demonstrates how parent engagement is critical to ensure that young children are growing up happy, healthy, and learning. And there is evidence that in low-income homes, this is a particular challenge.
Top Parent was born out of that idea and my passion for creating something that could potentially transform the lives of millions of children. As a vision to bridge the accessibility gap, we incorporated language resources and strategies to help low-income parents support their kids to get ready for school and for the life. I of course had no idea how to go about it! I don’t come from a tech background. I know nothing about coding, and words like React, Nodejs, PWA, and PII were as good as Morse code to me. Combined with the fact that I was toying with an idea in a space that was new and had no precedence as a GenX woman should have given me a lot of food for thought. But in my true style, I decided to jump in with both feet relying on my gut that said it was a good idea – go for it. At the end of the day, it was an experiment and I would learn.
Here are some lessons from my journey that might help you in yours:
Believe in yourself
If you have a good idea, and you believe in yourself nothing can stop you from achieving what you want. Your job as a founder and visionary is to push the boundaries – so don’t get lost in codes – keep the north star as the idea. As one of my tech advisors said to me during our prototyping (thank you Rahul Kulkarni!), “your job is to ask, ours is to deliver”. So even if you don’t have a tech background, or even if you do – don’t get lost in codes.
Listen to your audience
Not enough can be said about being user-centric. At the heart of success is designing a good solution that is human-centered. From what colours they want, to what language they understand, to UX/UI, pedagogy, and curriculum – anything and everything needs to be tested with users. You give them what they need, not what you want.
Find the champions
My journey would really not have been possible without the champions who rallied behind my idea. Who had faith that I could build something new, something innovative. Donors who were progressive to think beyond the normal and teammates who were committed to bringing the idea alive. Start-ups are always hard – but it’s really the people and the team who make it all worthwhile.
Learn from mistakes
It’s rare that your prototype will be perfect the first time around. Mine definitely wasn’t. Failing is part and parcel of learning – leaving yourself open to failure, and learning from your mistakes is your pathway to success.
If you are a feminist like me and don’t want to mansplain, educate yourself. Read, read, read. Ask questions. Talk to experts. Nodejs might always remain Morse – but you will learn to hold your own in a tech world.
Finally, I truly believe that an entrepreneur has to be resilient and embrace change. It’s really not easy to be in start-up mode all the time. It can get exhausting and demotivating. Especially if your north star is not to be the next unicorn but to make a difference in the lives of people who need your solution the most. Build yourself a support group. Take time off to reflect and introspect. Selfcare. For me, it’s a new age – where all things I learned along the way about leadership have flown out of the window! I’m now experimenting with being a new type of leader and it’s exciting. Keep the faith and bash on regardless.