Struggles should never break a person, they should only make them. That’s exactly what happened to Swati and Team Pumpkin. Here’s the story.
Honesty is Swati Nathani’s middle name. Unlike a lot of entrepreneurs who like to make their start-up business look cool, Swati is open about how difficult it is to make your business stand out, especially when one is battling tough situations like keeping things afloat through a co-founder’s illness. Team Pumpkin has seen this and a lot more to come up trumps. Founded in 2012, this company is one of the leading digital marketing agencies in India. Swati Nathani is the co-founder and Chief Business Officer.
Though she was born in a small town in Patna and grew up in a rather conservative family, Swati has never let any obstacle come in the way of her career. In her previous roles, Swati has been an active part of the core group at Future Group’s business intelligence team and has headed India Retail operations for the global shoe brand Clarks.
A believer in every individual’s personal and professional growth, Swati has ensured that Team Pumpkin’s success is a sum total of every individual team member’s success. Team Pumpkin today offers one of the best company cultures and working environments, especially for women employees.
With clients like the Tata Steel, ITC, Future Group, Axis Bank and Aditya Birla Group, Team Pumpkin is going great guns. Here are Swati’s answers on how Team Pumpkin became what it is today.
How was Team Pumpkin started? Where did you get the idea?
We had started Team Pumpkin in 2012. Both Ranjeet and I, having worked with different agencies in our respective jobs before, mutually found a gap in the way existing agencies functioned, sometimes which could be covered by simple steps. We decided to work around a process to shorten timelines and come out with solutions that were not text-bookish but very commonsensical. Digital was evolving back then and it was a great platform to start our journey with, and here we are – with more than 100 people in our team, 3 offices and a super integrated suite of services with an enviable clientele.
How challenging was it to become an entrepreneur?
To be honest, it was extremely challenging leaving cushy jobs which credited your salary accounts at the end of every month, to running pillar to post arranging working capital and all the emotional rollercoaster in between. The highs were very high and the lows were too low, as it is with any entrepreneur, regardless of company size. However, when I look back, what matters is where we are now and the awesome journey that lies ahead of us.
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Did you save up before you became an entrepreneur? Do you think people who are going the ‘start-up way’ need to do this?
I was not necessarily saving to be an entrepreneur, but when entrepreneurship happened, the savings definitely came handy. My advice to new start-ups always is to test the markets with your own money before reaching out to VCs for investments. This way, you can do things your own way, trust your instincts and have a higher command when approaching people for investments.
How did you handle the company when your co-founder Ranjeet was diagnosed with cancer? How do you think entrepreneurs should handle such situations?
It was an extremely devastating situation for us when Ranjeet was diagnosed with cancer, especially when just a month back, my mom had been diagnosed with cancer too. It was also the time when Team Pumpkin had just taken off and initially all of us had to just shift our focus from Team Pumpkin to our individual medical researches for the best doctors and the best course of treatment. Thankfully Ranjeet, the hero that he is, decided to set up our office while he was in the middle of his treatment. Seeing him so strong made all of us far more confident and then we never had to look back.
My advice always is to focus on health and family first, no matter what stage of business one is at. At the same time, Ranjeet inspired me so much to rise above your circumstances and believe in yourself!
How important are women who are part of Team Pumpkin? What makes it a great place for them?
I am someone who strongly believes in gender equality and that makes me say that we have some amazing men and women work for us, regardless of their background, ethnicity, sexual orientation and anything which society likes to divide us into. Having said that, we have some wonderful women in our team who have not only driven us to where we are but continue setting an example every single day with their sheer talent and enthusiasm.
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Do you think the gender divide exists when you approach corporates? How have things changed since you started Team Pumpkin?
There was a time when I used to drag Ranjeet to important meetings just to add the “weight” and “seriousness” in the conversations. You could call it part lack of confidence and part leaning on masculine work culture across organisations. However, about 7 years down the line, I have learnt either to manoeuvre my way into the conversation or not bother about such people/organisations who cannot engage in serious conversations because a woman is leading it. I am not saying things haven’t changed. I have met some great people who have led a visible change across organisations but I’d still say things are certainly a little distant from how I would like to handover the corporate culture to our next-gen women.
What is that one thing that can help people succeed in business?
For me, the key ingredient to a successful business always has been “honesty”. I completely believe in being transparent and setting expectations right which sometimes could lead to a rough start but always takes you a long way.
Why do some entrepreneurs stop trying after the first time?
People have bills to pay!
Honestly, I won’t judge a person who gives up on entrepreneurship after the first attempt. Entrepreneurship is tough. You have to let go of all your comfort, ego, financial security for something that you just believe in, with no definitive outcome. You are a hero right from the time you started!
How important is it to invest a part of what you earn? What kind of investments would you recommend?
At this age, and may sound like gyaan, but I definitely recommend investments. Life comes with the kind of surprises that you can’t even dream of. When Ranjeet got diagnosed with cancer, his Mediclaim policy had lapsed a month back, and all that could come handy that time was savings and investments.
Apart from basics like Insurance and mediclaims, Mutual Funds are a good option to invest in. I’ve also parked some part of my savings in Fixed Deposits and Recurring Deposits to be fairly balanced in my investment. My other investments include property and of course, Team Pumpkin.
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How difficult was it to build the brand Team Pumpkin? Any advice to other entrepreneurs who want to build their brand?
Thankfully for us, our clients & team members built our brand more than we did. Today, Team Pumpkin stands for being one of the most agile and innovative independent agencies around and that is something that has only been possible due to a great team we have been able to build. We are also one of the most inclusive and fun workplaces to be at and we take pride in our culture.
My advice for building your brand would be to consistently stick to the values you offer to your customers, and let the customers and team define your brand for you.
What has ‘being an entrepreneur’ taught you – about life, people, money?
If I were to lay down all my learnings in one line, it is “Invest in Relationships, Business will come”. The relationship with team members, clients, vendors and of course your family and loved ones. Business is not defined as a single transaction; it Is a lifetime value which can only be realised when you invest in a relationship.
Check out http://teampumpkin.com/ for more inspiration. And if you have questions about investments and finance, we are always around!