Discussions on the status of women in India often conjure pictures of traditional societies, where women are confined to four walls and daily chores. This may still be true for many, but the walls are beginning to crumble.
A quiet revolution has been sweeping the Indian political and entrepreneurial landscape as women are stepping up to show they have what it takes to lead a business.
Among the warriors combatting the stereotypes is Darshana Ubl, UK country director of Entrevo. Born and raised in India, she comes from a family of entrepreneurs that, like many in her culture, believed the professional world is no place for a woman. Yet look where she stands now.
I spoke to Darshana to find out how she made it from the confinement of tradition to the independence of business leadership. First of all, it turns out, by not taking money from her parents and paying her own rent.
“You can only be truly independent if you’re making and using your own money,” she says.
Growing up, Darshana’s mother taught her that beauty lives for a short time, but intelligence lasts a lifetime. Taking those words to heart, she refused offers for a career in modelling and Bollywood, and was drawn to economics instead.
Where actresses, models, singers and dancers were her only examples of women in India, Margaret Thatcher – whom she saw on a visit to the UK at an early age – became a great influence. Darshana puts emphasis on how her nieces are set on becoming models and fairies due to the lack of entrepreneurial role models for the next generation – as is seen by the shocking lack of recognition of BBC Radio 4’s power list of female leaders by young women.
A family once pushed her onto the road of economics, a new form of family would pull her into the world of entrepreneurship. In 2009, she met the love of her life – Marcus Ubl – who inspired her to move to London with him.
When asked if her husband had influenced the decision to start a company in the UK, she admits already having formulated business plans before her departure.
“When I moved, I applied for an entrepreneur visa as I wanted to be an independent woman going to the UK on my own account. I didn’t just want to start off as part of Marcus’s staff. I wanted to do my own thing as I already had my own business plan.”
Darshana’s start-up came in the form of LyncMeUp, a daily deals site that helped entrepreneurs promote their products without any upfront fee. Within three months, Darshana had 800 clients on the list.
“I felt like I had ten kids with no job and no benefits. It felt like at the end of the month I’m just paying everybody, not knowing when the revenues were going to come in.”
The Key Person of Influence program was where she found deeper perception and a business model to base her company on. After two years, however, Darshana sold her company to Go Groupie and joined Entrevo, co-founded by her husband and Daniel Priestly, as part of the sales and marketing division.
“I wanted to support the cause of women in business. Sometimes to be a woman in business, it means working twice as hard. I’m here because I want to contribute. I want to shine the light on women who are working hard and might not know where they’ll be in a year’s time. That’s what brought me to Entrevo.”
Darshana has seen many examples of female entrepreneurs taking the stage and finding something they’re truly passionate about – even if it wasn’t their original business plan. She describes a case-study of a manners coach who wanted to teach people the importance of etiquette.
“Within the first month she pivoted her business into an English cream tea company. What she wanted to talk about was the English mannerism and how culture varies etiquette and with a cream tea company she can still do that. Take time out and have a cup of tea with people is like a philosophy. She has now been on BBC and won an entry in the Guinness Book of world records.”