Excerpts from the interview:
1. Tell us about your book “The Wealth Wallahs”?
Shreyasi says “The book brings together four fascinating threads: an emergent new cadre of wealthy, their changing attitudes to wealth, a rapidly shifting wealth management industry and the entrepreneurial story of one of India’s leading wealth management firms.
A few things in the last couple of years led me to write this book. First was the many conversations I noticed happening around me. When you live in Delhi, there is great upper-middle-class angst on the conspicuous consumption of the new wealthy and the crass, ostentatious display of wealth in large pockets of South Delhi. Much of this is true, of course. What I found interesting – and often hypocritical – though was the fact that the people complaining, including my friends and me, were also spending more and had more money to indulge than our parents ever did. It got me thinking about the lens through which we saw wealth and consumption.
In early 2012, I had met the founding team of IIFL Wealth for the first time. I was then the editor of Inc. India — the Indian edition of Inc., the American magazine on entrepreneurship. For a cover story I finally filed on them for the magazine’s August 2014 issue, I met more than two dozen of their clients. Several were first-generation entrepreneurs and senior corporate professionals. Each of them had their own fascinating story of success and wealth creation to share. They were entrepreneurs that magazines such as the one I was editing often put on the cover.
Collectively, the treasure of insights from their clients was the “after” story of the entrepreneurship boom. Wealth was the happy albeit uncertain corollary of entrepreneurial and professional success. I began to realise that most reportage on entrepreneurship is limited to the process of building the business. Few articles or books focus on what happens after the creation of wealth. When people do write about the affluent, it is to gush over their material purchases. There was an entirely new set of insights to explore. It’s what I have set out to do with this book.
This book was based on interviews, with wealthy creators, high net worth individuals, wealth managers and private bankers, and other people from industry who work with or think about the wealthy“.
2. How was your experience as a managing editor of Inc. India?
“This was a personal milestone. Before I joined Inc. India, the Indian edition of Inc., the American magazine on entrepreneurship, in early 2011, I had not worked for about three years. I was raising my young son. Many women go through this break, this pause in their careers. For some, it can be difficult to come out of it. I am grateful to have found Pramath Raj Sinha, the publisher of Inc. India and the founder of 9.9 Media, who believed in me and gave me such an incredible opportunity to lead Inc. India. Bringing that magazine out was exciting. It was the beginning of the wave of celebrating the entrepreneurship culture in India. The chance to meet business builders from across the country was an education in how companies and businesses are built in India. Even more importantly, when you meet driven, ambitious entrepreneurs all the time, their stories enrich your mind and nurture your ambitions as well. Their journeys taught me not to be afraid—of limitations, of obstacles and of disbelief from those around us. These are invaluable life lessons and I hoarded on them greedily in those four years.
The magazine was very well appreciated for its editorial quality and its unique form of storytelling. Those four years gave me a lot of confidence”.
3. What was your experience with Vedica Scholars Programme for Women?
“Vedica is a unique women’s only management programme. Its focus is to build a cadre of successful women professionals for India. The mission is defined by the understanding that women are assets for a country’s economic, social and political growth, and we must encourage young women to live to their potential.
Working there, and leading several parts of the programme in its early years, including driving Careers which was a mission-critical role in the first year, led to immense learnings.
More than anything else, though, two aspects stand apart for me in terms of learnings: a) my stint at Vedica gave me an immersive, tangible experience of how higher education can transform lives and aspirations b) personal realisation that higher education is an incredibly rewarding career and purpose. I am now committed to spending the next phase of my career in higher education”.
And what will you like to tell the women entrepreneurs out there?
“Women entrepreneurs do come up against a set of specific challenges. For one, women-led/women-owned businesses begin with several limitations. Statistics validate that less than 5% of venture capital investments made in India go to women-led businesses. Women investors make up a minuscule portion of angel networks and growth capital funds. When women entrepreneurs and founders do raise money or are able to secure debt capital, the amount is smaller. It also comes with more stringent performance metrics. Legacy financial services institutions such as banks are poorly equipped to cater to women entrepreneurs as well. Women comprise a small segment of loan takers. They are offered fewer borrowing and debt options.
Two other aspects plague women-led businesses significantly. There is an inherent lack of successful role models for women entrepreneurs. Over the past few years, there are definitely more women founders at entrepreneurship forums and seminars. But, their ventures are young right now. Few women-led businesses have seen massive start-up success. The absence of role models isn’t always quantifiable but it holds women back in substantial ways.
An extension to the absence of role models is the lack of mentorship and sponsorship women entrepreneurs can access. They don’t have as easy an access to powerful communities that can offer advice, guidance and active encouragement. In the world of business, old boys’ networks still dominate. Breaking through this isn’t easy for women entrepreneurs. There are efforts to substitute these with women’s only forums, but those will take time to build and flourish”.
4. What are your future plans for improving the condition of women in India or working women in India?
In her words “There are so many challenges women face, both internal and external. If we look at India specifically, female labour-force participation in the organised workforce is stagnant. Actually, it’s dipped over the last decade even though the enrollment of women in higher education has gone up dramatically. As a country, we haven’t been able to reap the advantages of an increase in female higher education to financial independence. Compared to other similar economies, we do poorly in terms of our female labour-force participation.
The challenges for working women are two-fold. One, the world of work (companies, organisations, institutions) aren’t providing workplaces that are conducive to working women, whether it is in infrastructure, gender-aware human resource policies or enabling mindsets. Second, our patriarchal society and crumbling urban infrastructure and safety adds to these challenges and makes it difficult for women to pursue ambitions.
It is equally important that women must have a conversation within their homes, and with themselves about their aspirations and ambitions.
I hope through higher education to play the role of educating both women – and men – on these issues”.
5. Who is Shreyasi Singh in personal life?
“An exhausted mother 🙂 ”
6. One person you look-up to?
“There are so many people one learns from and admires but let me talk about my favourite author since we began the interview talking about books. I’ve been deeply influenced by, and greatly admire Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author who has written books such as Americannah, The Purple Hibiscus, and Half of a Yellow Sun. As much as her fiction writing, she has also emerged as a powerful voice for feminism with her conversations on the subject. I admire the way in which she articulates her thoughts; there is always a little bit of humour even when she is talking about important issues. That combination is a powerful way to reach people: they listen more and are likely to understand what you are saying more”.
7. What message do you have for people like us, who are new in the field of startups?
“First, The glory is in the doing, not in the idea. Get it done.
Second, I have a special note for founders: you will need to learn the valuable trade-off between seeking feedback to grow, and having the courage to commit to your ideas and ambitions.
Third, Start-up founders must consciously work on themselves to be great managers of people. Your teams will build your dreams so the effort to become a better people manager is critical “.
You don’t find a woman like her on a daily basis, someone who is dedicated and focussed to her work. She is a role model for those women entrepreneurs who need someone to look up to and want to lead and succeed in this business world where old boys’ network still dominates.
The MagZone congratulates Shreyasi Singh for her work and hopes that this beautiful woman comes out as a mother not only for her children but also for the entrepreneurs out there.
This interview is a motivation for those entrepreneurs who find glory in doing and not in the idea. Drop your views in the comment section below!