Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey as an entrepreneur.
Apart from being the founder and CEO of Astrit Research and Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd., I can consciously and comfortably refer to myself as a global citizen and an accidental entrepreneur at this stage of my life. In many ways, spending most of my childhood and adult life outside of India (my country of birth) made me more curious about the ways in which India has evolved into the thriving land of complexity, diversity and opportunities, it represents today.
My parents had migrated to Australia in 1991, prior to which I had spent most of my primary years in the UK and the Middle East (Bahrain), with intermittent visits to Kolkata (my hometown). Early exposure to various cultures and educational systems had a profound impact on the way I viewed the world and assimilated information around me, that eventually developed into a life-long interest in Social Sciences.
I had completed a Bachelor in Applied Science majoring in Psychology from RMIT University in Melbourne and was keen to explore a postgraduate degree that would coalesce the international experiences unique to my individual identity. Master of International Business at Melbourne University was a portal into understanding the impact globalisation had on countries and the crucial role emerging economies play in the 21st century. It was the first time, I had been introduced to international trade, governance and business studies with a focus on the emerging economies, including India and that really intensified the desire to study more about India, including Australia’s bilateral relationship with India, India’s emerging role in the Asian century and the cultural and business links between the two countries. After that, it really came down to two options, continue to satiate my intellectual curiosity by engaging in a research program or wrap up my life in Australia and explore work opportunities in one of the metro tier 1 cities of India.
After graduating with MIB and a Masters of Supply Chain and Logistics Management from RMIT University, I decided to take a risk and relocate to Kolkata by the end of 2017. I continued to seek employment while working contractually for SMEs in the Eastern region and eventually decided to start my own company with the objective to connect my previous network in Australia to the new and evolving network in India.
It was in 2019 that events took a radical turn as the Australian Consulate was re-established after nearly three decades in Kolkata and as an Australian citizen involved in international trade and promoting Australia- India alliances in the Eastern region, I had the good fortune of interacting with the first Australian Consul General to Kolkata, Mr. Andrew Ford and the previous Australian High Commissioner Ms. Sidhu.
We have all at some point in our lives experienced the serendipity of relevant information arriving when we least expect it. The establishment of the Australian Consulate in the Eastern region signaled renewed diplomatic interest in the Eastern and North-Eastern regions of India, and therefore it was obvious that Astrit Research and Advisory Services could align its objectives to build new networks and trade links between Australia and the Eastern and North Eastern regions of India.
Astrit was founded in 2019 with a focus on international trade and development between Australian and Indian enterprises.
What attracts you towards entrepreneurship instead of a corporate career?
I am still getting used to life as an entrepreneur, so it would be a bit difficult to articulate the attraction in absolute terms, which is why it has really been an “on the job” learning experience for me. On the surface, popular perceptions such as “being your own boss” or taking pride in “working for yourself” influence an individual’s decision to become an entrepreneur, which is great in the grand scheme of things but I find the nuanced challenges to be far more interesting lending an opportunity to put my problem-solving aptitude to test every single day. This does not mean that a corporate career doesn’t test your problem-solving abilities but I think the ownership, accountability and the immediate impact it has on the direction, strategy and reputation of your organisation is far more significant for an entrepreneur.
Ownership is definitely an aspect that differentiates a corporate career form entrepreneurship, not in ways that define how dedicated or engaged you are at your workplace but how your internal conflicts, motivations and objectives are being reflected in your company’s initiatives. In many ways, the successes and failures of your company are an extension of your strategic, experimental and creative thought. What I have found most rewarding in the last two years was the self-development that came about from employing different approaches aimed at managing conflicts and insecurities of ownership that gradually led to resilience and character building.
How do you manage yourself and keep on going despite the challenges?
At the outset, it’s important to analyse the nature of the challenge that I am presented with. In the space we operate, up-to-date insights are extremely crucial to inform decision makers in both jurisdictions. An example of an operational challenge could be delays in communication or correspondence with relevant stakeholders and therefore I have learned to plan ahead, persevere and be patient. Sometimes the overwhelming task of studying while working can be exhausting so it’s crucial to prioritise important weeks and months well ahead of time.
In the case of remedying motivation roadblocks, (something all entrepreneurs accidental or intentional, face in their journey), I usually take a step back and re-evaluate the feasibility of our company’s objectives within the broader vision that it is trying to achieve. If I have to alter the direction or scope of Astrit’s general objectives, I would have to rely heavily on the practical outcome of the decision. In other words, whether managing stress or the uncertainty of circumstances external to the business, having realistic expectations founded on strong data has been my survival strategy.
How did you come up with the name for your business/startup?
By Oct 2018, I was quite sure about venturing into the start-up space and had initiated the groundwork during Navaratri (a Hindu festival that spans nine nights in celebration of the warrior Goddess Durga, the tenth night of which marks the end of her battle in which she is worshipped as Aparajita – the undefeated). I wanted to honour the place, festival and retain a sense of cultural significance, one that India, especially East India could easily relate to, and chose “Astrit” as the start-up’s name.
In Sanskrit, “Astrit” means “Invincible and Undefeated”.
What difficulties have you faced or you are facing?
Initially, Covid was a major disruptor that put a halt on face-to-face meetings last year, but we quickly adapted and conducted most of our meetings online. However, border restrictions placed on certain countries have impacted stakeholder travel plans and have delayed conclusive outcomes in meetings. This has a major impact on businesses and industries trying to explore unchartered regions such as the East and North East (India), where it is advisable to visit the region and culturally engage with the local community before embarking on business deals.
Given the current circumstances, including the lockdown in Australia, we had to concentrate on sourcing potential collaborators in various sectors such as Education, Infrastructure and Health for future Indo-Australian initiatives.
The East and North East are not quite familiar with the Australian market and vice-versa, and would have required more on ground advocacy in the form of delegations or roadshows to create the required awareness in the bilateral space. We’ll have to make the best of the virtual world until borders reopen.
What keeps you going?
Entrepreneurship is synonymous with life long learning, which makes it easier for anyone who is passionate about gaining new knowledge or skills in the field to “keep going”.
The broader vision of trying to integrate the two main geographical pillars on which Astrit is founded, also has personal significance, so I constantly try to navigate through past experiences in both countries and make them relevant for the future. As a citizen of Australia and an Overseas Citizen of India, there is an opportunity to make a difference in the Indo- Australian sphere, a bilateral space that has witnessed new developments in recent years. There is great potential for like-minded individuals to build the Indo-Australian ecosystem in various sectors and take existing people-to-people links to greater heights.
The Northern, Southern and Western Indian states have a visible network of Indo-Australian businesses, expats and trade organisations working to expand the bilateral space. In comparison, the Eastern and NE states are sparsely represented and would benefit from more dialogue, visibility and awareness. Needless to say, any initiative to promote Australia’s interest in the East and North East would go a long way.
Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
In August, Astrit Research and Advisory Services was selected as one of the “10 most promising Government and Public Sector Consultants – 2021” by CIOReviewIndia. From the time it was established and the networks it has been a part of ever since, Astrit was one of the few companies from the Eastern region to have made it to the list. This is encouraging for all who are associated with the company, as it creates a brand in the East (India) whilst promoting the Australian experience in India. The recognition by CIOReviewIndia in 2021, amidst the pandemic, definitely stands out as an accomplishment that I am proud of.
How many hours a day do you work on average & can you describe/outline your typical day?
It really depends on the type and complexity of the task for the day. There are times when I have to start as early as 8 am for introductory stakeholder meetings and continue with reports and project proposals throughout the day. On an average, busy days require 8 – 9 hours of intense dedication.
A typical day begins with an hour of meditation and yoga, something I have maintained as a part of my daily routine since the pandemic began. After that, it is the usual coffee and catching up on international and local news online, in which political debates are something I look forward to, especially within the Indian context.
Other days are all about lazing around, catching up on reading, including philosophical texts, and spending more time exploring Kolkata (which I am still in the process of discovering).
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Entrepreneurs are generally known to reflect on the big picture and assess the potential for grand initiatives, which is important when you are responsible for the big decisions, however, it is challenging to switch gears from an academic mindset to one that is purely outcome-based.
I am extremely detail-oriented and find myself stressing over the operational side of things which can sometimes be misunderstood as someone who fosters micro-management. Perfectionism comes at a cost, especially when you have a deadline to meet. Perfectionism and fatal attention to details have been great weaknesses in my journey as an entrepreneur.
I love working in teams and have gained lots of insights about challenges associated with various regional markets, region-based strategies for success, and have come across wonderful mentors in the form of business partners or network circles. There is a world of experience and practical learning available to you, if you take genuine interest in the unique perspectives offered by others as a part of their journey. There is also a sense of collective purpose when you collaborate with other organisations or individuals to solve real-life social problems and I find that experience liberating. In a nutshell, working with others for a meaningful cause gives me the strength to carry on and is perhaps my greatest strength till date.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as an aspiring entrepreneur?
In my opinion, Entrepreneurship is also another medium through which you are solving a widespread problem(s), or if you don’t want to restrict viewing it through the lens of problem-solving, then it is also a means of improving existing circumstances, for a group of people or a community.
Either way, I think a purpose that you are passionate about or one that holds personal significance is extremely important while starting out as an entrepreneur. This is mainly for two main reasons, the first being that it would allow you to “keep going” or persevere despite the odds that are a part of an entrepreneur’s initial struggle. The second reason is to sustain the commitment levels as you evolve as an entrepreneur. There are times when you would feel exhausted and would rather quit, when being agile, changing your strategy (even if it means revamping your company’s objectives) to serve the purpose you started out with would still help you survive.
Objectivity and having a sense of self are crucial to running your own business. Sometimes, our lives revolve around the brand that we have created and there is immense ego attachment to every milestone it hits or losses it incurs. This could be detrimental to managing professional stress and general well-being, especially during phases of stagnation or sometimes recurring losses. So, it’s important to cultivate a healthy sense of detachment from your company’s lifecycle. During difficult phases, taking a step back and approaching the situation objectively as a problem, rather than a personal failure would allow you to re-strategize and eventually get back in the game.
Investing in people and nurturing a sense of collaboration is key to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Technology and processes are important enablers in setting up your enterprise but building a network of trust would require going that extra mile to plug into the lifeline of a business – namely, its human capital.