Meet Radhika Ghai, India’s first female entrepreneur to create a Unicorn company. She co-founded ShopClues, an online marketplace established in 2011 in Silicon Valley followed by kindlife in 2021 of which she is the Founder and CEO. Kindlife is a modern beauty and wellness ecosystem that features over 700 kind brands on its platform. The community has more than 300,000 active members.
Radhika shared with AboutHer her journey, the challenges she has faced, and what it takes to succeed in a world that is still primarily influenced by men, albeit to a lesser degree than before.
Radhika comes from an Army background and, as a result, grew up moving frequently to different parts of the country. Her father’s job ensured they could never stay in one place for too long. So she went to ten different schools and completely hated that while growing up. The reason was that she always felt that she never got a chance to get to know her friends well. Before she could do that, it was time to pack bags and leave.
But now, when she looks back, Radhika realises that was possibly the best childhood because she was taught adaptability at a young age without being told that she was being taught something. And that she feels has held her in good stead all her life. She is comfortable with all kinds of people, whether new or old. Though she did not enjoy this lesson while growing up, she feels it was one of the most crucial lessons of her life.
Growing up, Radhika always looked up to her mom, who was a nutritionist and was hugely inspired by her. She feels that her mother, one of the most talented women she has known, could have been so much more successful if she had had even one-fourth or one-tenth of Radhika’s opportunities. She is extremely close to her mother and feels she has been a strong motivating and calming factor in her life.
Besides being mother-daughter, the duo also bonded over having similar childhoods as Radhika’s grandfather was also in the Army. Recounting an incident, Radhika says they once went back to spend a few days in the house her mother had grown up in. The visit brought the two of them even closer. Radhika’s mom is her role model and her best friend.
There is another memory from her childhood that she feels has significantly impacted her life: her love for books. As a child, she was exposed to Army libraries with their vast collection of books and became an avid reader. She believes that many of her life goals and what she wanted to do were carved out through the books she read. Reading expanded her horizon, making her feel that anything is possible. This learning from her childhood has also held her in good stead all her life.
She rues that people don’t read as much nowadays; in that sense, they are missing out on a lot in life and limiting themselves.
The Becoming of an Entrepreneur
It’s a known fact that how a child is raised shapes their personalities and future. Radhika’s life exemplifies this to a great extent. While she was growing up, her father told her she could do anything she wanted to in life, which meant she had the freedom to choose a career. Since her mom was a nutritionist, the young Radhika thought she could explore that option. While she did not become one, this realisation that she could be the master of her destiny was a huge motivator for her. Her desire to carve out a career started from there. Whenever she came across someone successful, she was greatly inspired. When she saw someone doing something that she thought was impossible, her first thought was that she could do it.
So the urge, the desire to succeed in life, got embedded in her personality at a very young age. What her father told her made her believe that one should not limit oneself and keep expanding one’s horizon. As a result, she grew up believing that there wasn’t anything that she couldn’t do. She was open to trying anything and everything. But at that same time, she understood that anything worth doing is worth doing well, which meant that she understood that to do anything well and be successful at it, one would have to put in a lot of hard work.
With that mindset, she embarked on her professional journey. She started her career in advertising in India, did a stint with Lintas, and then went to the US to pursue her MBA. From there, she went on to work with Goldman Sachs, followed by Nordstrom, where she was a part of their strategic planning team. A hugely consumer-centric company, Nordstrom taught her the consumer is at the top of any company.
Many times when our life is going a certain way, something happens that shifts the entire trajectory. This is what happened with Radhika. When she was expecting her second son, she had to take a work break because of medical issues. She was living in California at that time.
Along with the medical issues, she also had time at her disposal, and that is when an opportunity presented itself. She and a friend got interested in Bollywood actors, their clothes, and the prevalent fashion styles, and before she knew it, she had started blogging about this. Fashion was her forte anyways, as she had spent almost nine years in the industry. Her friend joined her in this venture, and they started a blog called Fashionclues. That blog was the genesis of what she is doing today.
The blog picked up in no time and became very popular in that part of the world. And then, they got their first paid client Malayalam Manorma who wanted to syndicate content with them. This was just the beginning and was followed by Viral Bhayani, the paparazzi king of Mumbai, taking them on as clients. She started getting paid for her work, and lo and behold, she had become an entrepreneur, something she had never imagined.
Coming from an Army background, becoming an entrepreneur was not her aspiration, but then that’s destiny! All she knew growing up was that she wanted to be good at what she did, and since the Universes wanted her to become an entrepreneur, she became the best!
The venture became increasingly popular, and before long, the biggest venture capitalist from the Valley approached her. He had seen her content on many sites and also seen his wife read her content. He felt that based on what she was doing, they could collaborate and do something for the South Asian women in the Valley. They could make it bigger and better and start a company. But at that time, Radhika was at the fag end of her pregnancy, so he had to wait for her to join back. When she did, the two got together, and Fashionclues became Shopclues, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 2011 Radhika moved to India and started Shopclues in India. Her team also moved with her, and they embarked on the journey to make the venture successful in India. It wasn’t that easy, but they were a determined lot. She says building consumer tech for a country where technology wasn’t part and parcel of people’s lives was fascinating. Data was expensive, and people were not always on digital platforms as they are today. So reaching out to them and making them believe in their venture was not that simple. But they carried on, and in 2016, they became a unicorn. That was when people in India were not even familiar with the term. Her company was the 5th unicorn in India and the first led by a woman. It wasn’t something she had ever anticipated or expected, but it happened.
Her journey has been a roller coaster with ups and downs, but she has enjoyed every bit of it. Radhika has always believed that to be successful; one has to work hard. The successes or the accolades are the output of what you do, but the input is the hard work.
Challenges and Roadblocks
Radhika feels, and rightly so, that some challenges that she has faced during her journey as an entrepreneur are common to all entrepreneurs. They are not gender specific. Every business has several stakeholders, from customers to employees, the public, investors, and the government. An entrepreneur is answerable to all of them. In addition, there are hurdles like the resources, working hours, and public successes and failures an entrepreneur faces. So the journey is never easy. It cannot be.
However, a woman entrepreneur has to face more, and some of the challenges are very, very obvious as they have to do with her gender. But then Radhika clarified that even as professionals, women face challenges specific to their gender.
Radhika feels that though we have progressed a lot, it is still difficult for men to accept a woman on the other side of the table. They are always looking for a male presence, which can be pretty frustrating and disheartening. People and funding agencies still cannot place faith in women entrepreneurs, and as a result, only about 2% of the funding goes to women entrepreneurs.
People always seek ways to question and doubt women and their intentions. Things like their getting married or having a baby and striking a work-life balance are reasons for them to doubt or question their choices. The men, on the other hand, are never asked about these things, which makes it very unfair.
Somewhere men believe that when it comes to the financial part of a business, it will be handled by a man. Radhika has encountered situations where many times when they have met investors, she has found that they refuse to look at her during a conversation about numbers when she is the one with the answers. Instead, they insist on addressing her co-founder, who has nothing to do with the financials. This kind of situation is both frustrating and amusing.
So How Does She Deal With It?
According to her, she first tries to answer the questions though they are not addressed to her, and when that does not work, she just sits back and lets it be because the fact that those men do not have the ability to talk to a woman, which means they cannot be partnering with them anyways.
However, despite all this, she feels that the world is changing in many ways, and women are heralding the change. Many of them are now building businesses. They are getting together, forming groups, mentoring, and inspiring each other. More and more women are realising the need to network and connect with other women to help and grow with each other. Whereas men would connect informally after work earlier, now women are also doing the same thing. This helps in a big way in letting women share and learn from each other.
But, of course, we have miles to go.
In this respect, she has an interesting perspective. Radhika feels this kind of inequality still exists because, somewhere, the generation of women who are now in their forties and fifties did not push for their rights as much as they should have when they were young and accepted whatever was handed out to them. Their voices probably needed to be louder.
She remembers that when she was a young girl, she believed she could do anything she wanted to, and she wasn’t the only one. So, going by that, more women should have been out there achieving and succeeding. But when we look at the figures, we still don’t see many women. The numbers have not gone up to the extent they should have. In fact, women face the same hurdles today as they faced twenty years ago and even face some which did not exist back then; safety being a prime example.
Working till late is still an issue that women and the organisations they work for have to face. This hurdle should have ceased to exist with time and progress, but unfortunately, it has become bigger. To deal with this, companies must pay for cabs to ensure women reach home safely, which adds to their overall expense. As a result, companies think before hiring women because working till late is not something they can avoid. And so, rather than adding to their cost, companies may decide to hire more men.
So, Are We Moving Forward or Going Backwards?
Another thing that bothers her is the issue of Equal Pay Parity. Even now, women get paid less than men for the same work. Again this is not only highly unfair but frustrating as well. It is shocking that even in today’s day and age, this is still happening. She feels that we need to make a noise about it and ensure that this disparity is removed as soon as possible.
Balance Life and the Many Roles
Radhika finds this question unfair and uncalled for because she feels it is generally addressed only to women. This baffles her as she thinks that men also have many responsibilities in life and need to strike a balance between them, but nobody wants to question them. In fact, the world is okay with them just focusing on their work and forgetting everything else.
But when it comes to a woman, she is constantly reminded about her various roles and responsibilities, making her feel guilty about whatever she is missing out on.
However, she does believe that in order to achieve something, something has to be given up. For instance, If you are career-minded, you may have to sacrifice certain social obligations. Therefore, you must be very clear about what you want in life and then accordingly pick your choices. For example, if you’re going to build a billion-dollar company, the kind of effort you would need to put in would be very different from if you want to build a lifestyle business. Therefore you have to know what you want and then act accordingly.
Also Read: Time for Multiple Careers
According to Mark Zuckerberg, there are a few things that are crucial in life, such as family, work, health and fitness, and social life. However, you can only focus on three of them at any given time. Occasionally, you may need to give up one of them, but it’s important to choose the right one to sacrifice.
Radhika shares that she has always been dedicated to her work and has given it her all. However, as a mother, her children have also been her top priority. So, she has figured out a way to maintain a balance that takes care of both her work and family obligations.
In any case, she has reached a stage in life where she has multiple decades of work behind her, so she can now afford to focus on other things. So, therefore her health and fitness, including her mental health, are essential to her.
However, there is one thing that she has always done no matter where and how: her daily quota of reading. Come hail or sunshine; she has to do her forty-five minutes of reading every day before bed.
So according to Radhika, the best way to balance is to know what is a no-mess zone for you. You focus on that and then work on everything else around it.
Radhika is a successful entrepreneur, and she is also a mother. She evaluates her success from both of these viewpoints.
According to her, the most significant success for anyone is what gives them the most happiness; for her, that is her children. She is happiest when she is with them and is proud of how they are turning out to be.
She is also proud of what she has built and achieved professionally. It is a culmination of her hard work, but then she realises that professional success also has to do with her team, the people she works with. She is a builder; she builds things but realises she can’t build them alone. Therefore, she gives her team equal credit for all her achievements and accomplishments. She needs the support and encouragement of her team, and she is perfectly clear about this.
As a successful entrepreneur, Radhika has received several awards and accolades. But she believes that whatever awards or accolades she may have gotten for her professional success do not measure up to her happiness at home.
If her work is crucial to her, so is her family.
The Highs and Lows
Like everyone else, Radhika also has days that seem more difficult than the others, which she does not want to face. But she has developed a mantra to deal with them: Just show up. She follows this whether she wants to do something or doesn’t want to, especially when she doesn’t. This motivates her to go ahead and do the task. She feels this philosophy is useful in the worst phases of life when one cannot afford to withdraw. She believes one should not let lethargy, fear, or hesitation come in the way of what we must do.
Recounting her grandfather’s ways, she reveals that her grandfather, a paratrooper, had this philosophy in life. Whenever a paratrooper met with an accident, they would get the whole regiment back on the plane to ensure that fear did not set in. She continues to live by that philosophy.
Referring to the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, she says that one must do what one must do even if, on a particular day, you don’t feel like it. For instance, if it is going to the gym that you don’t want to do, go for five minutes. That will help you stick to the habit, to the routine.
Also, whenever you are low, remember that life gives you a million opportunities to get back, do better, and do more things. Today may be a bad day, but it isn’t going to last forever. When you look at successful people around you, remember they weren’t born that way, they, too, have struggled, and they, too, have faced adversity. So time in life is as good or as bad as it seems, and at the end of the day, it is only a moment in time. It will pass away. Radhika keeps all this in mind to deal with her lows.
What Lies Ahead
As far as the future is concerned, she is unsure what she will be doing in ten years. But she is unequivocal that she would want to be in a place where she is happy, which could be Goa, and doing something she loves and is passionate about. She could be building something because that is something she loves.
Life and Its Learnings
Life teaches us many things as we go along. Our growth and evolution are the results of all these learnings. But what is critical is to have an open mind to accept and absorb all the lessons. Radhika is a person who always wants to learn and grow and feels that she learns something new every day.
She shares an interesting learning she had while raising her two boys regarding what she thought about Nature Vs Nurture.
This expression talks about how a person’s personality is influenced by how they are raised, and certain traits inherent to their personalities have nothing to do with nurturing or raising.
Radhika used to believe that how your children turn out is all about nurture because it is all about how you raise them, the exposure you give them, and the education you provide them.
But her experience proved otherwise. Her boys are six years apart, and though their upbringing was the same, they have very different personalities and interests. They were raised in the same way but have turned out to be very different from each other. And that’s been a huge learning for her.
She says several times in life, you may feel you have it all figured out and believe everything is in your control, but things may not work according to the plan. You may follow the best method, have all the knowledge, and believe you cannot do wrong, but life may surprise you. There is always a difference between theory and practice.
Another thing that she has learned is that no matter what, always show up wherever you are expected to be. Whatever the reason or mood, you cannot let that come in the way of what you must do. That is especially true for your work. Things could be unpleasant and not to your liking, but you need to pull yourself up and get there. You must do so to avoid giving the wrong message to your team and the world around you, and you can’t afford to do that!
Radhika also believes that comparing yourself to others is never a good idea. What is better and more productive is to compare yourself to yourself. Your aim should be to become a better version of yourself. That will lead you to contentment in life. Always remember that life moves at a different pace for different people, but no matter what, it always comes around.
You may think that you have lost out in life by not getting admission into your dream college or by not getting that plum job, but that’s not the end.
Life will give you many opportunities and chances to get where you want to, and just because it didn’t work out once doesn’t mean it won’t work the next time.
The only important thing is to be open-minded, watchful, and not let any opportunity go to waste. She feels we must do our best under all circumstances and not leave any stone unturned to succeed. And most of all, she says don’t worry about what people have to say about you; that should be the least of your worries. You just need to focus on what you must do; something good will work out.
Referring to the book Grit by Karen Radhika says that grit is something that everybody needs to succeed in life. Grit teaches you never to give up and to progress despite everything.
She feels it is critical to be optimistic and remember that light always follows darkness.
Successful Women and the World
Regarding the world and how it reacts to successful women, Radhika feels that most people are pretty amazing and positive. They are there to support and encourage. But of course, there are also some there to criticise and attack you at every available opportunity.
But she believes that one should never bother about what people have to say. Instead, you should be happy with yourself and your actions. Focusing your energies on your work will save time, energy, and effort. Therefore she stays away from all this and sticks to her friends and support groups, who give her a lot of encouragement and happiness.
Radhika says many people are changing their career paths in their mid-lives for various reasons. She says it has a lot to do with our independence, the resources at our disposal, and awareness about and inspiration from people around us. In today’s digital world, where information is available at the click of a button, role models are readily available and visible. So we can see people around us who are successful and can draw inspiration from them.
Also, she feels that midlife is the best time to try something new. That’s when you have the freedom, liberty, and financial wherewithal to experiment and find your passion.
What is also helping is that our culture is changing; people are no longer judgemental about others’ choices and are more appreciative of what others do.
So according to her, given all this, one must try different things which give happiness and contentment.
For the Young Girls
As a piece of advice to young girls, Radhika says that young girls must learn to be fearless and never feel restrictedbecause of their gender. According to her, your gender cannot decide how your life will move forward.
She advises them to be bold, take risks, and do things they think they cannot do. She feels you can find your passion when you open your mind and are flexible. She also advises that you must do what you want and not let anyone else make choices for you or bother you in any way. Society should never be given the authority to define your boundaries. She also adds that your life partner can make a lot of difference to your life and its goals. Having a strong supportive partner can not only be a game changer but a life changer as well.
A Woman is a Woman’s Worst Enemy.
Contrary to what people believe, Radhika does not think a woman is a woman’s worst enemy. Her life proves this as she has had some solid women supporters who have stood by every decision she has taken. They have been there whenever she has wanted them to be. According to her, it’s not about a particular gender at all. Even men could be each other’s enemies; the only thing is that it isn’t talked about. Being jealous or insecure is a normal human emotion and has nothing to do with gender.
Can a Woman Have It All
According to Radhika, a woman can have it all, but you must be clear about what your all is. You need to know your priorities, and once you are clear about that, you can have it all. Nothing can stop you.