Deepshikha founded SpeakIn – India’s most premier speaker product line, seven years ago along with a fellow ISB alumni – Vithal Donakonda. The venture has ever since expanded to become a pool of over 600 niche speakers from India and globally, along with a shining client base from the top corporate and academic institutions. This is most remarkable, given the challenges of intellectual property, legal clearances and pricing transparency amongst the others, which have been braved to bring SpeakIn to the current shape and form, says Deepshikha.
SpeakIn currently stands as India’s largest B2B platform for business speakers — rebranded in 2015 July, Deepshikha reshaped the business entering as the CEO and managing and aggregating over 2000 channel partners. Posted EBITDA in excess of 45%, with the Net Sales increasing at 250% month on month (accumulated turnover of 0.58 crores for FY16) over 85 speaking engagements. SpeakIn is currently funded by two Angel investors and one HNI.
Passionate about education, Deepshikha serves as an honorary faculty for MBA students at the Fortune Institute of International Business, New Delhi and for Executive Business Education at the Bridge School of Management, Gurgaon. She also writes actively on industry interests for Economic Times and the association journals for FADA, SIAM and FICCI. Some of her key publications include: Encourage, Engage, Prosper: Women in Indian Automotive Industry (Economic Times, 2016)
Deepshikha is a B.Tech. in Information Technology from the University of Delhi and is an alumnus of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad and the Global Consulting Practicum at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania. She is also a bonafide Member of Young FICCI Ladies Organization, a forum of India’s apex industrial body for women achievers in entrepreneurship and is known to be a strong advocate of women employment and inclusion in traditional industries like Automobile in India.
Was there an inflection point which turned you towards the path of entrepreneurship?
Since the advent of this idea and launch of website, enquiries had kept pouring in from clients all over India. While most went unserved, one enquiry caught my attention. It was about delivering career advice to incoming MBA students at one the leading colleges in Mumbai. Like several others, this probably too would have been passed on had this not been about students. As luck would have it, I was in Mumbai on that day and it was a topic I had addressed in several institutions in Delhi too. The organizers were desperate, since it was a last minute call, and I said yes. So I became the speaker, the agent, the organizer, the content developer and all else that was needed. The session went beautifully, and I walked out with our first cheque of Rs. 9,183 (approx. US$ 150). It was raining as I waited for a taxi outside the school building, cheque was in my hands and I called my partner. “This cheque is bigger than anything I have ever earned in my lifetime. Life will not be same hence.” That was the moment SpeakIn was born. I came back to Delhi, we discussed our first steps to rekindle and start the business afresh, we hired our first employee in September and by December 2015 SpeakIn became a registered entity.
Which has been your most challenging assignment so far?
Our first global event, Tomorrow’s India in Singapore in January 2016 was offered to us as a small 2-3 speaker engagement on a tight timeline. As the discussions progressed with a lean client team and tighter and tighter timelines, the scope of the offering changed to SpeakIn designing the content, delivering over ten times the envisaged speakers amidst approaching year-end holidays. This meant all our resources will have to be channeled in one direction only, to make use of every available minute we were working at 300% productivity levels and I was travelling all over India and abroad to convince and recruit the who’s and who of Indian corporate and art world. The effort increased exponentially since Tomorrow’s India was being conducted for the first time and there was no legacy or existing goodwill that we could bank on. This meant we had to work twice as hard, to create trust, bring in speakers and commit to their time and expertise purely basis our word. Several rejections came, hundreds of questions were asked, endless lines of communication were exchanged and in process some invaluable connections made. Ultimately we delivered 22+ speakers with 100% compliance, successfully entering the world of global events.
What are your experiences on being a woman entrepreneur?
A woman plays endless roles, and every moment is a moment of choice. Choice between your parents, who are aging, your kids, who are growing, your husband, who is building his own career, your job, which drives you, and others. You worry, you care, you become disappointed but you keep going. As an entrepreneur I have learnt to appreciate the start-stop phenomenon. If you have a family and a job or are an entrepreneur, there is no ball that you can drop. You can pause, and address the next priority, but you can never let go of any one of those responsibilities. I have learnt and learnt the hard way, to 1) concentrate on the essentials — prioritize, 2) give attention to your health — you cannot run anything on a malfunctioning body, 3) learn to let go — not everything is worth extensive timeshare/ mindshare, and last but not the least, 4) appreciate and seek support — whether it is employing support at workplace or at home, delegation is a multi-tasking woman’s best friend.
How do you / did you believe in making dreams come true?
I have always believed that luck favors the brave. Hard work, grit and determination are the only means to success — this is what makes our dreams come true.
Did you face any setbacks? What were the lessons learnt?
Entrepreneurial journey can get very lonely. While there is enough grit to recover financially, and from a product viability perspective, people loss can be most detrimental in the initial stages. The first setback in this sense was the step down of my co-founder. Due to parental health reasons, Vithal had to become a dormant partner in the organization which left me with no room for advice and operational support on critical operational and growth matters. This transition was ongoing till the last quarter and has been met with staffing and brining in of a board of advisors.
‘Women are known as the better halves’. Your views on this.
There are several ways to answer this question. One view is that women need to stop seeing themselves as halves all together. By virtue of our emotional composition, dependency and co-production are engraved into a women’s achievements. For women to grow and survive the variabilities of today’s age and of those to come, it is important that women start realizing their own potential and believing in their own powers to take independent decisions and move forward on their own. The betterment should be incremental on oneself and not with respect to any one else.