Please tell us about yourself
My name is Roopa Karemungikar. I am from the batch of 1995, civil engineering. I am a Hyderabadi, born and brought up in Hyderabad. After my bachelor’s, I did my masters in civil from Missouri, USA. After that, I worked in the USA for a couple of years. I came back to India to settle, and worked in a company for 7 years, after which I quit and founded a company. That’s when my journey as an entrepreneur began and it has been 10 years since then.
Please tell us about how your life in this institute was.
This was the period of 1991 to 1995. And this was an era of no internet. It was a quiet life on the campus and I feel I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We were one of the first batches which had a plenty of women. 20 women in 330 batch, which was better than the previous batches. Hence we had a fairly interesting 1st year. There was a Lot of ice breaking between boys and girls but after the 1st year we settled down. My memories of that time are quite fond. I learned how to cope with external environment staying away from home and managing my academics and social life. However, I must tell you my personal academic record weren’t that great. Growing up in my house included a lot of rules and regulations, with a lot of guidance from the adults. It was very different in the campus. We were very independent and free and it was a completely different setup. These 4 years were of self-discovery. This was the age when we transformed from teens to adults and learned how to manage responsibilities and stress. The 4 years made me a very strong person and I made some really good friends, and we are still in contact with each other and it’s a good support system.
I happened to meet my husband Vasu in IITM. Vasu was in the same class as me, studying civil engineering.We have been very good friends. We became friends in our 2nd year, and we used to study together. Throughout the college life, there was no romance or any sort of indication that we will end up marrying together. We respected each other’s point of views Got to know each other. When the time came to look for marriage prospects, Vasu came to my mind. I spoke to him about this and he thought I was joking, as usual. He was interested and we spoke to our parents. The marriage ceremony was smooth, we encountered no opposition nor any problems.
You mentioned that you were not particularly happy with your academics. Can you tell us more about it?
I don’t think I connected with many of the subjects I took over here. I realized that this is not what I want to do and that discouraged me from pursuing this passionately. However the subjects I was passionate about, I scored A or S grade. I was interested in HS and arts and I used to perform well in Workshops. Where my interests were, I did well in those courses. Some of the engineering structure and material science courses just didn’t make any sense to me.In those days, a lot was dependent on professors and how they taught the course. We were heavily dependent on the professors and the textbooks available in the library and our peers. So I guess in an environment like that, you try to do the best that is possible.
What are some of the hobbies you had in the college?
I was involved in a lot of activities. I come from an academic family but I have always loved doing extracurriculars. I have learned classical singing and during the campus days I took a lot of activities related to music, like music club coordinator ship and participate in orchestras. We had a very nice group of friends who used sing and we used to encourage each other. Other than that, I was passionate about a number of sports. I was passionate about table tennis, I used to play with the guys. I did participate in one inter IIT. We got the 3rd position in that year, 1994.And I thoroughly enjoyed that experience, the team bonding and training. We had 3 weeks of intense practice sessions and it used to be thrilling.
Your batch was the first one with a decent number of female students. What were the adjustments the professors had to make to accommodate the female students.
There was no major difference for the professors. In fact, they were happy and pleased to see the large size of female representation.The seniors had to go through a big mind shift, as they hadn’t seen so much of women representation before. We, the female students, had formed teams for football and cricket. However, we used to get laughed at because we were not properly guided in these sports. These are some of the things we faced. The next batch had many female students too and they didn’t face these problems; they were very well guided.
Please tell us about your journey as an entrepreneur. What prompted you to start Altura?
One of the biggest reason for me to start up was the dissatisfaction that emerged with respect to my career over a period of time. There was a lot of frustration and inability to work with a setup I hadn’t signed for.I somehow felt that I was better off being my own boss and doing things on my own. I had 11 years of career experience and I was frustrated. I felt it was time to quit and unleash and do something new.
How have been the past 10 years as an entrepreneur?
I started Altura with my colleague Sandeep. We both decided that there was a lot of opportunity in terms of technology. While working with other companies, we were exposed to so many opportunities, for which we had to say no. Hence we strongly felt that we need to develop especially consulting skills. That’s what the motivation has been to start up and to nurture a team. These ten years have been like a roller coaster ride.Lots of Ups and downs. For me, it was all an experiment, especially for the 1st few years.We tried new things. It was all random. Proper start up. There were many other challenges too. When we started, the Indian start-up culture was not as developed as it is now. It was much more difficult to start a company then. It was tough to form a schedule, get funds. We had no funding, the funds were our own savings.Paperwork was a lot of pain too. However, we went against the tide. At around that time, global recession hit. Many start-ups died. But we were lucky, as we had some contracts which kept us going. The whole time, we were very cautious and we were not greedy to grow in the bank and we knew it was a long haul. It was a marathon and not a sprint. Even today when we plan, we are very conservative in the way we spend and we try to push most of the profit towards the employees and share. Hence our revenues and profits feed the next year’s business and that’s how it has been. But If you ask me whether I have any regrets, then my answer will be no. This is the most satisfied I have been in this 10 years. Here, we drive at our own pace, and we keep motivating ourselves to do better. It is a journey in itself and I have enjoyed every bit of it.
Were there any particular skills and interest that came in handy?
Yes. There are some basics of entrepreneurialism that is needed. Some are needed as essentials and some are built over time. Essentially, one should have the passion and the drive. Sometimes you don’t know where it is going but you still have to keep trying. You should have that kind of guts to carry on.also, one needs to be calm to make any decisions because your life as an entrepreneur is full of stress and decisions. Definitely, basics of finance, cash- flow knowledge and to know how a company operates, are some good qualities to have as an ent. One of the important skills is how to work with people. Speaking skills are very important in a workspace. One should be able to sell and articulate and persuade.
What is the vision for the future of your company
Altura is a human capital management space. Our dream is to become global hcm partner for our clientele and maintain global record with the HR space. We have spent 10 years in this and we believe that we need to grow and expand our operations. Our vision is to become a global leading player in HCM.
Are there any challenges unique to woman entrepreneurs?
For female entrepreneurs, challenge is the perspective. There are definitely some subtle aspects and then there are certain blatant aspects that come across. First things first, I think the decision making capability is very important. I have often found women seeking an opinion when making decisions. I’m not saying that women can’t take decisions. In my observation, I have found woman wanting assurance. Emotional independence and being financially sound are the two things very necessary.
From a perspective which involves exposure to other people, I think Women are better at handling people than most of the men are.I don’t want to ruffle any feathers here but that’s a natural biological factor that woman have. Women should use that as an advantage, no matter what situation. It’s important to recognize this gift, especially when the woman is driving a team.
We have a predominantly patriarchal mindset. Ten years ago, it was much worse, especially in the manufacturing section. Because it’s a recently developed field, and there is less woman participation. Culturally speaking, we need to be aware that it’s a patriarchal mindset and need to tread cautiously. Personally speaking, when dealing with my counterparts and in sales pitches, I have to be more careful than my male counterparts, because what we women do gets noticed a bit more than males. It’s important especially while socializing, meeting people from India and abroad. At the end of the day, being confident and being clear with what you want sets you apart from the rest, no matter what gender you are.
Summarizing, all I’ll say is be aware of the cultural sensitivity. Be aware of the different mindsets that exist in other countries. There are difficulties to be faced, but be clear about your terms.
As you have mentioned earlier, ten years ago, the scenario for women in the market and business space was much worse. Do you think it has got better?
I definitely think women in the workforce has increased. Hence the openness to receive women has increased, especially in the tech area. However in the leadership space, it’s still a liability. Any leadership forum that you go to you tend to find fewer women. It’s difficult to accommodate because it has always been a boys club and it takes time for mindsets to change.However, there has been a definite difference and women are striding forward and achieving what they want.
I don’t think I have faced any particular issue as a woman while managing my company, nor anything explicit outside the company, except when in forums and meetings, where I’m the only woman present.
However, there is a big differentiator, because you are the only woman in the forum or the meeting.
If you actually look at most of the CEO or CHO meetings that are held, these are technology I have been telling in the south region, there are only 2-3 women in a space of 100 men. It’s a big skew and it’s sad because the interactions then are very different. I have felt out of place sometimes. Inability to actually breakthrough a conversation and making a move, I have faced difficulties. I am a social person, yet I have felt those barriers. This is just one the angle that one has to be aware as a woman entrepreneur. I’m hoping that the next gen won’t have to face these problems.
What would be your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The entrepreneurial thing is a very irregular affair. If you want to jump in, you should jump in with your 100%. With all your mind, body, spirit and soul. Of course, money too. Jump into it with full passion. There is no other way than that.
Once you start your business, be very clear about your business model and where you are going. Another important factor is money, so be clear as to from where you are going to generate the cash to keep the business running. Sensitize yourself about the use of money.
The third thing I will like to say is that bad times will happen.And bad times will go. Similarly, good times will happen and good times will go. It’s a continuous cycle. Hence you must wait. There is always a tipping point for a company.You must wait for that tipping point. Don’t give up. Not all business models are fruitful, but whatever business model it is, give in your 100%.
Learn as you go because it is the currency for the next step that you take. Be a hungry learner all the time.
Don’t give up and be confident.