Meha Agrawal, an influential figure in South Asian women’s leadership, is the founder and CEO of Silk + Sonder. Her company produces beautiful bound books for paper and pen journaling as an aid to wellness and productivity.
In addition to the journals themselves, Meha has built a lively online community of journal users who support and encourage one another. In this fireside chat she shares invaluable tips for entrepreneurs launching and growing a new business.
Why Paper and Pen?
Meha explains how clinical psychologists have stressed the importance of taking time away from our endless fixation on the screens that fill our lives, both at work and at home. She talks about her “idea of disconnecting in order to reconnect with myself … through the form of both bullet journaling, but also positive psychology and various life coaching activities.”
One of Meha’s key strengths is her persistence in the face of obstacles. Here are her top tips for combatting the naysayers and succeeding as an entrepreneur.
Ten Tips for Launching and Growing a Business
1. The Founder personifies the brand. Being an approachable and personable CEO builds loyalty and value. For Meha, self-belief comes first.
I had imposter syndrome and self-doubt…. and what I realized was that customers don’t care how big your business is. They think it’s so special if they have access to the founder or the brand. For them, that’s a very unique experience.
2. Stay Authentic. So long as you admit mistakes and course correct, it’s better to stay true to your ideals, especially when you’re finding your feet.
“Pillar number two was probably staying authentic and recognizing if we make mistakes as a brand, being able to have those conversations and forgiving ourselves, as opposed to just acting like we are a fully functional and operational company.”
3. Don’t be shy. Be confident in the business you are building, and investment will follow.
“One thing, especially being South Asian and especially being a woman – I don’t know if it resonates for everyone – I think realizing you’re not building a charity, you are literally building a business… You’re providing value and not being shy.”
4. Feedback is vital. Meha believes you need to ask open questions and identify patterns in what customers tell you about their experience.
“Ask open-ended questions, so you’re getting feedback… ask multiple people, then deduce patterns and then prioritize.”
5. Every no is helpful, says Meha. When investors knock you back, this is an opportunity to refocus your pitch and anticipate future criticism.
“It’s a gift… knowing why they said no; understanding how to better position your pitch… Reminding yourself of your why, so that’s number one, and then also thinking about how you could better respond to their concerns.”
6. Finding an acceptable risk level can be key, explains Meha, and depends very much on your particular circumstances.
“I think everybody has their own [degree of] comfort with the financial risk of going full time on your project or startup idea… Understanding what that is for you and also knowing the emotional risk of not taking that leap and being miserable in your day to day [life].”
7. The customer is the most important stakeholder. Meha holds this as a key axiom for any would-be business owner.
“The most important stakeholder… is not you, not your advisor, not your investor, not your team, it’s your customer, the one that’s paying you. And that I think saved me so many times.”
8. Beware of naysayers. Keeping your positivity up (here journaling might help!) is vital.
“Don’t be shy to enlist people in your life to help you and keep the naysayers away. [What’s important is] figuring out who you need to cheer you on in those difficult moments and recognizing that it’s okay to set your own boundaries so that you have space to grow.”
9. Community-building can be key. Developing an online forum, and helping users interact with one another builds customer satisfaction, as Meha was happy to discover.
“That’s where our customers and members really talk about how they’re using the journal, sharing inspiration, getting inspired for one from one another…. to foster a deeper connection through various authentic relationship activities to, to create a safe space. It’s amazing how far it’s come.”
10. Celebrate wins and grow your team. Meha is keen to stress techniques of positive motivation and team building.
“I think oftentimes we almost are so focused on how many points are we going to get at the end of this game versus counting and celebrating every… hope that we make… The other piece is showing that you’re committed to [your team’s] growth.”