Shikha Pahwa: Women Creating Impact
‘Knowing what not to do is sometimes as important as knowing what to do!’
In this statement, Shikha has described the duality in clarity so wonderfully. A passionate creative entrepreneur and business woman, her journey exemplifies resilience towards a long-term vision. A Commerce graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi and MBA (Gold Medalist) from XLRI Jamshedpur, Shikha started her career at Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) in 2006 but soon enough decided to venture into being a business owner. A serial entrepreneur, House This is her third venture. Shikha is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship and has been a part of many such forums, including but not limited to those conducted by ASSOCHAM, Businessworld, Women Economic Forum etc. Apart from this, Shikha is a theatre aficionado and a dinosaur freak! Read on to know about the building blocks of her amazing career journey…
1. Tell us a bit about your career journey and the history & span of your work. What made you leave a stable corporate job to venture into setting up House This? What were the challenges and high points?
It’s been a fantastic journey so far where there have been many peaks and troughs but never a dull moment! I honestly, would not have it any other way.
I am immensely grateful for having a childhood that was secure, enriching and supported me thoroughly in pursuing excellence in all I do. My parents started their business in trying times but with sheer hard work and integrity, built a business that lasts to date. It is a story that left an indelible impact on me and has formed the bedrock of my professional value system.
My years at Delhi University (SRCC) where I did my graduation gave me memories to last a lifetime. It was more about theatre and developing a perspective and less about books and academic theory- a choice I made consciously, quite contrary to my school days. Post an eventful two years of post graduation at XLRI Jamshedpur (MBA), I started my career with Hindustan Unilever Limited, as a trainee in their renowned business leadership program. Each stint molded and shaped me tremendously and I still remember those days with great affection. Thereafter, I joined their recruitment team for a short stint. I strongly believe these initial days played a pivotal role in building my leadership skills and I carry what I learnt in those times up until today.
I’ve been asked many a time as to what prompted me to deviate from my heady days of a budding corporate career and step into the humble shoes of a newly minted entrepreneur. And unfailingly, each time my answer only falls short! Whether it was my quick realization that HR was not for me or my increasing awareness of a booming retail market in India, a case was being built in my mind, albeit unknowingly. My final decision was sudden, firm and serendipitous in the truest sense. I was driven by a vision that had slowly taken shape - to build a world-class lifestyle brand from India for the rest of the world in the home décor space. And even today it is this vision that drives me everyday.
My first venture thus took shape in 2009, a manufacturing company catering to the private label brands of top retailers in India, in the space of home textiles. It gave me valuable insight into the market with a deep dive into consumer trends, supply chain and building a go to market strategy.
In 2011 the brand formally took shape- House This! We named it such because we famously say internally, ‘When you buy a House This product you take home more than just a bed sheet or a cushion cover. You take home a small, unnoticed part of this wonderful country we live in!’ We are inspired by cultures, communities and habitats across India and we bring stories from across the country to our consumers.
Today House This is one of India’s leading home and lifestyle brands that offers coordinated home furnishing and décor solutions for the new age consumer. With a focus on functionality and utility, our products are aspirational yet affordable. Our strategy is driven by a digital first focus, with a significant presence across all online channels in addition to a growing offline presence. Developing a distinct design language that celebrates the modern Indian way of living, has been no mean feat. It has been developed painstakingly over the past few years and is a great source of pride for us.
Our next step is to take the brand beyond our borders. We aim to help India and the world live better, live beautiful one home at a time.
2. Share with us the impact you are making in this area.
I would like to answer this with a three- tiered gaze- in terms of the industry, ecosystem and my personal capacity.
If we were to look at the home décor space, with House This, we have truly pushed the boundaries and created a design ideology that celebrates how modern India lives today- at the cusp and with a seamless blend of the old and new. Every season my team does first hand research and delves deep into different regions in the country as a source for inspiration. In a market dominated by generic offerings, we stand out with our original, thoughtful and unique offering. Customers love us because we take a very holistic view of design! Our products don’t just look good but do good and offer functionality and utility. We are design-led but our effort is to democratize design in the truest sense. For us, value is defined by how accessible we can make our products to a larger audience and this has been one of our hallmark features.
In terms of the ecosystem, we are proud of the organization we have built and the cascading effect it has had on our biggest asset- the people we work with. From inception, I was conscious of creating a culture that celebrates diversity, inclusivity and truly stands for equal opportunity. Through years of constant moulding and reinforcement I have today successfully created a strong organization culture that is future ready, built on the foundation of progressive and fair policies which help bind together a very heterogenous team.
In my personal capacity, I am a passionate advocate of fostering entrepreneurship in general and amongst women in particular. Mentoring students, engaging with fellow entrepreneurs and sharing my views at numerous forums has enabled me to garner a share of voice in a sphere that I deeply care about. I believe the fact this has been a lived experience for me makes my voice authentic and relatable to many and this is a source of great fulfillment to me.
3. How do you manage work-life balance as an entrepreneur?
Simply put, it involves ruthless, disciplined time management and a clear, honest definition of priorities. I literally chalk out my day’s plan voraciously and while that may sound overbearing to some, it serves me very well! It ensures that on most days, time never runs ahead of me. Furthermore, I constantly review and revisit where my priorities lie. While certain aspects of life will always remain upmost such as health and family, I think it is important to revisit what truly matters at different points in life. And contexts and circumstances constantly change as experience shapes us. I ensure I review this canvas every few months so that I focus on what merits my attention and what truly will give me a sense of achievement and helps me serve a purpose. With time, I have realized that knowing what not to do is sometimes as important as knowing what to do!
4. What advice would you give to an entrepreneur?
Don’t be straight-jacketed! Each journey is different. You may be funded or bootstrapped, solo or one amongst to founders, running a business in manufacturing or in the disruptive technology space. No two journeys are alike! Never try to fill a mold; it’s the most dangerous way of short-changing yourself. Define success in your terms after identifying what truly matters to you and take pride in your journey.
Also, never be afraid to tell your story. No one can tell it better than you!
5. What kind of a mental make-up does one need to succeed in your line of work?
I would say the four pillars would be focus, patience, adaptability and a big picture lens.
Given the many variables that we operate in, in the Indian business ecosystem, its imperative that we have your eye on the ball all the time. Without razor sharp focus, it is extremely easy to get distracted by the small yet niggling issues that often remain in day-to-day working which can often take time away from the big picture.
Patience! Something that I have learnt and acquired after many a hard knock. Things move at a certain pace especially when working with a labour intensive sector such as textiles and decor. While compromising on output and timeliness is never an option, over time, I have learnt to manage the vagaries of the business and build systems to offset them to ensure we fulfill commitments and continue to deliver world-class products.
Building a lasting consumer brand is not about a year or even a few years. It requires relentless pursuit and dogged determination to adapt and evolve and remain relevant in the market.
Having a big picture lens is critical to ensure that you can ride all the market highs and lows while staying true to your vision.
6. As compared to an office where there are big teams and lots of peers and leaders, in your space it could get a little isolated every now and then. How do you keep yourself motivated?
Being the captain of the ship is often times a lonely job. My conscious effort has been to build a circle that serves as touch points of motivation. I follow an inside-out approach to staying motivated. Taking the time out everyday to reflect and introspect both over the good and bad of the day is immensely useful. It helps me self correct and I take the time out to pat myself for a good job done! It’s a small but significant habit that I have developed over the years. On a monthly basis, we all ensure that we celebrate milestones together and recognize achievements within the team that energy percolates down to me too! Building a trusted circle of peers, mentors and advisors who give you unfiltered feedback periodically over the year also adds tremendous power to the cause. Collectively, all these interventions help keep me motivated and help me stay the course.
7. What are your top qualities that have worked for you in your career?
Sheer resilience, dogged determination, my capacity for putting in the work (no matter what the outcome) and an unwavering moral compass have powered me to become what I am today.
8. Share any one or two stories or milestones from your career that have been transformational for you & why?
Having started in the sunrise years of the retail industry, it was a time of many infrastructural roadblocks and institutional challenges in the initial days. From launching my first venture in the immediate era post the financial crisis (2010), to a shock taxation change in the year we launched the brand (2011), to demonitization (2016) to the current pandemic (2020), the journey has had many curves and bends.
I often say House This is a story of well-timed pivots. I started in the early days of organized retail when online selling was yet to hit India. In early 2015, when online retail picked up, it was catalytic for our growth. It was such a wild ride as we saw our sales pick up in a transformational way! We suddenly had to change our inherent DNA to adapt ourselves to this new way of working but it was a truly exhilarating time.
9. Sustainability and Mindfulness are buzz words these days. What's your take on it and how do you relate these words to your life and work?
Both words are extremely powerful and relevant in today’s context and both have a deep meaning for me both professionally and personally.
Simply put, being sustainable is about doing most with least. For us at House This, we are still evolving our definition of how we want to build our brand to be a genuine advocate of sustainable living. We’ve taken smaller steps than we would have liked but whatever we have done has stayed true to the core ethos of sustainable living. To cite an example, over the last two years, we have been running a campaign of eco-friendly packaging called ‘Used to be’ where we use our excess bedding fabric for Furoshiki styled cloth packaging, for the festive season. We’ve been absolutely bowled over by the customer love received! Our goal is to now introduce relevant practices in all steps of the value chain and be a truly sustainable brand in the next two years, which can serve as a benchmark for the industry.
The importance of mindful living at every moment of the day cannot be underlined enough. Being in the moment means living every moment! In my personal capacity, I have felt its transformational effect. While I have been a practitioner of transcendental meditation for over three years, I have used the last year to really make yoga, meditation and deep breathing a part of my daily routine A wise decision indeed! Admittedly, it helped me sail through some very difficult moments during the pandemic. My effort is to introduce these practices into the workplace in an institutional way and to help my organization and team reap its invaluable benefits.
To know more about House This, visit https://www.housethisindia.com/