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Mbrace-ing life

Ashwathy Venugopal quit a well-paying managerial role at Amazon to become an entrepreneur. For most of us, it could be a tough choice, but for Ashwathy, it was an easy call, thanks to her confidence and self-belief. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and she has launched Mbrace, a health-based start-up. Here Ashwathy shares the fascinating story from an ordinary dreamer to an actual doer.

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WHAT DO I DO?

I am Co-Founder to Mbrace, a health-based start-up. Mbrace (https://www.mbracewear.com/) is smart wearable health tracker that is worn by pregnant women to track their health vitals and monitor their activities helping them and their doctors keep a continuous watch on all aspects concerning their journey to motherhood.

MY STORY

I grew up admiring my father who has not gone to work for a single day in his life. He has always been an entrepreneur, transitioning across enterprises over the years. My journey through them started out initially as a silent observer and later to serious involvement in capacities of a logo designer, web developer, content writer, digital marketer and so on. But this also means something which I am open to admitting: I have seen through many venture close downs as well. And the lesson I learnt? There is always a new door to open- a new business to begin. Maybe this is the reason why it did not give me cold feet to quit a well-paying Managerial role at Amazon to become an entrepreneur today. In my second year of engineering at MEC, story of three super-senior alumni caught my imagination when they launched Fourth Ambit.
Through an unsuccessful interview I became acquainted with one of the founders, Ruby Peethambaran. And today she is a good friend, mentor, confidant and a major inspiration at every stage in life. A good stint as a Software Engineer and an MBA later, I landed my dream job with Amazon as Team Manager in Operations. In between this I had met my husband Sandeep S, another MECian, and we got married. The funny thing is that Sandeep and his brother being entrepreneurs, our home was Master Class #101 for Start-ups and Entrepreneurship. I was literally breathing, drinking and eating start-up lessons and this over exposure was enough push for someone who was already bitten by THE BUG long back. I left Amazon and Co-Founded Mbrace.

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WHAT ELSE DID I DO ?

In 2018, I was selected as one of the 27 Youth Leaders across from across 108 countries and 700+ participants to represent our respective countries in the Kectil Youth Leadership Conference (2019) at Atlanta, the US. This has been a huge avenue for me to meet many world leaders, engage in problems faced by youth around the world and truly reflect on what more I can do as youth in my own society back in India. I am engaged with leadership platforms such as Digital Grassroots Ambassadorship Program and Global Shapers Community which has helped me connect with like-minded people, begin initiatives that impact the society and spread word to inspire more youth to get involved in similar avenues.
My life has transformed from that of an ordinary dreamer to an actual doer- and I know how interesting each day of my life is today. Recently, I got a chance to fulfill my love for public speaking through invitations to address youth and students. I use such stages to familiarize them with opportunities available locally and globally that can lead on to more avenues for them to think and do things differently. I am curating the same and making it available as a mailing list to students and youth who have approached me with interest. It is branded under the name 'Avasarshala' (https://avasarshala.com).

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How did you get selected as one of the 27 Youth from across Leaders across 108 countries and 700+ participants to represent India at the Kectil Youth Leadership Conference (2019)?

Kectil is a year-long leadership training programme that was predominantly online with assignments to submit, occasional panel discussions and group discussions to host in our community and video and written content to go through and understand. Through the year, we are taken through various leadership principles that Kectil upholds and based on the contributions, the 27 Youth Leaders were selected from the total 700+ participants. The Youth Leaders selected with me from other countries were influencers and change-makers of a whole different level. I was amazed at some of the work they were carrying out in their countries. I would not be surprised if we find world leaders or even country heads out of the young leaders I met there that week. The potential and impact some youngsters have around the globe are beyond whatever I have been exposed to. It was a true eye-opener and created a sense of pride to be part of this generation.

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Since you come from an entrepreneur family, you might be the best person to answer this. How do you identify the cues that tell you that you have entrepreneurial acumen?

Coming from an entrepreneurial family, you can never escape that gene in you. It is guaranteed that sometime in your work or study time there would be more than one occasion where you would imagine yourself doing something on your own. You do not fear uncertainties if you have grown up seeing many. As an entrepreneur, you need lots of patience to see yourself through such times. If you have it in you, then you are never going to escape the urge to be an entrepreneur.

For someone who hasn't yet made it to the Kectil Youth Leadership Conference or other similar events, what would be the best way to be a part of leadership platforms such as Digital Grassroots Ambassadorship Program, Global Shapers Community, etc?

Kectil Leadership Cohort happened after applying for various conferences and similar leadership programmes. I came to know about them through social media. There have been countless opportunities that I never made past the initial screening, but I kept on applying relentlessly. Opportunities like Global Shapers Community come through networking- once you start meeting and networking with people who share your interests, you get to know about more interesting things people around you do. And this makes you aspire to be one of them. Seek out things that interest you, know what people around you with similar interests do, and you will be amazed by the number of things and activities you can find right at your neighborhood.

For someone who doesn't come from an entrepreneur family, what is that one thing that they should tick off before they hang up their employee boots and decide to startup?

Patience is the key. Rome was never built in a day. Entrepreneurs dream of establishing ideas into profitable businesses, hire people and run firms someday. It will not be as easy as getting up and going to work. Anyone who fully understands that this is a process that takes time and sheer determination can always think of entrepreneurship. And more than ever, have lots of admiration for a fellow entrepreneur. I see geniuses when I look at people who run businesses. I have always appreciated and admired entrepreneurs. If you understand the work it takes, the courage people should have and the patience required to face uncertainties, you are more than ready to plunge into building your own little empire.

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You have co-founded MBrace. How do you know if someone is a good co-founder?

I have read from multiple sources that getting a co-founder is as important and critical as finding a life partner. The process of searching for ‘The One’ should never be underestimated. It is always okay to wait until you find the best match. The most important trait I would search for is- if the person shares the same amount of excitement as you have about the idea or start-up. See if their eyes light up when you narrate the idea to them. The best co-founder may have lost their sleep just like you did when you stumbled upon your idea first. Maybe it’s asking too much, but sharing an excitement over the idea is the key.

What are the habits that have helped you reach where you are now?

  • Go with the flow, never plan too much. Personally, my life keeps changing almost every week. Seize whatever good that comes your way and never let anything go by thinking that it does not fit to your original five-year plan.
  • Have (or find) mentors. There are so many people who always want to help. Reach out to the right mentors and learn from them about what more you can do
  • Network. Network. Network. As an entrepreneur, I have realized the power of building relationships and friendships. Don’t expect any immediate returns from this exercise, but eventually it will make sense.
  • Build a social life beyond work or your start-up. I joined Global Shapers Community. Currently I am awaiting a call as a volunteer with Headstart Kochi. All this helps me create experiences and interesting relations, whom I would probably never meet if I confined myself to my work or my start-up.
  • Surround yourself with the right people. Positive vibes and encouraging thoughts are vital for growth. Anyone who appreciates your efforts a little less probably does not require a larger space in your life.

Now I can’t put this under a “habit”. But, marry right. This might sound too clichéd, but people often overlook to list down this important life decision as a make or break factor. If you do not invite the right person into your life- lady or guy, many of your dreams and aspirations are going to be just that- dreams that never get fulfilled.

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How helpful is to have an entrepreneur spouse?

Helpful is an understatement. He has been the main driving force behind many things I dare to do today. As I mentioned, I admire entrepreneurs and the work done by Sandeep (my husband) never ceases to amaze me. In a way, he is the mentor I found. As an entrepreneur, I rely a lot on his knowledge and experience, because who would re-invent the wheel when I have so much life experience sitting right next to me?

Tell us a bit more about Sandeep, the Right Guy?

Sandeep is an MECian and an IIM Grad. I had come across a news paper article about him and his very first start-up long time back. Me being me, and such a fan of entrepreneurship, I had read the article and felt super proud of my college alumni who ventured into entrepreneurship- and made a note to self to be like him some day. Today, I am still trying to live up to that promise.

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