Authority Magazine
Published in

Authority Magazine

Female Founders: Asha Chaudhary of Enkay On The Five Things You Need To Thrive & Succeed As A Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

​​It takes time, and in my mind, it’s all about the mindset of believing in yourself. Even though we are seeing an important shift, the question now is how fast we’ll see more progress. Women across the world are changing, and the boundaries and roles between men and women are blurring more and more. It’s all about shifting old beliefs, women helping other women, and inspiring those around you.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Asha Chaudhary.

Meet Asha Chaudhary, CEO, and Co-Founder of Enkay, daughter of the legendary N.K. Chaudhary of Jaipur Living, India’s largest manufacturer of hand-knotted rugs, proudly carries on the legacy of her father’s devotion to respecting and supporting makers, artisans, and designers whose creations have passed through generations. Asha is Designer, Founder, Eco-entrepreneur & Micro-economy creator.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I was so fortunate to learn alongside my father with his business, Jaipur Rugs, from a very young age in India. I watched how he treated people and connected with them and the power that had. He was ahead of his time in how he thought about and approached business. He began Jaipur Rugs in 1978 working with India’s so-called ‘untouchables,’ which defied long-standing practices of discrimination. I witnessed him connect with the artisans, treat them with dignity and respect, and build the most unique artisan-based business model in the world, enduring scrutiny, living outside his comfort zone, and shattering all norms.

Growing up in the industry, I closely observed all aspects of the business, spent time with my dad traveling to villages to meet the artisans, and became passionate about the craft and the weavers. I wanted to carry on his legacy, so I started Jaipur Living (jaipurliving.com) with my sister Archana in 2008 with the vision of building on the values we grew up with. I was also passionate about protecting the dying art of handcrafted products, which my dad had begun preserving through Jaipur Rugs. I wanted to bring this practice to the U.S. and connect the artisans to interior designers and the world of design directly. Today we work with over 40,000 artisans, 70% of whom are women. The values my dad led with — love, compassion, and empathy — are deeply ingrained in who I am and how I lead. Most recently, we launched direct-to-consumer sister brand Enkay and artisan-made line Manchaha, which celebrates our weavers’ own rug designs and truly honors my father’s legacy.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

There were so many! Especially when you look on the supplier side of the industry, I quickly realized after starting Jaipur Living that as a strong woman I never fit the traditional ‘mold’ of what a CEO looks or acts like. Who they think is leading the company — what their vision is — is quite different from my reality, and I had to learn how to navigate around people’s perceptions of who I should be versus who I am. It also meant I had to change my mindset about the business and how I approach it. So I did just that. I decided to focus on interior designers as my core customer, knowing many are women who had been underserved in the past.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m laughing thinking about this one. In the early days of Jaipur Living, there was a customer who owed money for a large order. They kept promising to pay and promising to pay, but it never arrived. I took control of the situation, hired a van, two people to help me, and went to load up our product. I had on my jeans, a dark top, and a hat — I was perfectly dressed for the job. It’s funny now, but what I learned from the experience was the importance of standing up for yourself and working with like-minded people who are caring and passionate about what we do.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father. He taught me about the business, as well as about being kind, giving, and self-motivated. Even today, if there is a challenge or if something doesn’t go exactly as I planned, he will tell me that I have the power to transform how business is done — that I have that capability because of how I treat people with care and dignity. He inspires me and has given me so much confidence. He reminds me to always believe in myself, especially in those moments when things don’t go as smoothly as expected and you tend to question yourself.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

With our business model, we have converted thousands of women into entrepreneurs in India. These are women who have never gone to school and are not educated, yet they have become breadwinners for their families and are artists who have won global design awards. And all it took was believing in themselves and giving them the resources and the opportunity to succeed. These women did it on their own; it wasn’t anyone else. It was simply the belief and the mindset. But there is still so much to be done, and it begins with women who have a platform and have achieved success helping develop other future women leaders. Society’s deep-rooted, misguided perceptions about what women can and should do are what can hold us back. They are pervasive throughout the world in many different areas — things we may not even think about. That is what has to change. Women must build confidence in themselves, foster their self-worth, be clear about what they want, operate outside their comfort zones, and speak up. That is when we will see more change and progress. I want to help inspire this in women — for our daughters, nieces, friends, for all women.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

​​It takes time, and in my mind, it’s all about the mindset of believing in yourself. Even though we are seeing an important shift, the question now is how fast we’ll see more progress. Women across the world are changing, and the boundaries and roles between men and women are blurring more and more. It’s all about shifting old beliefs, women helping other women, and inspiring those around you.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women have a natural gift for empathy, love, and care — and multitasking, which I think is one of our superpowers. I believe future business leaders will need an authentic purpose to do something good and more empathy and love in order to survive and thrive. Women also have high emotional intelligence and are not afraid to show their vulnerabilities. Vulnerability can be a powerful leadership skill when used in the right way. It shows a leader’s human nature.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

It’s a myth that all founders cannot be good CEOs. As a founder, you start out having to be in every part of your company. You wear so many hats, you’re the driver, and you’re deeply passionate about what you do, but you have to recognize when it’s time to evolve as a leader yourself as the company grows. You have to build a strong leadership team and be OK letting them lead with their teams. You need to trust your teams to share in your vision without micromanaging. The transition from founder to CEO may not always be easy, but many have done it, and with awareness, it can be done seamlessly and yield great success. Those founders who don’t do this can face tough challenges and, in effect, impede growth. As I said, it’s not easy; it’s a new muscle to exercise and takes effort.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

​​Successful founders are passionate, curious, voracious learners, and clear in their vision. It’s as if you have an unlimited horizon, and that drive and passion are what make founders so amazing.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Most important are passion, vision and clarity, curiosity, empathy, knowing it’s fine to fail and learning it’s OK to be uncomfortable, and, I have to add, self-confidence. It is crucial to trust in yourself and not compare yourself to others. Good leaders are hyperfocused and don’t require outside validation.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

We are honored that we can donate a portion of all Jaipur Living sales to the Jaipur Rugs Foundation (jaipurrugs.org) founded by my father, which supports artisans in rural India through job creation, business development, education opportunities, and accessible healthcare. At its core, it’s about uplifting women, inspiring them, and helping them become independent and community leaders. Through the foundation’s Bunkar Sakhi program, women can enroll in a leadership training course through which they become qualified weaver supervisors. With the program’s help, artisan Prem Devi began with her own weaving, then worked with a network of 10 women, and eventually inspired and oversaw more than 100 women across other villages. She is now a proud businesswoman who has not only uplifted her family, but also the whole village and has inspired other women in the surrounding areas to become entrepreneurs themselves. The entire village has been transformed by just one woman. I get emotional thinking about Prem and women like her. They are who inspire me every day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I want to continue the work my father started, fostering his personal and business values, supporting women and artisans, and continuing to use business as a force for good by leading with empathy, compassion, and respect. I hope I can influence other business leaders to think differently and not fall into what they think the traditional business model should be. We have the power to think differently, even when it feels outside the norm. My dad started Jaipur Rugs with only two looms and nine artisans, and today we have 48,000 artisans in the Jaipur family. We continue to see success in business and continue to have the opportunity to enhance the lives of our artisans.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

There are so many, but I would have loved to have had lunch with Ruth Bader Ginsburg before she passed. She has been my idol for the longest time. I’m also so inspired by the president of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. She is whip smart, decisive, a visionary, empathetic, and the definition of a bad ass. But I’d also like to enjoy another meal with artisans like Prem, who has made such a rich and lasting impact in her own world and in the lives around her. She is truly inspiring to me.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

--

--

--

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Recommended from Medium

Female Founders: Afton Brazzoni of Scribe National On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and…

Female Founders: Amy Voloshin of Printfresh On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a…

How Tech Leaders & Venture Capitalists Can Get Out of Our “Man Box”

Women In Wellness: “Do something for someone else every day” With Vanessa Rissetto Of Culina Health

Female Disruptors: Kristy Chong of Modibodi On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

The Importance of Entrepreneurship in Today’s World

Robert Jönsson, Co-Founder Of Scandinavian Spaces, On The Top Five Trends to Watch In the Future of…

ScreenCloud November 2018 Update

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

More from Medium

How to Delegate Boring Tasks without Rewards

How I make sure none of my waste ends up in landfill

Picture of a beach filled with waste (plastic bags, cart boards, …).

The Fountain of Youth: Maintaining Health When there’s No Employer Insurance

3 reasons why culture should be every founders top priority in 2022