An itch that wouldn’t go away

by Aditi Seshadri

Three years ago, I had an itch. A small one, the size of a mosquito bite.

I was at the end of a four-year tenure at my previous job, and closing in on 14 years of my professional career. I had also made the life-changing move to small, sunny, sleepy Goa, which has a dearth of job options but affords the breathing space and low cost of living that a wannabe entrepreneur/experimenter could do with. I’d made vague noises in the past about ‘doing something of my own’ and and ‘building something for the future’. Was now the time to move beyond catchphrases? What next?

I scratched the itch.

I started Unlock Impact, a social impact consultancy, with Priya Thachadi, my then colleague, now friend, then business partner and now life partner (because, like marriage, business is for the long haul). Priya and I are as different as can be but we believe in a larger common purpose and have developed a great work rhythm over time. Having already spent several years working with and advising startup entrepreneurs in our previous jobs, we knew pretty much all there was to know about business… or so we thought.

If there’s a book called ‘Stupid Mistakes Startup Entrepreneurs Can Easily Avoid’, I was probably too stupid to go buy it. From underpricing to hiring mistakes to mismatched financial projections to contractual issues – we’ve made them all. To top it, I also have a (very busy and fulfilling) full-time job at Stanford Seed, while Priya also runs the incubator Villgro Philippines, which means we work double shifts all the time, often at the cost of sleep and time off. Incidentally, another thing we tell entrepreneurs is that their business will succeed only if it has their full attention, so chalk up another mistake.

And yet, somehow, we’ve seen our fledging business find its feet, straighten its spine and begin to unfurl. From just the two of us working across two countries, we are now a virtual team of more than 10 sitting out of India and the Philippines, and a bunch of consultants as well. We’ve worked with over 20 clients with South and South East Asian focus, including projects in India, Nepal, Myanmar and Philippines. Like everyone, Covid-19 has had an impact on us too with a slowing down of work but we’re fortunate to not have been hit too badly. Plus, we were a virtual business from the start, so we’ve been able to keep things running fairly smoothly.

Social impact has and always will be the main focus for us, and we work at the intersection of impact and entrepreneurship. It’s slow-moving, but ultimately rewarding and, more pertinently, what the world needs right now. We’ve spent the past few months developing a new and exciting initiative which will push the envelope further and we hope to share updates about that very soon.

What I have learned is, like many of the best things in life, entrepreneurship is a leap of faith. It’s painful, frustrating but also exciting and fulfilling. I have no clear answers on why some people take to it and some don’t – maybe there’s an inherent risk appetite and a comfort with not having all the answers. An inability to leave that itch alone.

So, three years later, I’m still scratching hoping the itch never goes away.

(Published on LinkedIn; Aug 21, 2020)

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