Exploring stories of entrepreneurs making a profound impact in India’s Start up Landscape, Culture and Lives of people, is both inspiring and insightful. These stories need to be told because they are wonderful examples of creative ways to thrive, grow, prosper and make a difference in the rapidly evolving world we live in. These stories also need to be told because as a country, we produce start-ups and enterprises that are embracing technology, adopting unique strategies and solving the most unusual problems – its time to get attention to our “Ability to Think Differently” because we do so much more than “What meets the eye”! On that note, lets take a look at the entrepreneurial journey of a unique web based company called “SmartPuja” and the creative minds behind it.
Meet Pooja and Nishchay, a beautiful couple, parents of two wonderful daughters Aarna and Aarya and founders of SmartPuja. SmartPuja is a platform where you can find fully customised support to carry out all Hindu Vedic Rituals –marriage rituals, birth rituals and a wide range of Pujas and ceremonies that require a knowledgeable Purohit. What’s wonderful is that SmartPuja takes care of everything one would need to conduct the ceremony or Puja in a way such that you can be fully “present” for the rituals rather than worry about the “how” piece of it – the Samagri, the perfect timing for the procedures. I have experienced flawless service from SmartPuja myself and hence I can tell that the value of such a service is beyond what words can describe because it is so intricately linked to human emotions, memories and the journey of life.
I reached out to SmartPuja for support with a ceremony that was very important to me– my Father’s last rites. To me, it was imperative that these rites are done with utmost care, adhering to the Vedic norms because my father appreciated Vedic rituals. However, my own knowledge of the rituals is not thorough. Interacting with the SmartPuja team gave me absolute confidence that I was leveraging the right support system. The way the rituals were explained to me gave me an insight about the in depth knowledge their team has in the space of Vedic rituals. In addition to the in depth know how – the team displayed a very high level of empathy, professionalism and customer focus. The experience left such a lasting impact that now I know that if my family ever needs support with rituals and ceremonies, I will reach out to SmartPuja without a second thought. To me this is an example of an experience that created unmatched Brand Loyalty.
The experience also got me thinking about how someone running an enterprise as complex as this would have conceived, planned, executed and sustained the operations with results that are not only flawless but also memorable. As a brand SmartPuja is unique, has high recall value and evokes tremendous respect. Clearly there is a lot one can learn by getting to know what went into creating this success story. So I decided to reach out to Nishchay and Pooja who were kind enough to generously share their journey with me.
The “Soul” of SmartPuja
When we think of what traits create successful entrepreneurs, sometimes the imagery that comes to mind, is that of someone with a lot of drive, determination, focus, discipline – feverishness to achieve goals. Well, then comes the question – is it possible to have the drive, laser sharp focus, discipline, passion, and commitment without the feverishness? Could the drive and passion also come from a space of calm self-belief devoid of arrogance and filled with compassion and a desire to serve? The answer is a resounding “yes”. This beautiful couple epitomises a wonderful blend of traits – they are high achievers who are driven, passionate, focused, calm, self-assured, compassionate and gentle.
Story of how the Co-founders discovered each other
Nishchay and Pooja, met early on during their corporate careers. In fact they spent time learning some powerful customer service and sales fundamentals together. These concepts of putting the customer first, building long lasting relationships with clients and understanding where else they could be of service stayed with them and became some of the founding principles of SmartPuja.
Both Nishchay and Pooja remained good friends after the time they had spent as colleagues. They kept in touch while they continued their respective journeys independently in the corporate world.
Nishchay went on to gain more experience in the area of customer support and developed a well rounded career over the next decade. He also explored various aspects of running operations focused on customer centricity and creating business value for clients. His strong leadership skills and strategic insights helped him successfully head the crucial quality function in the capacity of Director Quality Assurance at Replicon! Pooja continued her career and explored diverse areas like accounting, finance, banking and even an entrepreneurial venture in the space of baking!
Both of them did well for themselves on the career front. They also decided to extend their friendship into a life long journey as soul mates and tied the knot.
The Couple with a newborn baby transform into Co-founders of a newborn company!
The couple was blessed with two wonderful daughters Aarna and Aarya. Interestingly, the birth of their second daughter Aarya led to a serendipitous discovery that paved the way for SmartPuja!
It was 2015 – the era of internet based solutions had reached a stage where one could find almost any service online. Much to their surprise, when Nishchay and Pooja tried to look up a platform that could help them find a Purohit for the Puja on the auspicious ceremony of their daughter’s birth, they couldn’t find any. Moreover, the whole experience of getting the ceremony done, turned out to be so involved that it took away their minds from being “present” for the ceremony and enjoying the occasion. As an afterthought, both of them discussed their experience and the surprising absence of a solution. So in true entrepreneurial fashion, they decided to create a solution! After a couple of months of deliberation and research, they decided to embark on this journey and started work to set up SmartPuja. The name was a “smart” choice by Nishchay to acknowledge his lovely wife Pooja’s knack for making astute choices. Just like she has been a significant part of his life, he decided that her name will be a significant part of what the platform would be known as – “SmartPuja”!
The Journey Begins!
In order to understand the basics of Vedic rituals in the most authentic way, Nishchay decided to spent 40 days shadowing one of the most knowledgeable Panditji in his hometown. He spent time understanding the rituals and all the associated intricacies. This equipped him to carefully craft the profile of purohits he would onboard for the platform. Infact he even involved Panditji in the interview process and created a well thought of onboarding procedure which included thorough background checks. Both Pooja and Nishchay carefully applied all the concepts they had imbibed around customer focus and engagement, to tailor their training and orientation process. They ensured they had a rock solid core team, equipped with the right customer service skills and then planned a soft launch in 2016. Initially, both Nishchay and Pooja were anxious and would personally call their clients to get feedback. The overwhelming positive response to their service helped them reaffirm that they were on the right track.
The Passion for Continuous Refinement!
They went on refining their offerings to the extent where they could create an experience that was customised to their clients’ regional background. Today they have a team well versed in at least 16 languages! The customer experience they have been able to create is so memorable and long lasting that their clients not only come back to them for rituals and ceremonies but also talk about their services (like I am doing right now). SmartPuja therefore receives a lot of word of mouth referrals. In merely 3 years, Nishchay and Pooja have been able to not only set up a successful enterprise, but also fine tune their offerings to be able to create a high degree of customisation. They have built a brand that is recognised, respected and very reliable!
A set of Powerful Values!
I wanted to delve deeper to understand which personal values helped Nishchay and Pooja create this wonderful enterprise that not only solves a problem which requires a unique solution in form of highly specialised service but is also closely linked with sensitive human emotions – and by the way, is highly complex in terms of process and execution.
According to Nishchay and Pooja, there are some unique traits that each of them bring to the table and some common values as well. They both value customer experience and customer engagement to build long lasting relationships. The spirit of trying their best to provide the highest possible value via their services is also common to both. They love crafting experiences such that their clients remember them whenever they go through a life event that may require a ritual. In fact, even during this short period of 3 years since SmartPuja went live, they have had couples who have engaged their services for their marriage rituals and then come back to them for their baby’s naming ceremony!
Nishchay and Pooja, love and value their two daughters immensely. They mean the world to them. They are also firm believers of the approach that gender should not restrict any sort of opportunities or achievement. They have also extended this approach to their business – in cases where the eldest daughter was the one who needed to do the deceased’s last rites, as a team they have supported the daughter’s will and right to do so. I have been someone who has experienced this while doing my Father’s last rites. It meant so much to me that their team and I were on the same page on this subject.
The sum is greater than its parts – Co-founders with an interesting set of individual strengths !
Individually Nishchay and Pooja complement each other in terms of their unique areas of expertise. Nischay is the one who brings in a lot of passion, intuition, innovation backed with solid research, the spirit of ownership and the ability to build high trust relationships. Nishchay credits his Dad for being his role model in terms of displaying the high levels of commitment to work ethics and respect for coworkers irrespective of their rank. From his Dad, Nishchay learnt that how one treats those who are less privileged is a sign of the strength of their character. He believes in showing utmost respect to everybody he interacts with. Such a wonderful value!
Pooja on the other hand brings with her an ability to stand firm on decisions, immense clarity, tenacity, financial acumen, assertiveness, love for aggressive goals, and the attitude to be a life long learner.
She loves to learn in any and every way she can. In fact, she says most of her strengths are a result of observing and learning from family members. She enjoys learning by observing people and appreciating what is good and great in them. Her passion is to learn every single day. She has also been a part of the Goldman Sachs IIMB 10K Women Entrepreneurs Initiative.
The dynamics that make it work!
The two of them also accept each other as critics. They accept each others’ feedback with immense trust and respect without getting defensive. As a team they are resilient and have worked on inculcating an attitude to look at their failures as much needed opportunities to learn and grow. In fact they have adopted an empowering belief that “ Whatever happens, happens for good” – interestingly I have seen another entrepreneur, CEO of DriveU, Mr Rahm Shastry who shares the same belief.
Work Life Integration!
SmartPuja, being a service that may need the team to spring into action anytime, keeps the couple busy and ready to work anytime and anywhere. However, they have accepted this aspect of their work and have learnt to enjoy little chunks of time that they get in between. In addition to taking turns and spending time with their daughters, they pursue their own hobbies to de-stress. For Nishchay it is playing badminton three times a week and for Pooja it is late night baking sessions by herself.
A Healthy Way to Look at Setbacks – Lessons Learnt!
Setbacks and struggles are a part entrepreneurial journey. Success isn’t always born out of passion alone, but also from the resilience and relentless pursuit of ones’ dreams. As they look back at their entrepreneurial journey, Nishchay and Pooja feel that talking about the challenges and failures that come ones’ way while pursuing a dream project, is a great way to learn and grow. They also think a DIY approach by getting their hands dirty, has helped them learn and do what was best for their venture. Choosing the right teams, vendors and partners carefully without any haste is also an approach they highly recommend. Last but not the least, they say sometimes what may seem like a big jolt initially may turn out to be a big blessing in disguise as well as a vital learning. So it helps to not get too overwhelmed by setbacks and march on ones’ path to the goal.
There was a lot I learnt listening to this wonderful journey that Nishchay and Pooja have embarked on. I wish SmartPuja and this lovely couple lots of success and good luck! Looking forward to seeing you guys on lists of India’s most creative entrepreneurial ventures!