Interview with Ms.Akshaara Lalwani- Founder & CEO of Communicate India
Her journey began with a mere INR 10000, of which half the amount were gift vouchers for a printer given to her by friends. Since then, Akshaara has built an agency that is a force to reckon with over the last decade.
Today she has over 112 plus employees and works with MNCs and Blue-Chip companies, including Hershey’s, Mindshare, SKF Bearings and The World Bank, among others. She has clients across several markets, including Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, and the UK.
Having successfully built a name for herself in the industry, Akshaara has been the recipient of the PRmoment 30 Under 30 award and the 21 Young Guns –India’s New Age Entrepreneur.
She was also named by veteran Public Relations professional Amit Prabhu in MXM India as one who would change the media landscape in India.
Furthermore, she has been featured in IMPACT’s top 50 influential women of 2018, while Communicate India ranked among the “Most Promising PR Agencies” in Silicon India’s list of 2018. She also won the title of Social Samosa Super Women in 2019.
She now offers consultancy services in a variety of sectors, from user experience and engagement to artificial intelligence and business strategy, either supported by in house teams or through trusted partners.
Akshaara has also been a speaker at several high-profile events, including AISEC’s Stakeholder’s Dinner and leading media institutes such as Mumbai University and EMDI, to name a few.
In addition, she has also served as a jury member at management events at colleges across Mumbai, including the prestigious Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics.
In an industry where few home-grown Indian PR agencies exist, spearheading one is no mean feat. A proud woman entrepreneur, Akshaara considers herself a modern-day David in the world of media Goliaths.
Tell us a little about yourself
Akshaara Lalwani: I completed high school at the city’s prestigious J.B. Petit High School for Girls, after which, I opted for a traditional Bachelor of Arts (B.A), Honours in Economics degree from Jai Hind College.
I then went on to work at companies such as HDFC AMC, Omega Capita, and CMCG India for nearly two years.
During this time, I gathered valuable experience in the areas of sales & marketing and client servicing, and then, I worked to leverage these learnings as I embarked on my own entrepreneurial journey by founding Communicate India in 2011.
Also, since I am a firm believer in lifelong learning and the need to upskill even as an entrepreneur, I have gone on to study Digital Marketing at Oxford and just recently, I completed my Masters in Entrepreneurship from the Cambridge Judge Business School.
Please tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey
Akshaara Lalwani: I founded Communicate India at the age of 23, however, I started working when I was just 16. Starting out that young gave me the opportunity to gather invaluable experience and learn from mentors before I could start my own business.
Like most entrepreneurs, my entrepreneurial journey has also been replete with highs and lows, but it has been beyond thrilling to have built something of my own from the ground up. From a boutique PR agency to a 150+ employee company, it has been an incredible experience.
My first ever client was a small restaurant in Bandra that believed in my passion and enthusiasm and signed a six-month contract with me.
Today, Communicate India has had associations with companies across the board. From Fortune 500 firms to startups at various stages of funding to family-run businesses, we’ve worked with them all. And even after 11 years of being at the helm of my own business, I still feel like I am just getting started!
What service(s) do you offer at Communicate India?
Akshaara Lalwani: At Communicate India, we offer a whole range of integrated marketing solutions and services such as investor relations and IPO services, internal communications, PR, digital marketing, performance marketing, content writing, marketing events, creative services, among others.
How did you found the company?
Akshaara Lalwani: Communicate India was founded in the most unconventional of ways. I was training to be a financial adviser and investment banker with HDFC right after my graduation when a friend suggested that I could succeed in Public Relations because I had a knack for effective communication.
This thought lingered with me and I soon realised that there were definite gaps in the industry that a company like Communicate India could fill. Soon after, I started the company with just one client and a tiny seed amount. That is the genesis story of Communicate India.
What was your mission at the outset?
Akshaara Lalwani: The mission at Communicate India has always been to give young people, and most importantly young women, the chance to lead and grow their careers.
Also, we have always advocated for marketing to be taken more seriously in the boardroom as it is a huge component of the business equation and companies stand to gain immense competitive advantage by offering marketers a seat at the table.
Which ideologies run Communicate India?
Akshaara Lalwani: The ideology at Communicate India is that of merit and a work culture that encourages everyone to participate no matter what their designation or years of experience are.
We are firm believers in the fact that young people—if given the right opportunities and mentorship—have the ability and willingness to take up more responsibilities and grow rapidly.
Our culture is, thus, sacrosanct to us. For Communicate India, the growth of the company runs parallel with the growth of the members of the company.
What is the Expansion plan for Communicate India?
Akshaara Lalwani: A lot of international agencies have entered the Indian market and acquired domestic agencies in order to expand.
We want to go against the grain and be one of the few Indian communication agencies to have expanded internationally.
We’ve already set foot on this path and are serving 4 continents, and we will continue to expand our global footprint by being at the forefront of communication.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Akshaara Lalwani: Like most entrepreneurs, I’ve had my fair share of failures. One of the most important learnings I’ve had is about trusting the right kind of people.
Also, I’ve learned to not be overtly emotional or sensitive when it comes to business and to develop a thick skin. This helps immensely when it comes to taking criticism and feedback more effectively.
What was the inspiration behind turning an entrepreneur?
Akshaara Lalwani: Even as a child, I was fiercely determined to control my destiny and build something of my own. I carried this drive into my teenage years and early adulthood and that’s what led me to start my own business.
I have always believed that there is no better way to be in charge of your destiny than by becoming an entrepreneur because you can build as high, as fast, as broad or even as slow as you want.
Your Plan in the next 5 years for the company.
Akshaara Lalwani: Our core focus is going to be on diversification and expanding our capabilities across industries and technologies and building consumer insights based on cutting-edge martech.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Akshaara Lalwani: A company is only as good as its people, hence, I believe that hiring decisions are crucial to an organisation’s success or failure.
Along the way, I have learned to trust my instincts and be cognisant of subtle red flags while hiring. I firmly believe that as an entrepreneur, you should not hire out of desperation; hire only when you are convinced that the person is the right fit for your organisation and culture.
Your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs
Akshaara Lalwani: Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone and when we hear the success stories of business leaders, we don’t see the blood, sweat and tears that go behind all the accomplishments.
I believe, even though numbers are essential, another important success matrix of an entrepreneur is satisfaction.
So choose wisely and when you do choose the path of business, be willing to make the sacrifices to back it up.
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