The first women who really influenced my life were those that I never got the chance to meet — my grandmothers. I only knew them through the stories that my parents told me, and those stories made them completely unrelatable. My father’s memories of my paternal grandmother are filled with nothing but love, respect, and admiration. In these days of helicopter parenting, it’s hard to imagine how she could have given enough time and attention to my father, just one of her fourteen kids, to induce his unwavering belief and love for her? How was she able to assure him that she loved him?
On the other side of my family, my maternal grandmother died young, in childbirth. Even then, before she passed, she obtained a promise from her mother-in-law that her daughter, my mom, would never lack for a mother. Even though I never got the chance to meet these women, I am the progeny of strong women adept at handling adversity.
My mother was always a confident woman. Self-doubt and insecurity seem to have completely passed her by. Decisive and sure of herself, the lack of formal education never got in the way of doing what she wanted. During her first flight to the U.S., I remember how worried I was about how she would navigate the airport and travel without speaking English. When she landed and I asked her how she managed it, she just replied confidently, “I spoke in Kannada, and everyone understood.”
My mother taught me to be confident and never feel guilty or embarrassed. Throughout her life, she was adamant that her daughters be educated and unquestioningly made any sacrifice that she needed to, in order to ensure that her daughters’ education was never compromised. She was my first real example of entrepreneurial passion and perseverance, though her endeavors were usually on behalf of her family and not for business.
In addition to these truly amazing women in my family, I have to mention my math teacher, in school. I completely adored her. I once failed to secure a passing grade in her class. In her kindness, she pulled me aside and said, “You have the potential to ace mathematics, I can’t understand why you fail. Let me help you, I know that you can do it.” With her assistance and continued faith in my abilities, she turned a failing student into one who loved Math as a subject. As a result, I excelled in math and fell in love with the subject, and this just about transformed the course of my life.
I have been truly blessed in the teachers I have had. I remember my Telugu teacher from school who instilled in me my love for poetry. It was because of her that I developed my debating skills, and started thinking about and questioning world problems. She encouraged me to try out for the Model U.N. and Debating clubs, which really honed my analytical skills and awareness of global events and helped me get over my fear of public speaking. These skills have continued to serve even to this day.
As the popular saying goes, behind every successful man, there is always a woman. Behind a successful woman, there are always women who paved the path and made it possible. The biggest hold-back that stops women from achieving their true potential is that you have to have people, and specifically women, who believe in you, act as your support system and have your back. When women support each other, you can shatter any ceiling.
I would like to see more women founders in startups, and more women lead tech companies. At Kalaari, I am committed to do our share to support women achievers.