Shilpa Agarwal meets five Chennai-based game-changers who have had the courage to follow a different career path

Comfort zone... Financial security... Uncertainty about stepping into the unknown... Job instability... These could just be a few reasons why people refrain from taking the plunge into alternative careers that might be fulfilling and instead stick on to secure jobs. But, these days the trend is being reversed with quite a few people daring to switch jobs and test uncharted terrain. Here are five Chennai based entrepreneurs who followed the road less taken.

Linu Freddy (33), Engineer-turned-baker

Linu Freddy bakes tempting treats and themed cakes juggling the duties of a fulltime baker, blogger and mother. Starting with a Facebook page ‘Linuskitchen’, this software engineer from CTS now lightens up every occasion with her delicious creations. The desire to have a flexi-career made her transform her hobby into a full-time career. Her mother’s apprehensions about her radical career change faded when Linu started gaining recognition.

Her warm persona coupled with digital marketing has ensured that her diary brims with orders. “The way children’s faces light up when they see their favourite character or hobby translated into cakes is sheer joy to watch making all the hard work worthwhile. In my previous job, I could have never imagined touching people’s lives like this”. She emphasises how important it is for parents to encourage their children to explore what they enjoy rather than enrolling them in the usual courses. “The satisfaction that you get from pursuing a job you enjoy is incomparable to what you derive from a routine desk job”. She now enjoys her ‘mompreneur’ status and wishes to start a small old-fashioned Kerala-styled bakery that would be loaded with goodies and nostalgia.

Nivya Babu (27), Teacher-turned-sari designer

When you see Nivya’s saris you can almost feel their vibrancy. Launching her design label, NVY Studio that specialises in contemporary saris and bridal lehengas, she gave her career and saris a makeover after her inability to open her own school. This former teacher forayed into designing saris sensing a gap in the market for custom-made ones. She was one of the few to start marketing saris online, a move that received a flood of responses from all over the world.

Her saris exude a trendy vibe with eclectic colour combinations and a tinge of quirkiness. Being on-the-job taught her the nuances of the trade — she grew from someone who knew zilch about fabrics to someone with over 75,000 likes on Facebook. “Every time customers from around the world send me pictures of themselves in a sari I put together, it makes my day,” she says. In her experience, many people don’t venture to do something different because they prefer to work in an area that’s relevant to what they have studied. “I think what’s most important is to have faith in your decision and take that first step as opposed to worrying about what X, Y or Z will say. Once you have made that decision, it is important to commit yourself to it and not be disheartened by criticism that you are bound to face in the beginning.”

Lalita Raj (30), From corporate finance to make-up artist

Lalita Raj enjoyed working in corporate finance but felt she wasn’t making a difference. Her decision to quit the corporate world to become a make-up artist wasn’t made overnight; it was after a lot of contemplation — that being a make-up artist would not only be satisfying, it would also bring in the money. After the bridal make-up she did for a friend, something she did for the sheer joy she derived from it, she got many orders that she accepted before she quit the security of her job to acquire a degree in cosmetology. After a six-month course in London she started out with small weddings and portfolios. Extensive networking bagged her advertisements, celebrity magazine shoots and her first film Yaam Irukka Bayamey. Life after the career shift isn’t a cakewalk; it involves hard work and unpredictable schedules. “You might have to do some work for which you don’t get paid initially. A lot of people are not going to understand you. So it helps to be self-motivated and focussed.”

The multiple doors the beauty world has opened, the transformative aspect of makeup and endless creativity makes this profession more exciting than anything else she has done so far. “Besides the results are tangible — seeing your client smile”. She wishes for an attitudinal change in society — recognition of all spheres.

Sonal Pincha (24), Graphic designer-turned-nail artist

Sonal Pincha’s career has been like a Bollywood movie, the drama being that she hid from her family her part-time career in nail art. A former graphic designer coming from a traditional Marwari family without guidance or support, except from her mother, she went to the U.S. and Singapore to learn the trade. She soon opened Vermillion Nail Bar — an exclusive nail salon in South India.

To create awareness and acceptance of a nail salon in Chennai was challenging. Starting from 3 to 5 clients per week she now has clients from age 5 to 85, brides and celebrities. To be inventive on a miniature canvas (nail) is an art involving precision. “It’s solely in my hands to develop my business and find multiple avenues of growth. The happiest moment for me is when I’m done with a set of nails and my client has her eyes glued to them in delight.”

Rakesh Prakash (28), HR professional-turned-wedding photographer

Sitting at his desk in L&T, Rakesh Prakash never envisioned he would end up as a full-time photographer in the emerging market for candid wedding photography. At the insistence of a friend he shot for Hilton. His career looked up after he shot a friend’s wedding in photojournalistic style which went viral. He has come a long way in three years, shooting close to 200 weddings. He freezes raw emotions and offbeat moments, blending them to make priceless souvenirs for the family. “A bride’s mother called me up after I delivered the images and said they told a story that they weren’t able to witness when the wedding was in progress. Seeing the pictures moved them to tears.”

His never-ending appetite for travel is fed by opportunities to shoot in the U.S., France, Singapore and Bali. He has a diverse clientele, having shot celebrities such as G.V. Prakash, Simbu, Anirudh and Deepika Pallikal.

The sense of autonomy, dynamic office spaces, meeting new people, extensive travel and sampling exotic wedding ‘khaana’ are just some of the perks he enjoys. His success as a photographer allowed him to co-own a café called ‘That Madras Place’. He is currently working towards evolving his brand in a bigger way. “Leading a creative life I feel is the best way to survive. It’s better to have dynamic rather than fixed goals.”