High above the glass ceiling

CLUED-IN! Radhika Aggarwal at her office in Gurugram  

Radhika Aggarwal


At 8.30 p.m. on November 8, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation of Rs.1000 and Rs.500 notes, Radhika Aggarwal swung into action. She quickly put her two sons to sleep so that she could take the 9.30 p.m. call with her leadership team. “We were about to roll out an initiative to help merchants with digital payments in a couple of months. But the announcement meant that the company had to launch it in 48 hours, and we did it,” narrates Radhika, the co-founder and chief business officer at, one of India’s leading retail portals. Through its Capital Wings initiative, the company facilitates flexible low-interest working capital (short-term) loans to the retailers in small towns.

For Radhika, entrepreneurship is not defined by gender. “Women are more equipped for entrepreneurship because it is about multi-tasking, it is like tossing multiple balls in the air and juggling them at all times. And we are better equipped to handle such situations. Apart from that the challenges remain the same. Whether it is genesis or execution of idea or raising funds and scaling up the company, the challenges remain absolutely the same.”

Authoritarian, she holds, is not the only leadership style. “The same argument can be turned around to say that men don’t have empathy or their emotional quotient is not at par with women. In building an organisation, empathy is as important as an authoritarian streak.”

Some feel empathy can wait at the stage of creation, as when nuts and bolts are being put together one needs to be decisive and cut throat. “Women are natural creators and natural nurturers. Most of the women I know are good at that and are quick decision makers. We take quick decisions every morning when we send our kids to school. It can easily translate in boardroom as well.”

As for the support system, Radhika says male entrepreneurs need as much support from their spouses.

Radika looks after the consumer and marketing side of the company and is responsible for the clutter breaking ads of the company, which unlike its competitors don’t believe in making too much noise. “From the beginning we had clear idea that we are going to be a marketplace for the masses. The tagline is where real India shops. We always wanted to focus on middle class tier-2 cities and focussed on the unstructured categories.” The company famously sold cow dung with havan kund for Diwali puja. “It was about living to the idiom yeh mall nahin hai, market hai, good for the pocket hai.”

Radhika says one should not underestimate Bharat at all and that e-commerce is the way to go. “In India the most popular retail site is not Flipkart of Amazon, it is Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation’s portal. They have no cash on delivery. It is all about e-payment. So Bharat will catch up. We could not take landlines to villages but most Indians now have access to mobile phones,” she reasons.

She agrees Indian consumers take time to trust. And perhaps that’s why ShopClues started with something as ubiquitous and affordable as a key chain. “That’s how you make your first purchase and that how we make our first customer. This was one of our initial strategies. Now we ship products to most parts of the country. Indian consumers are ready to try new things.” It is just that they believe in aur dikhao aur dikhao! “Exactly,” she laughs.

Radhika, who studied in Indore before moving to the U.S. likes to take credit for building a sustainable, empathetic organisation which has very high level of emotional quotient. “There is lot of flexibility in the working hours for employees. Some female members of the team come for only 3 to 4 days a week. As long as the job gets done, I don’t mind.”

Her role model is her father, who quit a defence job to start his own company, and her husband Sandeep Aggarwal who founded ShopClues. “My father started at the age of 40 and Sandeep is founder of two successful start-ups. I also started with a fashion start-up based out of the U.S. but it crashed.” So, failure is also part of the game? “Of course, one of the challenges with women entrepreneurship that needs to be called out is that there are very few role models available. It is time consuming and energy consuming. You have to ensure that you have enough energy left to play other roles. Whenever I meet other women entrepreneurs, I ask what time you go to office, what time you get out, how do you manage the kids. I don’t think there is any discussion on work-life balance. The most important thing in all this is that you be present where you are present and give it your full. That is something we forget many times. You have to be intuitive about where you are needed the most. When I am home I switch off my phone and am with my two sons. But many times, I have to get back to the laptop. And I don’t mind it.”

The biggest lesson, Radhika says, is don’t give up. “Show up every day. Half the time, entrepreneurs fail when they stop showing up. It is a lonely ride. So celebrate every small win that you have.”

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 8:45:42 PM |

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