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Meet Akshuna, a fun-loving, travel and dance freak, who is a resilient go-getter and strongly believes that with perseverance, wonders do happen. At a very young age, she has founded the travel portal Travelista and the NGO called SHE, organizing regular cultural festivals to keep the spirits high!
Tell us something about Travelista India and SHE?
Travelista India is a unique organization which has been organizing eclectic festivals and events at prestigious venues in Delhi and London. Travelista aims to promote national and international fashion, travel, culture, travel, folk, fashion, design, arts, history and heritage. Travelista’s previous festivals have taken place at prestigious venues like Dilli Haat INA, Select CITYWALK, DLF Place, Oxford Street London, British Film Institute, London and have been extensively written about and applauded by both Indian and UK media.
Travelista also organized India’s 1st Travel Film and Photography Festival at Dilli Haat INA in Feb 2013 and since then has executed unique concepts and innovative festivals which have given a platform to over 500 women entrepreneurs, start ups, upcoming artists and designers to showcase their unique products, talent and creative works. Travelista has been organizing a number of diverse festivals in the field of national and international culture, travel, and heritage and women empowerment.
SHE is a registered NGO, which aims to work for women safety, women rights and empowerment in the country. The NGO is striving to bring a strong women force together and find active solutions to problems and issues concerning women in our country through innovative and inventive techniques. SHE engages in a number of activities like coming up with unique women festivals, self defense workshops for women in localities, travel safety workshops, ground level workshops in slums, cities, villages and schools on issues like women safety, gender sensitization, girl child education and general empowerment drives done in an attractive and effective way.
SHE doesn’t believe in boring speeches morbidly delivered on women’s day or giving lectures to the society on how the condition of women needs to be improved in the country. SHE believes in coming up with inventive techniques and solutions which both engage and effect the public to come together and work as one force for women issues like women safety, girl child education and gender equality and makes them realize their responsibility as a citizen to contribute towards this cause in their own little way.
Why did you start a travel portal? How is it different?
Travelista is actually not a travel portal. Travelista basically means a person who loves to travel and is passionate about culture, arts, fashion, food, heritage and everything else which a person gathers from his/her travels. We initially started as a travel film production company in London and undertook film & cultural projects for See London By Night, Southbank Project and cultural cafes in Brick Lane. Since I have been a travel film-maker and loved travelling, I decided to organize the very first Travel Film and Photography Festival in India. So I approached Delhi Tourism and they loved the idea.
The first 2 editions of the festival saw participation from over 5 continents and above 200 travel films!
However, we realized that the travel film-making scene in India is still growing and hasn’t found a strong foothold. It will take more time for people to appreciate travel films and documentaries. So we expanded into other quarters of being a Travelista like Culture, Fashion, Shopping, Arts, Performing arts and more! Since then, we have organized a number of festivals focusing on these different aspects at prestigious venues across Delhi and London like Dilli Haat, DLF Promenade, DLF Emporio, DLF Place, Select CITYWALK, Oxford Street, Italian Embassy, London and more.
What is your educational background?
I have a background in media, cultural entrepreneurship and film. I graduated in Mass Media & Mass Communication from Delhi University, IP College and then pursued my Masters in Creative and Media Industries from King’s College London.
Why did you want to be an entrepreneur?
I worked for about 2 years with the London Film Festival and British Film Institute before I decided to become an entrepreneur. However, just being an employee never gave me satisfaction in the truest sense. Even though I liked what I did, I felt that there was a limitation to my abilities in a job. I wanted something more challenging and more adventurous, something that tests my potential. So I decided to take the entrepreneurial route! Also, my Masters in Entrepreneurship gave the much required boost to my aspirations.
How did you face the credit crunch in the beginning of your start-up?
I needed investment capital for my first project and had to turn to my father for help. I asked him to loan me a lakh for my first project and promised to give it back to him soon. However, with god’s kindness, I returned him double the amount back within the first 3 months of my project. I would say that I have been some of the lucky few whose startups started earning profits in the initial stages itself. However, to make this possible, I had to do a lot of business research, hard work, planning and spend sleepless nights (still do) to strengthen my revenue model. Also, I multi-task a lot to save on a lot of overheads like hiring a photographer, designer, filmmaker, editor, copywriter etc. My educational background came very handy and allowed me to save on a number of aspects.
Also, it is very important to be sure about your revenue model. Often, I see entrepreneurs ignoring their revenue model and giving more precedence to their passion. I completely understand that however I very strongly feel that in order to do what you are passionate about; you need a strong financial foundation. So first work on that foundation so that it can fund your passion and not the other way round.
What are the three main hurdles that you have faced till now?
Since we have to organize events at various public venues, one of the biggest hurdles is to procure the right event venue. Secondly, most of the venues charge hefty amounts so one has to be cash ready for the same! Thirdly, there is a lot of internal politics which goes on for procuring licenses and securing venues especially when it comes to big public venues. So, one has to learn to deal with such elements and situations intelligently.
How difficult is it to assemble the right team for your start-up? Give examples?
It is extremely difficult to assemble the right team since we have a very dynamic work set up which requires smart and enthusiastic individuals who don’t fear to face the dirt when required. Events can be very challenging and excruciating and require the team members to have a perfect blend of being conscientious, diligent, confident, diplomatic and even curt (when need be). However, we have been lucky to have some of the best team members one can ask for! Plus, we have an all girls team and they are more like soul sisters than employees. Some of them started out in their college as interns with us and have now become full time employees.
Did you have any mentor in the process who guided you?
I didn’t really have any professional mentor. However, I can easily say that my dad has mentored as well as encouraged me in my initial stages of my business. I come from a family who has always pursued white collared jobs. My father is an army officer and my mother a food technologist. Coming from a non-business family, I was extremely scared to venture out into entrepreneurship. But my dad motivated me to take the plunge and today I am glad that I did!
How do you face the financial burdens of your start-up?
Initially, it was tough as our start up was still gaining a foothold in the industry. It took a lot of work to convince clients and partners to collaborate. However, now that we are an established brand and people trust us, it is much easier. It is a matter of hanging on and keep doing your thing dedicatedly. There will be times when the financial burdens or some other roadblocks will try to slow you down. But those are the times when we try to think ingeniously and reinvent ourself so that we stay ahead of the game.
What are your future plans to further broaden your start-up?
We plan to host more events abroad and also expand to cities like Mumbai and Chandigarh. We have been approached by a number of people who want us to bring our festivals to other cities too. Hopefully, we will be able to do that soon!