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December - 2008 - issue > Woman Achiever
Dream, and Believe in it
Vimali Swamy
Monday, December 1, 2008
“Believe in your dreams because if you do not, no one else will,” says VN Saroja, Co-founder and Director, Movico Technologies. An entrepreneur for the past 18 years, Saroja is one of the few women who refused to follow the conventional career path and dared to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams in a time when entrepreneurship was not something looked upon.

Being an air force officer’s daughter, Saroja had grown up being highly independent. Upon completing her graduation in mathematical statistics from Delhi University and obtaining an MBA from the IIM Ahmedabad she turned down many lucrative job offers and chose to work as an independent consultant. It was not easy, as everyone in her family failed to understand as to why she wanted to give up regular highly paid jobs, that too after graduating from the IIM. “While at IIM I had realized my liking for smaller organizations, and was not willing to be tied down to a large organization,” she recalls. Her parents were perplexed at her choice, and it took some time for them to reluctantly agree to her wishes.

For seven years she worked as an independent consultant taking up numerous projects on the way. During this time she also got an opportunity to work for Anil Srivastava, who had started NASSCOM. Taking it as an opportunity she occupied herself researching and consolidating various reports and analytics for the industry body. She also started collaborating with Sanjeev Bikhchandani who was her senior at IIM and had started working independently. Together they developed and marketed several syndicated reports successfully. He had envisioned starting a company that helped HR managers find the right candidates and keep the job seekers updated. Finding this vision quite interesting, Saroja worked with Bikhchandani and worked on developing a large database of jobs available, along with that of HR managers and headhunters. When the Internet became accessible and popular in the mid ’90s, both recognized it as the platform on which their vision could be mounted and brought to a reality. They then co-founded naukri.com. As its Chief Operating Officer, Saroja played a crucial role in setting up the operations, inviting venture capital, expanding the company, and being involved in all aspects of running the site.

In 2003, due to severe health problems, she decided to step down from her role at Naukri. At that time, Naukri had grown from a five-member team to about 90-100 people with operations in all the four metros and other major cities in the country. For a while Saroja again started working as an independent consultant, as she was recovering from her illness. During this time she observed the boom in the mobile market in India. “Mobility was the buzz word. From accessing one’s emails to documents to conferencing while on the move, the concept of mobility was catching up,” Saroja says. She found that while the access to entertainment on the mobile and Web platforms was increasing with the far-reaching spread of technologies like 3G and Wimax, there was a serious shortage of quality videos that were legal as well as adapted for the platforms to ensure the best viewer experience. When looking at the market for the reasons behind this, Saroja and her friends found that the primary reason was the lack of a tool that allowed easy access to footage in a digital form which could then be served to consumers through the channel of their choice (mobile or Web or television).

“We realized the major phase of growth that India was going through in the media and entertainment space. We foresaw the heavy demand for video-on-demand, streaming video from the Internet, Internet television, TV on mobile, and more,” she says. Hence Saroja, with her friends Arvind Jha and Shailendra Nath Rai, decided to build a product to leverage this new wave and founded the company, Movico Technologies in September 2007. In December that year, the company came up with a product named MediaBaron, an asset and workflow management system that offers a platform for video producers and video distributors to meet their production and distribution needs by integrating every one of the various elements of content production in a single product.

Founding Movico gave Saroja the thrill that she had been longing for after leaving Naukri. “After many years at Naukri, I had begun to feel a slump in my career. Naukri had become a service oriented company and I was longing to do something more. Though Movico too has a services division, the main focus is on product development. There are not too many software product companies in India. This really was the excitement I had been looking for,” she says.

Being on one’s own and being a part of two successful ventures was not an easy journey for Saroja; but her stubborn will and determination helped her stay put on her course towards realizing her dreams. She still remembers how even as a young girl she had wanted to open a factory to manufacture squash balls. “In the air force cantonment, there used to be a sports complex. The authorities would never give us kids the squash balls to play with, as they were imported from UK. Hence, I would always think of opening a factory of my own so that everybody would have access to the game,” Saroja reminisces.

Today, she feels that the entrepreneurial scenario in India has undergone a tremendous change. Back in the early ’90s it was considered to be unusual to be an entrepreneur, but today taking risks has become a trend. Apart from winning the family’s support, she had to strive hard to face the challenges of venturing into unchartered territories, establishing the product idea and looking for venture support. From family support to venture capital, it is a lot easier today. Though she does not regret any of her decisions now, she does look back at some of the mistakes as a great learning experience. In her early days as a consultant, Saroja feels, she should have showed more patience. “As an independent consultant I would often come across too straightforward with my suggestions. I slowly realized that the way to communicate is very important in one’s day-to-day life,” she says. Be it a small organization or large, Saroja feels that communication is also a key strength for a leader. As a leader, one must always share one’s vision with his or her team, else they will lose focus and feel misguided. When a small organization starts growing, often the big picture starts getting blurred. Hence, a leader must constantly share the company’s values and roadmap and make her team feel involved. Loyalty cannot be bought but has to be earned, she says. Also, one must have the eagerness to learn and value the dignity of labor and should never consider any job too low for one’s status. A leader should always be able to set examples for others to follow.

Though Saroja has kept herself busy all these years pursuing her career interests, she has never neglected her personal interests. An avid reader, she always makes sure that she catches up on her daily quota of reading. She is also an ardent fan of many sitcoms and regularly buys all the DVDs and watches them over the weekends.

Looking at the budding entrepreneurs, Saroja feels happy to see the young minds dreaming to create a difference. She says, “It is important to dream, but it is much more important to believe in one’s dream.” Once you start dreaming, the next step is to strive hard and implement what you dream about. But it is quite important that one should not allow what others say disorient one’s plans. “I always believe that one’s work should bring value to others in such a way that it remains a legacy after us,” Saroja says. Today, after leaving a great legacy with her successful venture at Naukri, she firmly hopes to do much more at Movico and many other ventures she hopes to be a part of.

VN Saroja
2007 – Present: Co-Founder and Director, Movico Technologies
2003 – 2007: Interbase Consulting
1997 – 2003: Co-Founder and COO, Naukri.com
1990 – 1997: Independent Consultant
1987 – 1989: MBA, IIM-Ahmedabad
1984 – 1987: B.Sc Mathematical Statistics, Delhi University

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