Everyone faces challenges and, in my case, my age went against me, says Ananya Birla
Ananya Birla, an Indian singer and entrepreneur, speaks about what made her embark into the music industry and the idea behind the creation of Svatantra Microfin during an interview with Zee Business.
Ananya Birla, an Indian singer and entrepreneur, speaks about what made her embark into the music industry and the idea behind the creation of Svatantra Microfin during an interview with Swati Khandelwal, Zee Business. Edited Excerpts:
Q: You come from a family that is into business for many years but have taken a route out of it and have proved yourself as a big singer. Tell us something about yourself. How did you embark upon this journey of getting into this new phase?
A: I think, the most important thing is to do something that sparks your soul and music always did that for me. As soon as I break out of my mould and realised that life is too short. The society will say what they want to say as they have pre-conceived notions that one must not take that seriously. I have been able to reach a place where I am just not living life but felt alive. Music is something that has been my best friend through a lot while I was growing up.
Q: When did you realise that this is something that you would have to pursue as a career at some point?
A: I think, I always knew. But, I was too scared of various reasons. A lot of it was just in my mind, to be honest. Now thinking about it because my parents are so supportive. Then when I went to Oxford I truly realised that this is what I want to do or take up as a career.
Q: What was your parents' first reaction when you informed them about your choice?
A: My parents have always been of the mindset that you need to do what keeps you happy and you need to find your passion and take it up as your career. Because if you can do that then you are going to live a happy life. So, they don’t have any comments about that all. My father says that I am getting old and I need help and you need to come but it happens just in-jokes and laughter. At the end of the day, they are very supportive. They want me to bring Grammy back home to India and they are super-super supportive for that. I have a few conversations with them individually and discussed on the realistically need to plan A and plan B, but they are super supportive in what I am doing. They are the first ones to hear my songs and see my videos.
Q: You are talking about the love for music and parallelly you are a wonderful thing in microfinance. Let us know and understand what the Svatantra Microfin do?
A: We finance women basically who have various businesses and it is for consumption purposes. They must plough in that business and when they get their return they pay us principle and interest. So, people say that you are helping rural women or semi-urban women, but no one is helping anyone, but they are helping themselves. Svatantra is a catalyst. That is what we basically do now. Of course, we have moved a little bit into fintech as well as we have pioneered this app, Saathi, where everything is cashless from both the ends. We have a mentorship program, scholarship program and insurance. We have different packages that come in. We have acquired the housing company late last year, which is doing very well. It puts in infrastructure, which is a very-very important plough in what we are doing. So, the entire idea is to basically finance people who don’t have the finance, so that we can push them up into the banking system.
Q: How big the company is right now and the number of people that you have brought on this entity and how much you intend to grow it?
A: So, we have touched 4 million lives. So, we have lent that much. We have touched Rs2000 crore GLP (Gross Loan Portfolio) and were the fastest growing mid-sized MFI (Microfinance Institutions) last year. Now, we have reached a large MFI space. And it feels very serious because when I started it was very tuff to get even my first client and still I have my first clients name and slowly moved to 100 clients, 1000 clients and so and reached 1000 GLP, 2000 GLP. So, it has been a great journey and that is basically where we were right now.
Q: Did you face challenges as you went alone?
A: Everyone faces challenges. It is all relative. I think my age initially went against me as I was just 17 when I started. I couldn’t be on the board of the company and that is how the world was. But, I got on the board as soon as I turned 18. So, people taking me seriously at that age was a little bit of issue but got right once I got my team, a place and started proving myself. We provide the lowest interest rate in the entire industry as well.
It is all about small things that really matter like put yourself into the client’s shoes as for the interest rates matter a lot. Drop the interest rates, so I said cut the interest rate in the entire industry.
The second thing that props up is convivence like they have so much going on as they must take care of their kids and have their own businesses, in-laws, grandparents and more. They don’t have time to go to the centre than we decided to send our field officers to them. Maybe they are not very comfortable with male field officers, so get females onboard. So small thing like that has really helped us and propelled the growth massively.
Q: Do you go out and reach these women to whom you cater?
A: Yes, I do. That is something that provides a lot of fulfilment. One example that I give to everyone is that one of our first clients had a very small parlour in a small space with a mirror and chair. She asked for a loan of Rs10,000 and the amount was sanctioned after completion of entire validation, credit check, SOP process. Then she went for the second and third loan cycle and now, her space has at least increased five-fold and she has employed 5-6 more women. It is a good size parlour, a place where all the women come. So, it has helped in increasing her savings and educate her girl child and her elder son is taking up law. I had a conversation with her and her husband is also supporting her. So, it is gratifying and says that you and your team is doing something right. We are achieving what we can achieve, and it is just not in terms of numbers, figures and profitability, of course, it very important in a business but also having an impact on life.
Q: What is your next plan?
A: My song, Unstoppable, which talks about women was released on this Women’s day. I wrote this song in 2015 for my mother. In addition, a new music video will be released by the end of March, which will be followed by my album in April. I have been working on it for the past 1.5-2 years.
Q: Thus, 2019 is going to be an important year for you?
A: It is a very important year for me. 5 songs have turned up to be platinum and it is a feat that no other Indian has done in English music in India. I feel very proud of the entire team from the producer to the labour, the management team and myself as well. So, the entire idea now is to break internationally.
Q: So, you think that you are ready by 2019 or 2020?
A: I think something will happen by the end of 2019 or the start of 2020.
Q: Tell us about the power which is about mental health and you are doing this with your mother?
A: I have personally faced a lot of mental health issues. Nothing to laugh about but I am laughing about it because it is something about which I talk all the time. It is something to be ashamed of. I think it makes you stronger. So, my mom went through Postpartum depression after my brother was born. So, it is something that is very close to our heart as I know the pain. I think I have been very lucky to have this support from my parents, friends and people around me. First, it is not easy.
Secondly, this stigma doesn’t make it any easier and there are so many people out there who suffer and are completely silent. Suicides are increasing massively in India and we really need to do something about it. We are trying everything that we possibly can. Mental health and physical health go hand in hand and people need to understand that this that there is absolutely nothing wrong in suffering from a mental illness. It is very sensitive but is very important, it is just a change of mindset that needs to happen. I think that the main thing that people should realise, I have also realised that if you have a mental illness than your capabilities or your abilities don’t go down anywhere. Because your job prospects go down, people don’t take you seriously by terming you as mad and more. This is not true, if you take care of yourself, reach out for help, go for therapy (it is just like physiotherapy). It is just that you are thinking about pragmatically and you are just getting out of that.
Q: I think accepting it and move on and being ready to get it cured are things.
A: So, we have opened a centre in Bangalore where people come in and take help. We have phycologist, physiatrist and different type of therapy. We have workshops for both sufferers and the caregivers because we don’t realise as we ask the suffering about how he is being you okay, but we don’t go the caregivers, who go through so much, the people who are taking care of you that you are okay. We won’t even ask them. We have a lot of workshops for caregivers as well.
Q: So, only in Bangalore or you have plans to open it somewhere else?
A: It is also located in Mumbai’s Hughes Road. So, we have Bombay, Bangalore, Goa and now, opening one at Delhi. So, trying to make it a pan India thing. In addition, we have campaigns with #stampoutstigma.
Q: Tell us about the advice that your father provides you?
A: I have longer working hours right now as he had done all of these. So, once I get home, we both forget about it. It is just a daughter-father thing we don’t really don’t have a conversation about do this and do that. But, once he told me when I had an interview. I asked him, Papa, what is the advice that you will give to me. So, he said, no shortcuts. And, my mother has always said that Rome was not built in a day because I am very ambitious. Basically, she says try your best and leave the rest. Because trying your best is all you could possibly do, as results are not in your hand.
Q: Let us know about the bonding between you and your siblings.
A: We are very close. Yes, we have ups and downs, sibling thing, but I think my mother keeps us together and connected. She spends as much time as I possible and I think that helps. We all live in the same environment because the home is so large that tend to go around but mom brings us together.
Let’s open up for a rapid-fire round...
Q: Who is your role model/ideal?
A: My mom.
Q: Favourite movie?
A: A Star Is Born
Q: Favourite actor?
A: Ranbir Kapoor.
A: Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt, who is very talented.
Q: Favourite singer, international or India?
A: The list is never ending someone like Eminem, who raps, and I look up to him at the next level. Ariana Grande, who is skilling on the charts, Rita Ora who has got her style, Beyoncé and Belle Alice and many more.
Q: What is your current favourite song?
A: I have been listening to Khalid. So, on Saturday night I was listening to Better by Khalid. I like his voice, it is very soothing.
Q: Favourite Food.
A: Anything made at home. I have a very sensitive stomach so homemade basic food and Achaar adds a little flavour to it.
Q: If not a singer, what you would you be?
A: I would always aim to be a great daughter, friend, sister but you know I want to be a singer.
Q: So, Ananya as a singer or Ananya as an entrepreneur?
A: You know both go hand in hand for me being a singer and an entrepreneur in a sense, it is but we don’t realise it. But, I think as an artist what I would say because both are art as being a businesswoman or an entrepreneur or a singer is an art.
Q: Mumma’s girl or Daddy’s girl?
A: Probably, I will say Daddy’s girl. But, my mom is my role model as I look up to her and share everything with her. She is like a best friend, yet we have got a boundary of the daughter-mom boundary.
Q: Best Friend.
A: I have two best friends, Akshita who is my manager and Aisha, who is standing there.
Q: Favourite quote that has always moved you.
A: I think "Try your best and leave the rest on God".
Q: A book or a song.
A: A book, as I also love poetry.
Q: When you are low What do you do to cheer up yourself, apart from songs?
A: I go for a drive. I love driving with loud music on, forget about the world. I come back refreshed and get back to it.
Q: What is your favourite car?
A: Any car will do it, automatic could be preferable but manual is also fine.
Q: What is your favourite holiday destination?
A: The Maldives, where I go once in three months. It gives me a lot of peace of mind and I have also written quite a few songs over there. I have gone there with a few special people in my life as well.
Q: Where do you see settling down, India or abroad?
A: I think it is 50:50.
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Q: Introvert or extrovert.
A: I am a very introvert person until I am in front of a camera or at the stage. I have a very small circle of friends. I don’t trust people easily at all. My balls are very high.
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