At Nüshu Network, we celebrate and support the spirit of entrepreneurship in women across the world. 'WE did it' is our effort to bring you stories of excellence in entrepreneurship by women leaders in different fields. Mabel Chacko, Co-Founder & COO, Open, talks about her entrepreneurial journey, the challenges she has navigated, and leadership advice for women entrepreneurs.
NN: What motivated you to start Open?
Mabel: We started Open to cater to the needs of small businesses. While I was heading marketing & growth at CitrusPay, I got the opportunity to interact with a sizable number of entrepreneurs & SME business owners. While banks have dedicated teams catering to the needs of larger enterprises with deeper pockets, the needs of small businesses that have evolving business models are often not catered to and are also very costly. These small businesses who want to do things like bulk payouts to vendors or process salaries to their employees or settling expenses from a work-related trip - these businesses would spend hours in a day just trying to track and reconcile payments. We wanted to solve this through neobanking, as ultimately it was the bank account where all the money inflow and outflow happens. Our idea was to integrate the banking layer with all the tools that a business needs to manage their finances.
NN: How did you handle the tough times and what made you not give up on your dream?
Mabel: I started my entrepreneurial journey around 2006 in Ahmedabad. We started ‘touch2pay’, a biometric payment startup that focused on achieving financial inclusion in the remote villages of Gujarat. Through the process, I realised that although the idea was right there… the challenge to build the optimum product, the struggle to find the right kind of tech resources etc. became significant obstacles. Additionally, reaching out to investors and banks while being based out of a tier-2 city was becoming a mammoth task. Now, all of us reach that crossroad in life when challenges keep piling on and on… to keep going or to quit and walk away. One of the biggest things that entrepreneurship tests is your perseverance. After coming a long way, it was so difficult to just walk away and I realised that… yes there is a problem, there are challenges but this is what I set out for. That led to me leaving the comfort of my home, my hometown, family, and literally everything and moving to Bangalore, a city with a thriving startup ecosystem. I am glad that I took that decision because that is what is keeping this dream alive and kicking.
NN: What is your message to budding women entrepreneurs?
Mabel: Firstly, think of yourself as an entrepreneur and not a woman entrepreneur.
If you are an entrepreneur, whether a man or a woman, work is equal to life. Now if you’re a woman entrepreneur you need to figure out how to manage your family priorities with that. It’s tough but it’s not impossible and as women multi-tasking is our natural skill set. Now to become a successful entrepreneur, one must make tough decisions, go through failures, have the grit to start all over again, listen to that bug, and just keep moving ahead.
NN: What do you think needs to change in the system to provide equal/better opportunities to women-led startups?
Mabel: Unfortunately, gender equality is still a startup at technology companies. We have to start with creating an environment where roles are designated based on skill and not gender. At OPEN, two out of the four co-founders are women. Furthermore, most of our leadership team consists of women. But we have to keep in mind that gender plays an insignificant role, rather it’s their capability that has been recognised. Successful women entrepreneurs, executives, and board members are pioneers in the startup ecosystem. These women know and have already gone through challenges, roadblocks, failures, and eventually successes to get there. Building off that experience, a positive domino effect can be brought about by fostering an inclusive culture. Another challenge for entrepreneurs, in general, is that it is difficult for them to land jobs if they decide to quit and move on or want to take a break, try out new things and catch the entrepreneurial train a bit later. At OPEN, we welcome these people with open hands because we know the kind of skills and values an entrepreneur (former, current, or aspiring) brings into our ecosystem. We love people who never shy away from taking up a challenge.