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Ananya Birla: Every single rupee counts

The founder of Svatantra Microfinance also runs a luxury e-commerce websitenext year she will be releasing her first music album. She says in today's day and age, it is possible to have two distinct careers

Ananya Birla, founder, Svatantra Microfinance. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Ananya Birla, founder, Svatantra Microfinance. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

There is no one word to describe Ananya Birla, 23, the daughter of Kumar Mangalam Birla—India’s ninth richest man, according to Forbes. She is an entrepreneur straddling the diverse worlds of microfinance and e-commerce; and a musician with two singles under her belt and a contract as an artist with Universal Music Group. In 2015, Birla, along with her mother, Neerja Birla, launched Mpower, a mental healthcare initiative.

A millennial, she is all about breaking stereotypes and following her passions—Birla manages her own finances and is now looking at investing in start-ups with her personal wealth.

Despite her inheritance, Birla started from scratch at the age of 17. Six years later, she still remains in a tearing hurry to achieve more. “Sometimes, I feel I am too late," she says, then reminds herself that she runs three companies. Next year, she will be releasing her first music album. She wants to be at the international front on the billboard charts.

Her first venture, Svatantra Microfin Pvt. Ltd, a micro-finance company launched in 2013, was born out of a desire to help the unbanked. It supports women entrepreneurs in rural areas. The company’s loan portfolio, according to a July email from the company, stood at approximately $40 million (around Rs250 crore), with 300,000 clients. “We are the fastest growing mid-size MFI (microfinance institution) going towards a large MFI," says Birla, who is also exploring the possibility of converting it into a small bank.

Her e-commerce luxury website, launched in 2016, looks at the other end of the spectrum. The portal curates handmade products from 12 countries to sell to India’s elite.

In the same year, Birla also made her first international debut single, Livin The Life. In July, she released her second international single, Meant To Be, produced by Anders Frøen, known as Mood Melodies. Frøen, co-producer of the song Faded by Alan Walker, has worked with artists such as Jessie J, Alessia Cara, Zedd, Brandy and Karmin.

Birla is passionate about both worlds. “Businesses have a lot of creative aspects as well, which people don’t realize, like marketing, creating a logo, and digital content," she says.

She believes that in today’s day and age, with people starting off younger and with access to so much information, it is possible to have two distinct careers. In her case, she admits to being blessed with a good team as well. “I love setting up the business and then finding a great team to look after it from execution and implementation, elements which I monitor. I then get into a more strategic role," says Birla, who looks at product lines, issues such as whether to pursue organic or inorganic growth, recruitments, since people define the company culture and the mission.

For her, music is a natural progression. It’s been her go-to companion in every mood. She can identify the chords of a song as soon she hears them and strum them on her guitar. She has been playing santoor since the age of 6.

“I always wanted to take it up as a career," says Birla. She was deterred by the thought of whether people would take her seriously if she did. But she was able to break the stereotype. “Today, banks are lending to Svatantra, because Svatantra is doing well. It doesn’t matter if I am also a musician," says Birla, who sports 12 tattoos and has a public persona which is as much at ease in jeans, T-shirt and sneakers as in high heels and suits.

Businesses have a lot of creative aspects as well, which people don’t realize, like marketing, creating a logo, and digital content.- Ananya Birla

Birla is also her own biggest critic. She is constantly monitoring her own progress and learning curve—has there been progress in her voice since the first single; is she more comfortable in front of the camera; has there been progress in terms of the numbers for the audio stream and visual stream? And in terms of her business: What’s the operating profit; is the return on equity increasing; what kind of investors is the company attracting; at what sort of rates are banks lending?

“I wish I didn’t kill myself so much. I wish I wasn’t so self-critical all the time. But I am. I have accepted it. It’s all about progress... Progress for me is very important—in my professional life and my personal life as well," says Birla.

The same conscientious nature comes into play when it comes to her personal expenses as well. “To me every single rupee counts. I have seen it in rural India. I have seen how much it matters," says Birla. “I am very conscious of money and how privileged I am. I use it for the right purposes," says Birla, who sometimes wonders if the world would be a more peaceful and happier place without money.

How does she manage different roles? “It becomes difficult when you overthink it. Just be yourself," she advises—if they like it, they like it. If they don’t like it, they don’t. “You take me as I am. That’s my vibe," she says.


Name: Ananya Birla

Age: 23

Designation: Founder, Svatantra Microfinance Pvt. Ltd

Education: Undergraduate degree in economics and
management from the University of Oxford

Source: Mint Research

What is your money mantra? To me every single rupee counts. I have seen how much it matters. I am very conscious of money and how privileged I am. I use it for the right purposes.

Kumar Mangalam Birla. Photo: Devendra Parab

Name: Kumar Mangalam Birla

Age: 50

Net worth: $12.6 billion

Source of wealth: Commodities

Education: MBA from London Business School

Brief: Commodities king Kumar Birla, who heads the $41 billion (revenue) Aditya Birla Group, has lately been busy restructuring his empire. In 2016, he initiated a merger of Aditya Birla Nuvo with cash-rich Grasim Industries, followed by the demerger of the financial-services business into a separate company. In another big move, he orchestrated a merger between his telecom unit Idea Cellular and Vodafone’s Indian arm to create India’s biggest telecom company to take on Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio. Birla is also reportedly mulling the sale of his fertilizer business to Indian-born Indonesian billionaire Sri Prakash Lohia.

Source: Forbes Rich List

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