When Upasna Dash moved from Ranchi to Pune at the age of five, she heard languages around her that she was unfamiliar with. The communication gap meant school was difficult until her grandfather used the power of storytelling to familiarise her with the local tongue. She soon blended in with the class.
“My fascination for the world of brand communication and public relations is rooted in my love for storytelling. I’ve always believed that stories are the most powerful yet underrated force shaping our world,” the 34-year-old, now based in Delhi, says.
It’s what encouraged her to quit a comfortable job and start out on her entrepreneurial journey combining public relations, brand strategy and storytelling in 2017. As the founder and CEO of Jajabor Brand Consultancy, Dash’s endeavour has been to integrate storytelling and branding to influence people and drive change. However, with no prior experience of running a business, the early days were a rollercoaster ride.
But the bigger challenge was battling prejudices as a woman heading the outfit. “Till date, I have had vendors who refuse a cheque since it doesn’t have a male signature or landlords uncomfortable with a woman as a leaseholder. But for every five people who have treated the business unfairly, I have known ten cheerleaders who have given us a fair shot. The ecosystem values talent and that’s what keeps us moving forward,” she says.
Dash talks to Lounge about the importance of self-evaluation, and why she hires more women.
My father’s legacy and teachings have been the bedrock of who I am as an entrepreneur. Hailing from Ranchi with an anthropology degree in hand, he defied the odds and climbed the ranks to become vice president at a major FinTech company. He instilled in me the same madness—the audacious mindset to think outside the box and the unwavering work ethic to turn dreams into reality.
As a self-made entrepreneur, it’s easy to get carried away and lose sight of your own growth. So I established a rigorous system that empowers others to evaluate me. Taking in tough feedback has been instrumental in my development.
Being a mentor is about leading by example. We have a simple rule at our organisation—no leader, including myself, can delegate a task until we’ve mastered it ourselves. We’ve got to walk the talk. In our company, we’ve fostered a culture of mentorship that permeates from the top down. Whether you’ve been here for two years or ten, the principle is the same—give forward what you’ve received from those who’ve guided you along the way.
Whether it’s an internal task or an external commitment, I treat deadlines as sacred promises. It’s about the mindset. If you master the art of honouring even the tiniest deadline, the rest tends to fall into place like magic.
The Almanack of Naval Ravikant is my bible of sorts, a compilation of profound insights that never ceases to inspire. Then, there's The Hard Thing About Hard Things that offers invaluable lessons on starting and navigating businesses. The Upanishads harbour timeless life and leadership lessons that remain remarkably relevant even today.
As a woman, I have been extremely lucky to be handed the opportunity to make an impact and Jajabor is my way of extending it to others. Today, the organisation has about 85% women. The goal was to take talented women from across the country, irrespective of their academic background, and put them in positions of power where they can truly make an impact.
Monday Motivation is a series in which business leaders and creative individuals discuss their mentors and their work ethics.
Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.