Nazim: Please give us a brief about your qualifications and how you started this business?
Shweta: I was born and brought up in Nagpur, Maharashtra. I did architecture from Nagpur. I did construction management from Pune. I practiced for three to four years in Pune before I got married. Post marriage I shifted to New Bombay. My husband wanted to be near Pune and I still had some projects underway in Pune when we shifted here that was the reason we chose New Bombay. I did a stint with couple of companies here to get to know the market. I had thirteen years of work experience. Alongside my job I did few of my own projects. I did few bungalows in Kharghar, New Bombay. I did some designing, interiors too along with my job. It was always at the back of my mind that I had to do my own business.
Nazim: Very few women have entered the field of architecture, many women prefer interiors but you have chosen architecture. Why is that?
Shweta: I am from a creative background. My grandfather was a good artist. My mother is a very talented painter but due to family circumstance she could not pursue it. My uncle is also a painter and he always used to encourage me to become an architect or a commercial artist. At that time commercial artists were not looked at as a prestigious vocation unlike today. I took up architecture because I always wanted to go into a creative field and that I was very sure of. Interior designing was never a choice for me. But I do a lot of interiors now because it is my bread and butter otherwise given an option I would like to do only architectural work.
Nazim: So your family supported you from the beginning in pursuing architecture.
Shweta: Definitely. My parents, supported me a lot though they were a bit skeptical because there was not much future in it at that time. Twenty years back architecture and civil engineering were the last choices for those who could not get into more popular fields. At that time there were no good openings for architect and even the salaries were not that attractive. It was not considered as a good choice for a profession, especially for girls.
Nazim: What prompted you to start your own business? What were the difficulties you faced when you started on your own?
Shweta: As a woman I faced lots of issues. It was my husband who was insistent upon me starting on my own, my special thanks to him. Initially I got a project, Bhimashankar Hills. At that time I was working with sterling construction systems as a senior architect and I was handling a number of projects like Amby Valley project, Tuscany, Tanaji Malusare City, Bhimashankar etc. The company was hit badly by recession and was shut down. Since I was handling the project client approached me with the proposal to take it up independently. It was a very huge project, a 25 acre township so I accepted. I was not confident enough, at that time, to start a setup of my own. My husband insisted on me setting up an office and volunteered to bear the expenses. That’s how I started and then there was no looking back.
Initially there were many problems. Being a woman also added to my woes. But I overcame all that. Now people have started recognizing me for my work. I worked on a system which was not a conventional system. Unlike the normal brick column construction system, this was a pre-engineered construction system which was being done in Sterling. In Sterling there were only three architects who knew this system and I was one of them. When the company shutdown the other two took up a job and I was the only one who was practicing independently. Warai woods project was abandoned by Sterling and Eiffel took over the project. There was no one there who knew pre-engineered construction system. People who purchased villas in the project approached me as I was the only one in the market who knew about the system and my name was suggested to them by people who knew this. The patent for this system was developed by Mark Taylor from Australia who was with Sterling. I used to work for him, developing working details.
Nazim: Being a woman how challenging was it to network with builders and developers considering that they are some of the most difficult people to deal with?
Shweta: I would say I am blessed. I am a very spiritual person; not religious but spiritual. I am a Isha meditator. I believe if you follow your instincts and integrity the grace works for you; I live on that belief. I never have had to run after builders to get work. In fact I am not doing any of the typical builders work. I mostly do weekend homes project and not the conventional towers and other such building structures which are more of a mechanical job with very less creativity. I was in fact approached by a company from Bangalore who had stumbled upon my LinkedIn profile and learned about my specialty. It was big project, an amusement park, a first of its kind in India, and I was invited to visit the site. Somehow it did not work out but they considered me for the project despite me being a woman. Within the span of 3 years since I started have worked on different projects like mall and multiplex at Pondicherry with four screens, green house at Pondicherry, dairy plant, bungalows, farm houses, weekend homes, Master planning and many residential and commercial interiors right from 500sq.ft. to 10,000 sq.ft.
Nazim: Were there any failures or setback you encountered in your business?
Shweta: When I took up Bhimashankar hills project I was very happy and flattered that I was offered such a prestigious project and the fact that they were very amenable to my conditions. They coaxed me into taking the project. I quoted a nominal fee which was of course justified since it was a big project and surprisingly they readily agreed. When I was practicing in Pune I had to struggle to collect every penny due and it was all the more difficult to even get them to agree on a fee. But here was a company that was ready to pay the fees I demanded. Women are generally considered to be weaker, unable to stand up for themselves. People feel that they will not have much trouble or resistance from Women. I got my first cheque mainly due to my persistence follow-up. Then onwards it was pretty much smooth running. I did twenty seven villas for them. I did
I remember this project I got of Sibermond at Shedung. Companies always take references and Sibermond contacted the developers of Bhimashankar hills for reference. They recommended me very highly .It is an ongoing project of around 6.5 acres with seventy villas, clubhouse etc.
Nazim: The construction business is going through a bad phase. How is that affecting your business?
Shweta: I am primarily into weekend homes and weekend homes are basically second homes bought by affluent people who have money to spare. This market has not been affected slack being faced by the construction industry. The first home market is definitely facing trouble as a couple of projects I took did not actually kick off.
Nazim: What kind of capital did you start your business with?
Shweta: Luckily in my line of business not much investment is required. I just needed an office space and that is what I invested in, the rent and deposit for the office. I used my own money for it around one to one and half lakh.
Nazim: There are four main aspects to any business namely marketing, branding, funding and of course family life. How do you manage it all?
Shweta: Marketing for me is just word of mouth, people spreading a good word about you. Only recently I added myself on Quikr. Being a woman also works in my favor as people tend to trust women instinctively. I have not done any branding of myself so far.
Nazim: Being a woman entrepreneur it is very difficult to juggle between family and business. How do you manage?
Shweta: My family is very supportive of me. My in-laws have been very encouraging and I feel it is a blessing. When I purchased my first office my in-laws, my father and husband pitched in to help me financially. It was not possible for me to purchase my own office so early i.e. just within a year into business if it were not for these people.
Nazim: What message do you have for a woman entrepreneur?
Shweta: One should never lose hope, have faith in themselves and never look back. If a woman really wants to do business she can do it. And being a woman multitasking comes naturally to us. There is nothing a woman cannot achieve. This is what brought me here today. When I was doing my eighth grade I used to draw sketches of how I wanted my office to be though at that time I could not sketch so well but I did draw a plan of my office. I was persistent and determined that I want to become an architect and that is how I am here. Very soon I am coming up with something to break conventional practice of architecture.