After an unplanned career break, this CA & her MBA batchmates co-founded a Startup to help women restart their careers
- Hi, I am Deepa N Swamy, a Chartered Accountant, and MBA by qualification and the co-founder of FlexiBees.
- I qualified as a CA in 2003 and started my career as a finance professional. In 2006, I did my MBA from IIM - Bangalore and transitioned to consulting roles.
- My career was on an upward trajectory, however, in 2014 everything changed when I had to take an unplanned career break!
- It was then that I along with my co-founders Shreya Prakash, and Rashmi Rammohan launched FlexiBees - to provide flexible hiring solutions to businesses while enabling meaningful part-time work for Women.
- Today we have catered to 200+clients all over the world and have 30+ team members who comprise of women professionals.
- Here is our story of how we have built a scalable and sustainable business model out of FlexiBees.
Being academically rigorous and having loved the Commerce and Accountancy subjects I had taken up in high school, the CA stream seemed to offer the most potential in terms of career advancement, and the ability to be financially independent, which was an important criterion for me.
I pursued my Articleship from PricewaterhouseCoopers, Chennai. This was a great experience as working at a Big 4 Service firm offered exposure to varied industries across a range of Accounting and Finance services.
I qualified as a CA in 2003 and joined ITC (an Indian multinational conglomerate company) in their Finance team at their headquarters in Kolkata, India. This role gave me the opportunity to visit the various factories and businesses of ITC all over India and induced a keen sense of business and strategic understanding in me.
After 3 years at this company, I wanted to enhance my business skills and decided to do an MBA. So, in 2006, I quit my job to pursue the full-time PGDBM program from IIM Bangalore (a reputed Business school in India).
I think it was one of the best decisions as an MBA provided a great opportunity to learn many new fields and study some different subjects like Social Entrepreneurship.
In fact, I also met my now co-founders and then batchmates Shreya and Rashmi there.
An unplanned career break changed everything
Post-MBA, in 2008, I transitioned to roles that introduced me to the excitement and messiness of new business research and incubation. I worked in Management Consulting, and then Corporate Strategy/incubation kind of roles.
Life was great and my career was on an upward trajectory. However, in 2014 everything changed when I had to take an unplanned career break!
I was only one among millions of women professionals needing to take a career break because of several structural reasons − societal conditioning around gender roles, a rigid definition of work including fixed hours and at a fixed location every day, and lack of affordable and reliable child care infrastructure.
Despite stellar pedigree and work experience, there was still bias in hiring women on a break. Entering the workforce on a full-time basis was hard and required deep compromise, and I yearned for roles that could give me meaning as well as flexibility.
In short, I lost my professional identity and it was an extremely frustrating experience.
What next now?
The birth of Flexibees: Helping women re-enter the workforce after career breaks
I knew there were many mothers like me who wanted to return to the workforce but the lack of meaningful 'flexible work opportunities' that matched with prior experience made it hard to return.
I discussed this with my batchmates from IIM Bangalore Shreya and Rashmi and though they both had promising career trajectories they were passionate to solve this problem primarily faced by women professionals.
All excited we took the first step - To research the market to validate our idea.
We soon realized that businesses, especially start-ups and SMBs, have a huge problem getting good talent that is affordable, and available as and when they need it. We knew hiring flexible, i.e., part-time, project-based, and remote-working talent through agile on-demand models solve these problems.
The second realization was that there is an expert talent pool (highly qualified, experienced, and committed) looking for flexible work options but unable to find them.
For instance: Experienced women professionals who had to let go of their careers due to life circumstances or lack of choice. Increasingly even women without life constraints are looking for flexibility and balance. However, they do not have many options as ‘work’ continues to follow the same old paradigm of clocking fixed hours and working only from the office location.
All of this affirmed our plan and in 2017 Flexibees was born - with the vision to create a world where flexibility is the norm, and professionals would not be penalized for having life priorities that went hand-in-hand with their work lives.
Bootstrapping and starting from zero
Once we had our market hypotheses validated via a few customer conversations, we directly went to market following the Lean-Startup Methodology, rather than start with a theoretical business plan. And voila, we started getting business as soon as we went to market.
Startups and SMBs were the most receptive audiences. Also, a few larger companies were waking up to the realization that a contingent workforce can be very beneficial for short-duration projects, quick vacancy filling, managing seasonality, or even during times of hiring freezes.
We hired and worked with our first team members remotely.
After an initial adjustment phase, we started doing well because the demand for flexible and contractual talent by companies increased.
Over the last 4 years, we have worked for all kinds of industries; from Manufacturing, Logistics to EdTech and AI. These models are pretty industry-agnostic. Everyone needs Sales, Marketing, Finance, Content, etc.
We have catered to 200+ clients in all geographies like Asia, Europe, Middle East, etc. All the while impacting the lives of hundreds of women and families through meaningful flexible work.
Today we have 30+ team members who comprise women professionals who have chosen flexible working to suit their lives. working across different geographies and time zones working like an orchestra in sync.
Our mission is to become the first choice both for businesses who want to hire and manage flexible talent and for women who want to work flexibly, on a global scale.
Confronting the obstacles in growing our Entrepreneurial business
Entrepreneurship though much romanticized by success stories, is not an easy journey to pull off on an everyday basis.
In a sense, it is similar to the parenting journey, as the challenges change with business stages, and as entrepreneurs, we need to have an eye on our vision and goals to avoid getting distracted by short-term opportunities and crises.
The biggest challenge in the initial days was to get the talent matching technology right.
When we first started, we used the most prevalent ‘access’ model which most marketplaces use wherein the matching is done using keywords and a simple screening. This process failed a few times, and we realized that we had to do a more involved matching.
Over time, our process has evolved to become one where we take on the end-to-end onus of giving the businesses the best-fit talent through the following three ways:
- We understand the requirement really well and map it into skills and sub-skills.
- We do a multi-touch-point selection process that gauges various work and life parameters to establish the right fit.
- Through post-placement support through tools, and people interventions when needed
Being a team of 3 friends and co-founders has helped maintain a good mix of skills and personalities, and not to mention a cushion of trust to fall back on in times of need.
Having a committed team of women professionals who are naturally aligned to our vision has also helped us.
Timeline of our entrepreneurial journey: 2017-present
- 2017: We launched FlexiBees with our Minimum Viable Services, and learned the models. We “flexibly” hired our first team members who learned and grew with us.
- 2018: A period of organic growth and expansion for Sales, Marketing, Delivery, Finance, etc for long-term sustainability. We understood the benefits of flexible hiring extended to beyond value, to be able to bring agility in the growth of startups as well as Enterprises.
- 2019: A period of scaling with our teams and deepening relationships with existing clients who would often come back for more roles and started seeing us as their talent partners.
- 2020 and beyond: Thriving in Covid times, helping clients and consultants transition to Covid induced challenges and increased focus on international expansion.
Challenging the definition of work, one flexible role at a time
The whole world has run an experiment on remote working during the pandemic, and there is definitely much more confidence around it today.
The Future of Work is flexible, and businesses that honour the whole selves of their team members are more likely to attract the best talent, wherever they may be situated.
We build awareness in the space of flexible hiring and the benefits of working with this experienced talent pool via our Webinars and newsletters, especially for entrepreneurs.
To the countless number of mothers and women who want to work on their own terms, and flexibly, I would say, it is important to keep your passions burning and investing time in honing skills you like consciously even when it can seem like there is no opportunity or outlet for it yet. Seize opportunities with confidence, and every experience will add up and get used somewhere, even if unpredictably so.
Flexibees.com provides part-time and project-based talent to businesses via women working flexibly. It helps businesses hire high-quality folks quickly and cost-effectively and women do great work while being able to balance their professional and personal priorities.
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