Padmaja Rao recalls how once a factory owner she used to work with suddenly began bad-mouthing her in front of clients. “I’d worked with him for a few years, and brought him a lot of business – five years’ worth of it in just one! Then I hear that he’s been talking rubbish about me behind my back. I told him that I’d set up a factory of my own within 6 months and that he’ll be invited to its opening.” Padmaja not only got her factory set up, but she also achieved the 3-year projection target of Rs.1.5 crores that she gave to the Karnataka State Financial Corporation in half that time.
Since the beginning of her career as an entrepreneur, Padmaja has faced every obstacle – and there have been more than a handful of these – with utter confidence, boldness and grit. She always had a creative flair, she tells us, but her family wanted her to be a white-collar professional. “I wanted to study interior designing, but I was forced into BCom. After that I worked in several banks and moved places with the job.” One final day she told her husband she didn’t want a corporate life anymore, and that was the beginning of her journey as an entrepreneur.
“I started with my own house, and once I was done a lot of people in the building enquired about the interior designer.” Padmaja took up freelancing jobs before setting up her own firm. She says it took her 5 years to understand and learn about this field. “It’s your creativity and how quickly you learn about the techniques and procedures which matter more than a formal degree. Also, you need to be on top of the materials being used; they change almost every 6 months.”
It is really fascinating how Padmaja has expanded her reach without investing even a bit in marketing. “I haven’t spent a single paisa in marketing like other firms have. It’s all word of mouth and quality which has sustained us.” In fact, marketing is one of the main reasons why she enrolled herself in the Growtherator programme. “I learnt a lot about marketing, customer service and strategy from this programme which I’m going to implement in my operations now.”
From casual sexism to covid woes, Padmaja has faced several issues in the 2 short years since Urban Woods was begun. As to the first one, she doesn’t care. She never lets people’s opinion of her as a woman affect her. The only opinion she cares for is for her work. As to the second one, Padmaja had tried her hand at innovation. “I began with e-commerce. But we could not reduce our costs as much as our competitors did. It was simply impossible for us.” Instead, Padmaja focussed on other types of products. “Nowadays everyone’s staying at home, so they need their space to work, like tables and all, but do not have the space at home to fit in extra furniture. So, I worked on these smaller projects.” When she checked with her accountant, these smaller projects had amassed her somewhere close to Rs. 12.5 lakh.
If casual sexism at work is one thing, her family life is another. She finds herself terribly busy these days with her mind preoccupied by the business. She knows that her daughter missed out on some extra-curricular activities because there was no one to drive her around. “I do get to listen to taunts from them sometimes, while at other moments they’re proud of me.” She prods her way through everything life hurls at her, hoping that she’s on the right path to becoming someone whom her daughter, and countless other little girls, would one day look up to.