Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Birthday, Disha!

Four Girls, One Dream --- that of setting up a complete mental health center in Mumbai. This was what brought the four of us together to create Disha in the March of 1999. Studying together since our junior college in D.G.Ruparel College, the four of us --- Shital, Mugdha, Anuradha, and myself, Samindara had always been friends. We became good friends in our final year, when we specialized in Psychology. The Psychology Lab in Ruparel was the place where we truly bonded. This bond further strengthened in the course of our MA at the University Campus in Kalina, where Shital, Anu and Mugdha specialized in Counseling Psychology, while I specialized in Clinical Psychology. It was during our second year of MA that we realized that the same dream resided in each of our hearts. That was when we decided that some day, we would start a counseling center of our own …….

Well, after our MA, each of us was eager to set off on our professional paths. I went on to join a school as a school counselor, while Anu and Mugdha joined a counseling center as psychologists. Shital, also a serious danseuse took a short break to focus on her dance exams. During a get together at Shital’s house once, we all got to talking about how we felt confined in our work places, how we could not do the things we wanted to do. Suddenly we felt, why not try to set up our own center? We got to brainstorming about ideas. Several of our friends were also there, among them Kavita, Sunita, Teju, and Ravi, who later went on to become Shital’s life partner. All of the above contributed with several valuable ideas and thoughts.

Once the seed was sowed, things just started falling into place. And on 7th March 1999, Disha came into being. With whole hearted support from our family members, friends, teachers and professors, we started work at a small place near Citylight Theater in Mahim. We started with a miniscule capital of Rs. 40000/-, most of which we used for buying relevant psychometric tests. But what we lacked in capital, we more than made up in blessings, good will, support and above all, the will to work hard and make Disha a success!

From there to today, 12 years later, Disha has come a long way. Today, in addition to us 4, Disha has a staff of 5, and several other associate consultants, who happily work for us as and when needed. Our services, which started with aptitude testing and career guidance and individual psychotherapy, today cover the entire spectrum of services in mental health, ranging from clinical assessments, in-depth vocational guidance, workshops for various target groups, individual and group psychotherapy, assessments for the gifted, the hyperactive and the autistic children, corporate assessments, and many more programs. We also provide our services to several well known schools and colleges in Mumbai and our corporate client list includes well known companies such as Pepsi, Larsen & Toubro, Hindustan Lever Research Center, Kesari Tours, Ranbaxy Laboratories, Reliance Energy and so forth.

But it has not been all smooth sailing. Along the way, mistakes have been made, and bitter lessons have been learnt. All of us had the knowledge of our field, but how to become entrepreneurs is something we have learnt along the way. There has been many an occasion where our strength has been tested; one occasion particularly stands out in my mind. It was an October day 4 years ago, when we had done very poor business, there was no work, and no money to pay next month’s rent. It was a dismal day . . . and a nadir for us. However, it also turned out to be a turning point, because we refocused ourselves and with renewed vigor started working towards getting Disha back on feet. And from that point, I am happy to say, Disha has only moved from strength to strength. On introspection, we have realized that ups and downs are part of any business. But if an organization has a committed team and a strong value system, business losses can’t really make much of a dent in an organization’s long term functioning.

There have been other mistakes as well. We were too trusting, and thus allowed ourselves to be vulnerable to being cheated. We found it difficult to demand payment from errant clients, we under quoted and consequently suffered losses. We were, and continue to be, poor in our marketing abilities, and always find it difficult to blow our own trumpet, a skill that is vital in today’s competitive market. But God has been kind on us. Most of our business has been generated through word of mouth, and we’ve often had repeat business from satisfied customers.

People have often asked us ….. how do four women manage to run a business? Don’t you’ll ever get into fights? Fights, not really! Arguments, plenty! We regularly have our share of differences, and there have been many major decisions over which we have locked horns with each other. But like I said earlier, we have a very clear value system, and that acts as our guiding star, where any major decision is to be taken. Anything that clashes with our values and ethical principles is rejected, and there are never two ways about it. I can say with pride that though there have been plenty of opportunities to take short cuts and make profits, we have NEVER been tempted by those. That is our strength, and has always been. As for other differences, we believe in taking team decisions, and usually go ahead with what the majority thinks is right. So yes, we do have our differences, but we always manage to resolve them in mature manner. For each of us, the priority is very clearly Disha and Disha’s success. So the differences are really pertaining to maybe how things should be done, and these get resolved along the way. Further, it helps that we are not only business colleagues, but also the best of friends.

None of this would have been possible had we not had the support of our family members. All of us were single when we started Disha, and our parents and siblings provided us with unstinting support as well as practical help. The initial capital of course came from our parents, and our siblings chipped in not only with ideas and advice but also with the actual setting up of Disha. All four of us were also lucky to be married to partners and into families who were appreciative and supportive of our venture. As business has grown, so have our responsibilities and we often reach home late, travel outstation, and more often than not, carry work home. Though living in joint families, our in-laws have always been understanding and have in fact gone out of their ways to support us. As for our husbands, they have been our backbone, our strength in trying times. I can truly say that Disha’s success is not simply the success of us four. The foundation of our success is laid in this love, understanding and support that we have received from our family, friends, and well wishers.