A 20-something’s guide to starting up

Mala Bhargava | Updated on March 27, 2019 Published on March 27, 2019

20 internships in 20 months was Kalyani Khona’s route to launch herself into entrepreneurship

Kalyani Khona was born with a gift. She knew what she wanted when she saw it. Even more importantly, she knew what she didn’t want when she saw it. And the last thing she wanted was a scripted life in which she would sit around doing the ordinary. You have there the recipe for an entrepreneurial spirit. Except that Kalyani was just 21 years old when she became one.

The Mumbai born and bred co-founder of Inclov Technologies, which provides matrimony services to the differently abled through an app, grew up in a household where all the talk was around business and money. Her father worked in finance. “We had CNBC on all the time at home and pretty soon I began to understand all about stocks and market analysis,” she says.

When she joined college, it was only natural that she should take up finance. It was an internship with HSBC during her college years that sowed the first seeds of entrepreneurship in her mind.

“It might have made sense to make a career in banking but I suddenly knew that I was not about to spend my life making rich people richer. Nothing doing. “

But what should she do, for that matter? Kalyani then set herself a project. ‘Twenty Places in Twenty Months’ to get a first-hand look at the world of work. It isn’t easy to land internship opportunities but Kalyani managed by making both established companies and start-ups an offer they couldn’t refuse. “Don’t pay me. I just need enough money for my commute in return for which I’ll do all the donkey work for you,” she told them, having no compunction about spending hours on data entry or manning the telephone lines. But she had one condition: “For some part of the day, let me just shadow you around quietly as you work.”

The art of elimination

From marketing to PR, Kalyani tried them all during her internships. By the time she got to her 17th place, she had decided what she wanted — none of the above. She observed that it was those at the top putting in the hardest work and immersing themselves in the business totally. “There’s so much I learned from these experiences (internships) that I knew I had to put it to work on my own. And for something that’s different and makes a difference.”

That’s when the idea for a platform to help the differently abled find friendship and love came up. “It wasn’t because of some personal experience or anyone I know,” says Kalyani. “It was because of a hard fact. A hundred million people with disabilities live in India. 67 million of them never fall in love or find a life partner. We are all an accident away from disability.”

Kalyani decided to create a space for people with disabilities to meet others — whether they too had disabilities or not — and crowdsourced a minor amount of funding on Wishberry six years ago.

And just like that, in 2014, Kalyani was the CEO of a special match-making agency called Wanted Umbrella — later renamed Inclov, an abbreviation for Inclusive Love. A college friend Shankar Srinivasan became a co-founder.

Management mantra

The app for Inclov and all other groundwork had been done in-house from the start. Kalyani manages a team of eight and is clear about one thing: “I refuse to micro-manage anyone,” she says, “Everyone on the team has their own projects, just as I do, and all I want is for them to let me know when they can deliver.” She believes this forms the basis of good, stable relationships with others.

The Inclov platform currently has just over 5,00,000 users and yes, there have been marriages. The aim is not only to reach a million users but to ‘go global’, a mission for which Kalyani is soon to travel abroad in a quest for investors.

Inclov has been much more than just putting profiles together and leaving the rest to fate. “It’s not just a scheduling company where one calls up the two families to meet,” says Kalyani. Layers and layers of needs have unfolded from the venture. “People may want to meet, but where should they do so? Restaurants may not be wheelchair-friendly, for example,” she points out. Running Inclov has also, therefore, meant trying to create social spaces where users can meet. For this, Kalyani and her team reach out to corporates who can sponsor group meet-ups at appropriate venues.

Her early exposure to business talk and her finance studies in college help Kalyani manage her own company today. “It became a life skill that I’m very glad about,” she says. From her many internships she learnt that it is important to really work at something before one gets into the field.

“You can’t just read about it or go work part-time somewhere, “ she says. “You have to go through the proper 9-to-5 routine and immerse yourself there before you commit to working in that area. Even today, if I were to get into something new, I would take an internship. I prefer getting my hands dirty.”

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Published on March 27, 2019
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