US Open Karate Championship 2017 gold medalist and EasyFix founder Shaifali Agarwal Holani explains how martial art has made her a better entrepreneur
Shaifali Agarwal Holani
“I chose to start EasyFix because I was really convinced that I will be able to easily fix the demand and supply gaps in the Indian handymen industry,” says Agarwal, adding that her initial plan was to launch in 10 cities in 12 months and soon list for an IPO. “But that was easier said than done,” she admits.
“By 2014 we became profitable and operational in the top three cities. In 2015, we got venture capital funding from Axilor Ventures.” Today EasyFix is active in 150+ cities and the company backs last-mile service experience for 50+ global/national brands. The service offered by EasyFix is used by a niche community of brands which either provide or want to provide warranty and after-sale services to their customers . “Our current execution partners include Samsung, Videocon, Grohe, Duravit, Snapdeal, Fabfurnish and Ozone amongst others. Brands love us as they get a single, consistent and technology-enabled partner for pan-India’s headache-free last mile operations,” she says.
As a hobby and to stay fit Agarwal practices ShitoRyu Karate. “It helps me stay fit, calm and healthy,” she says, adding that in the course of training students have to fight with themselves, bring out everything they can on the punching bag, and leave stress and anger in the dojo.
Agarwal believes that learning any new sport is akin to starting a new business. A keen observer and learner, she consistently tries to apply the nuances of karate to life.
#1: It always starts with a White Belt
‘Never give up’ is the first lesson we learn in karate. One must struggle, practice, fail, learn and grow. Entrepreneurship is a sport; and just as in entrepreneurship, many karate students give up mid way. Building something new is challenging, both mentally and physically; and to top it one has to manage time, travel and work schedule. I have learnt to try and try, but never cry.
From karate I have learnt that every failure and rejection in business is similar to mavashi giri and yakosuki, wherein a poor defense on my part gives the opponent an additional point. In the course of karate one can either get hurt and retire, or get back onto the tatami stronger. We are all mindful of what we do, what we want to achieve and why; it’s just a matter of time and persistence that we grow proficient in our technical skills.
After three years in corporate life, EasyFix is my first business. Initially, just like any other newbie, I had to struggle in figuring out almost everything. From the outside, when I decided to quit my job, running a business did not seem so complex. Every small success became reason for me to practice harder and get better – from a White Belt to yellow to green to purple to blue, to Brown 3rd Kyu, to Brown 2nd Kyu, to Brown 1st Kyu, and Black 1 to 10. I am currently a Brown Belt in 1st Kyu.
At the Gurugram academy, other than karate, we learn multiple forms of mixed martial arts like jujitsu, boxing, judo and wrestling. This sometimes makes it challenging as each one’s style, kicks, punches, stances and body movements overlap in technique. However, I do enjoy the challenge. Improvements after the session keep me wanting more. That approach can be applied to almost everything in life.
#2: With a strong support system, you won’t fear the quake
In life, karate or business, we get beaten all the time. I learnt very early in life, thanks to my upbringing, that failure will always be a part of my growth lifecycle. Failure means learning and my job is to try again. I try to be content and satisfied with the decisions I take. For a healthy work-life balance I have divided my time between business, family, self-development, health, and an intelligent social circle.
In 2013 I got a chance to join a professional karate training academy. Karate became a lifestyle as I was able to sync the practice time with my daily work and personal schedule. It did require persistence to attend classes every morning, listening to sensei, following a good diet, self-reviewing, proactively taking regular feedback from other coaches, and most of all signing up for the opportunity. I badly lost my first karate competition to girls who looked so young. I wouldn’t have won a gold medal in the US Open if I had given up mid-way.
It’s no secret that be it business or karate, for real success, one needs to master the skill-set. I strongly believe proficiency in any skill can be achieved through rigorous practice. It surely takes an effort to start something new and some more time to make it a part of your lifestyle.
#3: A clear mission and a good trainer are a must-have
Self-learning is great but to make the best use of time, effort and energy, a great coach/mentor/advisor acts like a support system. During the struggling days of EasyFix, when I would be drained out, it was my support system that would clear my roadblocks. For me guidance, team, exposure, liquidity and time are the pillars of a healthy support system.
Identifying what we need is equally important. After all, there are an infinite number of things to do and learn. The answers to questions such as why we want to do what we want; how will it help me and will it make me happier; do I have the budgets, etc must be known.
Participating in the US Open wasn’t just a competition; there was a journey beyond it. I was independently traveling with an Indian team of 11 players. Some 2,450 participants from 42 countries were a part of the competition and I had never seen a championship like that before. It was also an opportunity for me to meet new people, know about the international standards of karate, experience new places, lifestyle, architecture, food, music, festivals and culture.
I have definitely come back a stronger fighter, thanks to my sensei. A good coach doesn’t just help you build your skills faster, he pushes you beyond your limits.