This month’s Young Woman to Watch is the dynamic Kritika Ashok. Currently focussed on building ArtNouv – a company that promotes affordable art and allows people to order customised handmade oil on canvas paintings – Kritika also heads the e-commerce department for one of the leading independent opticians in Ireland, Mairead O’Leary Opticians. Originally from India, Kritika has lived in Ireland for many years and worked in not for profit organisations, government departments, SMEs and multi-national corporations before starting and developing several online businesses. She describes herself as “extremely partial” to the startup world.
How did you end up in Dublin doing what you’re doing?
Life is full of chance and even more so, hidden opportunities. I was considering going to Australia for a year after college, as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Did I want to continue in the company I had with my mother? Did I want to take up a job? Did I want to travel? I was confused, so when a charity called AIESEC in Ireland offered me a year-long role, I took it. Now, many years on, I am still here in Ireland by what I would say is pure chance and coincidence. Post-AIESEC, I took on two corporate roles and somehow along the way, the path diverged…I started a company with a former business partner which went from strength to strength before I went out on my own and now, yes, I manage and own ArtNouv. Definitely not what I would have thought I would be doing back when I was in college!
How much courage did it take to set up your current business/project(s)?
None and a lot. Yes, I know that is a contradictory response. I say none because of the timing involved: it happened because I had just finished up with another startup a few months before, and I had just closed down another one. I was having (thankfully now-resolved) visa issues getting the corporate role I wanted so a startup made sense. I say a lot also because of the timing. I had considered leaving the startup world behind but somehow, I fell in love with the idea and the concept of what we did then, what we do now and what we envision we will be in the years to come. Looking back now I didn’t realise this internal conflict. I just went with the flow. I had then the same conviction in our business idea and model that I still have now and that is what carried me through.
What were the biggest obstacles/triumphs?
Speaking about my current venture rather than previous ones, in our case, there were three directors in three different countries and three different time zones – meetings were a pain to arrange and then some! It was very tough, very tricky to make the smallest of decisions in such an environment, especially where none of us were doing this full-time. Each new order, each new artist signed up, each new contract signed with a reseller – these were all mini triumphs. In terms of big triumphs, I think the biggest one for me personally is having bought my partners out recently. And of course, being recognised by Leadarise as a Young Woman to Watch!
How do you ensure work/life balance?
Haha, great presumption there! I don’t, to be honest. However, I make sure meet someone socially every day to ensure I don’t become a complete hermit, and that I slot some non-work related fun in everyday.
Who is your inspiration? No one person. I am in awe of my mother for the lady that she is and for having given me the safety net I need to do everything I want. I am also inspired by an Indian politician called Indira Gandhi for being as formidable and strong as she was in the times that she was the Prime Minister. In terms of business, I love Steve Jobs’ philosophy of focusing on the design, the aesthetics and giving the customer something they didn’t even know they wanted. It’s especially relevant for a business like ArtNouv. Depending on what frame of mind I am in, my inspiration changes daily. More often than not I find inspiration from the people around me than from the better known names out there.
What would be the most important work lessons you’d like to pass on to other young women?
Be forceful, know what you want, ask for help, have faith and don’t look for the right time. And oh yes – do not, absolutely do not, be a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist is not going to get you anywhere.
Would you do anything differently?
Loads! Maybe I shouldn’t have been bitten by the bug to do travel writing and fashion photography for 15 months like I did, maybe I wouldn’t have quit certain roles when I did, maybe I would have quit certain roles sooner than I did, maybe I would have stayed longer in others. But definitely I would have had more conviction in myself, belief in my skills, faith in my abilities and stuck to my ground.
What will the next 5 years look like?
Considering none of my plans have ever worked out so far exactly as intended I truly cannot say, but they will be exciting, they will be fulfilling and they will undoubtedly be challenging. I suspect I will still be reminding you all how wonderful a gift it is to give someone a customised handmade oil on canvas painting!