VENTEUR recently chatted with Bhumi Bhutani, Co-Founder and VP of Strategic Alliances at Way.com, a financial platform for cars. She is responsible for the sales and operational leadership of the company’s online organization. Bhutani brings with her over eight years of industry experience. During this time, she had made hundreds of direct alliances across the mobility and transportation industries, further establishing Way.com’s presence to include thousands of parking locations throughout the US.
Before Way.com, Bhutani was the Co-Founder and COO of Raksha International and has held management positions at Genentech and the California Department of Public Health. She earned her Master of Science from the London School of Economics and Political Science and Bachelor of Science from the University of California, Berkeley.
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
Building a business from inception can be one of the most challenging endeavors an individual chooses to undertake.
It often requires a formidable belief in one’s vision, which must rise above innumerable rejections and disparate perceptions.
In every step of building a business, an entrepreneur is questioned on vision, value, and purpose, whether by investors, customers, partners, employees, or the media.
One of the most important lessons I learned while building a business is that the questions were critical to helping to refine our product, customer experience, and our company’s mission.
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?
Yes, there have been several times when I experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur.
I would come home anxious and frustrated in the early stages of building our company. I remember being quite emotional about the interactions every day.
There was always something that did not go as planned!
My colleague and I were head-down and focused on building the company: speaking with customers and managing their experiences, taking their input to immediately improve the product, and expressing our value to partners to try to convince them to come onto our platform, all the while trying to build and grow a team.
We were always putting out fires, and there was no time to pause and discuss emotions. I did not know how to express the feelings I encountered as “loneliness” at first, and it was not until at least three to four years later that I admitted to feeling lonely.
It was relieving to be able to voice this very real emotion and finally reflect on its cause.
This admittance was the first step in helping me to draw out potential solutions. I realized I needed to manage the pressure and channel it to solutions that would achieve positive results instead of focusing on the negative outcomes.
As you build your company, losing oneself in those early years is easy. Instead of singling out myself to come up with all the answers, I learned to lean more closely on my teammates, the experts that joined to grow and scale our company.
These few steps not only managed loneliness for me but also helped to ignite and introduce more creative thinking, which eventually shaped our company’s future.
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?
I have experienced insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth, and the experience can be debilitating!
As an entrepreneur, you are constantly focused on developing your product, growing your team, and proving value, so the effort is exhausting because it is nonstop.
I have not been one to “switch off.”
Most entrepreneurs can relate when I say that one can easily spend 18-19 hours of our day focused on their company's growth. Me, I dream about working practically every night. Each interaction I engage in, in and away from the office, I circle back with the hope of bringing back a benefit to our company.
From the outside, one may think it is obsessive behavior, but it’s been a passion for me.
My feelings of insecurity and low self-worth took root because I constantly had to prove our value.
Unfortunately, we received more skepticism in the early days than an outpouring of acceptance. In our case, we were always ahead of our time!
Now we are considered unique, innovative, forward-thinking, and one of the fastest-growing companies in the automotive technology space.
However, this may not be the case for many, and it may be hundreds of times before you meet others who will not shoot your concept and business value down.
There are ways to overcome this.
I believe data is enough to prove business value; it speaks for itself. There is no emotion in the data.
Some may disagree with your business concept, but if you are hitting your revenue and growth milestones and are on your trajectory, it does not matter.
Newer entrepreneurs often equate their personal success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?
I used to correlate my success with the success and value of our company. It is easy to get caught in this frame of mind, but if you are an entrepreneur for long periods and understand the ebbs and flows of business hits and misses, you know to maintain a consistent and almost zen mentality.
In the process of failure and revival in business, it is important to separate your personal responsibility for achieving this success or failure.
For me, having a wealthy family and personal life has always been a priority; that is what I prefer to mark my success if I had to choose.
My business success is my top priority and passion, but I will not fail as a person if I fail.
Instead, I will use the failure to learn, pivot, and try again.
What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?
My three biggest fears as an entrepreneur are
1. Losing Belief
Loss of interest or belief in the business value of myself, my customers, or my partners.
2. Burning Out
This fear would come from low motivation, as I mentioned. My company’s growth is my passion, and I never want to feel too tired to continue the growth journey.
3. Fear of Losing Customer Trust
Company reputation and your customers’ experience are vital.
I genuinely believe that your customers matter, whether they are your customers who transact on your product, the employees who are developing your product, or partners who engage in new business to help you expand.
All of these critical entities keep your business growing, and one great fear is if they lose faith in your execution, your service. It is very difficult to regain that trust, so losing it is my third most critical.
I manage these fears by keeping them top of mind.
Every day I come to the office with intention, focus, and a positive outlook. I am intentional in every task I execute and every interaction I have. When I leave the office and finish any work responsibility, I ask myself if I gave it my all.
If I am giving it my “all” every single day, I know that I am still in it, motivated as my heart and soul, and mind believe in its success. I also check in with myself and have become more careful about how I treat my body, from what I consume to how much exercise I get in the day.
I am also careful and spend time with positive and uplifting people so my energy does not get drained.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes?
Three mistakes I made early as an entrepreneur were:
1. My Attitude Toward Failure
I would say that, in retrospect, I wish I had not been so hard on myself for failing as I had been.
Each time we failed, we learned so much about our process, technology, customers, and ultimately what we needed to focus on and understand to make an impact. So, failure should never be perceived as an obstacle but rather should be welcomed so that you can improve immediately.
2. My Attitude Toward Myself for Not Having All the Answers
Second, others are smarter, they are subject matter experts, and it’s essential to ask them about how you can improve, develop, and grow. There is a reason why you brought them on, so include them!
3. Not Being Able To Balance My Work and Family Time Better
In retrospect, I would have had the conversation about work-life balance early on with my family on what is to be expected.
Fortunately, my family has been supportive throughout my entrepreneurship journey and my choices despite the challenges, but this could not be the case for others. Hence, it is important to include them in this decision-making process from the beginning if the relationship is important to you.
What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
1. Short-Term Growth Versus Long-Term Goals
New entrepreneurs often focus on fixing gaps that meet short-term growth goals but may not support them as they scale. They are trying to “buy time” until they need to fix the problem. It could be an IT issue or a company's decision to purchase a CRM.
A short-sighted mentality mustn't hinder your company's growth as processes are established from Day 1.
It is important to start lean, which was the secret to our success, but knowing where to invest is equally important, whether in tools or people.
2. Solid Company Mission and Vision, Which Everyone Loves
Entrepreneurs often overlook their employees' value in sharing the task of testing their products and becoming super users.
This is critical.
On one side is expressing a clear vision and mission of your company, but above that is making your employees your best customers.
If they become your biggest fan, you will get more!
3. Employee Engagement and Culture
Employee engagement and culture are often overlooked but important.
As hard as the entrepreneur works, it’s vital to convey your employees' importance to your company.
They must be invigorated daily, knowing their contribution and what they do matter.
Often, we are too busy to pause and recognize.
Still, if you can take the time to create a culture of appreciation and kudos in your company, it will lead to positive productivity that cascades across the organization.
What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?
1. Understanding What Is Necessary
I am very careful about where I am needed and not. For example, some meetings are “nice to attend” versus “needed.” Having a clear understanding of where my responsibilities lie and where I can say no is equally important to be present.
2. Being Present
I must be 100% present where I choose to participate. If I am going to attend a meeting, I show up with all my focus on the agenda, ask questions, and expect an action plan before the meeting ends.
3. Understanding My Responsibilities and Critical Deliverables
Knowing what I will be measured on and where my energy will have the most significant impact on the company is critical in conserving energy and attention for those most critical opportunities. Having this defined and articulated is key, as I can then clearly articulate this for others, so they know when to email or include me in meetings.
All of this can help to prevent burnout.
How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?
It goes back to knowing where your value is most.
If you need to speak to investors instead of answering every customer call, you need to shift your attention.
Developing a healthy lifestyle first means understanding where you are needed at work. Then making time to calendar personal time in your day to focus on your body, mind, and food.
There were times when I was too busy during the day to eat.
I decided to block my calendar for a least 30 minutes in the day to eat and take a short walk around our office.
I may not have done it midday, but I would do it at some time during the day to ensure I had a chance to get fresh air and a new perspective.
What is one critical piece of advice that would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why?
Someone Telling Me That I Will Fail and It Will Be Okay, and I Will Learn From It and Help Me Improve
It is not the fact that I failed but that I learned from the lesson and rose.
I learned this, and it has made me more resilient, but I felt guilty about failing at first, and this guilt is not necessary.
In fact, as entrepreneurs, I think it is important to fail quickly and pivot quickly to try again.