Meera Kaul |Investor & Chairperson ‘The Meera Kaul Foundation’ | United States
It is said that good things don’t come easy. Same is true in case of connecting with Meera Kaul, it took over one year before she could find some time to share her thought with www.thecherrytree.in
Excerpts from an interaction with Rajesh Prothi
Traditionally, Kashmiri women have always opted for medical profession. How come you decided to become an entrepreneur & an investor?
The girls of my family have always stood out for our entrepreneurial acumen. If we haven’t made careers leading the world’s largest companies, we have been successful in building entrepreneurial assets.
I was born with an entrepreneurial, creative streak. Since I was young, creating something useful came naturally to me. This gradually developed into innovating with contemporary concepts, including finance and even software, leading me to selling my first venture while I was still in high school! I was never drawn towards the medical side. I was, and still am, always inspired by challenges and innovation. And my family, especially my father, offered all the support I needed to pursue my dreams, my vision and my passions.
Eventually, my inclination for technology, aptitude for finance and my analytical and inquisitive mind led me into Law, Entrepreneurship and becoming an investor
The profession you are in gives you an opportunity to interact with people from various cultural backgrounds, what has been your experience as an entrepreneur?
As an ethnic Kashmiri, being a woman has never been an impediment to anything that I have ever wanted to achieve. I was never taught to be lesser nor lower than the other and I always had more opportunities opened for me in my family than even the boys of the family. I was never told I was lesser or different. I think my experiences have been no different that any other woman entrepreneur or investor specifically because I am of Kashmiri origin. Education is a great equalizer. And I have always believed knowledge is power and have invested in acquiring more knowledge as a path to success and opportunities. While my Kashmiri lineage lends a subtle flavor to which I am as a person and inspires me culturally to be more warm and earthy and grounded, at a professional level it makes no impact. I continue to meet men and women from various cultures across the world and it is an enriching experience. I continue to learn everyday from all these interactions.
As an investor or entrepreneur, specifically as a woman, I have encountered prejudice very early in my career, not specific to any culture though. But my knowledge, grit and determination very soon wiped out any potential gender bias.
What have been the high points in your career as an entrepreneur/investor?
Since childhood I have had a penchant for being an entrepreneur. I set up my first ‘venture’ when I was sixteen – a high school project that I converted into a saleable business proposition. My exit from that venture, and the money I made therein, however little it was at the time, created a firm realization about my potential to develop and then sell an idea/concept/company. That was the foundation for what later became a passion for serial entrepreneurship and angel investing.
Of course nothing can compare to the high of selling out my first school venture. But yes, in the actual competitive business world, my biggest high has been meeting President Obama and his lucid appreciation for my achievements. He said, “I’m so proud of you”. This reaffirmed my faith about women being able to take on a leadership role anywhere in the world, regardless of age, creed or background. Like my mantra – women can do whatever they set their minds to do.
How did your family react on your choice of career?
In my family where women have always excelled in politics, corporations and enterprise, it hasn’t been such a huge surprise. My father always taught me to give my best to anything I wanted to try. And this philosophy has endured.
It has given me wings to try my hand at anything without being numbed by the fear of failure. Because my family taught me never to focus on success, rather on doing the job at hand really well. And then success follows.
Without their nurturing support, their guidance, and their undying confidence in my capabilities, I would not have been able to grow at the pace I have.
Was entrepreneurship and becoming an investor by chance or by choice?
This has definitely been an active and conscious choice. I had role models in family as my cousin sisters had already achieved success as entrepreneurs globally. As I said earlier, I have always had an entrepreneurial streak as well as a penchant for trying my hand at different things. I combined both these passions to become an entrepreneur and along with that invest in various businesses.
But yes, life also naturally progressed in the direction I had chosen. For that I am thankful. Money begets money. I can say I have been lucky. And I have been. But I have also worked really, really hard, and smart. I have 4 multi-million dollar exits to my credit, which helped me fund a lot of my initial endeavors.
Additionally, I am very picky about who and what I fund. A combination of due diligence, market feasibilities and trend analysis has helped me invest in areas that have flourished, and self-sustained themselves and some of my newer ventures eventually. And the fact that I have always owned/managed multiple companies at one point of time, the cross–funding of my new businesses has been facilitated.
I possess a very keen nose for business and I study new technologies and trends and keep abreast of innovation to predict markets where growth is possible. And then invest their accordingly.
There is always a second line of whatever we do. What was your second choice as career?
I cannot imagine any other career option for me. I feel I was born to do what I do. However hypothetically speaking, I would possibly have been a lawyer or a hard-nosed wall-street analyst.
Any women do you idolize in your personal or professional life?
I really look up to my aunt Mrs. Khemlata Wakhlu and my elder sister Anita Kaul Basu as my role models and stellar Kashmiri women who achieved their goals and success through dedication and hard work.
What is your message for the Kashmiri youth?
I encourage Kashmiri women to derive strength from the strong familial ties and network that our culture is famous for. I would want them to build knowledge through education, and confidence through skills training and then reach for the stars. Nothing is impossible.
And I would want more and more women in our Kashmiri network to develop into role models for other women and inspire them to economic empowerment and independence. This is a service we owe our community, not only of Kashmiri women, but all women.
What interests you apart from your professional career?
Other than work, my time is consumed by my Foundation that works towards empowering women and inducting more of them into STEM careers. A not-for-profit that I have set up to share my Silicon Valley know-how and help other women develop and progress, The Meera Kaul Foundation is headquartered in the US and works through its network and event offices across the globe. I am involved in a various mentorship sessions and start-up meets with universities and corporates where I speak and inspire women to take on leadership and entrepreneurial roles.
In my leisure time, I love to spend time with family, relax with my pet Labrador Casper, cook Kashmiri food, learn to be an aircraft pilot and of course binge watch TV shows.
What efforts do you make to keep the culture of Kashmir alive?
Fortunately, this is achieved effectively through my near and dear family and friends circle who live close to me in the US. We meet often and keep our culture and ties alive very diligently. Earlier this year, we commemorated our family by launching a wine in the name of our family label – Kaul.