Veena Gandhi on her entrepreneurial journey in Australia

By Indira Laisram
Veena Gandhi // Photo: The Photo Studio Fitzroy; Fashion; James Broadhurst; Michelle Kulik

Veena Gandhi calls herself a serial entrepreneur. Perhaps not surprisingly. The Jamia Millia Islamia Delhi alumnus started her career in advertising straight after completing her Master’s in Mass Communication. She went on to work with leading global advertising agencies such as Leo Burnett, FCB, McCann on global brands like Hewlett Packard, Minute Maid, Maaza, LG Electronics, Delhi Daredevils (IPL). When the opportunity to move to Dubai came for her husband, they took a collective decision to shift base. It was there that she decided “to explore other things which perhaps wouldn’t have been possible in Delhi”. It was in Dubai that the seeds of entrepreneurship were sown for Gandhi. She founded two companies. And when the family moved base again in Australia in 2016, Gandhi founded a digital marketing agency, Digital Street AU, after realising she couldn’t find a toehold in the job market. There’s a lot to be proud of. In conversation with Veena Gandhi.

★ So, the seeds of entrepreneurship were sown in Dubai?

A two-year old child and a job in advertising had started taking its toll on me. Late nights, working on weekends were getting maddening. I’d missed on my son’s major milestones—first step, first word as he was literally being raised by my mother. I knew if I wanted to bond with my child, I needed to be more than a ‘visiting parent’. At the first opportunity my husband got to move to Dubai we lapped it up as I decided to explore other things which perhaps wouldn’t have been possible in Delhi.

Professionally, Dubai was one of the most satisfying places for me. I ventured into entrepreneurship. Apart from still working in advertising as a consultant, I started exploring other business ideas. I launched an acclaimed children’s initiative, ‘Tell me a Story’, wherein I conducted story-telling sessions for children under the age of 8. It was a first of its kind program there and was very well-received by parents and the UAE media alike.

I also launched a portal there connecting parents with tutors and activities. When we were moving to Australia, we had to fold it all up and that business doesn’t exist any longer. With my advertising experience, I was doing all the marketing for my story-telling initiative as well as the online portal. Gradually, I started getting into the digital marketing space. Within no time, I was offering digital marketing consulting services to businesses in UAE.

★ How did Australia happen?

Again, after spending a little over five years in Dubai, we evaluated our lives and realised we didn’t want to raise our child in that environment. The glamour and life moved away from reality was something that we didn’t want to offer our son. We started exploring options out of the UAE as we didn’t want to go back to India. And as they say, if you are destined for something, they happen for you. This is how we moved to Australia.

★ Tell us about your initial months of struggle trying to get a break into the market?

When we moved to Melbourne in March 2016, we knew no one—no family, no friends, no network. I must have applied for over 100 jobs and went for lots of interviews but was rejected on the grounds of lack of local experience. All the global experience was negated. With support from my husband, I started to freelance. Initially, I worked for free on couple of assignments in exchange of testimonials. I started getting referrals and since then there has been no looking back.

From a sole trader, I launched my company in end of 2018.

★ Go us through how you went to set up Digital Street AU. How did you establish a professional network from ground zero?

I started off as a freelancer. However, the agency started growing rapidly and established a company in 2018. I niched down to fashion, beauty, lifestyle in the e-commerce space. I joined council networking events and other business networks. Referrals, word of mouth, business networking events and advertising my agency helped to get businesses.

I also joined a lot of training programs globally to upskill and build a professional network. Blogged for publications within the industry and appeared in podcasts to increase the agency’s visibility.

I also started holding workshops and became a mentor with Inspiring Rare Birds.

★ What challenges and opportunities did you encounter?

The biggest challenge I encountered was pricing. Just because I am from India, a lot of business owners thought I will be charging less. A lot of stereotypes and glass ceiling had to be shattered along the way. As an immigrant woman heading an agency comes with a few stereotypes.

Eighty per cent of my agency’s business runs on referrals today. And after working with us businesses stay with us and refer. An opportunity to shatter some stereotypes around immigrant women.

I was a finalist in AusMumreprenuer Awards in 2020

★ How did Covid-19 impact your business last year?

Initially, we lost 70 per cent of our revenue. However, when businesses realised they need to have an online presence, we doubled our revenue. And now the trend is upward.

★ Do you think immigrant entrepreneurship in Australia is playing a vital role for the economy?

Yes, a very significant role. As immigrants we have the hunger and drive to establish ourselves, we work hard just not to survive but thrive. Mostly, as entrepreneurs, we want to prove to ourselves and the world that we are capable of much more and this passion results in business growth, mostly. Immigrant entrepreneurs are paying huge taxes today and this of course, shows our role in the economy

★ Going forward, from a business perspective, how do you plan to capture value?

My agency’s mission is not to be the largest or the biggest. Our mission is to help empower our clients through digital marketing. The digital space is extremely competitive today and cost of advertising is growing by the hour. Our objective is to enable our clients to get the best ROI on every penny they spend.

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