Ayesha Chenoy is a force to reckon with and her list of achievements keeps on growing. From being an investment banker to starting a digital agency, she has done it all. And just when you thought that was it, she crossed another milestone—her debut as a writer.
The key to donning multiple hats? In her own words, it’s all about listening to your heart and being set on achieving your dreams. A conversation with Chenoy, CEO & Founder of RepIndia, comes at its candid best, with her voice often punctuated with laughter. Chenoy’s professional journey has always been about setting her own benchmarks of success. A London School of Economics and Cambridge alum, she has received the prestigious Adam Smith Prize to her name from the latter. Just when one would think she had it all aligned on the professional front, she changed career paths. It meant leaving her uber-successful career in London, where she was Vice President of Credit Suisse, a leading financial services company.
When she was exploring entrepreneurial opportunities—an investment firm and a dating website—she realised the lack of a digital agency that provided holistic solutions. And while her initial businesses didn’t work as per plan, the learning gave way to RepIndia, a leading digital agency she is currently heading. With offices across India, the firm has worked with leading names such as JSW Steel, Tata Trusts, Havells, Godrej, and Canon, among many others.
That isn’t all. On Instagram, where she often shares her poetry, Chenoy has an impressive number of followers—30K and counting. And her first book, ‘To the Bravest Person I Know’ is all set to launch on March 22. The soon-to-release work, which explores the intricacies of mental health, is already ranking high on Amazon's Best Sellers list. For the POPxo Women Who Win series, which charts stories of trailblazers, we spoke with the entrepreneur and author about her career, strengths and her upcoming release. Lightly edited excerpts from an interview below.
Between writing the book that is being published and running RepIndia, my day is pretty crazy. These days it's Zoom pitches, client meetings, communicating with different people and of course, writing and illustrating. I don’t have a dedicated team in terms of my book and Instagram so I end up looking at comments from all over the world at night. And I reply to them myself. That’s how it works!
I was an investment banker for many years. It is something I did after my time at Cambridge and the London School of Economics, where I was doing an MSc in Economics and Finance. I left London only in 2009 to come back to actually write. But then I started two interesting but failed businesses, one of them being India’s first wine investment firm. The other one was a dating website where only women could send friend requests. I think we were just too early at that time. While I was trying to establish a business in India, I realised that there weren’t enough agencies that created an experience combining it all—think tech, management and creative sides. So in 2013, when I was six months pregnant, I started RepIndia. Today it is one of the only agencies that manages the reputation of India’s largest names., from Tata Trust to Suzuki.
The turning point was being extremely successful as an investment banker and then quitting, deciding to become an entrepreneur. People talk about where you triumph but every time you fail at a business, that’s when you really get your learning. I would say the turning point isn’t where you start to succeed; it’s where you realise the opportunity that lies ahead. Having all these different experiences I had, building the business when I was a mother and pregnant again, I think that sort of thing leaves you with life lessons.
About a year ago, I was on a flight and there was a celebrated DJ sitting next to me. He had his headphones on, he was singing to himself and writing. We got into a conversation and became great friends. But all of it made me think about how I had quit to focus on writing and I wasn’t doing it! After all, I knew the power of social media and I could put my writing out there for people to see. The flight back was the first time I wrote seriously with that thought in mind. I started a dedicated Instagram account and within six months, so many people from across the world were sending me messages every single day.
A friend of mine approached Penguin Random House, the only publisher we approached and honestly, I got lucky because they absolutely loved the work. The book is a kind of letter to a person you love, or perhaps at some point, one I wish someone had sent to me. It talks about the notion of what is considered ‘normal’ and explores a wide spectrum of emotions, all that one could possibly feel. It ends up saying that all our lives are actually driven by one thing which is just surviving your every day and not giving us. I personally feel mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. It’s dealing with your problems, no matter who you are and how wonderful your life seems. I wrote this book thinking about all of it and the response has been phenomenal.
I think writing ultimately has to be honest and personal and if it’s that, it is always scary because you are putting yourself out there. But you do what you do. At some stage, every artist needs to bare their soul and that’s all it is at the end of the day.
I read everything I could get my hands on. I love Haruki Murakami, who is my absolute favourite. I have read each one of Isabel Allende’s novels. Her biography The Sum of Our Day is something I have gone through a number of times. It’s reading their fiction and then their biographies is when you realise how they are people with a big soul. Recently another novel I enjoyed was Normal People by Sally Rooney.
Everything—every mistake, every struggle—should lead to you becoming the best possible version of yourself.
I have a tenacity and a fight in me so I simply do not give up. I do whatever my heart is set on and continue to work on it, no matter what.
You got to work on what you are good at, make sure your efforts aren’t wasted. You have to be honest and do it well. Everything comes with its sets of struggles; you can’t have it easy. The key is to understand that you have to pick out the lessons for yourself and continue to learn. You can’t jump from ship to ship.
Music is huge for me; everything I do includes music. I like to watch off-beat things in terms of television and what I watch also depends on my mood. I love hanging out with my friends. My best friend Nainika [of Gauri & Nainika] has always encouraged me to write, ever since we were 12. I spend a lot of time with my friends and even though the pandemic has really made that difficult, it’s one of the key things for me.
Featured Image: Ayesha Chenoy