Talk about starting a business and the landscape in business is changing. And steadily so. Almost every second company is being spearheaded by a woman. The ratio of women to men is increasingly changing as well as women in education. Initially, it did take a while for women to be taken seriously. But now as the times are changing, women-led start-ups are fast dotting the landscape. Meet Sapna Khakharia Gohil, Director of Design at The Canvas, one of India’s leading architectural design studios. The Canvas stands tall on 15+ years of industry experience, with Sapna its passionate leader. In a free-wheeling chat with HerMoneyTalks, this architect-turned-entrepreneur reconstructs her entrepreneurial story, brick by brick.

Interestingly, Sapna believes that architecture without people is like an art piece without its soul. The world is getting smaller and global thinking motivates her to transcend architectural boundaries both geographically and culturally.

Sapna’s burning ambition and dogged determination resulted in The Canvas winning the title of iNFHRA FM Excellence Award, the only jury led award in the fraternity, in the best design category for one of its clients – Tata Sky. 

A humble foundation

Sapna draws a huge chunk of inspiration from her father who she also considers as a mentor and the pillar of support. “I have always been into building and constructing even as a kid. I’d enjoy playing with Lego and discovering new ways to build them. Also since my dad has been into this field, it was easy for me to gain interest and lean towards it.”

After completing her degree in architecture, Sapna did work in a firm but the itch to start on her own was always there. Thus, she decided to start her own company joining hands with Ashok Kularia at ANJ. “Being a build company, I helped them in the design space. Soon, I realized that it was time to start my separate division, which is when ‘The Canvas’ was born,” states Sapna.

I have always been into building and constructing even as a kid. I’d enjoy playing with Lego and discovering new ways to build them.

Sapna’s vision is to propagate design and women in design. “I want The Canvas to be the platform every designer looks for in India. They should have the liberty to express themselves via design and help deliver par excellence spaces. I believe in perseverance and integrity. These are things I inculcate in my work as well as in my team,” professes the architect-turned-entrepreneur.

Finances the building blocks of a sound business

“I’ve studied away and worked away from my city and parents. That’s where I started understanding the importance of economizing and making independent financial decisions,” reveals Sapna. Over time, she understood the workings of companies and management of employees. It’s been a gradual and steady process with a lot of learning.  

Starting a business invariably brings with it financial pressure. However, as an entrepreneur, Sapna hasn’t faced much of a financial challenge. Perhaps due to the nature of her job, she feels.Maybe payments not coming on time, which causes other delays, is a worry. But since we have projects lined up, we manage it well,” she beams.

Funding isn’t gender-centric. If you have the help of a good financial advisor, your vision is believable, and your work reflects sincerity, funding comes through.

Sapna feels that we now live in a century where women are finally being accepted for being more than a home-maker. Being independent also includes being financially independent and standing on your own feet. This gives us a sense of recognition and well-being. Also it’s important to be aware of our financials. That way, we can plan our future and retirement without blindly following anyone. Rather, we can understand where and how much of our savings are secure and safe.”

The biggest stumbling block to starting a business and succeeding is money. However, Sapna believes it is no more an obstacle for women. “Funding isn’t gender-centric. If you have the help of a good financial advisor, your vision is believable, and your work reflects sincerity, funding comes through. Another option is to find angel investors who will support you in stages, after looking at the progress in the first year or two.”

Sapna’s 3 pillars of money management

Sapna feels strongly about the financial empowerment of women. Her three pillars of money management:

(1) There will be failures or losses – that is all part of the long road to success

(2) Don’t invest blindly, weigh in ALL your options even if consulted by a financier

(3) We won’t get immediate results, but it will happen- so have faith

Being one of the few women in a typically male-dominated industry, Sapna has navigated her share of growth and challenges, only to emerge supreme. She is an advocate for gender inclusivity at the workplace and has pioneered many policies within The Canvas for the betterment of women employees. Additionally, Sapna has been instrumental in making The Canvas one of the top 5 companies in India to have an official policy on menstrual leave for its women employees. 

Sapna draws the conversation to a close with this quote of Maya Angelou:

I’m a woman, phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman, that’s me.

– Maya Angelou