Keeping an Entrepreneurial Spirit Alive

Versha Pradhan

Director of Engineering, Test at BlackLine Systems, Inc.



My sister who was living in India, was passionate about starting a childcare business, and she inspired me to make a difference in the community by helping elderly people. While she was already in education, I was in IT back then, which didn’t have many similarities with running a home care business -- or so it seemed. All of my background, education, and experience were in IT, so though I had an idea, accomplishing that goal didn’t look easy. While I was still questioning if I could do this or not, my sister got cancer and passed away without accomplishing her goal. That was, for me, a big awakening moment. If I wanted to achieve something, I had to do it now.

Actions taken

I started to research what is needed to open a care home in California. After I obtained all logistical information about licenses and business incorporation, I started researching what kind of care people were looking for. I shortlisted a few smaller care homes in the same area where I wanted to open mine and visited them. I spoke with owners about their problems, and in general, I found people in the business to be very open. However, I still didn’t grasp step-by-step what I should be doing. Therefore, I went to a large retirement facility and shadowed a person there. I found a director who was willing to mentor me, and I shadowed them for a couple of months.

This was happening during weekends because I was still working full-time in IT. In that retirement facility, I started doing projects for senior people, which helped me better understand the needs of elderly people in our community. I also learned that I needed to complete a certification course and obtain an administrative license before opening my own thing. Following on that, I bought a small house with six bedrooms to open my business. Two weeks from making the decision, I was able to open up my own business.

Getting the first clients in, being new in the business, was a new challenge I faced. It took me eight months after I opened it to get the first client and for only five weeks. But that was a kick-start. Once I got my first client in, word of mouth started to spread. I didn’t give up during that time. Many people visited my place but were turned away by my lack of experience. Any person new to the business is aware of this vicious circle: without experience, they will not be able to get clients, and without clients, one cannot acquire experience. That is why I settled with rest homes where families could place their parents when away for a couple of weeks. That helped me build my credibility. After I got my first long-term client, I was always full, without any vacant day. We came up with a variety of projects that involved the whole family and visits to the homes of elderly people. It was so much fun doing all those projects with them. I started those projects out of sheer desperation -- to make ourselves stand out. No one was coming in, and I had to be creative to compensate for the lack of experience.

I ran the business for four years before I decided to move along. I sold that business, made a profit out of it, but most importantly, a person I sold the business to was also passionate about helping elderly people. I wanted my clients to remain in good hands. While many may see this experience as a detour in my career, I feel that keeping my entrepreneurial spirit alive helped me later in my IT career, particularly in my leadership roles.

Lessons learned

  • Every project that you take up will involve a client. This project helped me build my confidence and reassured me that I could handle any problem. Also, if you have a customer, you have to make sure that your customer is happy. When I joined my current company, I was rapidly promoted to a director role because of the past entrepreneurial experience that helped me learn how to deal with a project A to Z and make my customers happy.
  • This experience taught me how to communicate with customers of different backgrounds and preferences. When I was in charge of a cross-team initiative a few years later, I applied the communication skills I honed during my entrepreneurial journey. There is not much difference between internal and external customers -- once I was confident in my skills, it made no difference. Finally, this project also helped me become more aware of my people’s skill potential, which remained one of my signature strengths.

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Versha Pradhan

Director of Engineering, Test at BlackLine Systems, Inc.

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