Born and raised in Mumbai, Pooja Bajaj Chadha decided to give up her corporate life in order to be an entrepreneur. Pooja was driven by one sole motive – to make the workplace a happy and engaging environment since employees spend half their lifetime at the workplace. A Marketing and Business Management post-graduate from Warwick Business School, Pooja has essayed various roles in the field of marketing at top companies such as L’Oreal, Xpotential UK, and Philip Morris to name a few. Pooja is the Founder & CEO at ExtraMile – an organization that engages with HR and Business Heads of corporates to provide solutions that focus on keeping employees engaged and happy at the workplace. ExtraMile works with top companies to improve engagement levels, meet communication needs and help build great teams at the workplace. Processes and activities such as creative communication modules focus on quality and design, effective team-building exercises build stronger teams, and through digital engagement, the physical distance between employees is bridged by connecting them under one platform.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview where Pooja speaks about her journey with HelloPost Team:
Tell us something about yourself.
As a proud Founder and CEO at ExtraMile, an organization that engages with HR and Business Heads of corporates, I love building happier, engaged workplaces. I believe living out the company’s Values through engaging activities can do wonders for the employees. For me, throughout my entrepreneurial journey, viewing change as a stepping stone (and not a roadblock) has made this experience a learning curve.
What motivated you to start your own venture?
Well-settled and satisfied with my job in a multinational, I still felt something is missing. I found myself in a dilemma when the life-changing question popped up asking “Am I really happy here?” It was this moment of epiphany on a tropical island away from home, where I made up my mind to fulfill this long-awaited desire of stepping into the entrepreneurial world. With a vision to convert every corporate into an engaging working environment, my company ExtraMile was born.
What were the challenges that you’ve faced while starting your own venture?
Back in 2011, when I started out on my own in the field of employee engagement, engagement programs for employees were conducted as a tick in the box. A few treasure hunts and Diwali parties were not enough, in my opinion. Employees are the indispensable assets of an organization, your first customers and hence, there was a need to bring an employee experience.
Bridging this gap in internal customer engagement was definitely not an easy task. As a 24-year-old, starting out to change the workplace for employees, there were challenges of trust, skepticism, and confidence from clients, friends, and family. Even my family members were taken aback when I quit my well-paid job and decided to venture on my own, but I feel it was my passion that made the difference.
Soon we had our very first client (Vodafone) hear us on the radio and reach out to engage with their employees on a weekly basis. That’s where it all began and it has been an upward curve till date. And now there are different challenges – to innovate and provide unique solutions; to provide a holistic employee experience from pre-hire to retire; how best to use technology to maximize engagement and more.
What was the biggest achievement during your entrepreneurship journey?
I would state “Quitting my job and taking on entrepreneurship at 24 years back in 2011” as my first big achievement! And the word of mouth marketing which has built our clientele of 150+ giant corporates in a span of a little less than 7 years.
This would not have been possible without a team. Being able to build a culture of leadership and attitude of ownership amongst my own employees has been the key to our success. To keep our external customers happy, it was very important to keep my internal customers happy first. And I did this by encouraging a sense of accountability and openness to continuous feedback. This exercise of FEEDFORWARD, sharing continuous learnings to allow my team to learn and grow, is a BIG WIN for me.
Apart from that, yes there are a few more:
- GIWL Woman Entrepreneur of the Year for HR consulting (2019) – awarded by UBS Forums
- Panelist on ET Now’s television show, Leaders of Tomorrow – segment covered Hiring Trends FY20, other panelists from Gozoop, Monster India and Shortlist
- Pioneered initiatives like Colympics – an intercorporate sports challenge, Balance For Better FAIR – a women’s day celebration across 11 cities and Universal Wellness for Corporates – a world health day package of events
- ExtraMile has been certified as one of the ‘Top 10 Most Promising Employee Benefits & Training Management Service Providers 2019’ by Silicon India
How do you maintain a good work-life balance?
My journey as an entrepreneur has taught me to blur the lines that differentiate my work and life. Your company is your baby and you give it all to make it grow and create an environment to help others grow along with you. Both lives offer learnings and experiences that complement each other and that’s when the synergy takes place so well that you don’t feel the “need to balance” but rather make them coexist and work for each other.
Who is your role model?
Taking cues from leaders like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, I’ve learned the essence of Leadership and its vital role for an entrepreneur. If you’re driven, passionate and spear-headed in the right direction – it doesn’t end there. You have to grow as a leader and mentor. Being committed to my goals, overcoming barriers, taking risks are some of the lessons I’ve learned from her which are pushing me further to break the glass ceiling!
What is your secret to success?
There’s no one secret to success. But there is one mantra I swear by – ‘People are your greatest assets’. I’ve realized there’s nothing truer than that in the growth of a business. If you’re on a mission to making your entrepreneurship dream the better half of your career, start by hiring employees with the same zeal and build an attitude of ownership. Especially today, where the new talent is looking to work alongside the leadership teams and not just under them – to grow as professionals and be accountable.
Many of the employees don’t feel a strong connection with the business, the vision or mission, they may even be unaware of there being one! That’s a gap you need to fill to succeed.
What’s one leadership lesson that you’ve learned in your career?
Take care of your people. And they will take care of your company.
What are your future plans?
Building on our mission to create happy and healthy workplaces, we aim to become the corporate world’s most trusted partner-in-engagement and first choice in creating an engaging employee experience. We’ve introduced several verticals and expanded across 25+ cities with 200+ new programs over the last few years. That’s not all – we’re also extending this corporate arm to MSMEs and start-ups with our digital and team-building offerings. Solutions customized to varied team sizes, profiles, geographies, and budgets are difficult to offer but we aim to be the “Mary Poppins” of Engagement. We want to make it all possible!
Any advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Anyone can find a great idea or passion. But not everyone can turn it into their profession. If you choose entrepreneurship as the better half of your career, stay persistent, be agile and focus on the bigger picture.