Devika Dhawan is a performing arts educator and entrepreneur born and raised in Boston. In 2013, she founded her dance school, DFD Academy, and ever since has made it her mission to train the next generation of Bollywood Fusion dancers and empower students to embrace their fusion identities within the Indo-American diaspora. Growing up embedded in her culture, she is someone who always believes it is more important to stand out than to fit in, and that’s exactly the kind of confidence she instills in her students and community.
While her career was in corporate marketing, Devika eventually went into her business full-time, geared with an MBA and a background in various dance forms from Bharatnatyam to Hip Hop to Bollywood. By combining her business skills and her dance experience, she aims to increase access to, and appreciation for, dance training in South Asian fusion styles.
Check out more interviews with entrepreneurs here.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FEATURED?
All interviews are 100% FREE OF CHARGE
Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Devika Dhawan: Dance is something that’s been a constant in my life, but teaching it really stemmed from a personal mission. Growing up as a first-generation South Asian American, I often felt torn between the cultural norms of my family and assimilating to the environment in which I was brought up. Many of my friends and peers would attest to feeling the same, but the way we dealt with it was to just identify with one side. Somehow as a kid, it was difficult to see the beauty in both – until I went to college.
In college, I was introduced to fusion dance – a form that blends western and eastern dance styles. It gave me a huge appreciation for all sides of me and the cultures I truly am. I just wished that it was something that was introduced to me earlier in life. That’s why I started DFD Academy. It’s a way for me and my colleagues to bring what we’ve learned in our training in college to kids at an earlier age. Today, with our locations in Massachusetts and classes running online, we’re proud to inspire our students to be not only aspiring artists but also well-grounded individuals who can “be fusion” in all aspects of life
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Devika Dhawan: I am most grateful for my first colleague and Head of Operations, without whom I couldn’t imagine running DFD Academy. One of the most important things I’ve learned in running a business is that who you hire is critical to making or breaking it, especially in the early stages of a company. The people you hire are not just your employees; they’re your tribe. I’m grateful that my first hire was equally as obsessed with the company’s mission and vision as I was.
She told me from the get-go “I want to do more with your company and take on greater responsibilities.” and a year later she grew into our Head of Operations. I attribute a lot of our growth to her and I can’t imagine where we’d be without her dedication, ideas, and skills.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Devika Dhawan: Comparison for the sake of comparison. We all do it, but you have to stop yourself. Of course, it’s good to have idols or get inspired by what you see on social media, but dwelling on it or trying to copy it exactly just hinders you from achieving your own goals. Who’s to say other people want to do exactly what you do, or better yet, are going to do it the same way? Getting caught up in what other companies or people are doing can push you to make decisions that weren’t meant for you and your business.
A business isn’t successful if it fits in with others; it’s successful when it stands out. So stay hyper-focused on your own company’s goals and only take on projects or ventures that drive you towards them.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Devika Dhawan: We were definitely concerned about how to proceed when Covid first hit, but online classes ended up impacting us positively. It allowed us to reach people that we couldn’t before and spread our brand and mission further. The world is ever-changing (pandemic or no pandemic) so being nimble and open to experimenting with new channels has, and will continue to, allow us to stay relevant regardless of external factors. (Again, as long as we stay focused on our mission and vision.)
What is most important to your organization—mission, vision, or values?
Devika Dhawan: Values. I’ve mentioned mission and vision multiple times now so you would think that’s what I would say; however, your values are the roadmap to actually getting there. Values help us determine how to make judgment calls and establish our culture, and you need to have the right culture and be able to make streamlined decisions to get to your mission.
If your team can’t get around the values or culture you’ve built, the chances of you achieving your mission or vision are pretty slim. It’s not enough to say I’m going to climb to the top of the mountain, you actually have to navigate your way up there with the whole entire tribe.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Devika Dhawan: Creativity, resilience, and taking initiative. I don’t mean creativity in just the traditional sense of being artistic – although that is quite true for my work given it’s in performing arts. I mean creativity in terms of being resourceful. There have been many situations where I’ve had to think on my feet or make things work with what I have. I honestly enjoy situations like that and thrive on creative problem-solving. As a South Asian woman running a business in a non-traditional industry, resilience has been critical.
No one was going to believe in me if I didn’t believe in myself. And taking initiative has been instrumental in helping my brand grow whether that was because I took a shot in the dark to connect with someone I didn’t think I’d be able to or worked on changing perceptions of how serious South Asian performing arts can truly be.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Devika Dhawan: It’s incredibly important when you’re first launching your company. People know you before they know what you’re working on because you are the face of it. They need to be able to trust you before they can trust what you are selling. However, once your company finds its voice and place in society, it’s the company’s brand that becomes more important than the personal one. In order to scale up, you can’t rely on your skills alone, it’s about what you offer as a team or organization. That’s what will be in the limelight.
How would you define “leadership”?
Devika Dhawan: Leadership isn’t about telling people what to do. It’s about inspiring people to take action on their own. That comes from a balance of providing direction as well as autonomy – being clear about intentions and expectations, but also allowing room for others to take ownership.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Devika Dhawan: Don’t sit on your ideas. Take initiative and put your ideas into action asap. Entrepreneurship is a lot about trial and error. You can’t plan your way through something you haven’t seen in action. The formal business plan, sales pitch, mission, vision, etc will come to life only once you’ve actually had a chance to try selling your product or service to someone and learned from it. Go do that. Even if you fail, learn from it, tweak your ideas, and try again. Eventually, when you find a rhythm of what’s working you’ll know what direction you need to take and what that actual pitch deck is going to look like.
What’s your favorite “business” quote and how has it affected your business decisions?
Devika Dhawan: “We won’t be distracted by comparison, if we are captivated with purpose.”
My whole life I believed it was more important to stand out than to fit in, and I see that even more when it comes to running a business. My purpose is mine alone, and if I stay focused on that, not only does my business have proper direction, but it keeps me sane from unwanted opinions, unnecessary competition, and frivolous distractions. Being captivated by purpose has allowed me to make decisions on the basis of my values, and has taught me how and when to say no.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Devika Dhawan for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Devika Dhawan or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
Did you enjoy this article? Check out similar stories:
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.