Toni Chowdhury is a business coach based in Montreal. After working for a Fortune 100 company as an innovation coach and a technical writer for more than 13 years, Toni decided to publish her first book on business idea validation and product-market fit in July 2021. Now she helps high-achieving women build, grow, and scale their creative hobbies into profitable businesses with their right-fit clients so that they can stop chasing shiny objects and finally have the business of their dreams.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Toni Chowdhury: I made the bold decision of leaving an abusive marriage and restarting life as a single mother with a three-year-old in a foreign country. Overnight, I went from a senior exec in a high-tech firm in India to an assembly-line worker at a factory in Canada. Eventually, I found a job in my field and went on to work at my dream company. I firmly believe that dreams do come true, as I have brought many of mine to fruition. I realized early on after moving to Canada that I would need to earn more than the meager wages to support my son and myself. So with that, I started multiple businesses of my own.
I had my fair share of startup struggle and hardship, but I turned things around with the help of some phenomenal coaches and doubled my business every year for four years. That’s when I realized that I could help women like myself do the same. That’s when Women Who Win with Toni Chowdhury was born. I’m a creative person and an idea machine. Sometimes, that can be pretty stressful. So, my favorite activities to de-stress are painting, reading, and card making. They help me recharge and rejuvenate and get ready to hit the gas again.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Toni Chowdhury: I have heard that entrepreneurs are born, but I believe that entrepreneurs are made. They might have a predisposition towards being more enterprising than some others. Still, entrepreneurship is an intentional and purpose-driven journey that doesn’t happen without drive, commitment, perseverance, a thirst for knowledge, and an incredible passion for transforming the world and leaving it a better place for future generations. Once someone gets on the path of entrepreneurship, it’s hard to be someone else.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Toni Chowdhury: I am an energetic, resilient, ambitious, and very driven entrepreneur. I believe I have been called to help women who need to have their voices heard, and I feel that my service to these women is required.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Toni Chowdhury: My company helps women find their voice and message and turn their passion-based business ideas into profitable businesses. My business exists to help these women, who are mainly introverted but extremely powerful, feel supported and feel they have a cheerleader through every step of their journey. I had started the company to help more women launch their businesses, but over the years, it’s become more of me being a platform they can leverage to step up, speak up, and level up. I recognize that as women, we are given tough choices – for instance, we are constantly agonizing over whether to choose a career or family. As a result, we feel guilty about wanting to live for ourselves.
While there are opportunity costs to being an entrepreneur, I think there are tremendous advantages to being a role model to your kids. I realized this when I recently interviewed my 25-year-old son for my podcast and asked him his perspective on how my entrepreneurial journey has affected him.
Barring a couple of points he raised about being worried about my high levels of risk tolerance and business expenses, he has taken great lessons from watching me build my businesses over the years. His experiences have shaped him into an amazing son and human being, and he’s now building up his side hustle while working a demanding job as a financial analyst. Therefore, I feel that it’s my responsibility to demonstrate this to other women and demonstrate the benefits beyond extra income or firing their boss. So that is what my company’s mission is going forward.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Toni Chowdhury: Although I’m in Canada, I can guarantee that Canadian business owners and entrepreneurs pretty much go through the same experiences that our American colleagues face. The main thing that an entrepreneur must understand is that entrepreneurship is a mindset. It’s not just about being your own boss and leading a laptop lifestyle. There’s a lot more that goes behind what we see on social media.
Entrepreneurship is about being enterprising and resourceful, being resilient, being intentional and purpose-driven, and always wanting to make a difference in the world. Entrepreneurship is about contribution to your community and the world at large, about collaboration over competition, especially in this day and age.
As entrepreneurs, we cannot assume that we will become wealthy overnight because success can take several years, several failed businesses, lots of blood, sweat, and tears. Therefore, we need to learn new skills, develop ourselves and be servant leaders. When starting, we must understand that our business idea needs to be proven, and we can only have a business if our customers want what we have to offer. Setting up a website and designing a logo is not equivalent to owning a business. Everyone needs to understand where their product or service fits into the marketplace, which I see entrepreneurs missing all the time.
Therefore, we must be prepared to fail fast but learn from each failure so that those lessons help to improve our product or service. We have to accept that we’ll fall, but we must embrace that failure, get up, dust ourselves off and get going again. I’d heard this from one of my early coaches – the most important word in life and business is the word “next.” If something doesn’t work, we have to think of the next step and keep moving to the next thing until we hit the right idea or opportunity.
We can be overly optimistic at times and think that the moment we build a business, the customers will come pouring in, but nothing could be further from the truth. Therefore, assuming that we can start earning money and making bank as soon as we declare ourselves entrepreneurs is a fantasy.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Toni Chowdhury: I didn’t consider that entrepreneurship can be addictive, and your threshold for risk tolerance becomes significantly bigger and finally goes through the roof. That can be pretty dangerous without a sound financial advisor because you keep investing your money into different things and chase shiny objects.
I can say that I got close to bankruptcy several times before recovering enough to keep pushing further. The good thing was that I had a cushy corporate job to back me up. Otherwise, as a single mother and sole caregiver for my parents, I doubt I’d be still standing. So, it’s essential to know where to spend and where to save. It’s critical to understand that not all expenses are necessary, and we don’t always need the next new toy or the next new course. Sometimes knowing too much can become a curse.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain
Toni Chowdhury: I think the most critical piece of advice I’d give myself when starting up is that it’s essential to understand your customer so you can deliver them the right flavor of what you have on offer. It’s also important to network and show up consistently. It not only takes time, but it also takes the right perspective, people, and opportunities to grow a business. If you’re the visionary in your business, you need to build your team as early as possible so your team members can keep you centered and grounded and hold you accountable.
Another thing I would advise myself is to surround myself with people who are at least five steps ahead of me because they’ll inspire me to be better. One thing that I would congratulate myself on would be my decision to hire a coach early on in my business. That helped me shortcut my way to more success a lot faster.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Toni Chowdhury: The worst advice I’d received was someone telling me not to waste too much time on an idea if it wasn’t working almost right out of the gate. Not staying long enough on an idea and examining it from different angles is the highest form of disservice someone can do to themselves.
An idea takes time, patience, and prudence to test and then to fine-tune. It’s not a black and white kind of situation where you can decide how successful or profitable your idea is.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Toni Chowdhury: A lot has changed in the world of entrepreneurship. The first thing someone should think about is their mode of operation. Relying on just one channel or platform is no longer an option. Look at what happened with Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp recently. Anyone who relied solely on social media would have incurred huge losses during the outage. Being only brick and mortar or being omnichannel can hurt your business a lot.
So, it would be essential to figure out how to have a presence that doesn’t rely on a single platform or channel. Understandably, it’s hard to manage multiple things when you’re starting, and I especially advise my clients against it. But I also help them figure out their business model to have the agility to pivot or scale as they need quickly.
What hasn’t changed are the principles of doing business or the basics of marketing. Even if the tool or technique changes, the inherent strategy is evergreen.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Toni Chowdhury: A common myth is that you absolutely must have a website, logo, and business card to look legit.
Honestly, that’s the worst idea ever. Most new entrepreneurs spend months and sometimes too much money building a website without getting to know their clients first. Plus, building websites may not even be their strength or area of expertise. This means that when they finally narrow down on their solution, they may have to change up their website completely or build a new one.
The same goes for branding. Your branding should not just be for yourself but should be for your customer. Unless you know your customer and what they’re looking to resolve in their lives, your branding may be ineffective. And branding is not just the color, font, and logo – branding is your story, values, tone of voice, and so much more.
I see people making this mistake all the time, and I have to admit to making the same mistake when I started my first business. My advice would be to first start with researching your target audience and your competition. The next thing would be to validate your business idea with your target audience.
There are many ways to validate your business idea, such as setting up a free blog or a Facebook or Instagram page and finding and building your audience with that. You should consider building a website only when you have honed in on your niche and what you should sell.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Toni Chowdhury: The most important qualities that an entrepreneur should have are commitment, resilience, perseverance, and a thirst for learning. These qualities help build the right mindset, which is critical for survival for any new entrepreneur. The first couple of years are critical for startups because statistics show that 80% of small businesses close their doors within the first two years. And there is a reason this happens. Most people believe they can turn out a successful business within days or weeks or maybe months.
Unfortunately, they usually start with the wrong set of ideas, beliefs and are limited to no marketing knowledge. It makes it harder to win in highly competitive and saturated markets, which is pretty much how it is in most industries.
Another important quality of an entrepreneur should be empathy for their target audience. Unless you empathize with your right-fit customer, it’s challenging, if not outright impossible, to come up with the right solution for them. Because it translates into no demand for that product or service, which leads to no sales, resulting in the business folding.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Toni Chowdhury: The best way aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders can prepare themselves for inevitable future challenges is to surround themselves with people who have experience in their industry and the real world. It’s not enough to just read books and devour hours of free YouTube videos. Even Dr. Google has its limits because the real insider information is rarely shared in public forums.
Another critical activity most entrepreneurs don’t engage in is creating their vision and mission statements. During challenging times, these are the two things that will keep any entrepreneur focused and grounded. Unfortunately, these are skills that our education system doesn’t teach us, but in my opinion, these are critical for anyone to succeed.
Some books to read are T. Harv Eker’s ‘Secrets of the Millionnaire Mind’, Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich’, Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.
Some great movies fascinated and inspired me as well – ‘The Social Network’, ‘Startup.com’, ‘Wall Street’, and ‘The Big Short’. These movies are great examples of what to do and what not to do as entrepreneurs.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Toni Chowdhury: If I could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, I would choose to be an educator. I am concerned about what our kids aren’t learning in the current education system. Unless we take specific courses in these areas, we don’t learn how to network, write a résumé, deal with stress, create a magnetic personal brand, manage our finances, and so on. I would love to develop programs for kids and youth to help them be more rounded individuals before they leave school.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Toni Chowdhury: There are so many inspiring leaders we could all learn from, but my personal favorite would be Jim Rohn because he made personal development a lot more mainstream. If he hadn’t done his first speech for his Rotary Club, millions of people wouldn’t have become better versions of themselves and courageous enough to follow their dreams.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Toni Chowdhury 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 Toni Chowdhury or her company, you can do it through her – Facebook
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