I had the pleasure of interviewing Debleena Majumdar, a person of many talents. She is an entrepreneur, writer, and singer among other things. Debleena is a contributor to major publications such as Huffington Post, FactorDaily, Data Science Central, and KD Nuggets.
In 2016, Debleena co-founded a storytelling company Kahaniyah.
Hi, Debleena. Thank you for sparing some time to talk to Stannals. You recently co-founded a storytelling company Kahaniyah. What does the concept of storytelling mean to you?
Storytelling, for my co-founder Venkat Subramanian and I, is a way to bring back a powerful way of connecting with people which is applicable across various business and learning scenarios. In between “Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after”, there lies a story. Research says that over 65% of human conversation is centered around stories. And that doesn’t change in business. Stories are memorable, personal, and actionable.
Whether you are teaching History or Math, analyzing data to solve a business problem, coaching a senior leader, building a start-up, rediscovering your own self – you are either finding a story or telling a story and always, living your story. There is a structure to storytelling that can be learnt and there is crafting that comes with practice and passion. That’s what storytelling means to us.
Tell us more about Kahaniyah and your entrepreneurial journey so far.
Unconsciously, we had been using storytelling both in our personal and professional lives. At work, we were using storytelling in our Strategy and in Marketing roles. And, in our personal lives, we were exploring storytelling through music and through writing. Storytelling and Kahaniyah was a way for us to combine our passion with our skills and interest.
Kahaniyah is a new company, and we are currently working with different business groups to contextualize the way they can apply storytelling to improve their outcomes. We are linking storytelling to specific contextual objectives such as building brands, influencing change, understanding data, and making learning more interesting.
We are also developing our own stories which could be through music, words, design, or a combination of the elements.
Do you think entrepreneurs and creatives need to focus more on the art of storytelling? If yes, why should they? Please tell our readers about the benefits and possibilities.
I believe that all entrepreneurs are storytellers. When you are on your entrepreneurship journey, you are trying to tell your story. To your co-founder, to your team, to your customers, and even to your investors. In fact, there are often deeply personal stories that become the reason in the first place for starting the company. And as you build your company, you are, in fact, building a story.
The story cannot be divorced from the numbers. There’s a lot that we as entrepreneurs can learn from the great storytellers. The art of audience understanding, the narrative structure of storytelling, and the craft of it. And if we practice this, it helps us not just to find the key story for ourselves, but also tell it in the most unique way across the right channels. And as the company grows, we need to keep the story real and simple. The company’s culture and strategy get reflected in its stories. And we live that story, every day.
Many of our readers are entrepreneurs like yourself. Could you take us through your daily routine and tell us how you handle work?
Music helps me focus and relax. Mostly, when I am working alone, I either listen to music and sometimes even sing out loud. I am a morning person. So I try to get a lot of the creative work done in the morning and lot of the work that involve follow-ups and process building later in the day. As entrepreneurs, we are always juggling multiple hats. I have realized the power and humility of just asking for help. At worst, people will say no or will give feedback. But I have found unexpected help by just reaching out.
I also read and write compulsively to make sense of the world around me and take frequent breaks to find humor in the everyday here and the now. And while that helps me relax, that also finds its way back into my work as a storyteller. Even the bad jokes and the word puns.
Are there any entrepreneurs that you have always looked up to? If yes, please name a few of your favorites.
Steve Jobs, not for the obvious reasons but because of his ability to tell his story so powerfully. And closer home, Dr. Verghese Kurien for the way he built the Amul story.
I also see writers and musicians as entrepreneurs. In their own way, they create an idea, build it by writing the book or the song, find their audience and then, in many cases, specially today, even market it and sell it. And the best ones, while doing it, manage to inspire us.
So yes, J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Somerset Maugham, Satyajit Ray, Saradindu Bandopadhya, Anita Nair, Kumar Gandharv, Kailash Kher, Sting…. I could go on.
Simon Sinek and Susan Cain are also personalities who inspire me. I see myself as a lifelong intern and my personal inspiration comes from the ones who question, reason, create, and always learn.
What are some of your hobbies or non-work habits that help you achieve work-life balance? I heard you’re a singer as well!
Kahaniyah has given me a way to combine the non-work habits in work as well! Reading, writing, singing, and storytelling have always been my passion. That, and the affinity for packing a pun punch. Music is my first love. I sing even while cooking. I was once told to hush up in a library because I didn’t realize that I was singing aloud.
Could you share a personal experience that shaped you as a person and an entrepreneur?
Growing up, I loved both numbers and words. For the first fifteen years of my career, I indulged my love for numbers, working in roles involving Strategy and Finance. I loved solving problems and loved telling stories. But I didn’t realize it. I thought meeting notes were all I could write and explaining a trend line on a graph is the only story I was allowed to tell. And I kept my weekends for my music and my poetry and my stories.
It was probably the book that my husband gifted me – “Lead with a story” by Paul Smith, that triggered the initial thought. Venkat and I both realized that we were already using storytelling at work. And that we didn’t need to hide our weekend lives as if it was a secret that couldn’t be shared in the board room. It defined us and shaped us. In storytelling parlance, that was our “Finding the story” moment or being true to who we were.
The realization that storytelling was the binding force between solving a problem and telling it creatively became our key motivation. Storytelling doesn’t work in business or in learning without context so we found specific use cases, where our backgrounds could help us bring storytelling back to work. With start-ups, brands, leaders, and in learning modules.
I am sure you face several entrepreneurial challenges from time to time. Could you talk about a few and how you handle them?
As an investor, I met many early stage startups in my last stint with Unitus Seed Fund. I learnt a lot from these discussions.
The initial challenge in starting up is finding people who believe in your story. And that’s the journey we are taking right now. We are finding resonance with a few people and raised eyebrows from a few others. We are learning to accept feedback and sometimes take it with an additional pinch of salt. We are learning to manage our time so that the journey doesn’t become a struggle to reach an unknown destination but becomes a mindful way of living. And through it all, we are learning to manage cashflow while never losing sight of our vision.
What are your long-term goals with Kahaniyah? Is there another venture you are working on?
We want to bring the magic and the power of storytelling to improve business and learning outcomes. We would like to keep crafting more meaningful and impactful stories and find channels and avenues that help us connect with our own audience better. The channel could be a workshop, could be a podcast, a video, a platform, or a 1:1 engagement.
The stories could be told with words, numbers, music, design, language or sometimes, even silence. And we do believe in stirring up a little humor wherever we can. We believe that with increased technology the way we consume stories could evolve but we will remain storytellers and story lovers.
As eminent writer Margaret Atwood said, “You’re never going to kill storytelling because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.”
What is the most important message you would like to leave for your fellow entrepreneurs?
We see entrepreneurs as people who are problem solvers and storytellers. We choose this journey because we want to solve a problem we believe in passionately. And we need to tell that story. We all know it’s not an easy journey. For an early-stage company, we would say, choose your co-founder well, because that’s how you start building your story. And always focus on the solution, the customer, and the employees. In a way, which means, choose the pace at which you want to grow and don’t let funding dictate your foundation or valuation become the only value.