For anyone working in an industry that isn't their true passion, inspiration can be found in our talk with Divya Gugnani, entrepreneur, TV personality, author, and founder & CEO of culinary media brand Behind the Burner as well as Send the Trend. Having created a successful career in the world of investment banking (a career with which many professionals in that industry would have been perfectly content), Divya never forgot her love for the culinary arts and finally left the finance world behind to pursue her true passion.
Now, she's doing what she loves, and doing it well. She and her company have been featured on MSNBC, American Express OPEN, CBS News, The Huffington Post, and Tech Crunch, just to name a few. She's a shining example of what an entrepreneur can accomplish when they're doing what they love. Enjoy the interview, and share your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page!
You are the CEO of Behind the Burner, CEO of Send the Trend, and the author of the book, Sexy Women Eat: Secrets to Eating What You Want and Still Looking Fabulous. You're also on the board of New York Entrepreneur Week and appear regularly in all forms of media. How do you balance it all?
Sleep is an indulgence! I also have a great team. At the end of the day, every successful endeavor comes down to people, and I surround myself with smart people. When you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.
You refer to Behind the Burner as a "culinary media brand." For our readers who aren't familiar with Behind the Burner, can you give us a quick overview?
Behind the Burner is a culinary media brand that focuses on tips, tricks and techniques for food, wine, mixology and nutrition. We create videos that can be seen on NBC NONSTOP network across the US as well as recipes, blogs, and interviews with chefs, sommeliers, nutritionists, and winemakers that can be viewed on the site.
Prior to getting into the culinary world, you worked with Goldman Sachs, Investcorp International, and FirstMark Capital. The world of finance and investments and that of gourmet chefs and fine wine seem very far removed from each other. How and why did you make the transition?
My passion for food goes all the way back to my childhood. Meals were a big deal in my household and I always loved to cook. My career in finance was rooted in strong analytical training, while cooking was always a nice creative release for me after a long day on the job. After working in finance for a couple of years, I decided to go to culinary school to combine my two talents. I advised other people on how to start their own businesses for ten years; it was a natural progression after culinary school to start my own.
What has been the biggest business challenge you've had to face, and how did you overcome it?
As a child I was always trained to do things on a schedule and in an order; I was the same way about my study schedule when I was in college, but you learn very quickly as an entrepreneur that there is no straight line or direct path. Every day is a challenge and the biggest challenge you have to overcome is learning how to be flexible.
There is an ongoing debate about the importance of a college education for those pursuing entrepreneurship. As someone with very impressive university credentials, what do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of formal education for entrepreneurs?
I think that education never hurts, it only helps. For me, education was the right path because in addition to learning from professors and textbooks, I learned from my peers. Particularly, when I got my MBA, I met a ton of people who were incredibly helpful on my journey as an entrepreneur. I think that the best way to start a business is to actually start a business. Experience is the best teacher of all; formal education just helps on top of that.
What three pieces of advice do you have for young entrepreneurs interested in starting their first business?
1. Focus on innovation. There is nothing better than a business that is disruptive and changes the current landscape.
2. Ask questions. When people start a business, they have a certain sense of pride because they are trying something new, but the truth is you are constantly going to encounter situations where you don't know what to do. The best thing is to ask friends, family, and anyone else to give you guidance along the way. I'm not saying you have to follow their advice, but you can certainly ask their perspective.
3. Hire slowly, fire quickly. I run a lean team and I feel that being lean allows people to perform to their maximum potential. Everyone is wearing at least a few hats. Hire when there is a dire need to fill that position, but when it comes to firing, trust your gut. If something is not working out, don't rationalize it; just cut the cord and move on.
How do you personally define success?
Success is loving what you do. If you are able to wake up every morning and get excited about the day ahead of you, then that is true success.