Ananya Agarwal© HelloIndia

Ananya Agarwal On Striking The Perfect Work-Life Balance And More

HELLO India Logo
Sonal Nerurkar

There can be no greater thrill than landing an internship at the world’s greatest technology company. Unless you are made an offer by its biggest rival. For Ananya Agarwal nee Kejriwal, then an engineering school graduate with a keen interest in design thinking, deciding between Microsoft and Apple was a tough call. She chose Microsoft because she had given them a soft commitment and didn’t want to renege on her word.

In the end, her decision paid off. At Microsoft, she worked with a great team and learned about product management, skills she used when launching her venture, the nutraceutical gummy brand Nyumi, years later. As for her principles, they continue to guide her, and she attributes them to the long line of strong women in the Kejriwal family.

A Legacy Of Learning

Paying tribute to her grandmother and great-grandmother as “pioneers” in a LinkedIn post, Ananya credits them for giving her the “courage to break barriers”. “I think we all aspire to live in a world where you grow up with no gender differences,” says the Woodstock alumna, who considers herself fortunate to have been raised in a home that valued equality and education.

Coming from an industrial family in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where women at home might have multiple postgraduate degrees but didn’t necessarily pursue careers, she reflects on the family’s commitment to education. “Education is the one constant that equips you for life. It instils a mindset of continuous learning and exposes you to a wealth of knowledge. While the world and our lives go through various cycles, education remains a permanent foundation,” she says.

From a young age, Ananya pursued experiences that would enrich her knowledge, fuelled by her ambition to make a difference as an entrepreneur in India. “While I didn’t know which sector or problem I wanted to tackle initially, my focus was always on making a meaningful impact in India.” Every decision she’s made since has been geared towards honing her entrepreneurial skills and becoming a deep thinker. Choosing to attend Franklin W, Olin College of Engineering, currently ranked second for the best undergraduate engineering degree in the US, was a straightforward decision for her.

“The hands-on learning and preparation to become a future-world engineer resonated with me,” she explains. “I didn’t expect many in India to recognise the Olin brand, but that didn’t bother me.India to recognise the Olin brand, but that didn’t bother me, Olin was a hub of brilliant minds; half of whom could have opted for MIT or Stanford but chose Olin instead. It takes someone unconventional to make such a choice.” At Olin, Ananya found that the true essence of education lies in relationships and interactions with others, a lesson later reinforced at Harvard Business School (HBS).

“Initially, I gravitated towards those with similar viewpoints, but over time, I learned to value and respect differing opinions. HBS taught me the importance of embracing varied perspectives, even when they differed from my own.”

Charting her course, Ananya exudes confidence well beyond her years. However, she acknowledges moments when it wavers. My confidence falters regularly — whether questioning a marketing decision or handling operational issues. As a startup founder, it’s my responsibility to rise to challenges, tackle them head-on, and keep motivating my team,” she says.

Ananya Agarwal©HelloIndia

Building Businesses And Bonds

Ananya’s paternal grandmother Pushpa Rani Gupta earned a double Master’s degree at Banaras Hindu University and enjoyed hobbies like skiing and flying, yet she remained steadfast in her commitment to family and principles.

“That balance is what resonates most with me,” the young entrepreneur says, hoping to emulate her elder’s approach. It guides Ananya as she juggles her aspirations with building a life outside of work with her husband, Naivedya, a scion of the Vedanta group and founder of metals recycling start-up Runaya. The couple tied the knot in 2018.

Although she keeps their meeting story private, she’s happy to recount his thoughtful proposal during a trek in the Rishikesh mountains, near her alma mater. “While we share many similarities, there are also areas where we are extremely For instance, he finds happiness by the beach and near the water, while I’m drawn to the mountains. So, I think for him, it was important to propose in a place he believed would make me happiest,” she tells us.

She was unaware of his plans or the ring hidden in her backpack! A picnic had been planned at the summit, but it began to rain. Before seeking shelter, he proposed, and she accepted. From the start, they’ve shared mutual respect and encouraged open dialogue. “There are times where you have to prioritise work over social commitments, and it’s crucial you not be made to feel guilty about it,” she notes, highlighting the benefit of being married to another founder.

The tech-savvy couple has incorporated their social life into their calendars. “When I first started sending calendar invites, my husband found it strange, but I pointed out how the only thing we both truly respect is our calendar commitments. So, even for dinner with friends, I’d send him a calendar invite. Now, he often asks, ‘Are you sending the invite?’” she shares.

They balance structure with spontaneity by taking short weekend trips when their schedules align. For an ambitious woman like her, marrying into a prominent business family could have led to her professional aspirations taking a backseat. However, it’s heart-warming to see Vedanta Executive Vice-Chairman Navin Agarwal openly supporting his daughter-in-law online. “I feel incredibly fortunate,” she acknowledges. “It’s not just their acceptance of my career path, but their genuine pride even in my small wins. My in-laws are so proud that when they introduce me to people, they always lead with it.”

Ananya Agarwal©HelloIndia

The Sweet Spot Of Wellness

Ananya founded Nyumi in 2021, returning to India after a decade in the US, opting for entrepreneurship over joining her father’s steel business. “For me, genuine validation and accomplishment stems from starting with a seed, building something from scratch, and aligning it with my principles and drive for change,” she says.

The concept of nutraceutical gummies stemmed from her ambition to make essential supplements more enjoyable. While working at Headspace, a Los Angeles-based mental wellness app, before returning to India, Ananya observed people grappling with sleep issues.

Research indicated that supplements could help, but many were hesitant to take them. Recognising a similar aversion to pills and deeper nutritional deficiencies in India, she saw an opportunity to address these challenges. To engage users, the product had to be effective, leading her to delve into the science to develop something superior.

“Then, I wanted to transform the format into something more lifestyle-oriented, so I created a gummy and packaging that felt inviting, something you’d place on your dressing table rather than in the medicine drawer,” she says. Interestingly, Ananya started by tackling her concerns — a lifelong struggle to grow out her hair. “My hair would barely grow past the lower part of my neck due to its thinness,” she shares.

Misdiagnosis in the US strengthened her resolve to create a trustworthy product. “I wanted to develop something that would help me achieve the hair I desired while also ensuring it was safe and healthy,” she explains.

Addressing deficiencies in hair care, sleep support, UTI prevention and essential vitamins, the founder is pleased with the brand’s progress; today, Nyumi boasts of a user base that includes family, friends, and “a few thousand” monthly repeat customers since launch. “Just as fitness has evolved to include enjoyable workouts, I see our gummies as something people look forward to taking. Some customers love our gummies so much they’ve taken it for 24 months straight! The natural fruit flavours give a delicious mouth feel,” she shares.

Path To Success

Ananya’s grandmother always emphasised making the most of time — idle moments were a no-go. In her downtime, Ananya meditates, a practice she began in her early 20s at an ashram in Rishikesh and later honed while working at Headspace. “It brings that focus back, really recharges my mind,” she says. An avid sports enthusiast, her routine varies, from barre one day to outdoor running or swimming next.

On vacations, she enjoys skiing and snowboarding. “I find that if I wake up and spend, say two hours in the morning just on myself, then my whole day is set up much better for success,” she says. Speaking of which, as someone who sets high standards for herself, how does Ananya define success? “I have a very high bar for myself, so it comes down to impact at scale. Am I making a difference that extends beyond just a few people?” While the definition remains consistent, her perspective on achieving it has evolved with time and age.

She reflects, “Previously, I was more focused on timelines and how quickly I could reach my goals. Now, I understand that life is a journey with its highs and lows, requiring patience.” She’s come to appreciate the importance of balance and daily happiness in defining success — making her grandmother proud.

Photos: Ryan Martis; Styling; Anushree Sardesai

This story has been adapted for the website from HELLO! India’s May 2024 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!