Planning your day or week ahead is by far the best way to be productive. I use the rule of three. What three things I want to accomplish this day, this week and then this month. I have found that it keeps me focused.
Recognized for her solution-oriented thinking and energetic leadership style, Aparna Pujar has created a dynamic career as an entrepreneur, product visionary, and technologist. With a career spanning over 20 years in business, engineering, and product leadership roles, Aparna has brought world-class products to technology companies focused in areas such as media, healthcare, and retail and in her current role as the CEO and founder of Enfavr.
Embodying the qualities of hard work, honesty, and compassion which were instilled in her from a young age, a major theme in Aparna’s life and career has been connection. Whether it’s connecting the dots of life’s experiences to her career, fostering supportive relationships with employees, or integrating her technical experience to fit consumer behavior, this important facet of Aparna Pujar’s professional career has helped her become an accomplished and insightful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Bangalore University, Aparna Pujar and her family relocated to California from India in 1996. She began her career in email application during the early stages of the Internet, but as emerging technologies developed, she drew upon her passion for learning. In 1997, Aparna earned a Master’s of Science in Engineering Management from California’s Santa Clara University.
In addition to Aparna Pujar’s impressive skill set, she expanded her talents by taking positions at major Fortune 500 tech companies, Yahoo! and eBay.
Securing a role as the Director of Media and Front Doors at Yahoo!, she defined and oversaw the market and product strategies for the company’s Media Properties Portfolio comprised of News, Movies, Sports, and Finance markets. During her time at Yahoo!, Aparna revived the News and Finance properties, delivering over 100% YoY Audience category growth while promoting a “Voices into Choices” methodology.
After taking a sabbatical from eBay to focus on changing career paths, Aparna Pujar solidified her long-term goal to become an entrepreneur, eventually earning a certificate in Stanford Executive Program from Stanford University in 2017. Now, as the founder and CEO of Enfavr, an Internet and social media startup established in 2016, Aparna seeks to nurture compassion between people by providing a platform for communities, from friends to neighbors, to exchange services and funds for everyday needs. Interconnected with Facebook, the app allows a seamless way for users to request, perform, track and return favors (exchange services) for everyday tasks from babysitting to home repairs.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Enfavr came from my own experience as a working mother juggling multiple responsibilities and primarily from my need to have a trusted circle of friends that I could count on to get things done when things went awry. Not having a support system is incredibly hard for working mothers. I observed that while societies and communities had migrated their social activity online, the nature of inter-personal activity had diminished significantly. People used to feel awkward and hesitated to ask for help, which were the neighborly kind of activities that they should be doing for each other. Research shows that when a society flourishes, people feel more accomplished and do things for each other.
In my own case, I had tried out all possible options — like nannies and babysitters — and yet felt that something was missing. I ran a social experiment with four of my closest friends where we traded activities like pick up/drop off kids from school, do airport rides, help with homework, and shop for groceries. It worked great for a while until one of them moved to a different city. I realized that not only had we became an extended family, but we had built a highly reliable trusted network. We were checking tasks off of each other’s lists and were giving each other spare time to do things we loved and wanted to do.
Enfavr is now available both as a web app and mobile app. What has been fascinating about launching Enfavr is the incredible amount of learnings especially related to how social behaviors have changed. We are looking at some important and interesting opportunities and might be going in for a “pivot.” So stay tuned!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start my day at around 5:00 a.m. and get most of my personal work done, exercise, catch up on the news before the rest of the family members wake up. My work starts with attending to emails and phone messages. Then the day unfurls into meeting with my teams, customers, clients, partners, and advisors. I am usually at work until 6 p.m. Once home, it’s dinner and family time. It’s a way for us to catch up on school and family activities. Towards the end of the day, I try to squeeze in a restorative yoga session — even if it’s only for 15 minutes. This is followed by some bedtime reading and catching up on the nightly news. One thing I do diligently is to spend about 15 minutes planning for the next day before going to bed.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Recently, I have been using the principles of Design Thinking. I personally found it to be an effective tool to structure to ideas. Once I or anyone on my team has an idea, I also test it out through informal conversations with a lot of different people to find out if they can relate to the problem or opportunity and actively listen. It is amazing how much you can learn just from listening to people. Paper prototyping is also another good way to refine the ideas.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The combined potential of AI and blockchain.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Planning your day or week ahead is by far the best way to be productive. I use the rule of three. What three things I want to accomplish this day, this week and then this month. I have found that it keeps me focused. There is always way more than three things to be done in a day. But I use the rule of three to focus on critical items I want to accomplish.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Network, network, network and build a great professional network which consists of supportive peers, advisors, industry experts and mentors.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
It is very important to invest in yourself. With the busy lives we lead, it is extremely difficult to do this. I know from my own experience how hard this is. There is always an endless list of things to do, and often we tend to make excuses and avoid doing it. But even if it’s in bite-sized episodes, do an activity that is only about investing in yourself. Read, write, learn a new skill, meditate, prepare a healthy meal or even sleep for that matter!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
One of the characteristics of being an entrepreneur is to have a very high degree of perseverance. The thing I recommend everyone else is “Don’t give up too soon.”
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Networking. Since I quit a corporate job to become an entrepreneur, I realized very quickly that I needed to build a very different kind of network of advisors, mentors, and peers who were entrepreneurs or had been successful entrepreneurs. I used LinkedIn to build my network.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The one miscalculation rather than failure I did as an entrepreneur was to overly leverage my “corporate experience.” My corporate experience did give me an unparalleled knowledge of the industry and working with some of the best people I had a chance to work with. Being in the corporate world, I had gotten comfortable in working with elaborate structures and protracted decision-making processes. During the very early stages of the company where we don’t have the luxury of large teams, I used to deliberate on issues because I felt I had to spend a certain amount of time to come to decisions to make up for the “missing big org,” and just to ensure it was well thought out. I realized very soon that I was not only making this hard on myself, but it was sending wrong signals to the team. In a startup, it was important to make decisions, take chances and move on. Well, that did not mean we had to make poor decisions. It meant we have to make great decisions in a very short amount of time! As a team, we did embrace the philosophy of “fail fast and learn.” So, we decided to support all decisions, right or wrong. And amazingly enough, the team’s collective knowledge about our business and customers grew tremendously.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A great wardrobe management tool with a crawler/shopping assistant that can locate clothes and apparel for you, based on your tastes, needs, size, fit and color preferences. I recently had to redo my business wardrobe and realized, despite all the access to information and e-commerce options (and I do almost 90% of my shopping online), it was so difficult to find the right types of clothes. It typically involves going to multiple different sites or Amazon (which I have resisted so far). Wouldn’t it be nice, if I could create a wish list of things I want to buy, and have a crawler or bot keep an eye out for me on what the trends are, stock availability, brands and better still, have them shipped to my doorstep?
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A fantastic pair of ASIC running shoes. I was just long overdue in replacing my old ones.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Evernote. I use it for everything. From jotting down new ideas, doodling, collecting news, market research and interesting articles, grocery lists, shopping lists, you name it. The notes are searchable so they are easy to find using keywords. The other tool I like to use is mind mapping. At the phase of the company we are in, there are so many new ideas that come up and capturing them is key. A rule I follow is to never throw out an idea no matter how good or bad it is. In fact, I created a separate notebook on Evernote called “Mind Maps” where I make it a point to jot down ideas that come from all stakeholders — my team, customers, advisors, and strangers too. It is also very easy to revisit, if needed at a later point in time.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking” by Jordan Ellenberg. This book taught me to create a simple mental mathematical framework for decision making. What I liked about this book is that it used some very basic mathematical techniques that are so easy to follow and practice, especially when you have to work with teams that are not mathematically oriented. But of course, this does not mean you will never make bad decisions. But the hope is this should help drastically increase the number of good decisions we make.
What is your favorite quote?
“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.