An entrepreneur’s journey is undoubtedly the amalgam of plenty of ups and downs, losing key customers, surviving losses, enduring the market-based scenarios, and many other challenges. Yet, it is the passion, grit, and determination to never give up on the dreams that keep them going ahead of the competition. One such resilient, ardent and, committed leader is Khushboo Sharma Solanki, Founder of Ahmedabad-based inclusive full-service agency – Zero Gravity Communications (ZGC). Today, she outclasses in the field of Communication and Advertising as a full-time entrepreneur, creative business strategist, and engineer who has been taking not just her firm to incredible heights but redefining the industry too.
An Inspirational Journey!
Khushboo’s journey in this industry began way back in 2006 when she spearheaded L&T Infotech’s Corporate Communication and Business Strategy. Post taking-up various stints in Ahmedabad and Mumbai for a few years and working with startups, she realised the gap between the market and the available services in the digital field, especially in a region like Gujarat. In 2013, this realisation led to the birth of the fastest-growing independent regional agency- Zero Gravity Communications (ZGC). “I had interesting experiences that led me to start ZGC,” recounts Khushboo. “One of my employers didn’t pay me for my work upon resignation, followed by that I tried to start my own agency with an investor.”
However, after a couple of months into the business, Khushboo realised she and her new investor had different visions. “When I had almost given up the idea to be an entrepreneur, then a mentor and a couple of my clients encouraged me on starting my own setup by supporting and uplifting me,” shares Khushboo. With zero funding, Khushboo sowed the seeds of ZGC in 2013 with her first client’s fees as the seed to fund the office space, machines, and employees’ salaries. Since then, she never looked back.
Today, Khushboo stands at the forefront of the industry as the mastermind behind one of the fastest-growing, independent, and financially self-sustained regional agencies. From just a team of two, she built an army of 45+ people who have constantly won the hearts of 150+ national and renowned brands such as Hamvor, Arvind, Goyal & Co., Vadilal, Astral and many more. She has also helped several traditional brands create a dominant digital presence and devise multiple campaigns to generate impressions, engagement, and sales.
No wonder ZGC stands-out as a leading Digital First agency and the first and only agency in Gujarat to be a Facebook Marketing Partner. It offers end-to-end services, including Social Media Marketing, Brand Design, Advertising, Digital Marketing, Content Generation, Brand Consultation and more. Thus, everything led to bigger and better things for a happy, growing ZGC, leaving Khushboo grateful for all the past hardships and learnings.
An Ardent Problem Solver
Khushboo identifies herself as an ardent problem solver at ZGC! She explains, “Any team member can walk up to me with any work or personal problem and communicate it with me. I regard them as their servicing person. If they can’t perform a certain task, I help them by teaching and giving more insights into it.” At ZGC, Khushboo keeps finding new ways to train and encourage the team to learn. “I even have my core team who can come to me anytime for suggestions or criticism by putting forward their ideas with logic,” adds Khushboo.
One such initiative is ZERO HOUR, a weekly brainstorming discussion at a studio that allows external subject experts to share their knowledge, have open discussions, and create seamless learning for the entire team. It has been a practice since the inception of ZGC. “I am a mother of two, and the way I parent my girls at home, I extend the same to my team but in a professional setup. My leadership style is very hands-on and personal. I believe unless I help them to grow for their career path overall, they won’t get direction in their current role as well,” pinpoints Khushboo.
A Team that Fought the Unknowns
Leadership was not an easy task in 2020, as the COVID-19 changed the way we lived and conducted business. Khushboo says, “In the wake of the COVID-19, the business we knew changed. It was applicable across the spectrum – from how we got clients, how we discovered new opportunities, how we did sales to how we worked with our team.” Like many others in the business, Khushboo and her team experienced the fear of the unknown. On the other side, the pandemic’s panic made every client stop their advertising. “Cost centres are always first to be hit with cuts in the wake of a crisis, which was our first challenge. The second biggest challenge was our industry, and team members were not used to to ‘work from home’ scenario,” recalls Khushboo.
Since creative outputs are a work of collaboration, bringing out the same level of productivity, creativity, and team involvement were extremely challenging for Khushboo, while the clients had their own concerns to handle. “There wasn’t any hassle, rather it was a hustle. After the initial loss of business, we came back with a strategy to help existing clients realise new digital roadmaps and find new opportunities to pitch,” shares Khushboo. Those were the days for survival. ZGC’s whole team came together by working extra hours. As they worked on the existing clients in the day, they did pitches during the after-work hours.
“Keeping the team motivated, inspired, and addressing their concerns and doubts was one of the things I personally made sure to focus on while working on various business aspects,” says Khushboo. ZGC also hosted mental health sessions, weekly expert learning, and team sessions. While creating new best practices helped the team stay positive and work with limitations, after initial contraction, ZGC expanded as a business and opened up new growth opportunities. The company also underwent a structural change and introduced a vertical line of action. Khushboo explains, “To ensure that our clients get end-to-end services, we segregated departments that had dedicated roles and responsibilities, with a Head of Department leading the team.” ZGC currently has dedicated teams for Content, Social Media, Design Studio, Production, Digital Marketing, Performance Marketing, Influencer & PR Activities, Client Servicing, SEO, and more.
Creating a super team is a constantly evolving process! Khushboo opines, “No one just finds an inspiration. There is a process of learning and discussing the history and approaches while implementing it in each project. We keep throwing challenges by assigning a teammate to work on an out-of-scope client to keep their creativity flowing.” By implementing ideas like Zero Hour, Khushboo aims to create an engaging culture for the employees, where apart from a satisfying salary, great assignments are a reason one wants to work at ZGC.
Balance is the Key
“I am a woman who is trying to build a company, and I also have a family. The balance of two is what I strive to achieve day in and day out,” pinpoints Khushboo. ZGC was only three-years-old when Khushboo gave birth to her second daughter. She recalls, “I went to the delivery room directly from the office, and I rejoined the office immediately after my pregnancy to make sure clients and team is handled well. That was one of such milestones. I didn’t plan these things, but it happened out of being passionate about my work and my family’s support.”
During the pandemic, like many working mothers, Khushboo had to become a kindergarten teacher for her younger one at home amidst many challenges at work. “At times, when I have to deal with difficult situations at work, I ponder upon my skills of being patient with my children and try to reflect that for solutions. While on certain days, my work approaches are an inspiration for handling my kids. Learning from both and following the quote – balance is the key,” smiles Khushboo. For
Khushboo is someone who can draw inspiration from the fact that; ‘if she can do it, we too can try.’ “For a woman to have a career or not should be a personal choice. Once you made a choice, do all in your power to achieve your goals. If you have the right intentions and strive for it, the paths will carve their way towards you,” says Khushboo. However, women in leadership roles in India are still a minority. She opines, “If I look at some 80+ creative firms that I am aware of in Ahmedabad, only a handful have women in lead roles. I assume this extends across various industries, and change in them won’t happen overnight or with a single approach. The perception needs to be changed from family, society, and educational level to entry – a mid-level at professional setups.”
Khushboo’s advice to society is simple – don’t judge women. She explains, “Judgments like she is young, she will get married, and change jobs so do not give her a key role, she is married now will have a kid so don’t give her an important responsibility, or she won’t be able to focus at work because she has a kid now are ruining the career ladder for women.” Khushboo also has a significant question: Why are the coworkers, bosses, subordinates, or family who are making decisions on behalf of women? She believes that if we change this traditional thinking of society, we will see that women’s ratio in leadership positions change immediately. “Without the support system of family, a man can’t be happy at work; the same is the case for women. It’s just the need for a support system that has not been realised equally in our society. Things are changing. Now, we see a new generation of more considerate men and women coming to the workforce,” pinpoints Khushboo.
The Way Forward
After seven years of inception, Khushboo and her team at ZGC are creating its own Digital Analytics Platform. “We are also working towards incorporating Artificial Intelligence and enhancing Performance Marketing for several brands,” shares Khushboo. ZGC has also appointed a vertical line dedicated to understanding human behaviour that can help create campaigns for different brands. On the other hand, creating a strong Production Team and Creative Studio strength has been one of the key focus that Khushboo has been working.
“I wouldn’t say that there is a thumb rule for women in management positions, but I will advise working harder and out of your comfort zones. If anyone faces gender bias at work, make sure to speak up. Professionals are professionals, be it male or female,” concludes Khushboo, who always want to do great work, help clients grow, make a strong #theideapeople team and be the best at what she does.