Kamala Raghunath: High Risks and High Rewards

A pioneer in women’s entrepreneurship in India, Bangalore business owner Kamala Raghunath believes that one’s only limitation is a hesitation to take big risks. So, she took a big risk.

Thirty-five years ago, she leveraged her personal drive and self-motivation and founded Giftlinks [Giftlinks Online Store (giftlinksstore.com)], a corporate gifting and promotional merchandising company. She was looking for work that would give her the flexibility to balance her career, family and personal passions. Kamala applied for a loan from the State Bank of India and presented her entrepreneurship business plan. The business first served local clients, and today spans the globe.

“This was a time when a woman running her own business was very rare. So as a woman in business, I received a lot of visibility and support from banks and the government,” she notes, “which helped the business grow and gave us the confidence to try out new product ideas and processes.”

Giftlinks is now a team of experts who curate specialized solutions or gifting ideas to meet any client requirement. The company offers more than 2,000 products and benefits from a long-standing and well-established network of product brands and vendors.

Although Kamala’s personal drive and business plan set Giftlinks up to succeed, Giftlinks certification and membership with WEConnect International in 2010 helped propel business forward. Through WEConnect International’s network, Giftlinks partnered with Ernst & Young Bangalore in 2015 to launch EY’s flagship program, Fast Forward, to champion the advancement of women in business. As a result, Giftlinks was able to establish itself as a preferred vendor for corporate merchandise and promotional gifts.

Not surprisingly, though, the COVID-19 pandemic tested decades of entrepreneurial success as the in-person business model became unsustainable. The complete lockdown in India from March to June of 2020 gave the company time to rethink and reinvent.

“It was a time for the team to stick together, be open to new ideas, such as going digital, and be open to new learning to grow,” she explains. “Fundamental changes in consumer behavior, supply chains and the new way of working forced us to reinvent business processes and service offerings to stay afloat.”

Convenience and connectivity regarding logistic support were first priorities. It was time to adapt and devise new processes to deal with a new work environment, which led the company to strengthen operations, packaging and logistics while simultaneously redefining roles within the organization. As traditional product demand decreased, she pivoted to a new product line of technology accessories, safety and hygiene kits, work-from-home setups, and wellness kits for which Giftlinks could ensure fulfillment and delivery to remote locations in a safe and secure manner.

Like many other businesses, Giftlinks had to pivot from conducting business development meetings in person to bringing about 90% of all sales through videoconferencing and digital sales modelling. The company also utilized digital technology to support business continuity plans, transforming Giftlinks from a pure B2B model to a B2B e-commerce operating system. 

A process manual was developed based on an in-depth study of the functionalities of each unit within the organization in order to integrate all units under a large digital map. Although it is a slow and ongoing process, Giftlinks is moving toward being fully digital in its internal work structure. The company has also established a two-way customer support system to directly handle questions, escalations and feedback, as well as new digital media and online marketing tools to build its brand and develop new business. 

Kamala credits Giftlinks’ strong customer base for her company’s commitments to consistency, persistence, promptness, flexibility and transparency. Through these qualities, the team strives to provide service deliveries beyond client expectations and maintain long-standing client relationships. 

As a female entrepreneur, the networking platforms WEConnect International introduced her to provided Kamala with immense opportunities; she has been able to break through corporate hierarchies and meet member buyers she never could have on her own, such as Unilever, Standard Chartered, World Bank, Walmart, Facebook and JP Morgan, for whom Giftlinks has recently become a registered vendor. 

Kamala adds that the network of other women business owners has helped her gain meaningful insights and new perspectives: “Through interactions with other WBEs, we have gained networking opportunities, awareness that we all experience similar challenges and learned how each has their own innovative approach to deal and overcome them with persistence, strong capabilities and a positive frame of mind.”