Humans of leap — Ahana Gautam

Ahana Gautam is the founder of Open Secret.

“My brother & I were raised by a single mother in Bharatpur. It’s a small city in Rajasthan — the state with the lowest female literacy rate in India. Families were very okay with mediocre education for their daughters. But in my mom’s eyes, my brother & I were always equal.

While I was preparing for the IIT exam, my mom’s friend came over. “Why are you encouraging her?” she asked my mom. “Your dream has already come true — your son is at IIT. How will you find a groom for her?” My mom never allowed such words to apply to me. She encouraged me to chase my dreams. But hers was a lone voice. Most girls did not hear the same thing.

I attended IIT Bombay & later went to Harvard Business School for my MBA. To be honest, until then, I was very externally driven — getting brands on my CV, you know, IIT, Procter & Gamble, Harvard. But my time at Harvard changed me. It taught me to see the privileges I have & that a seat at Harvard comes with a responsibility: to make a positive difference in the world. I found my purpose & I became fearless.

I returned to India because I saw opportunities to make a difference. People said: “Oh, you couldn’t get a visa?” or “She’s probably getting married.” It’s hard for them to understand that a single woman would move continents because of professional reasons. There was a time when such things would affect me, but now I have thick skin. I’ve become so secure as a woman & so secure about what I want in life.

To register a company, you need to list 2 people as directors. And so I did — me & my mom. She’s always been my shield, the strongest woman I’ve ever known.

But in March this year, I lost her. She was in hospital & because of Covid, I couldn’t see her. I couldn’t even say goodbye. Yet, I was the one who cremated her. That’s how my mother empowered me — that even then I would take up my rightful & equal role in the world.

After that, I had 2 choices: take a break to process the grief or use the pain as fuel to create a tribute to my mother. I chose the latter. The very next day I was back at work. Open Secret closed its series A funding in July.”

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