Career transitions aren’t easy, because your past experience might not count in your current role. All you have is the transferrable skills you acquired during the early stages of your career and the desire to learn and grow.

Pragya Mishra, our next pathbreaker, works at a Tech Startup that helps companies automate repetitive conversations across the business by implementing Artificial Intelligence-driven chatbots. 

Pragya talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about moving from Fashion Design to a Sales/Business domain at Reebok/Adidas to explore new areas of opportunity and subsequently switching to a tech driven role after doing her MBA, to reinvent herself in a career highly relevant in the future !

For students, never be complacent. Go ahead and explore new areas to test your skills and your ability to adapt to change. That will keep you afloat during challenging times !

Pragya, tell us about Your background?

I grew up in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. I call myself lucky to be from Lucknow, as the city has a diverse, rich culture, including the food, the literature and a beautiful history. I studied PCM in class 12th ( Physics, Chemistry and Maths). I was always a good student in studies and was also interested in a lot of other things. I was a part of my school’s basketball team, athletics team (long jump) and a part of the debating society. I loved reading books ever since I was very young. I still remember some of my favourites were ones by Isaac Asimov, Leon Uris. I also loved art and drawing.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation? 

I come from a family of doctors, but from a family where I was always told, I can do whatever I wanted for a career as long as it was either being a doctor or an engineer. So, I decided I wanted to study Fashion after class 12th. I have been very head-strong since I was a child and if I want something, I make sure I work hard to get it. So I did as my parents wanted and took a year’s break after 12th to prepare for IIT / all the other engineering school exams. I also applied to NIFT (without telling my parents). When the results came I got into a few engineering schools with an average ranking as well as admission to NIFT. I told my parents, that i could either study in an average engineering school or study in the best Fashion College of India. Of course, the choice was easy. 

That’s how I went and did my bachelor’s in Fashion Design at NIFT Mumbai. 

After my graduation, I worked for 6 years as a Menswear Designer in various brands in India like Louis Phillipe, ITC Wills Lifestyle and then I switched to a business role at Reebok India. AFter 5 years at Reebok I wanted to get a deeper understanding of Business which is when I decided to do an MBA at ESCP Business School with 2 semesters, 1 in Italy and one in France.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career? 

I picked the career of a Designer because I enjoyed Art, Music and Culture and a career in Fashion really combines all of that. After 6 years in design I felt like I needed to test my ability to contribute to the revenue of a business. That’s when I moved to a Sales Function at Reebok. Some of the key influences were the books I read, movies I watched, music I listened to, and the people I met.

I always sought out to take my mother’s advice as I still do. I believe she really helps me think my thoughts through and rationalize choices that I want to make.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I have always gone with the flow and always followed my want of doing something. When I finished school and wanted to study Fashion I knew that if I can prove to my parents that I can get admitted into the best College in India they would agree with my decision. So the first step to do something different is to prove that you are capable of it. After my Fashion education, I worked for around 5 years in the same industry but I changed my job 3 times, I think it’s important to always know what else is out there and to apply for jobs and do interviews even if you don’t want to change. I think it keeps one sharp and prepared. 

I interned at an export house in Bombay, which was a requirement when you study at NIFT. Working in the real world while studying gave me a flavour of what work-life expects – discipline and hard-work

My first job was as Sportswear designer at Reliance Trends. It was a very exciting role as I was a part of the team that started the Sports brand within Reliance, “Performax”. I remember working till 9pm, many times even 11pm and working on weekends. To understand the needs of a sportswear customer, I used to go to Cubbon Park in Bangalore at 6am on weekends and interview athletes and runners. There was a lot of learning and I was lucky as my manager was very hard-working and always wanted to do things to perfection. That meant dealing with a lot of rejections of my work, but also meant an opportunity to do better than he expected. 

Next, I moved to Aditya Birla to work for the brand Louis Phillipe where I was working in the Lifestyle Sportswear department. That meant more fashion clothing with a flavour of sports. I got to work a lot with newer materials, lots more colour and denims as well. This is where I expanded my knowledge of the field.

Then, I started at Reebok as the in-house designer for all local design projects. In my interview itself I had indicated to the Brand Head that I was keen to move into business and he said he will give me the chance to do so when he sees a fit. 6 months into the job I started shadowing the girl who was responsible for the kids and Reebok Classic business and helping her with sales reports and product merchandising. Seeing my initiative she gave me more work and a few months later when she moved into another position, I took over her role as the Assistant Manager for the business of Kids and Classic.

After 2 years of being at Reebok I got the opportunity to build a brand repositioning Strategic Business Plan and present it to the Managing Director of Adidas India. I put together all business projection numbers, different scenarios and presented to him 3 options and gave my reasoning as to why we should go with the most disruptive one. He was convinced and we started the project.

To switch industries I applied the same approach of proving myself to my manager, taking on additional responsibilities and gaining the trust of the team. And my third big transition which was the MBA was possible only because I had a desire to do an MBA for 3 years and had saved enough money to pay for it and then did it

I would say a Master’s education is so much more worth it once you have gained some ground experience in the job as it gives a clear picture of strengths and weaknesses and paves the path ahead.

The school I chose, ESCP is one of the “trois parisiennes”, “The three Parisians”, which means it’s a “Grande Ecole” in the french system and a very reputed school with a wide network of Alumni. My school had nothing to do with fashion and neither did my MBA. I was sure after working for many years I wanted to switch my industry and move to F&B or Technology. And I wanted to live in Europe and experience education abroad.

How did you get your first break? 

It was a mix of hardwork + luck. I got an offer to work with Reliance Trends, on the first day of the campus placement and it was my first interview. 

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Challenge 1:  One of the big challenges I faced was that I was designing for the cost-sensitive market, and therefore, we had to be very careful about the materials we used and still ensure the product was of great quality. I ensured I learned from my seniors and took their advice which helped me address the issues.

Challenge 2: To switch from a Fashion Design job to a sales/business profile without an MBA in the middle was also a challenge, I had to first go along with a design profile, do the sales role on a trial basis and prove that I can do it, and then transition into the actual role. 

Challenge 3: Leaving a very good job at Reebok to invest in an MBA abroad was also difficult but after all the work experience I had and the savings I did, I could take that step.

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do

I just finished my MBA in France last month and now I am working at a Tech Startup in Copenhagen, Denmark called BotSupply, helping the founders with Sales and marketing.

We help companies automate repetitive conversations across the business by implementing Artificial Intelligence-driven chatbots. 

The core skills needed for my current job are Sales and marketing skills, ability to communicate our vision to companies and being able to show them that we can solve a problem. I think this specific skill is linked to how well one is able to convince anyone else. 

I wake up at 6:30 and start with 15 minutes of planning. Then I dive into some content creation for Marketing activities. I usually have calls starting 9 am. I try to go for a run at lunchtime and then back with work calls till afternoon. I also build sales presentations and demos, so I try to usually keep that for the second half of the day.

What is it you love about this job? 

I love it because it’s the first startup I am working with. It’s a lot of work, there is no concept of a 9-5 or of a weekend. But I have a lot of responsibilities and it’s thrilling to be able to contribute to a new area of work.

How does your work benefit society? 

I believe the work I do really helps spread the use of technology in various parts of the world. And I think that the future of the society is one which is driven by technology. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

When I just started at Reebok, I got the opportunity to work on a 3 year Strategic Business Plan to present to the Managing Director 

Your advice to students based on your experience? 

I think the biggest advice is to go for what you believe in. Just because no one you know has done something you want to do shouldn’t dissuade you. It’s important to try new things, make mistakes and learn from them to succeed. 

Future Plans? 

As of now, I’m enjoying my stint at the startup, who knows what’s to come next. But for sure this is not the last time I change things around.