When things bother us, we crib. But, people who don’t crib and get into action are the ones that get things moving. Prerna Mukharya, a bubbly young Delhiite could do that & a lot more. She did her under graduation at Delhi University and pursued Masters in Economics at Boston University and had been a researcher at Harvard and MIT. Given these credentials, we would hardly assume Prerna would venture into field data collection which is laborious and tough. Founder of Outline India, the story of Prerna is full of inspiration and learning.
Outline India’s intent is to make data understandable, non-boring and approachable. The startup focuses on field data collection and an array of accompanying activities. This includes survey tool designing, piloting surveys and interventions, monitoring and evaluation, and impact evaluation surveys. Most of these activities involve and necessitate doing a fair amount of secondary research, and the company provides research assistance as well. Very aptly, the team has been now more involved in producing Infographics, presenting data heavy reports and information in a condensed one pager, visually appealing manner that is comprehensive to people from various backgrounds.
The Story behind the Startup
After her research job at Harvard & MIT, Prerna came back to India to do some more development studies at the Centre for Policy Research. When she spent next to 7 months cleaning data and cribbed about why no one would go out there and do something about it, her PI (Principal Investigator) who’s a renowned Senior Economist with the World Bank) said to her, ‘ Stop complaining, and go ahead and do something about it, if it bothers you so much’. “He taught me a lot about what I know today. He took us on 26 Km walking trips in the heat, from village cluster to cluster, through rivers and hills, food or no food, water or no water. He said to us, that you know nothing about what data means if you stare at your computer screen. It was on these fieldwork trips that I understood the blood, sweat and effort that goes in to collecting each row of data.”, says Prerna.
After toying with the idea of her own data collection startup for a month or two, one fine morning Prerna pulled out her card and brought the domain name ‘Outline India’. That was the humble beginning for an year-old startup now, which has done fair amount of work with education, health and governance sectors. The startup gets a majority of projects through referrals from their previous clients, which clearly is a positive reflection & acceptance of the team’s work.
Challenges & Learnings
Prerna intrinsically believes that data is the foundation of any research and she thought she could do a better job than a lot of other people out there, specially since she’s been a researcher and understands the pitfalls. But, things are hard with no contacts, network or for that matter, a place to start. Everyday, she woke up trying to sell her wide eyed dream of getting data right for the projects that matter and had quite few learnings along the way.
> You can never convince people to give you business. They have to believe in you and your ideas and a pre-condition to that is that you believe in yours.
> As Dr House would say ‘Everybody lies’, ranging from the people who work for you to the people you work for. You have got to stay vigilant to ensure good quality work and you cannot assume it will be done. You cannot assume it will go smooth. You have always got to be ready with a plan should something fail, and things go wrong all the time.
“What we do is not easy, we have issues of weather, transport, communication, safety; it’s a lot of micromanagement and you have to work hard to keep all the pieces together. But this is also what makes it exciting”, says Prerna.
Proud Moments & Growth Hacks
While it is not easy to tread down the path Prerna has taken, it sure got her noticed. We ask her to recollect a proud moment in the journey of Outline India so far, and she says, “Well, when it all began I had no office space, nothing at all. I would go work out of this coffee shop, day after day, and sit there for hours at a stretch. I knew everyone working at the coffee shop on a first name basis and we exchanged courteous hi’s and good byes. Then work started picking up and 7 months later I had my small office space. I was invited by a news channel for a discussion. A few weeks later I was back at the coffee shop and one of the servers walked up to me and said ‘Ma’am we saw you on TV, what you do must be really important’. I was embarrassed and I think it was the first time I realized that people do take notice of your effort.”
While she is out on the fields gathering data that makes sense, Evernote, Dropbox, Google docs and a 3G network keep her in touch with the outside world and help her collaborate tasks effortlessly. “On your low days, weeks, and months, don’t give in, Just have it in you, to get out of bed and go to work; no matter how bad it looks. Getting to do what we love makes us pretty lucky and I acknowledge that! “, signs off Prerna.
TTP’s take on Outline India
The problem of incorrect & incomplete field data is a real one and Outline India has definitely made it’s mark in data collection & research with the projects it has undertaken so far. Bringing modern approach to data through Infographics is an innovative idea and we are sure lot of companies would find it easy to understand data this way. This research startup is definitely worth watching out for.