Tell us about yourselves
Kavita: I was born in Surat and moved to the United States when I was nine months old. My father is an engineer by training and my mother a teacher. They had intended to remain in the US for only two to three years but they have now lived there for 44 years!
I grew up all over the United States but attended high school in Delaware. After college at Wake Forest University, I joined GE Capital’s Leadership Development program and two years later took an investment banking job on Wall Street. In 1996, I was accepted into Wharton’s full time MBA program, where I met my husband Prashant Mehta. After business school, I joined the digital media industry, working for stalwarts such as Cendant and Yahoo! In 2007, Yahoo! transferred our family to Singapore where my husband ran their Emerging Markets group and where I joined WPP. In 2009 my husband took up an exciting opportunity that brought us to Mumbai.
Kim: I grew up and completed my undergraduate studies in California. I first came to India as an exchange student in college, after which my interest in India never left me. I returned three more times for Ph.D. research. As a Fullbright scholar in 1999 I met my husband in India. We returned to the US to complete our respective post-graduate studies, later married and moved to India in 2007. We have two children and have now made Mumbai our home.
Tell us about The Red Pen
When we met in Mumbai in 2009, we were each informally helping friends and family with their study abroad concerns and application-related questions. We realised there were large knowledge gaps about the US admissions process and a real need for strategic guidance on application components.
So we set up The Red Pen in August 2011. At first we worked from cafes and on occasion used our guest bedrooms for meetings! As we added services and staff, it became critical to have a dedicated office space with the necessary infrastructure. After two years, we took a shared office; six months later we leased our own space; thirteen months later we rented a space three times as large.
Today, The Red Pen has about 25 people across four countries. We help applicants who aspire to study abroad, their families as well as high school counsellors and faculty that play a role in the international admissions process. The company specialises in providing advice to undergraduate, postgraduate and MBA candidates. The majority of our client base is people of Indian origin who want to study in the US, UK or Canada.
Why did you set up the company?
Kavita: I was motivated by the challenge and the opportunity to develop different skill sets. I wanted to work in a venture that would have HIGH impact and the potential to change the lives of many people. It is extremely gratifying to serve as a mentor who can change the trajectory of someone’s life in a positive way.
Kim: I felt there was a need in the market for good information about colleges abroad. My entrepreneurial journey grew organically from this need.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?
Our biggest professional challenge is helping families understand there are thousands of good universities and that ‘brand names’ are not as important as fit when selecting an institution that is right for you.
Also, as we grow, we want to continue to attract and retain talent that supports our goal of providing clients with a customised approach and deliver services that are of high quality.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
There are many achievements (big and small) that we celebrate. Two things that we are particularly happy about are:
1) Our book, ‘Acing Admissions: The Indian Student’s Comprehensive Guide to US Applications’, was published by HarperCollins in August 2015. We can’t obviously help every applicant so the book is our way of sharing our knowledge of the US undergraduate admissions process with a wider audience and empowering them to make informed choices.
2) Mentoring and working with a talented young man with few resources, financial or otherwise, to realise his dream of studying in the US. He is currently in his first year at MIT in Boston on a 90% scholarship.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Kavita: My three children continue to be my biggest inspiration. They are inquisitive, energetic and enthusiastic about everything they try. I’m always reminded of all the possibilities and positivity in the world when I am with them.
Kim: I have two young daughters. I think it is important for them to see women work outside the home. I am also inspired by the students we work with – the ones who are hard working and deserving make me really happy about what I am doing to set them along a transformative path in life.
How do you balance your work life and home life?
Kavita: I have learned to organise my life in a logical fashion. I am fortunate that my office is walking distance from my home.
My husband is an amazing source of strength and support. He is as involved in my kids’ activities and lives as I am. We have a true partnership when it comes to living our professional and family lives. For example, he is in charge of setting menus and overseeing all the grocery shopping. I know I can lean on his family when I need help.
Managing your priorities is very important. My children are a priority. It’s also important that my husband and I spend time with our family and friends. Living, working and raising a family in Mumbai means there are a myriad of tasks that need to be managed. Having good household staff helps tremendously.
Kim: I ignore a lot of the small stuff and I am not a perfectionist.
What advice do you have for women starting out on their own?
Kavita: Do what you love and you will find success and satisfaction. Do not be afraid to ask for or pay for help. Don’t over apologize for anything.
Kim: At first you might want to stop when things are frustrating or discouraging, but keep at it. It is really rewarding to have something to call your own. Also try and build a team of smart, funny and accomplished people like yourself. There is no point in working with people you don’t like.
Can you recommend any organisations or networking groups that have particularly helped you on your journey?
Kavita: I leverage alumni networks extensively: Wharton, Yahoo!, Wake Forest. I also use LinkedIn for research and to evaluate potential clients and Facebook to keep on the pulse of what parents and students are thinking as they consider higher education. Finally, I am a member of professional organizations such as the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, International Association for Admissions Counseling and Independent Educational Consultants Association. Maintaining professional relationships is critical to staying informed about trends and in connecting with colleagues and experts around the world.
Kim: Joining global professional organisations has been a lifesaver and has helped me professionalize what we do in a meaningful way.
If you could ask for one thing to help propel your business what would it be?
Improved infrastructure so that we can continue to focus on providing clients with quality services and pursue valuable marketing opportunities and partnerships. Dealing with infrastructure issues, whether traffic congestion, telephone lines, Internet connectivity, transportation, healthcare access, banking regulations, etc., consumes a tremendous amount of our time. That time can be better used to enhance productivity or even pursue the things you enjoy!
What does the future hold for you?
We are focused on delivering a high quality product and service. By doing that consistently, we are confident of future growth across many realms.
About Kavita Mehta, CEO & Co-Founder
As an enthusiastic mentor, Kavita has advised students and parents in the US, Singapore and India on MBA and undergraduate admissions for over 11 years. Kavita has worked in financial services with PaineWebber (acquired by UBS) on Wall Street, Yahoo! in Silicon Valley and GroupM (a division of WPP) in Singapore. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Wharton Alumni Association of India. Kavita has previously lived in Singapore, Silicon Valley, New York, London, Philadelphia and Chicago. She currently resides in Mumbai with her husband and three daughters. Kavita holds an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a BS in Business from Wake Forest University.
About Kimberly Wright Dixit, President & Co-Founder
Kim has over seven years experience as an independent education consultant for undergraduate and MBA applicants. Through her regular Hindustan Times newspaper column, Kim offers study abroad advice to readers across India. In the past, she has taught undergraduate anthropology and writing courses at Duke University and taught at Stanford University as a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the humanities. In Mumbai, she has conducted courses in anthropology at St. Xavier’s College and writing workshops at the American Center. Kim completed her doctorate in Anthropology from Duke University and bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Originally from California’s Central Valley, Kim has also lived in San Francisco, New York and now calls Mumbai home.