Noida-resident Ria Rustagi got interested in knowing more about the inner workings of the brain after the demise of her sister, Pankhuri in 2016 due to a rare brain infection. “It was a late diagnosis. For eight to nine months, she [Pankhuri] had a headache and neck pain but no doctor was able to identify what was wrong with her. Within a few days of the diagnosis, she was hospitalised. She was in a coma for five months,” shares the 28-year-old, who completed her masters from the Technical University of Munich, Germany. Until 2016, Riya had no plans to launch a company. However, this distressing event was instrumental in nudging Riya to take a step towards creating a product that can help people understand the brain.
By 2020, Rustagi along with then partner (now husband), Bhavya Madan had established PankhTech—a start-up that works in the space of mental health—and launched their first product Neuphony, a wearable electroencephalogram (EEG) headband that measures brain activity in real time. In this interview, we speak to the co-founder about how she spends her time off from work, her life in Germany and India, and more. Excerpts…
1. You have lived in both Germany and India. Which place are you more fond of?
My personal life was better in Germany but my work has become better and grown here. Away from PankhTech, I prefer Germany. However, what I have done with my business in the past three months, I would not have been able to do that in Germany. My business is growing here, which makes me realise that every decision I took… compromising my personal space was worth it.
2. Aside from work, what are your hobbies?
When I was in Germany, I had time. I was doing a job and also building Neuphony. I was cooking all my meals and managing other chores as well, all by myself. But, life there felt easier than here. Here, I work over 12 hours. While I don’t have to cook my meals, life here somehow feels more hectic since there’s the social aspect. In Germany, I’d be in my personal space and stay content. It is difficult to find time alone here so for me, my hobby is to spend some alone time (laughs). I also like cooking and interior designing because that helps let my creativity flow.
3. What is it like to run a business with your partner?
There are a lot of pros since you know the person. I know where Bhavya lacks and I can automatically take care of it. If it were to be some third person, then I would have had to tiptoe around it and that creates insecurities among co-founders. Here, I have known Bhavya for 11 years. Both of us know where each of us falls short and we help each other with that.
But then, there are negatives as well. We can’t take a day off together. Before my engagement, I had to present a pitch in the same afternoon. We postponed the wedding by a year because we wanted to raise our funding first. It is nice, but you can’t take breaks together. For instance, the last few weeks, I was sick. That is when you expect your partner to be with you. Instead, I had to ensure that he fulfils my roles at work as well and vice versa too.
4. Tell us about a few life lessons that you have learnt while working on PankhTech?
Nobody can love your baby [the product you create] more than you. I now have a team, which is very passionate towards our product but possibly not as much as we [the founders] are because we have compromised a lot to get here. You need to know that and you need to be okay with the fact that no one else other than you will have the same passion towards your product. I have also learnt that you learn the most when you learn on the job.