Anyone that has been hit by the entrepreneurship bug will understand the dedication and passion it requires, along with the omnipresent knack of creativity one needs to possess. Using these attributes, professional Model and business owner, Milan Madhav has been able to combine her passion for modelling, love for learning and education and craving for hard work into two successful businesses. Below, Milan takes us on a journey to how she formed her two companies, and gives us insight into her life as a businesswoman…
Full name: Milan Madhav
Current title/company: Founder & Director of Coco Ice and The Learning Avenue
Educational background: Bachelor of Science; Honours in Human Anatomy; Postgraduate Diploma in Business Management
Milan, your career has transcended many industries – from professional modeling, pageant participation, events management and business ownership. Could you tell us about the journey you took to where you are now?
Modelling has always been a hobby and a passion of mine. Throughout high school and university I would model in my spare time. Towards the end of my Honours year, I decided to enter a pageant, Miss Pride of India, where I won Top Ramp Model and got the opportunity to model in India! It was the perfect time to take a gap year, and so I headed off to Dubai and India to model. It was in India that I decided to come back to South Africa and take everything I had learnt from all my travels to date, as well as lessons learnt from the modeling industry abroad – such as endless days and nights of hard work backstage – and open my own modeling agency and fashion events management company, Coco Ice. My first event, which I personally choreographed, was a fashion show at an expo. I remember finding the event very tiring and stressful to coordinate! But since then I have choreographed so many fashion shows and pageants that I find myself loving the “show and event stress” and most of all, the fact that I can apply my creativity to entertain others. After Coco Ice, I guess the entrepreneurship bug had hit me and 5 years later I have opened another business following another passion of mine, learning and education.
You have successfully participated in prestigious pageants such as Miss SA India 2007; Miss Pride Of India 2009, where you won Top Model and Miss India South Africa International 2013 where you won First Princess. Furthermore, in 2010 you were the first South African Indian to go to India and model with top Bollywood celebrities and socialites such as Aishwarya Rai to name a few! Could you share what you believe the role of pageantry plays in our modern day?
I am an introvert and used to be incredibly shy. So I decided to enter pageants to challenge myself, build my confidence, overcome my fear of public speaking and experience another aspect of the modeling and fashion industry. From my personal experience as a contestant and as a pageant choreographer, I do believe that pageants are more than just a platform to promote beauty and talent. Pageantry builds self-confidence, teaches etiquette and skills that can be applied in the professional industry such as interview skills, personal branding and how to get out there and be you!
You have recently started a bespoke e-learning solutions company, The Learning Avenue – Congratulations! Could you give us a glimpse into this new venture and tell us your responsibilities in this role?
Thank you. I used to be an e-learning specialist in an insurance company and during this time I developed a love for adult learning and technology. So with this new found love and excitement about the vast potential available with learning technologies, I started The Learning Avenue. The Learning Avenue provides online learning solutions for business professionals using e-learning and gamification (a new buzzword for using gaming elements in learning) methods. Because the company is relatively new, I currently do everything in the business, from selling products to our clients, to instructional design and content creation to handling the finances and keeping up with industry trends. However, my ultimate role is to create a learning experience which engages and encourages the learner to learn. If I get this task right every day, I’ll know my company is succeeding in fulfilling its mission.
Your passion for modelling, events planning/management and business certainly shows just how multi-faceted you are. How have you managed to balance these various passions and what is your advice for the Millennial woman trying to balance the different sides to her?
When you love what you do, everything falls into place and you somehow make time for it all. I’m quite lucky to be disciplined with managing my time and I have a great family support structure helping me along the way. My advice for managing everything is to make sure you are passionate about your work and the things you do because this passion drives you through the long hours and various responsibilities as a professional, student, mother or wife. Make time in the day for yourself – even if it’s just 5 minutes to clear your mind and focus on the next task at hand. And learn to say No. As women, we feel obliged to please everyone and do everything ourselves – delegate where you can and if you can’t handle the work load, it’s okay to say No.
As the Founder of Coco Ice Model Agency and Events Management, along with being the Founder of The Learning Avenue, could you give us one major tip you have learnt about business acumen and leadership?
Patience. All great things take time and hard work, be patient with yourself, with people you do business with and with your results and rewards. I’ve learnt that you need to keep working hard, keep applying yourself and keep leading in your own beliefs. Success isn’t going to happen overnight, so be patient and don’t give up.
How did you ultimately determine the type of career you were most passionate about? When did the “aha” moment take place?
My “aha” moment happened when I was backstage at a fashion show in Mumbai. My hair and makeup was done and I was ready to go onto stage. Amongst the craziness and stress of backstage activities, models hurrying, designers fussing over garments and last minute touch ups being done, I had never felt so much happiness and calmness within myself. It was during this moment that I knew I wanted to be part of the fashion and modeling industry in some way or another.
The Learning Avenue displays your passion for creating learning experiences and developing people. What legacy do you hope to leave?
There is a beautiful quote by Benjamin Franklin that says “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This is exactly what I hope to do. I would love to develop some sort of gamified technology that allows students to be part of learning experiences that they will remember. It’s these skills and knowledge that we remember and apply that makes a difference. I want people to remember me as the person that made learning fun.
As a business owner, what have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your career and how have you been able to overcome them?
Like any industry, the education and modeling industry is constantly changing and I have to always be one step ahead with trends. The biggest challenge is staying abreast all of the work and change, yet still making sure that with all the change happening around you, you can still work towards your business vision. I learned quickly that it is important to have a mentor. Someone that inspires you and keeps you going. It’s important to read – read books, blogs, magazines and twitter updates. Become social media savvy – it’s a quick and effective way of keeping your business current and in the know. And lastly, embrace the change. Look at change as a way to keep innovating and becoming better.
What is a typical work day like for you?
A typical day begins early with a cup of tea while I make my to-do list. I then spend some time responding to emails and then set out to complete my list. I generally split my day, focusing on The Learning Avenue in the morning and Coco Ice in the afternoon. If there is an event happening soon, more of my time will be spent planning the event, meetings at the venue and coordinating with models and designers. I am very strict about a good work-life balance, so I make time for my yoga and zen-pilates classes and 5 minute breathers in between the day to recuperate and re-energize myself.
What is most fulfilling about your career?
The most fulfilling thing about my career is the fact that my work is my passion and I get to do what I love every day.
Advice for aspiring business owners?
Don’t let your first mistakes stop you. Keep on trying and applying yourself. Look at mistakes as improvements to becoming better at what you do.
Morning or night?
Morning. New opportunities are on your doorstep.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Betty White and I would order a glass of champagne.
I wish I knew how to… sing
African women are… underestimated, beautiful and determined.
South Africa is… a raw, uncut diamond.
Worst money mistake… not investing in the stock market sooner.
Best investment… my Polaroid camera. Memories and moments captured everywhere.
Motivation in 3 words… Anything is possible
All images provided by Milan Madhav