“I am going to make the rest of my life the best of my life!” – Anonymous
The woman who imbibed this quote in her life, chasing her dreams and unfolding beautiful and happy experiences for both children and adults through her unique and innovative toy venture ‘friendlytoyz.com’ : Meet Neha Bhatnagar, the dotting mother to two little angels, the vibrant entrepreneur who is amazingly rocking the work-home routine.
Born and brought up in Kolkata, Neha had fond memories of her childhood. Her childhood days were studded with holidaying with family and friends, impromptu travel plans by her father that has inspired her to add slice of adventure in her persona. As the youngest sibling, she was hugely pampered by everyone and till date she has an unfair advantage, but clauses applied. Her mother made sure that Neha did every single extra-curricular activity possible. Her evenings packed with classical singing, Bharatnatyam, western dance, folk dance, art, theatre classes and many more! Earlier at times she used to complain about her long schedule of extra-curricular classes but it helped her to develop deep interest and love for arts. She had lot of gratitude for her mother, who pushed her to do so. Neha’s school days at Modern High School for girls were the most phenomenal years of her life. Friendship is the most beautiful, most powerful and the most valuable treasure in life.
Neha was blessed with the most awesome gang of friends and treasured this wealth. She was a very bright student. Memories that she cherishes till date is how they used to fight over tiffin and finish every single tiffin box way before lunch time! Sometimes she and her friends would reach school at 9am and eat up the tasty tiffins before the 1st period also.
Neha gives all the credit to her incredible teachers who made learning experiences beautiful and enjoyable for them. As Prefect and House Captain, she was involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities and sports. One of the most rewarding experiences from school was exposure to a program called The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme (now called the International Award for Young People). They had to work from Bronze to Gold Levels and had to commit to 1 art, 1 sport, 1 social service and certain number of treks at every level.
This gave her the chance to try out so many new things. She spent lot of time with orphaned kids on holidays and that had a deep impact on what she is today. Those kids taught her that happiness lies within and their fighting spirit gives her strength. Through the program they would have to go for treks to hilly areas, learn how to set up tents and stay in them, carry their own rucksacks, cook their own meals in fire that they have to light with wood collected by them. Their trainers were strict and taught them discipline and how to survive in tough situations. Through the program she was also sent for an international conference to Israel to represent India at the age of 17. Neha owes to her school for her achievements and for also the person she has become today.
Neha pursued commerce from JD Birla Institute with Gold Medal from Jadavpur University in finals. She also did CA alongside and earned a rank too. To become a CA was her father’s dream. The little Neha, when she did not even know what CA stood for; she would hear her father announce to family that his daughter will grow up to be a CA. That’s when she decided that she would be one, whatever that meant! During her college years she also worked as an apprentice at the reputed KPMG Big Four Firm. They recruited only 4 interns from Kolkata and she worked hard with her sincerity. When a challenge comes her way, she reminds herself that if she could tide over those years in college, this challenge counts for nothing. She is fearless and that is her accessory.
Before starting her own venture she worked at ABN AMRO Bank. This was her first job where she became the best Client Experience Manager (East India), Preferred Banking at ABN AMRO Bank. This feisty and gorgeous woman never stopped thereafter. She became CEO of Fact Solutions India, an ERP development conglomerate with offices in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai and parts of Africa, at the age of 27!
She is passionate about everything she does. Either she does with passion or she doesn’t do it at all. Working with kids and working for kids is what drives her and gives her entrepreneurial inspiration. Neha loves to learn from kids and says that they are the most phenomenal tiny beings on the planet. Kids are carefree, loving and forgiving. They never give up. With all her love and passion for kids, she founded Friendly Toyz, which focuses on products and services around kids. Neha would spend all her time working for underprivileged kids and educating the girl child after retirement.
In 2012, when her son was 2 years old then this idea came to her mind. She was constantly struggling to keep him entertained with different kinds of toys and noticed that he would get bored of any toy within 3-4 days. Neha would go crazy making space to store that toy and also look for another appropriate one. This struggle made her think to design a toy service where one could return toys and get another new one. She realised that like her other mothers were in the same boat. The idea of starting a weekly toy library service began from there.
Friendlytoyz.com is an endeavour to bring together the coolest products and services for kids that provide best value for money and saves time for parents. The main idea behind the weekly toy service is that it saves money as one don’t have to keep buying toys all the time, it saves storage space. Anyone can simply make a wishlist on the website as they will send toys at your doorstep every week. This cool venture allows a parent to expose a child to a variety of toys ranging from musical toys, pretend play, puzzles, board games and so much more. Typically when we go to toy store with our child, we end up making an impulsive purchase. The child will always grab what he or she is fascinated with every time and this means you just keep buying irrelevant toys like remote controlled cars all the time. On the contrary, one can make an informed decision about toys by subscribing to friendlytoyz.com. It has a unique approach where one gets to choose toys in accordance to different skills of children. People get to know what skills get developed by playing with which toy. Push pull toys help in developing motor skills; pretend play improves imagination & creativity; puzzles improve problem solving and hand eye co-ordination and so on.Secondly, kids learn to share and to keep toys back in place after play so that the Toyman can take them back and deliver something else! It teaches them a sense of responsibility and structure! It is indeed bringing lot of freshness and colours in the toy and development scenario for children.
Within 2 years of operations in Delhi/NCR, they managed to buy out their biggest competitor to become the largest toy library in India. Bagged the title of Best Toy Library in India in a popular poll conducted by RivoKids and have recently been labelled as Startup of the Year 2015 in the January 2016 issue of Startup 360 Degree Magazine. The first successful franchisee took off in Hyderabad in 2015. Recently started the toy library service in Kolkata too.
The library is an initiative to change the way toys are traditionally consumed. Presently they have started operations in 3 cities and wish to open libraries across India. Some of the unique events friendlytoyz.com has organised are:
•Mother & child music program – This was a beautiful program for introducing children to musical instruments and concepts like beat, pitch, tempo etc. It was a great way for moms to spend time with their kids exploring music together
•Military bootcamp – This is a military training set up for kids one summer and kids got to exercise the military way! Crawling through tunnels and walking on rope bridges, they learnt a lot about team building and helping each other. This was followed by time spent with soldiers at a military camp.
This inspirational woman inspires herself by women who break norms and make a space for themselves. She likes reading the journeys of sportswomen, businesswomen and women that are astronauts, bankers etc. Reading their stories really inspires her and also gives a sense of pride that they are setting the path for change. Neha’s favourite quote is “If people aren’t laughing at your dreams, then they aren’t big enough!” She believes that if we work hard, we can achieve anything we want. There is no space for fear or doubt. Neha loves travelling and travel has taught her to be strong and to take quick decisions and not to have any regret. Travel is an intense mode of learning for Neha. Every travel has given her some takeaway. She draws a lot of creativity from her travels. It’s a great way to take a few steps back from her hectic routine and just look around. She loves beaches on the one hand and mighty mountains on the other. Treks took her several times to the snowy hills of the Himalayas and those experiences are precious.
Her typical day starts at 6.30am when she has to pack the kids off to school. Once they leave, she stores energy by playing a few games of squash or hit the gym. She says that since childhood she was very competitive by nature. Winning a few games early in the morning or beating someone at a gym routine gives her an adrenaline rush that lasts all day. Work comprises of lots of research, supervision, networking and team meetings. This takes up all day. She prefers going back home by 7pm so that she can get a few hours with the kids before they sleep. Neha love being with close family and friends so her evenings are reserved for small get together at home or friends’ homes.
Friendlytoyz.com is here to change the way toys are consumed. In order to achieve this, they are planning to open toy libraries across India. Neha and the entire team is working on an aggressive strategy to open franchisees in 2016-2017. Neha’s favourite advice to the aspiring entrepreneurs and all women is “whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, and all the fears you have overcome. Life is tough, my darling, but so are you!”
The positive part of this lovely phenomenal woman is that she has courage to take risk and weave her better stories.
Story weaved by: Poulomi
Poulomi is a story-teller. She weaves the best of stories under the name “Better Stories”. Kinditude (a board game on kindness and gratitude) is her brainchild. Papercup has collaborated with Better Stories to explore what we can do with kids. She is weaving the stories published in the 2nd chapter of The Phenomenal Woman campaign.