She is fascinating. She also has a riveting laugh. In our one and a half hour conversation, never once did we feel compelled to stop talking. Runjhun Gupta, founder of ZipOut, is a determined individual who is courageous enough to stand up to societal pressures, driven enough to not get bogged down by the heap of obstacles thrown at her, smart enough to know when and where to invest her time and efforts, and talented enough to nurture ZipOut and steer it to where it is today – a prominent brand among corporates and standalone dance academies.
Having graduated from the coveted Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies in Delhi University, Runjhun was all set to follow the beaten path and pursue post-graduation from S.P. Jain, a top B-school situated in Mumbai, when merely a week before she was scheduled to leave for the seaside city, she suffered a severe back injury and was advised bed rest for a few months. Heartbroken, Runjhun deferred her admission and after convalescing at home for a couple of months, she joined a few arbitrary courses of radio jockeying and anchoring, just for fun.
After exploring her fun side, Runjhun felt it was time to go back to business. She joined an international bank and worked hard for long, stressful hours to keep up with the rest of the associates in the competitive environment of a Mnc. It was during this time that she was also teaching salsa to a student on a few days of the week, after office hours. A proficient dancer since childhood, she named her classes ‘Dance Addiction’ and also got visiting cards printed on which she was named the ‘CEO’! Runjhun gradually realized that she actually looked forward to the days when she had to rush home and teach salsa, however tired she was, more than what she spent time on doing five days in the week – working at the office.
After an incident of fainting from exhaustion and stress in the office, she decided to resign from her job, realizing that it wasn’t meant for her. She then tried her hand at trading, working on an import/export business, but dancing was in her blood. She left the business in 6 months and decided to fully commit to dancing, for life.
Attracting students took marketing efforts, and Runjhun did everything from approaching random people in malls, to putting up flyers in unknown societies. She started with 9 students initially. She says she got lucky with her first corporate dance workshop with Cadence happening early on in her dance career, for which she was referred by a friend, and due to its booming success, she did four more workshops and by the end of six months, she had 200 students in her classes! This was the highest point of her dance career.
Then came the lull. Runjhun had enough going for herself but ambitious as she was, she wanted more. She didn’t want to be just a dance teacher. She wanted to be an entrepreneur. She wanted to touch lives. She was also discouraged by the way her students’ parents negotiated for the class’ fees, and generally looked down on her profession. None of this is news to us. We, as a society, does not value art or its teachers, viewing it as a mere pastime. We’d rather crush dreams than dream of letting go of that regular paycheck, which often comes at the cost of soul-sucking, mind-numbing mundanity.
She decided to secure a post graduation degree from IIM Calcutta. After battling this lull followed by a period of depression and bouts of self doubt, she then reinvigorated herself and started ZipOut in 2011. Since her own experience with depression left her feeling so low, she wanted ZipOut to smack that into oblivion in other people’s lives and not just be a dance academy, but actually be synonymous with breaking free and living life to the fullest. Dance is an expression of the soul, one which frees us from ourselves.
Runjhun says that as women, we learn to contain ourselves for fear of being judged, and do not strive to connect with our inner selves, putting others’ needs before ours.
ZipOut aims to connect our mental and spiritual selves while providing us with a positive experience. By 2014, it had grown by leaps and bounds and gained prominence in the corporate sphere, having conducted more than 30 workshops, and had more than 10,000 students under its name. In Delhi, ZipOut also conducted open workshops with Raahgiri, a Times of India initiative, and Runjhun says it was a dream come true for her to see 600 people just dancing and having fun, or ‘Zipping Out’! ZipOut has gone on to win various awards since then, including the best dance institute in Delhi/NCR.
ZipOut is a complete de-stressing solution, and has Pepsi, Markit and Cadence among others as its clients. It also has various programmes like Big Boss, CurveIt, Zipinity, FitFest etc. to cater to different demands of corporates and individuals. It has indeed touched lives, and many of its students have now become full time Zip-Outers, helping others heal through dance.
Runjhun’s journey has been an inspiration. She has a dream to be invited to Stanford business school for a guest lecture.
Runjhun’s advice to women entrepreneurs is: Be Younique. She also has a ten word mantra for which she credits her friend Pranav: If it is to be, it is up to me. She says that women should believe in themselves even in the face of naysayers and forge their own path, taking on challenges and converting them to opportunities.
We at Hersaga wish you the best in everything you do, Runjhun, and hope your journey instills a sense of determination in all that cross your path. I sure was inspired. ☺