Illuminating zentrepreneurs

Soniyaa Punjabi of wellness centre Illuminations World explains how entrepreneurs can benefit from becoming zentrepreneurs.
Punjabi and the Illuminations World team operate out of their JLT office.
By Neil King
Tue 04 Jun 2013 12:07 PM

Business can be hard, especially when you’re an entrepreneur. Working 24/7, managing difficult situations and difficult people, forming business plans, and competing with other hardworking entrepreneurs can all add up to an awful lot of stress.

Which is why it’s important to find balance, to believe in yourself, and summon a lot of courage.

The need to become a ‘zentrepreneur’ is more prevalent now than it has ever been, allowing you to take care of yourself as well as your business through mindfulness, development, authenticity and detachment.

Soniyaa Punjabi of Dubai wellness centre, Illuminations World, explains why creating this balance is so important in today’s fast-paced and challenging business environment.

“Starting your own company is a journey of discovering yourself,” she says.

“A lot of people come out of nine to five jobs where there is security of an income, so the moment you decide to have a start-up, you need to have a lot of belief in yourself. You need to have funds to live comfortably, and you need to trust that what you are doing is right for you, and a lot of people can struggle with the pressure that brings.

“Those who do take that step need to have a lot of courage. Courage to stand up for what you believe in and put your money where your mouth is, and courage to do things the right way.

“Finding balance is so important for this. Many people start their own business and find it’s not as easy as they thought it would be. They’re not able to switch off. In big companies you have different departments which are responsible for different roles, but with your own company you’re responsible for everything. You’re working 24/7. Amidst all the plans and the working you need to find balance, whether it’s a social activity, meditation, or something else, to remove yourself from your work.”

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Having this detachment is essential to maintaining a healthy work/life balance, according to Punjabi, who also asserts that you have to be able to “let go of control” as your company grows, in the same way a parent has to let go of his or her child as they grow older.

“You want it to go out and find the abundance in the world, but you don’t want to let go. When you grow from a small business and have more people working for you, you have to move from ‘me’ to ‘we’. You have to learn to let go.”

Punjabi founded Illuminations World almost six years ago after taking some wellness courses in India which she admits changed her life.

She says: “I thought people needed to know about these things I was learning about and so I thought about how I could spread the word. I started to organise events and they started to grow, so I organised more and more and they became very popular.

“I realised that other people could benefit from it, so I effectively became a freelancer who organised events for other freelancers – healers, doctors, professionals of all types. It was a non-profit thing and it just kept growing, so I put on workshops and then I thought about doing the business properly.

“The intention of Illuminations was to spread awareness of the power of the mind, self and consciousness. We can change anything in our lives if we change ourselves. This can be done through meditation, hypnotherapy, and things like this. I wanted Illuminations to be a platform for professionals to present their work and help others.”

Helping others is another central tenet to how Punjabi believes entrepreneurs can become zentrepreneurs.

“Putting people before profits is very important,” she says. We all have to earn a living, but again it’s about finding the right balance. In this day and age those businesses which are successful are those that are becoming more socially aware. For example McDonald’s is coming up with healthy options because people realise they have an increasing need to take care of themselves.

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“Even if it takes more money, that extra dirham, it’s about giving the right service or the right product. The one that will benefit people. People before profits is definitely the way of the future.”

With four main parts to Illuminations World – daily activities, improvement workshops, training programmes and holistic products retail – Punjabi has built her business around the needs of her customers. And so far it has proved to be a very successful formula.

But the wellness centre was by no means guaranteed to succeed when she decided to open a physical office in Jumeirah Lake Towers.

“In Dubai in 2008 not much was happening for wellness. There was not one centre doing this kind of work back then.

“We spent time building a database of people and after three years we had built up capital of AED300,000. No investors, venture capitalists or anything like that. I put everything I had back into the business and opened this space about two years ago and approached local and international therapists who I wanted to work with me.”

She adds that intuition always played a large part in her decision to move forward with the business, and asserts that intuition is a key thing for all zentrepreneurs to be aware of.

“Following your intuition is a very important thing,” she says. “When you start your business you have a business plan, targets, deadlines and so on. But when you start actually doing your business you also have to go by what you feel is right.

“This is contrary to what people say about not mixing emotions with business. I find it strange when people say that. Of course there are going to be moments of frustration and moments of anger. You have to have the freedom to feel these in business. When people tell me ‘don’t be so emotional’ I say that’s how I started my own business – with emotion! Business is emotional. Learning to detach and let go when you need to is what’s important.”

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While Punjabi is resolute in asserting the need for balance in entrepreneurs’ lives, she is not blind to the importance that risk can play.

“If you want to grow your business you have to take risks,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how much you plan, there’s no guarantee that things will work out so sometimes you have to take a risk. All entrepreneurs who believe in what they are doing have taken a risk somewhere along the line.

“At the end of the day there’s also a lot of luck involved. Lady Luck plays her role. But it’s where preparation meets opportunity. That’s where luck exists.

“There are some things you can control and other things you can’t, such as financial meltdown, but you always have to be confident. Confidence is a huge motivating factor in entrepreneurial work.”

Several visitors to Illuminations World come from the business world, be they employees, bosses or entrepreneurs. And Punjabi says that the centre’s doors are open for anybody and everybody, no matter what they are trying to gain from the experience.

She says: “People ask who Illuminations are for, and I always say that anybody can come. There is no target market. Everybody on this planet is welcome.

“It’s for anybody who is questioning their life purpose, not just for people with an issue of some sort, but those who want to know themselves more. A lot of people who have full lives still aren’t happy because they haven’t found peace inside themselves.

“A lot of time when people come here it’s when they are going through challenges in their life. When the logical mind can’t find answers they have to look beyond logic. Some people come here to understand more – how the mind works, the subconscious mind.”

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One of the centre’s trainers, Dave Walton, spends a lot of time working with clients from the corporate world, and he explains how his own background helps shape what he tries to achieve with them.

“During my career I’d done some quite large scale selling, bidding and other complex multinational stuff, including a US$1.4bn win. But when you get involved with that level of corporate, authenticity falls through the floor.

“People are playing games and just lying if they think they will win, regardless of what happens afterwards. It’s not authentic, and I became very disillusioned with the way things worked.

“We want to change the face of corporate. We need to help people find their authentic selves. In board rooms they are all playing their part. To make progress we have to break that down. That’s part of what I hope to do here.”

Authenticity is at the centre of zentrepreneurialism, and central to how Punjabi runs her business.

She explains that she is still growing the business, with a second franchise opening in India, and further growth planned in the next three to five years, but is resolute on the fact she will not compromise on the soul of Illuminations World.

“I started off with no partners and for the moment it will stay that way. If you have a partner you have to buy into their brand or concept.

“It sounds a little dramatic but it’s so important that you and your partner have a shared vision. I haven’t found that yet, so I will work in collaboration with people but not in partnership.

“I have been approached by a lot of people but haven’t found the right fit yet. Some investors just want to look at the profit, so you will always have to answer to them and that’s not right for me.”

For Punjabi it seems that sticking to her principles and exercising zentrepreneurialism have worked wonders. If there were ever an advert for finding balance in your business, Illuminations World is it.

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