business success

Shipra Bhutada Driving Business Success through User Insights: In Conversation with a Leading User Research Strategist


How did you come to be an entrepreneur?

I have been in the user-research field for over 18 years. My journey started at the National Institute of Design followed by being a part of established systems such as Microsoft, Honeywell and D-Labs at ISB, among others. 

During a period when the industry anticipated user researchers solely as fixers of poorly designed products, my ambition was to contribute to business success and product strategies harnessing the full potential of research and integrating it into critical, strategic decision-making processes. Fueled by this vision, I embarked on creating a space for myself to experiment and engage in strategic user research. It was during this time that the thought of establishing a dedicated user research agency took shape and in 2019 I stepped into my entrepreneurial journey and launched my specialized User Research firm by the name User Connect Consultancy (UCC). 

We work with business leaders to provide bold, honest and uncompromising insights about their consumers which in turn helps them build meaningful strategies, next-gen products & services and improvised solutions. 

My second startup is called SAGE, it serves as a collaborative space, bringing together innovative minds focused on designing superior products, shaping exceptional businesses, and enriching people’s lives. Our mission at SAGE is to advocate for user research, providing guidance and support to individuals embarking on their journey to learn and leverage the power of user research for the success of their products and businesses.

To kickstart our initiative, SAGE has established a User Research Community at T-Hub, Hyderabad. This community aims to assist startup founders in understanding the value of user research and integrating it into their thought processes to create world-class products. Through this community, we offer valuable insights and resources to foster a deep appreciation for user research and its transformative potential.

How is it different from other companies? 

UCC is a 100% user-research boutique agency that helps decode user behaviour to achieve product and business success. There are only a couple of more such agencies in India where 100% of its business is driven from user research. We have expertise in analyzing human behaviour and bringing to the table the exact interpretation of their expectations after conducting an integrated User Research. This helps businesses explore unidentified markets and opportunities to create new products and offerings for the customers. 

Apart from India, we have also worked in  markets like the USA, UK and the south-east Asian countries. We have a team of notch professionals who are experts in user research, psychology, human behaviour, information design, visual design and learning and development. 

Throw some light on your business and its offerings. 

UCC provides end-to-end user research services for product and business development. Clients approach us at ‘Point Zero’, from where we work together to understand user behaviour and thereby ideate on impactful solutions. Clients with concepts come to us for validation and we help them decode their users more deeply by curating exploratory and innovative research.

If the client already has a product in mind, we evaluate user-friendliness, relevance and usability from the end user’s perspective before the product launch. UCC also helps clients by integrating methods such as usability testing, diary studies, concept evaluation and contextual enquiry and job shadowing. 

How challenging is it for a woman to start/ or associate with any company? /Have you faced any unusual situations doing business in India as a female entrepreneur? 

Being born in a gender-neutral family, I have always seen women as great hustlers. My mother would make bold business decisions and manage the home and kids simultaneously. I have been to co-ed schools/ institutions all my life and it provided me with equal opportunities irrespective of gender. My environment was very liberal and I have never been treated differently because I am a female, at work or at home. 

Today, I am experiencing more women present at strategic meetings, board meetings and decision-making authorities, which is inspiring. I have never faced any situation where I was discriminated against based on gender. There have been a few instances when I was in such a scenario and chose to move away and put my stand stronger by proving my potential. Overall, the scenario in India is changing. 

How do you achieve work-life balance? 

For me, work and life are inseparable. When your passions become your profession, work seamlessly integrates into your everyday life. I have successfully embraced multiple roles and balanced them effectively. Together with my husband, we have fostered a harmonious ecosystem at home where no one person carries the sole responsibility.

On the professional front, I have structured my day to allocate sufficient time for work, employing strong time management and prioritization skills. Trusting others to excel and assembling a team of experts have also been instrumental in streamlining my workday, leaving me with a sense of fulfillment and achievement. As an entrepreneur, I embrace the journey with open arms, tackling each new surprise wholeheartedly.

Did you have a mentor to guide you through your professional journey? 

I have been fortunate to receive support and guidance from numerous well-wishers throughout my journey, even though I don’t have a single dedicated mentor. Coming from a Marwadi family, entrepreneurship is ingrained in our lifestyle and mindset. I am grateful to have incredible friends who have their own ventures and provide valuable insights, helping me assess and realign my path when needed.

However, my greatest source of strength is my partner, who encourages me to make autonomous decisions and embrace risks. Additionally, I have access to a network of industry leaders who offer their expertise to analyze my decisions and visions. This support system has enabled me to achieve my goals and establish a successful company independently.

How are entrepreneurship and working women important for India?

When more women become entrepreneurs, they generate more employment giving a boost to the women workforce. This further adds to India’s financial growth. A report by McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that just by offering equal opportunities to women, India could add US$ 770 billion to its GDP by 2025.

Define a perfect business leader. What are the qualities you think a great leader possesses? 

I have been observant while working with some excellent bosses and leaders and also leaders who I did not admire much. Overall, I agree with the fact that a good leader must know how to maintain a professional balance and inspire the team to become leaders themselves. As an entrepreneur, I wish to create an environment where the team can celebrate their ideas, own up to their mistakes and take up new challenges. Power, balance, grace, empathy and collaboration are the key qualities of leadership.

What is the road map of your organization?

In my role as the Founder and Director of Research at UCC, my primary focus is on expanding the business and enhancing the agency’s visibility. Over the years, we have cultivated a remarkable portfolio of long-standing clients who have witnessed firsthand our expertise and ability to drive positive transformations in their businesses. Our track record speaks for itself, and we aim to establish ourselves as the leading agency for strategic user research in India, while also expanding our strong presence in global markets.

As the founder of SAGE, my objective is to raise awareness about the importance of user research. I am passionate about engaging with startup founders and empowering them with a deep understanding of the value of user research. By equipping them with this knowledge, they can leverage user research as a powerful tool to differentiate themselves in the market and achieve success.

What advice would you give to other businesswomen who want to thrive in a male-dominated industry?

In my experience, effective leaders prioritize excellence in their teams and are committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment, regardless of gender. Women who possess strong professional skills and aspire to achieve their goals can thrive in their respective fields. Sustaining success in a male-dominated industry is attainable when individuals confidently showcase their strengths, potential, and dedication.

Are you a decision-maker & risk-taker? 

As a woman entrepreneur, I absolutely consider myself a decision-maker and risk-taker. Being in a leadership position, I understand the importance of making informed decisions that can drive the success of my business. I embrace calculated risks, knowing that taking bold steps is often necessary for growth and innovation. Confidence, resilience, and a willingness to take calculated risks are qualities that have allowed me to navigate challenges and seize opportunities. I believe in my abilities and am not afraid to make the tough decisions that can lead to transformative outcomes.

One word that describes you the best.

Empathy defines me the best.

If you had one piece of advice for rising entrepreneurs just starting, what would it be? 

To be an entrepreneur, the most crucial thing for me is to have a vision for myself.

Believe in yourself and your vision. Surround yourself with a supportive network. Embrace failures as learning opportunities. Keep learning and stay curious. Dream big and take calculated risks. Trust in yourself and never give up on your dreams.

How would you like people to remember you and your company?

I hope to be remembered for pioneering strategic user research in India, fueled by my unwavering passion for the field and fearless decision-making. As for my company, I aspire for it to become synonymous with bold, honest, and uncompromised user research agency. Our steadfast commitment to delivering candid insights and our dedication to assisting clients in achieving business and product success should be our defining characteristics. Ultimately, the outcomes we provide should empower clients to make strategic decisions and drive impactful product development.

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