Q&A with Ruchika Lal, Founder & CEO of WINKED!

You climbed the corporate ladder at American Express, realized you were not happy that there is more to life, and then quit your job to focus on mindfulness…Can you tell us more about that process. Why were you not happy? How were you able to quit your job? And, how did you support yourself financially throughout that process?

  I grew up very ambitious and driven. I came to the US in my early 20s to do my MBA from Wharton, which is where I met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Learning meditation from him changed the trajectory of my life. Over the last couple of decades, life had given me everything I had hoped for! The view from the top of the ladder was great, but despite all the success, I felt an inner void. Every time a voice within told me that I needed to do something more aligned with myself, the rational side of me would kick in and say, “it is a good job, it lets me do all the things I want to, it pays well, I like the people I worked with, then why shake things up?” Until there came a time when I could ignore that voice no more.

I have been a meditation teacher with the Art of Living since 2010. Witnessing the transformation that meditation brought in people’s lives was one of the most rewarding things that I had experienced. After quitting my job, I knew I wanted to do something meaningful in this direction. I did not know what that would be and how it would show up. I did a reverse Eat, Pray, Love. Went to Bali, India and Italy and came back with the idea of Winked! 

Leading large teams and also teaching meditation gave me insight into people’s lives and minds. And the more I interacted, the more I realized, people were struggling with adulting. For some it was relationship for others it was job and finances. Others still, were struggling with health, while there were many grappling with loneliness and self-worth. Looking from the outside, these were people that others aspired to be and yet they did not seem completely fulfilled and happy. What could I bring that could change the story of adulting?

What started as an observation grew into a larger mission of bringing joy back into adulting. Startup journeys are never easy.  And I wanted to give myself at least a year to figure out what shape this would take. During that time we dipped into our savings but the experience was bolstered by my husband having a steady job. After much back and forth, many a late nights, and a year on the Winked! app was launched.

What type of work are you doing now?

I am the founder of a start-up called Winked! Our goal is to create a generation of joyful adults. Winked! meets people where they are in life. It is your go-to when adulting gets hard. 

Tell us about Winked! What is it and how will help people?

Winked! is here to help people navigate the day to day stressors of adulting. It is a personalized and humanized journey. The video-based wellness app provides courses to address some of the biggest adulting pain points. It has tailored meditation practices which are just right for you. It also includes live interactive sessions with guides who have been through these adulting challenges. It builds a community that’s rooting for each other so we can get through anything that life throws our way, both professionally and personally.

Winked! app offers a personalized journey for each of our members as we are all different people navigating different stressors in life. Our app also has a human-touch! It is not just a voice recording or an AI interface. You are seeing the person behind it, someone who has been there and done that. You are learning from their stories through live sessions that help address some of the biggest adulting challenges. A lot of times we think ‘I am the only one going through this’. That makes us feel even lonelier. But if we knew that someone had our back we would show up differently. Winked! and its guides has your back. 

How can meditation help adults struggling to find meaning in their work or, alternatively, make the tough decision to switch careers?

Meditation brings perspective and clarity of thought. With a clear mind you make decisions that serve your highest good. Meditation centers you. The same life events will happen, but your response will be different. And more often than not, you will respond versus react. It allows you to tap into your biggest gifts which gives you the courage to make choices that may seem tough. Meditation is like an umbrella on a rainy day or a life jacket in a storm. It’s clarity in a clouded mind; it’s centering in the chaos of life!

What is some general advice you have for people who are unhappy with their work, but not sure how to create additional income in other industries?

If you are unhappy at work, step back and evaluate the triggers, so that you don’t repeat the pattern. Take the learnings with you to the next place so you can start afresh. One of my mentors had once said to me “Walk towards something, rather than away from things.” 

If you are not sure about where to go next, explore different industries; speak to people to understand what their days look like. Let that information guide you. Once you narrow things down, build expertise so you can consult/freelance to test the water. The experience that you gain, will be invaluable whether it works out or not. Just focus on what you love doing and learning and success will follow.

Did you experience in serendipity or synchronicity in your career change? If so, what happened.

Our lives are full of serendipities. When you are chasing a plan, you can miss out on the synchronicities. But if you are open to what life has in store, the invisible force becomes apparent. 

After I quit my job and I was unsure what was next, I went to Bali. The day I landed I checked into my hotel around 1:00 am. In my room, I found this beautifully wrapped package of cookies in the room. The manager of the hotel shared that these were made especially by the chef for the guests. Given that I am vegetarian, I asked him “Does it have eggs?” When he said “yes”, I suggested that they can give it to another guest as I did not want to waste them. 

Next day I was out sightseeing the temples and the mountains. When I got back I found a new basket of goodies sans eggs with a note “The Chef made this specially for you because we know you don’t do eggs.” These are the touches that all of Bali held for me. Each person be it at a restaurant or a spa or even on the road, would go out of their way to care and nurture. They did this not to get a higher customer rating but because they cared. Few weeks into Bali, I knew, I wanted to bring that experience to the West. I wanted to replicate what it means to truly care about another person to NYC where I live and to other cities in the United States. 

My co-founder, Cindy, took a meditation course with me a few years ago. After I came back from Bali, I ran into her. I shared with her that I had quit my job, and that I wanted to bring these ‘oasis of care’ to the US. She was also looking to start her own business. She said “I am here to help you in whichever way I can.” At that time I did not know what Cindy did for a living. As it turned out she had almost 2 decades of experience in real estate bringing similar concepts alive. One thing led to another and the next thing we knew she had shelved her own idea of startup, quit her job and joined me to co-create Winked! 

There have been many such synchronicities over the last year, and it has brought us to where we are today.

Anything else?

The journey of an entrepreneur is not for the faint hearted. One needs to focus on things that drive value and not get caught up in perfection. Getting the right balance between strategy and action is critical. While data and market research is essential it won’t give you every answer. It has to be a combination of analytics and trusting your gut and sometimes all you can do is put one foot in front of the other.

Truly, so many lessons learnt along the way and I am richer for that and despite the ups and downs that comes with the territory I would not trade a day of the last one year for anything else.