Going Against the Flow: Kajal Desai, Cofounder of Doonya

Kajal Desai launched Doonya in 2005 in Washington D.C. with cofounder Priya Pandya, and they have since grown to Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Chicago and India among other places. Kajal is the mastermind behind Doonya's Bollywood dance workout curriculum and fitness formula. Kajal is certified by the American Council of Exercise, and has a lifetime's worth of training in South Asian pop and classical dance forms, as well as years of training in hip-hop and jazz. Kajal has a Master's Degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.

Kajal Desai (Photo credit: Johnny Shryock)

Q: What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and what underlying characteristics have you seen in successful entrepreneurs?

KD: Entrepreneurship is follow-through. Everyone has ideas -- it's human nature to have thoughts and ideas, but the follow-through is where most people get stuck. It could be for any reason -- fear of failure or risk, doubt in oneself to make it work, etc. But an entrepreneur thinks about the possibilities and pushes the ideas into reality.

Q: What are you most proud of in your professional career? If you could do something over in your life, what would it be?

KD: Every new accomplishment becomes what I'm most proud of, which I guess is a reflection of constant growth. Currently, I'm most proud of bringing our vision of opening a studio built around Doonya's programming, philosophy and experience. To my business partner, Priya Pandya and I, it's not JUST a studio. It's a home, a place for people to soar, to come together and find their joy and their strengths. If I could do anything over it would only be to skip the doubt phase of any decisions... I'm working on that moving forward :) We'll see how that goes!

Q: Tell us about an instance where you had to go against the flow to realize your goal.

KD: It's funny but going against the flow, though common in most entrepreneurs, doesn't come naturally to me. Just the other day Priya said to me, "I don't know why you don't just accept that you're NOT 'cookie-cutter'. Looking back on your life, you've never been cookie-cutter." We laughed about it because there is some part of me that tries to be what everyone else is, tries to always color within the lines and stifle my rebellious side. Maybe it's a cultural thing, who knows, but I feel the need to follow the rules. It's just that it never quite works out that way. At some point, I give in. The fact that I'm even doing what I do today is the biggest example of going against the flow. When I was in college deciding my next step, in grad school working on my thesis, and consulting at Booz Allen Hamilton afterwards, I always had this nagging feeling that I was supposed to be doing something else... that this day-to-day routine was not for me. And finally it took an opportunity for promotion within my consulting job to scare me into realizing that I just couldn't follow that path anymore. Without thinking about it, I blurted out to my manager that I was quitting my job -- I hadn't planned that at all. And so the times of going against the flow began. It's still something that's hard for me and I'm learning to accept is actually something I need to embrace!

Q: What is it like to develop your business with a cofounder?

KD: Priya and I get asked all of the time how we've been able to work together as business partners for so long (since 2005!). Acceptance, trust, honesty (with each other and yourself), and open communication are all equally important factors at maintaining a strong partnership. We accept each others' ways of doing things, trusting in one another once responsibilities are divided. Entrepreneurs can tend to have control issues as most are perfectionists and see their vision unfolding in a specific way. But if you're going into with someone you are accepting that your visions, though at times different, are equal. Trust one another and accept each others' ways. Being honest with each other is definitely important though at times uncomfortable. But what can be even harder is being honest with ourselves -- admitting our strengths and weaknesses and letting the other know theirs. We realize we can't each do everything so we have to be honest with ourselves about who is better at what tasks. Sometimes it's hard to admit but again, you're in it together. Finally -- communicate. Just as with any personal relationship, professional ones require communication as well. Never assume that your thoughts or feelings towards an idea have come across without your specifically saying so. While Priya and I have gotten good at picking up on one another's nuances, we've had a couple of misunderstandings here and there that have reminded us to just openly state what is on our minds. When you think about it, being co-owners of a business is like raising a kid together. We have to be on the same page even when we might disagree. Someone will always have to give in to come to a mutual agreement--it's what is best for our baby.

Q: LinkedIn style -- If you were to give advice to your 22 old self, what would it be?

KD: Don't be scared and don't sell yourself too short. Define success in your own terms because it doesn't have to look like anyone else's. If you are happy and making those around you happy, you have succeeded. Just take the leaps you imagine taking in your head.

Follow Kajal Desai on Twitter at @KajalDancer, and check out the other interviews in Going Against the Flow series at or