‘My messages are authentic. I don’t pretend that my life is wonderful’

The Indian press calls her an Instagram sensation. When illustrator Alicia describes herself, she chooses other words: “I am a passionate and no-nonsense illustrator.”

Alicia - illustrator and entrepreneur

Her tip for women entrepreneurs

‘At the beginning of my career as an illustrator, I received some priceless advice. “Someone said to me, ‘Doing things right now and not perfectly, is better than putting it off while striving for perfection’.’

When illustrator Alicia Souza from Bangalore posts a message on Instagram, she gets 16,000 likes within a day. She has 216,000 Instagram followers and 4277 posts and counting. The Indian press calls her an Instagram sensation. When Alicia describes herself, she chooses other words: “I am a passionate and no-nonsense illustrator.”

‘People often think that I’m drawing all day’

For Alicia a typical day looks like this: she gets up at quarter past five, walks her dog Charlie and sits down at her desk, where she checks her e-mails. The rest of the day she follows a schedule she prepared the day before. “I often do a mix of different things: getting started on assignments, doing my research and administration, and drawing. People often think that I’m drawing all day. Sadly that’s not the case. I draw only 30 to 40 percent of my time.”

‘My posts give me a good feeling, make me happy, and I hope others too’

Back to her social media success. How did she manage that? What’s her recipe? Her answer is simple: “I plan my messages and post one every day, always at the same time. And my messages are authentic. I don’t stage anything. I don’t pretend that my life is wonderful. I post about the nice things in my daily life. And now and then also about the things I struggle with. That way everyone can relate to my message. My posts give me a good feeling, make me happy, and I hope others too.”

Posting one illustration every day, doesn’t that result in feeling some pressure? “No, for me it’s not pressure. I think it only feels that way if you try to create a world that is not true to who you are. I’m just trying to capture my happiness with little daily things in pictures. That’s it. Easy peasy.”

Funny daily events

If you follow Alicia on Instagram you’ll have seen that there are some recurring characters. Like the cartoon character she’s made of her self, hair tied back in a casual ponytail with a pink hair tie, often holding a cup of coffee. There’s also her muse, the former street dog Charlie. She draws funny, daily events that many women can relate to. Her struggles with the housekeeping, for example, and her good intentions to really, truly, go to the gym that day.

Alicia started working in 2009, as an illustrator for the well-known Indian lifestyle brand Chumbak, where she designed their logo and all their merchandise. Three years later she started her own company, HappiMess Studio. When she met her business partner Saurabh Sharma in 2015, HappiMess Studio was renamed Alicia Souza Studio. And now her company has merged with her partner’s company, under the name Happy Wagon.

“I work from home as a freelancer for clients such as Google, Yahoo, The Times of India and Penguin publishing house. And I also work for my own brand, Alicia Souza. My partner runs our company Happy Wagon: he takes care of daily operations and the entire business side. In total around twenty people are working for us.”

Playful, cartoonish and cute

“In our online shop Happy Wagon you will find stamps, postcards, ‘I love yoga’ magnets, interactive books and phone cases. And also, and not surprising for someone who likes to work to a tight schedule, weekly planners in all shapes and sizes.” All of these products feature illustrations in her own authentic Alicia Souza style: playful, cartoonish and cute.

Alicia grew up in the Middle East, in the oil state Abu Dhabi, the youngest of three children. “When people ask me about my source of inspiration, I always tell them about my father. As a girl I watched him go to work reluctantly every morning and come home tired in the evening. He always longed for the weekend. I remember well thinking: I don’t want it to be that way later; when I go to work, I’m going to do it differently.” Alicia often visited stationery and gift shops in Abu Dhabi. “I’ve always retained that love for stationery and gifts.”

‘No matter how people differ from each other, they still have a lot in common’

After high school, Alicia studied Communication Design in Melbourne, where she also lived for five years. “Living in different countries has made me independent and also increased my understanding of people. I have seen how different people are, but also that no matter how people differ from each other, they still have a lot in common. How everyone strives for happiness, but also how that word ‘happiness’ means something different to everyone.”

In 2009 she moved to India to work for the lifestyle brand Chumbak. At the beginning of her career as an illustrator, she received some priceless advice. “Someone said to me, ‘Doing things right now and not perfectly, is better than putting it off while striving for perfection’. In the beginning I found it difficult to follow this advice in my work. But I managed and it’s been really valuable.”

‘What influence will this decision have on my life as a whole?’

“As an entrepreneur, I discovered that I had more self-knowledge than I thought. This is useful when I have to make decisions for my company that affect my daily life. When making personal and business decisions I always think: what influence will this decision have on my life as a whole? So I look beyond the separate elements. What influence do they have on my entire life – not on only one part.”

‘Sometimes I feel like a jack of all trades’

In addition to her work as an illustrator, Alicia also gives Ted talks, lectures and guest lectures at universities. “Sometimes I feel like a jack of all trades. But that keeps my brain healthy and happy.” And she adds, laughing: “But, of course it’s also sometimes challenging for my brain.”

When she shuts down her computer at the end of her workday, she turns on some music. “Preferably country music or the music you hear in lifts.” And then she goes into the kitchen for dinner. “Besides drawing, there is nothing more relaxing for me than cooking.” Yes, that’s how no-nonsense a success story can be.