Successful entrepreneurs are a celebrated lot. In gatherings, they are revered; in media, they’re quoted and in schools and colleges, they are looked up to. But how many of them did we know when they started out?
Between the point of starting up and becoming successful, there is a long and winding road that an entrepreneur has to take. The initial journey is extremely lonely; it is only after success that people begin to take note of what they’ve done by braving this treacherous path to glory.
Shradha Sharma, founder of YourStory.in recognized this. She was at the top rung of CNBC and even to this day, holds the unique distinction of being the youngest AVP in the company. Her job involved speaking with a lot of entrepreneurs and she noticed a common thread connecting all of them – they all had a story to tell but nobody was willing to take their story to the world. Shradha knew in her heart that these stories deserved to be told.
And so, five years ago, she quit her plush, high paying job, to startup on her own, as a storyteller. A storyteller who would share the deep dark days of entrepreneurs, to their first glimmer of hope and their journey thereon to success. It was about the entrepreneur’s story and hence, it was aptly named, YourStory.
Five years on, YourStory.in is a household name in the entrepreneur community and has earned the goodwill and the reputation as the go-to portal for everything a startup would ever need. Through its events and engagements, it has provided great value for its attendees and those who’ve been associated with it, year after year.
But behind this achievement, lies the tenacity and hard work of a woman from what was perhaps India’s most politically repressed and negatively perceived states – Bihar. How did this small town girl go on to become one of the best-known names among the Indian entrepreneur community?
Let’s flash back a few years, shall we?
Early days – A high performer
Shradha grew up in Bihar, when the state was possibly at its lowest point – socially, politically and economically. She shared that even going to school for a girl child back then in Bihar was a big deal. Cognizant of this lack of privileges that so many of us take for granted, Shradha’s hunger for achievement grew and she chose to perform to her best ability. It is probably from this drive of wanting to outperform every task that she got down to do, that her entrepreneurial nature was born. Her strong push got her admission in one India’s most prestigious colleges – St Stephen’s in Delhi. Here too, Shradha would be the kind of girl who’d keep herself busy through volunteering to do as many things as she could.
Shradha did her MBA from MICA and after a brief stint with Times of India, she joined CNBC, where she would spend a good few years, being introduced to the world of entrepreneurs. She says, “At CNBC, I was a workaholic, but only because I enjoyed what I was doing. A lot of my job involved traveling to various parts of India and speaking with entrepreneurs from all walks of life. I was surprised to know that not many people actually listen to the entrepreneur’s story of what it took them to startup and the struggles they overcame.”
It was after one such trip that Shradha decided to check and see if there was a place, digital or print, that documented these touching stories of entrepreneurs. To her surprise, there was none. And being the entrepreneur at heart that she always was, Shradha found her unmet need, combined it with her passion and so, YourStory.in was born.
“If you’re building something disruptive, you WILL be challenged”
Shradha shares that YourStory.in was received very well by entrepreneurs from day one – “I think it meant a lot to the guys whom we’re writing about. They felt empowered that they weren’t alone and all of them said that nobody else wrote about them in the same way.”
But when it came to the challenges that Shradha faced in her early days, it looked like Shradha knew what she was signing herself up to. She says, “Everyone who starts up will face challenges, especially if you’re building something disruptive. I think the biggest challenge that I faced was how the same people treated me differently after I left CNBC. The name matters a lot. Also, a lot of the big names in the industry didn’t really acknowledge what I was trying to do. But that just motivated me even more as I knew I had a point to prove; it drove me to be successful with this effort.”
Shradha didn’t feel that her being a woman posed challenges – “In fact it helped me,” she says, “In the world where men are the ones trying to make it big, a woman trying to do the same helped me stand out from the crowd.”
But Shradha’s most testing times came with the passing away of her mother. She says, “At the time I really couldn’t look at the site and keep the stories rolling. It was really emotionally draining for me. There have been a lot of personal challenges along the way and as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to live with that. You will be tested and a lot of people give up in this period. The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who don’t give up. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing.” A ‘good’ team
YourStory.in is an over 20 member team which oversees operations in the editorial, events and engagements departments. Shradha’s hiring philosophy, is well… philosophical. Candidates applying to YourStory don’t go through rigorous technical assessments or aptitude tests. They are judged on their character, their convictions, and their spirit. To many, this may seem too emotional approach. However, going by the meteoric growth the YourStory.in has seen in the recent past, there might be some merit to it.
Shradha says, “I’m a huge advocate of hiring strong, good people. That’s my dream team – a team of individuals who believe in goodness and change. This is my belief and I have always looked for hiring people who share that belief with me. Of course, this was an idea that was ridiculed in the start, but I think a lot of people out there are seeing the merit in this idea. You can teach skills, but you cannot teach someone to have a positive attitude.”
Shradha believes that it is very important to invest in people.
The metamorphosis that is entrepreneurship
Ever since embarking on her entrepreneurial journey, Shradha has undergone a complete metamorphosis on a personal level. She says, “I’ve completely changed. I have always been ambitious and as a result, I strive to be at the top of what I do. However, I never ‘sold’ or did a ‘get-the-money-in-the-bank’ job. But when you’ve got no one backing you, you really have to ask for money to run and grow your business. I think I’m a little more of a business person now.”
Shradha also believes in measuring success in contentment. She says, “I think over the five years, I’ve become a lot more peaceful and calm. Back in the beginning, I used to cry very easily when things got difficult. I don’t do that anymore, so I guess I’ve become much stronger. I’m also very happy and content. If I were to retire today, I won’t regret a thing. The work I’ve done in the past five years has touched so many lives.”
Shradha credits a lot of people who’ve impacted her life and who have contributed to her change as a person. She says, “A lot of people close to me have had such a lasting impact on me. But honestly, those who’ve done bad to me have also impacted me in a very big way as well. I thank them for that as they’ve only made me a stronger person.” So how does a woman start up today?
Shradha’s advice is for everyone – “If you’ve got an idea that you believe in, then just go ahead and do it. It is the most simple and the most powerful mantra for every entrepreneur starting today. Life will be full of challenges and how they affect you lies in how you look at them. You need to be positive, it’s all in your head.”
Shradha today leads a generation of strong-willed, Indian entrepreneurs. Starting from scratch, YourStory.in is still a completely bootstrapped company, who’s revenues have been doubling year on year. A great achievement indeed.
But Shradha’s enthusiasm and unnerving focus towards telling the story of the scores of entrepreneurs around the world is the most remarkable part about her journey so far. Having seen the ups and downs of running business, Shradha remains ever optimistic of the Indian entrepreneur ecosystem. Her enthusiasm is infectious and it has somehow found its way into everyone who’s been associated with YourStory.in. Her energy and drive defines YourStory.in – young, good and unquenchable.
This Article is contributed by Raghu Mohan