YourStory Founder & CEO Shradha Sharma On The Power Of Getting Up & Showing Up

YourStory Founder & CEO Shradha Sharma On The Power Of Getting Up & Showing Up

When Shradha Sharma started YourStory in 2008, she didn’t have any grand plans. She just wanted to tell stories that she felt were underrepresented in traditional media. Thirteen years later, YourStory has become the leading media platform for entrepreneurs, dedicated to championing them and their stories. So far, it has published 1,20,000 stories of change-makers, and helped more than 50,000 entrepreneurs access networking and funding opportunities. It is now India's biggest and definitive platform for startup-related stories, with the website getting 7 million unique users per month. Now, that’s a glow-up if we’ve ever seen one! 

Talking to her is like getting a crash course in entrepreneurship, because even though she’s been doing this for over a decade, her enthusiasm for wanting to change people’s lives hasn’t dampened one bit. How does she do it all? She keeps showing up! This is the deceptively simple mantra she lives by, and even though it has taken her years to build the ‘resilience muscle’, as she calls it, she thinks that as long as you get up and show up every single day, you will be fine.

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You can tell that she’s always itching for bigger, better things, which explains why after working at media giants such as The Times of India and CNBC-TV18, she decided to do something of her own. A risky move, but one that paid off marvelously. Talking of the impact YourStory has had on budding entrepreneurs over the years, especially women, Shradha explains that telling stories matters because “it's so important to have role models, especially in people who you can relate to. You should feel that if they can do this, so can you.”  

She’s right. Everyone loves a good story and Shradha’s is one for the books, which makes her perfect for our Women Who Win series. In a refreshingly candid conversation, Shradha tells us about how she doesn’t like being satisfied at work and why she’s biased towards women. Excerpts from our chat:

How do you begin your day?

I get up by 5am, or 6, at the most. I need half an hour of complete silence in the morning. I try to meditate every day. So, I meditate and I spend time with my two dogs in the morning. I feel like this time centres me. It's quiet, it's silent. Because then the rest of the day is madness. So, I need to gather that energy in the morning. It's my me-time. I begin work around 9 and then there’s no cut-off time for when I stop working.

Tell us about a mantra that you swear by in your professional life.

Get up and show up. I always believe that nothing can beat hard work and resilience. It's important to enter the playground, and once you're in the playground, to stay put and do the fielding, catching, batting, and bowling. Do everything and build that resilience because it's not just about winning. Once you are there and you stand put, you will win. So it's very important to not give up but I know that it's easier said than done. These things come with time and practice. You have to build this resilience over time. 

The other thing is—never be satisfied. I don't like being satisfied. Never be complacent. Keep setting new benchmarks for yourself so no one else is dictating your parameters of success.

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You're a storyteller. Before founding YourStory, you worked with The Times of India and then CNBC TV18. Why did you make the shift from journalism to entrepreneurship?

When I started YourStory in 2008, it was very important for me to tell stories which I didn't see coming out in the media—start up stories, stories from people who didn't come from very influential backgrounds, people who needed a voice, people like me. I come from Bihar, I could not speak very effectively, people used to make fun of the way I used to speak Hindi. There are so many ways in which we judge people but everyone has some kind of a story, especially people who are trying to do something of their own or trying to make something of their lives. I thought I'll do this and if it doesn't work out, then I have a decent education so I will find another job again. But now it's been 13 years! So, like I said, it's important to stay put in the game and it just works out. 

What sort of tangible impact have you seen YourStory make, especially for women entrepreneurs?

Over the years, so many youngsters have come up to me and said that they read stories of people like them on YourStory who have gone on to build something and that made them believe that they can also do something similar. It's so important to have role models, especially in people who you can relate to. You should feel that if they can do this, so can you. Someone once told me about this amazing quote—‘if you can see then you can be’. 

The biggest thing YourStory has done for women, and even men and everyone else, is that they have now seen that so many people can do whatever they put their mind to, and then they think, ‘Hey, I can also do it!’. And the second thing is that we host so many workshops and training programmes across the country, where people come, learn some skills and then gain more confidence. In March itself, we’ve done around 17 events, where people came and found context and reference, found role models and inspiration. Once you show them all this, then they figure out a way to get there.

As a woman in a leadership role, what are you doing to ensure that you build a work culture that supports women?

60% of our workforce is women. We have women in leadership roles as well. I don’t do anything extraordinary. I just try to be my authentic self. For example, if someone is pregnant, and they want to work from home even after their maternity leave for a few months, that is fine. And it’s not just during the pandemic, we’ve always done these things. To me, these are basic things. And as a woman, I ask myself if I can be a mentor and supporter and encourage them to go after what they want. If young women see this happening for them, they will want to pay it forward when they have other women reporting to them in the future. That’s the basic thing I hope we are cultivating at YourStory, and that gives me a sense of pride. 

I should also say that I’m very women-biased because I really think that working with women can bring so much to the table. Right now, worldwide, everyone is talking about empathy in leadership but women intrinsically bring empathy to every role. They bring that earnestness. What they need is that nudge, that confidence to raise their hand. What we need to do is to recognise their potential and encourage them to come forward.

How would you define yourself as a boss?

I am very outcome-driven. I don’t care about someone coming into work at 9 and leaving at 6. I think everyone has a creative expression and everyone should have their purpose and everyone should be treated as an adult. If I see someone with talent, my goal will be to encourage them to maximise their potential, be it in YourStory or even once they move out. The only thing I feel very good about, the only thing I feel I can bring to the table as a boss is being honest and authentic.

Oh, so many! Someone once told me that if it’s important, put it down on paper. Document it, write it down, put it on email. It’s something so simple but it has become fundamental to how I work. Another one is that nobody is going to come and give you the stage, nobody is going to give you the microphone. You have to step up and take it. You cannot keep sitting around, wondering how someone cannot see how hard you’re working towards something. Everyone is busy so learn to speak up. And the third thing—which I didn’t value at that time because when I started I thought that success will come quickly because I worked so hard and so sincerely—is that things take time and everything comes with time. Nobody can take away your time and I always believe ki apna time aayega.

Would you say that founding YourStory has been your biggest accomplishment?

I see life as a journey of a lot of accomplishments. And I feel like over time, once you get something then you don’t see it as a big accomplishment. Like in 2008-2009, founding YourStory was an accomplishment for me. Today, if you ask me, talking to you is a big accomplishment. Someone is interviewing me—I haven’t had all these opportunities. 

But, to me, the biggest accomplishment professionally is being in the right places because that requires a lot of hard work. So be it The Times of India or be it CNBC, where I got so much exposure, I consider those accomplishments. Or when YourStory got Ratan Tata as an investor, became consistently profitable, those were accomplishments. More importantly, last year, interviewing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, going live with Mr. Tata and getting millions of views, those are accomplishments. 

There are so many things but if you ask me my biggest accomplishment, then I think it is that people trust me and that I have authentic relationships. That’s the thing that gives me the biggest kick. I have found very deep, genuine friends and mentors over the years and that is my biggest accomplishment.

Foot reflexology! I’m addicted to it. I can do it all day. I love massages in general but foot reflexology is my favourite self-care activity. 

Do you have a fitness regimen?

I like to believe that I work out every day. I’m one of those people who goes to the gym for 10 days and then disappears. But I’ve realised that I can’t do it. So now I make sure that at home, in the morning, I work out for at least 20 minutes every day in whatever form I can.

Do you have a skincare or a makeup routine?

I wear kajal and lipstick every day. And I buy all these antioxidant creams and oils and aroma oils and I decide every night that I’m going to put something on but then I don’t do it. So, if you come to my house you’ll see a lot of creams, but I just don’t use them. But the one thing I’ve started doing—and I hope to continue—is drinking a lot of water.

That’s perfect! That’s the solution to everything. Are you a big reader?

Oh yes, I’m a big reader.

Tell me 3 books that changed the way you looked at life?

Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and any book by the Vietnamese monk Thích Nhất Hạnh. I’ve read all his books. I have them on my Kindle and I read a little bit from one before going to bed every night. It’s very calming. 

What is your definition of the perfect day?

My definition of the perfect day… You know, I don’t believe in the word perfect. It’s scary. I like imperfections. I like a day where there have been challenges but one has been able to conquer them. I like a day when there’s so much to do. I like a day when you know you can laugh in spite of everything. I like a day when you are able to have a very deep conversation with some of your close friends. And I like a day when I’m able to see the sun and the stars and the trees