A tech enthusiast, Nistha Tripathi, a resident of Indore, toyed with several startup ideas before zeroing in on a venture close to her heart – Scholar Strategy. It is an alternative, purely online strategic counseling service for engineers interested in pursuing higher studies (MS/MIS/PhD) in US universities.
Nistha was disappointed with the guidance being given to students in the name of counseling in the market, so she started her own venture in the field. While some of the other ideas could not shape up due to logistical problems, Scholar Strategy was different; it was an enterprise that she could run completely on her own.
“I did not mind working long hours or experimenting with positioning. In 2013, I was writing my first novel and did not want to distract myself with demanding jobs,” says Nistha. So Scholar Strategy started as a side business. But when a couple of students expressed how much they valued her advice and referred their friends to her too, the work saw an organic increase.
Nistha inherited creativity
Nistha’s father and grandfather occupied senior positions in Madhya Pradesh state government and needless to say, were pure bureaucrats. Business was a word alien to them. However, they were creative, and had published stories and poems in their times.
This trait was passed on to Nistha, an avid reader. She would dig books out of the school library and read full-length novels on the computer as a student. Academically, her record was brilliant and she topped at school and college for most of her life. Her lack of desire to stick to the status quo, however, continuously grew. She did not want to get sucked into a mediocre corporate life. So when she was admitted to a Masters’ Degree in Computer Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign (UIUC), she did not think twice about leaving her job with an MNC in India.
Hailing from a middle class background, but with parents who placed their full belief in her, she sent out an e-mail to every Indian she could find at her university. “After being reassured that financial assistance could be managed after arriving at campus, I took a large loan to reach the cornfields of Illinois, with no notion of its freezing winters!” There she managed two scholarships within the first week and sent the loan check back to her parents. That was the beginning of her reaching out for newer and exciting things, which have stood her in good stead.
After graduating from UIUC, she began to work on Wall Street, and witnessed its downfall from the inside. “Layoffs threatened jobs all around me but my team continued doing great, and I was promoted twice. I then realized that I had learned what I had come to learn. An entrepreneurial itch then began to push me out of the comfort of these offices,” says Nistha.
She knew that someday she’d want to build a startup, so it would be best for her to get a business education. It was then that she applied to and joined the full-time MBA program at New York University’s Stern School of Business. She soon started participating and leading activities in the Entrepreneurship Club; she organized Stern’s first entrepreneurship summit, and invited Seth Godin to give the keynote address.
“That was one of my proudest moments, as I am a shy person. I overcame my natural barriers to pull off something of this magnitude,” recalls Nistha.
It was then that her blogs and networking efforts landed her an offer as Director of Operations with another high-profile startup. So she decided to drop out of the MBA program. She had a hard time convincing her parents that she had not gone crazy.
After a point, she thought she had learnt enough to start something on her own. She came back to India and started Scholar Strategy. She published her first novel, ‘Seven Conversations’, which received rave reviews from early readers.
Leading a dream life
“I remember standing up in my cubicle in an office, working a handsomely paid Wall Street job, and looking around. I saw a sea of faces – some busy, some sleepy, but none that were smiling. I looked at all the middle-aged senior people roaming the office, carrying coffee mugs and I knew one thing — I didn’t want to end up like them,” says Nistha. She now works six months with students, and travels and writes for the other six months. When she was earning much more, she realized that she hardly enjoyed what she was earning as there was no time left to enjoy after working so hard.
“Now, I earn less, but I enjoy it much more,” says Nistha. “I love the work I do, and I love getting to spend on my creative pursuits. I feel I have almost achieved the financial independence that I’ve always aimed towards,” says this academician.
This entrepreneur says she would recommend that all women achieve this balance. With internet and e-commerce having opened up so many avenues, there can absolutely be no limitations that tie one down.
The feasibility of starting up Scholar Strategy
When she started up, she did not know how feasible it would be to counsel students and establish trust and connections through online counseling. “Going online was the only option as I did not want to tie myself to a physical location. I wanted to be able to work from anywhere and cater to students all over India,” says Nistha. She started small but soon grew big by word of mouth. In the last one year, her firm has grown over 700% and received wonderful feedback from students.
To solve the scalability issue in her business, she is currently finishing her book, MS Book: Smart Engineer’s Complete Guide to MS in USA. Nistha has spent over one year compiling information for engineers, and has interviewed over 10 successful professionals who studied abroad, for this book. A desire to create something motivates her everyday. She also has a work of fiction to her name and is currently working on another.
The only entrepreneur in family
Nistha is the first entrepreneur in her very traditional family. “It was hard for them to accept my leaving my rich lifestyle and dysfunctional marriage in New York, to come back to India and pursue writing and entrepreneurship,” she says adding that she is very proud of having built a life based on the things she loves.
It was certainly not an easy journey. When one of her potential startups was about to be launched, her business partner was diagnosed with a severe medical condition, and he had to leave. On the personal front, she underwent a divorce that mentally drained her out. This is when her spiritual side kept her strong and nonchalant. “I put all my energy into writing my first novel, ‘Seven Conversations’, during those days. Writing was healing and reinvigorating for me. I am happy that it is a book that my family and even teachers are proud of. I heard back from some of my college professors who told me how proud they felt when they read the book. That means a lot to me,” says a proud Nistha.
During the course of her journey, she has built a great network of friends and well-wishers, who support her decisions, and have taught her never to compromise on her beliefs.