[Podcast] YourStory's Shradha Sharma on beating the odds and building a disruptive media powerhouse
We continue the #InsightsPodcast series, and on this edition, we have the ever-inspiring and charming Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO of YourStory. In this podcast, we uncover Shradha’s journey from being a young girl from Patna to building the media powerhouse that YourStory has become today, with a team of 93 people, 80,000 stories published, 1 million subscribers and 20 million readers reached.
Being on the other side of the hot seat for a change, Shradha reflects on her successes and how she scaled as a founder over the past decade. From starting off as an idea to tell positive stories (something that she saw was lacking, in her experience at established media houses) to reaching a stage where the Prime Minister called out to the nation’s youth to read YourStory for inspiration, it has been a long journey for Shradha, where staying true to the vision proved crucial.
We get a peek into Shradha’s childhood: growing up in a family with four daughters and a son, raised alone by her mother while her father was away on work in the Merchant Navy. Shradha was a go-getter from the start and left no stone unturned to give her mother ample opportunities to be proud. She went on to major in History from St Stephen’s in Delhi, where she discovered her love for communication and writing, and also met the love of her life.
Shradha did stints with The Times of India and CNBC in Mumbai and climbed the corporate ladder before finding her calling in sharing relatable stories of common people, which she felt needed to be celebrated. Shradha recalls the struggles in the early days – not just to convince investors that she was not building an NGO but also in getting friends to join her. She was ridiculed, everyone said it wasn’t going to work, but she always had the conviction. In fact, the constant undermining helped stoke a fire in her belly, she shares.
“I chose to be the heroine of my story and not the victim. I used every stone thrown at me. I knew my business was not going to be an overnight success, and that it will take time to build. I wasn’t chasing big money or building a unicorn but drew joy from the work, it was what I loved doing.”
Talking about lessons learnt on both professional and personal front, Shradha has creative acronyms MNM (Mind, Network, Market) and 3Ms (Meditation, Medication, Mentorship). She says it’s important for founders to control their “mind”, invest in building a network with a focus on ‘giving’, and for the market to align with you. She illustrates on how increasing digital penetration and the coolness quotient associated with starting up provided tailwinds to YourStory’s growth.
At a personal level, Shradha has benefitted from both meditation and medication to overcome the agony of personal tragedies. She emphasises the importance of mentors and being open to asking for help from young and old alike. She laughingly points out that entrepreneurs become comfortable with being shameless in asking for help, thanks to the innumerable times they get no as an answer. Things change for the better, though, as one treads along the path to success, “Aaj kal toh mere acche din aaye hue hain (My good days are here!),” she jokes.
Shradha adds that the ability to communicate well (storytelling) is extremely crucial while building for success and that the narrative should evolve as stakeholders change. She talks about how investors have been a positive force in her journey, helping her shape into a better CEO by ensuring for discipline, rigour and accountability.
Just like any other founder, the journey has not been an easy one for Shradha and has involved making some hard decisions and surviving through tough times including those in personal life such as the unfortunate tragedy of losing her mother, who was a major source of inspiration.
Shradha goes on to touch upon the important topic of the need for having a higher representation of women in the startup ecosystem, which requires a shift in the mindset at a societal level to provide equal opportunity to women every day, be it at work or at home. She highlights the importance of positively recognising the need for creating a support system for women especially in the maternity and post maternity stages to reduce the number of women leaving the workforce after having a child.
In response to a question from our audience, Shradha candidly shares an observation that the differentiating trait of successful founders is their tenacity, resilience, and passion.
In closing, Shradha shares her secret to remaining positive against all odds. Shradha’s love for books, her dogs, close circle of friends and family, and inner peace have helped her stay positive through her journey. She sums it up simply: “Today if I lose everything except the people who are close to me, will I be happy? I will be, I am happy.“
Anand Daniel is a seed/early stage venture investor with Accel Partners.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)