Profile: Every Story Matters
Shradha Sharma, founder of YourStory.com, captures in 12 languages the stories of uncelebrated entrepreneurs
After a successful career as a journalist with several reputed media houses in the country, Shradha Sharma found herself at the crossroads, hungering for something more out of her career and life. She wanted to use her flair for words to make a difference to people’s lives instead of merely being part of the rat race. Her restlessness made her introspect deeply and at some point the realisation also came to her that if she did not take the plunge right away, she would probably never take it. And so, one fine day, she decided to walk away from the corporate world.
“I knew there was immense power in writing and celebrating the stories of unsung heroes. Everyone wants to write the story of successful people, nobody wants to place bets on writing stories of those who are yet to achieve or are still taking their first steps.”
When she bounced the idea off a few industry veterans and entrepreneurs, the response surprised and disappointed her. While most agreed that the idea was lofty, they also said that it was idealistic and that nobody would want to read the stories of unknown people. “Many of them said that a venture based on the stories of unknown entrepreneurs would not make commercial sense and that it would not last more than 6 months,” Shradha says.
The entrepreneurial bug that had bitten her hard by then gave her the courage to take the plunge and accept whatever came along. “I had no idea how I would make money or sustain myself on just a passion. But the most important reason for me to start at that moment was that it felt just right,” she says.
It was when YourStory was taking its first fledgling steps that Shradha faced a severe personal challenge when her 53-year-old mother lost a valiant fight with seventy per cent burns. As she pondered the fragility of life sitting in that burns ward, surrounded by dozens of patients, she found herself healing when she reached out to those strangers, soothing their pain wracked bodies and telling them things would be better.
The experience was transformative and taught her that adversity is humanity’s greatest superpower, something that has the power to enrich us by making us apply our minds to our challenges.
Starting with a skeletal team that went about painstakingly collecting the stories of entrepreneurs in various corners of the country, YourStory and Shradha struggled for the initial years, to make her dream a reality. The biggest challenge was being bootstrapped for seven long years, but today she is proud to have stayed on course and emerged a stronger person. Her tenacity paid off when YourStory received its first round of funding in 2015 from former Tata group chairperson,Ratan Tata, former Infosys veteran T.V. Mohandas Pai, Vani Kola of Kalaari Capital and Karthee Madasamy of Qualcomm Ventures.
“When you know you have to fend for yourself every inch of the way, it gives you a different kind of grit and tenacity.” That her idea has caught the imagination of people is evident from the fact that the team has grown to over 60 reporters and counting at a fast clip, to capture the story of India’s vast network of unsung entrepreneurs in every sector.
Among the stories that have appeared recently on YourStory.com is that of a final-year textile design student who put ancient Indian board games onto her textiles, as part of her final project in design school. That project has now evolved into an innovative new venture, Pachisi. Yet another story is about an IIT duo who have developed the country’s first smart electric two-wheeler, a technology that they are convinced is the way forward for a greener world.
What has kept her motivated along the way is her belief that each of us has a story to tell.
“To me, every story matters. Each one stands out because it is unique and teaches us something. I want to make every story matter. Why should we have only one superstar among us? We can all be superstars.”
Encouraged by the response to the stories that initially appeared in English, Shradha has decided to take her storytelling venture into the hinterlands by translating the stories into 12 Indian languages, a number she intends to grow soon. And right now, she is excited about the next step when she will offer people a platform to write their own story.
Looking back at her own exhilarating, if sometimes tumultuous journey, Shradha has this to say to others who want to take the path less trodden. “Live your experiences and learn from the good and the bad. Your career will never be decided by an ugly spat, a heated argument, or difference of opinion. Your life is what you make of it, so wake up with a smile each day, no matter what the previous day looked like.”
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