• Growing my Business
    • Enable Growth

Walking the walk

  • Article

Shradha Sharma, Founder & CEO at YourStory Media, an influential news, events and networking site, talks to us about building a business from the ground up, the importance of purpose and her experience as a female entrepreneur in India.

Key takeaways:

  • Delegating tasks and letting go of control is a difficult but important part of being able to grow your business.
  • As you grow, consistently laying out your purpose and values can help you build a company culture that aligns with your vision.
  • Hearing new ideas and opening yourself up to different opinions from your employees can help strengthen your business and how you operate as a leader.

“Delegation and building up a team are – at least in part – an inner journey,” says Shradha Sharma, Founder & CEO at YourStory Media. “As an entrepreneur, the chances are you have a dream and a clear purpose – you want to impact and inspire others. And if that’s the case, you’re going to need allies and supporters. You need many people who, alongside you, believe in the madness. You simply won’t be able to do it without them.

“But, inevitably, when we start out, we have limited resources – and that includes money. So, we do everything ourselves, and we juggle endlessly.” Sharma explains that a time will come in your business when you realise you can’t do it all alone. She offers some examples from her own experience: “I would write a story about a subject matter that I’m really passionate about and put it online. And someone would then comment and say, ‘It’s full of grammatical errors!’ and I’d realise that I needed an editor – an employee who could make the story better.

“Next, I had people saying to me, ‘You say you tell stories in local languages, why aren’t you coming to me in mine?’. It was an excellent point, but I didn’t have the skills to do so, meaning that I needed support in that area. Finally, people would approach me and ask what I was doing with all of the amazing data that I was collating – was I making sense of it and following it? So, I came to see that I needed an analytics team to make that happen. I could go on!”

As an entrepreneur, Sharma says that you anchor yourself on a vision. “You start teaching yourself skills in order to fulfil your purpose. But at some point, you come to see that you can’t just keep doing that.

This business is my baby, so letting go was hard for me. It had to be a very conscious decision and I had to undo certain patterns. But I made sure that I surrounded myself with people who inspired me. I was a single founder and made the choice to invest in others early on. And this has proven to be so rewarding for me. There are 200 of us today and I’m incredibly proud because they are all super intelligent and also very joined up in their thinking and attitudes.”

Sharma talks to the impact that Covid has had on company culture. “The last two years have been so tough. I had onboarded all of these different people in different parts of the country – but how was I supposed to get them to be passionate, aligned and motivated? It was a real challenge, but the answer was our purpose and endlessly reiterating it to everyone. It sounds mundane but I think that mundane things can often work really well.

“At YourStory Media, because of the nature of our work, we receive validations in real time. We’re telling people’s stories, and this makes their family and friends really proud. As such, we’ve built a culture of celebration. For me it’s all about energy, excitement and being in your element – if you can embed these factors in your culture, your people will go the extra mile.”

Sharma addresses what it was like being an aspiring female entrepreneur in India and how this impacted her journey. “I had an upbringing where, as a woman, my voice was shut down. I wasn’t naturally given a seat at the table, even in my own home.”

Sharma actively chose to be empowered, and this meant deliberately not doing what she herself had experienced. “Lots of us are guilty of repeating our own patterns,” she says, “and this was something that I really had to work on. But it was also clear to me from day one that be it personal or professional, every voice and every story matters. This is my mission and I live it through the work that I do and who I hire. I opted to create this culture internally at YourStory Media and I did it by walking the walk.

“People disagree with me all the time – but I don’t shut them down, I reward them for opening up and speaking out, because that’s what we’re all about as a business. It takes time but you can live values like openness in what you do and how you conduct yourself, from during meetings to when you’re walking down the corridor in the office. I worked hard to create an equal and safe space, which reflects our mission as a business. The people I work with challenge me and that makes me a better person and leader. I get to listen to all of these amazing, varied voices and hear their ideas. I’m exceptionally proud of the fact that I fostered that.”

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