Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday on Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho - whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
The entrepreneurship bug bit 40-year-old Sairee Chahal, CEO and Founder of Sheroes.in, a website that focuses on women and the career space, when she was 25. By then, Chahal had a multi chequered career having worked in magazines specializing in advertising and marketing, working for Central Asian countries and setting up their embassies, heading the world’s first magazine for mariners, to working at Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)’s Russia desk. She decodes her success and shares her observations of women who want to have a career for no reason other than for wanting to have one!
Excerpts from the interview:
Were you raised in an environment to tackle challenges?
I come from a middle class background from Muzzafarpur district in Bihar. My father was working as a consultant for steel companies and his job took us to the fringes of small cities and towns across the country where steel plants are located. My mother was a home maker who was involved in local chapters of Family Planning wherever my father’s job took us. We had a TV for entertainment, but had rich experiences from having traversed so many small towns and cities. My parents encouraged my younger sister and I to go out and chase whatever we believed in. We were told that we could do whatever we wanted to. That led to a strong sense of self-belief.
What was the first challenge you overcame?
I studied in a school that catered to Plus Two studies. However, it had no stream for Humanities. I walked up to the principal and suggested that the school have one. I was only 15 years old then. The principal could not offer to open an entire section for just two students who wanted it. However, besides economics and business management studies, we were offered a language -- Hindi (which they did not offer earlier).
You studied Russian and pursued an MA degree at JNU.
Yes. Part of the reason for joining Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is that we were a generation that grew up on a diet of Soviet magazines and had many Russian friends in the steel plant community. It seemed logical then to pursue an education in the Russian language. I come from a politically diverse family. I have three uncles who are staunch followers of diverse ideologies – Akali, Congress, Leftist. JNU is a great place to learn and an even greater place to be an academician. But I realised soon enough that I was not cut out to be an academician. So to sort of undo the JNU effect, I pursued a diploma in business from IMT, Ghaziabad! I then pursued an M Phil in International Relations. Nothing I studied is connected to what I do. I understood later that education is not the way to go about looking for a job. Anything I did in my life with regard to a career is what I took a shot at. Education is a nice way to expand your horizons, though.
Does Sheroes.in come from a leftist point of view then?
Sheroes.in was driven to bring together opposite ends of the spectrum of women and business from all over the country for mutual benefit. Therefore, the model is designed in such a way that everyone can use it. It is the freemium model. It was to make available career opportunities for every woman. You don’t have to login to Sheroes as a job seeker. We are here for a shared goal for women and a career she wants to pursue or is pursuing. You could be someone who aspires for mentorship, opportunities, career resources like learning or want to be part of a community of like-minded women.
What is the revenue model?
There are paid services for job coaching and allied specialised services. Organisations have to pay for hiring services, for online brands and marketing projects.
What do you consider as the high point of your entrepreneurial venture?
I started Sheroes in January 2014, with seed money of Rs 50 lakh. We broke even soon enough and was able to raise an angel round of less than a million dollars from seasoned entrepreneurs in August 2015. Our user base has grown by 300 percent – 600,000 users across 6,000 localities in the country. We expect a million dollars in revenues in 2017. We have grown as a brand and connected with women across the country who are looking for careers, who want to get back to a career after a break, etc.
What are your observations from your close association with women and their career aspects working on a portal that is focused on the subject?
There are lot of opportunities to custom fit one’s career. However, society has a narrow definition of success and that puts us in a box. I feel every person can custom fit their success. You don’t have to follow a template for success that is a stereotype. So what if you can’t be a Vice President (Marketing), you could be a writer if you have those skills or a yoga teacher. I would say to every woman (who is seeking a career), to do what works out for each of them.
What is life beyond work for you?
I am interested in yoga and enjoy it. I don’t timeline my yoga on a daily basis, but I do it daily and skip it when I am neck-deep in Sheroes.in. As I am growing older, I find other things that interest me like gardening, for instance. I love working with Nature. I love reading sports magazines, too.
Perhaps, one day I will open a yoga retreat. Who knows?