After a dramatic childhood, Sharmin Ali went on to put a spotlight on the struggles of establishing a startup in the spotlight. Khevna Pandit spoke to her about her journey
A published author, professional speaker, playwright, theatre artist and entrepreneur, there isn’t much that 28-year-old Sharmin Ali hasn’t achieved. After witnessing the Gujarat earthquakes and barely making it out alive from the Godhra riots, Sharmin gave up on being an engineer to shed some light on her startups — thepenpower.com (India’s first online marketplace for news creators and news readers) and Art-Right-Is-Productions (a theatre production house). She recently ran a crowd-funding campaign with fueladream.com, and released her second book, How I Was Forced To Become A Staunch RACIST, which explores the dark side of the world of startups. We caught up with her to find out about her various struggles and successes.
You have been through quite a lot since your childhood. How have your experiences influenced and shaped your ideas today?
Every experience I’ve had in these 28 years has rendered me one blessing: an incredible amount of perspective to keep going. Every idea I come up with is an output of the experiences I’ve gained so far. Whether it’s my struggle during the earthquake or the riots, my stammering or my entrepreneurial agenda, every incident has taught me a lesson and I’m here to share these through my book.
Tell us about your campaign on fueladream.com. How did you connect with them?
A friend of mine had already raised funds for a cause. She suggested I approach them for my cause too. I’m currently raising 3.5 lakh on the platform to help my controversial book see the light of day. For me, this is a great way to connect with potential readers and find out if they would be interested in reading about my struggles. I also want to educate girls with a part of the funds and spread awareness.
Tell us about your book How I Was Forced To Become A Staunch RACIST. How did you come up with the idea?
When I started writing the book, my only agenda was to write about the life of an entrepreneur and the struggle of running a company. My book, How I Was Forced To Become A Staunch RACIST, is a story of survival through the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, the 2002 Godhra riots and finally the story of a woman’s journey navigating the minefield that is the start-up world. This is when I knew my book would be incomplete without bringing out this angle. It talks about startup racism that is actively prevalent in India. I have tried to bring out six different angles in which a new entrepreneur struggles to make things work.
You also feel strongly about women’s issues. What would your advice to young women who want to become entrepreneurs be?
Last year, I happened to encounter misogynistic and callous investors who shocked me with their perception of womanhood. So, I have two things to tell young women: nothing can stop you from doing what you want to do; and do not wait to get funded — start with a prototype. It is the product that matters, not the money.
Where will we be seeing you in the future? What’s your next plan of action?
I am re-vamping one of my start-ups and we are re-launching the brand under a new name with a very interesting product. My future is my start-up, and I want to host my own travel show. I have started talking to people about this already.