AllChinaTech (ACT) ’s CEO and Chief Editor Wu Nan interviewed Shradha Sharma, Founder and Chief Editor of YourStory, India’s most popular online media platform. The two talked about how an online media platform like YourStory can grow in India, what the climate is in the Indian tech world toward women, and what Sharma has learned during her first trip to China.
Shradha Sharma, is one of India’s most influential and intriguing tech entrepreneurs. After working in India’s mainstream news media, she founded YourStory, a tech media website devoted to telling the stories of entrepreneurs. YourStory now publishes in twelve Indian languages as well as in English, featuring the stories of over 37,000 entrepreneurs.
ACT: What brought you to do what you do today? What does YourStory try to achieve?
Sharma: Eight years ago, I was doing it alone and writing about people who are doing interesting stuff, because traditional Indian media are very print driven. When I started there was no media writing stories about unknown entrepreneurs, people were just following successful entrepreneurs. Traditional media were writing about successful people. I just thought: here’s an opportunity. I didn’t think about a business model. I just thought, let me write about them, because they have so much insight, so much bubbling enthusiasm in their stories. They wanted to tell me, and no one was listening. I only did one thing. I listened to the entrepreneurs. I listened well and attentively.
That’s how YourStory works. Today YourStory has written 37,000 stories of entrepreneurs. We have 10 million monthly active users (MAU). We are the largest tech media platform for business stories in India. We’ve launched stories for women – “Her Story”, for social enterprises – “Social Stories”, and we’ve now launched stories in 12 Indian languages. At the heart of it, we tell “your story” – you as a person, what you are doing, what’s your ambition, what’s your dream, what are your hopes, what do you plan to achieve, and how do we showcase it to our best ability. That’s what we do.
ACT: We’ve noticed a specific section on your website called “HerStory”. What’s the tech community climate in India toward women, or women entrepreneurs? What can be done to make a change?
Sharma: I have a very interesting story about how HerStory came into shape. I was in the U.S. at the time when a Uber driver had raped a woman who was traveling in India. It was a huge news story globally. When I was sitting in a Uber car in America, the driver would ask me: Is India safe for a woman?. I said, no, it is not that India is not safe. Every country has a story, and sometimes negative stories get highlighted more. And sometimes women get pitied, or sympathized with, or glamorized. There’s not a platform that can embrace “you”, like, that you being a hipster, you being normal, you just being you, as a woman, is OK. To me, YourStory will be a place to celebrate women as women, just as “her”. That’s how we’ve done thousands of stories of women achievers, women in India.
In terms women in India, it’s the only country that women are supposed to be the gods, like the first God was a woman in India. But things changed over the years. We were the first country that had a woman prime minister. So at one level there was a very strong change in the culture towards women. But in remote areas, especially in rural areas, the situation is different. For example, where I came from, Bihar, is the most backwards state in India, where women are considered as secondary citizens compared to men. There are these two mixed realities in India.
I thought, let’s create another reality, let’s just make it normal for “women just being women”. Let them feel that they don’t need special treatment, and that they don’t need “under treatment”. That was why “HerStory” is doing very well. It’s reflectional to social change. Men read “HerStory” a lot these days. As the times are changing, are we in a equal world? No. Are we aiming toward an equal world? Yes. It is happening in India on ground. But there’s a long way to go.
ACT: It’s a universal challenge to be profitable as an online media platform. Can you tell us a bit about your monetization model?
Sharma: We have built a very strong and creditable reputation in the country in terms of the way we work. We are very honest from day one if the story was sponsored; this has created a lot of trust and credibility. In fact, people have offered to pay us a lot more money if we don’t say that stories were sponsored. However, if we fall for one [of these offers] for money, we’ll fall for many things. Even at the toughest times when I didn’t have money, I didn’t do that. Somedays I look back and I’m very proud, because as an entrepreneur you do have conflict, you need to ensure you get money and things run, and it’s not that anyone is coming and giving you money on a platter. But I stuck to my guns, and in return, it created a strong loyalty from readers.
In detail, we get money from advertising. We get money from enterprise services, and we do a lot of B2B services for some of the largest multinational corporations, because we have a rich and strong database. While we do stories for entrepreneurs, and do services for enterprises, I can say that we have the best data for entrepreneurs in the country right now. Third, we get money from events. Fourth, this month we just launched a subscription service.
ACT: What motivates you to surpass what you’ve already achieved as a profitable online media? Will you look for new growth sectors?
Sharma: There’s always a new frontier. When I started, I wanted to become the biggest story-telling platform in the world. We now have 37,000 entrepreneur stories and 10 million MAU. There are millions of stories to tell, millions of new areas to go. We’ve built editing and self publishing sectors, audio, and video platforms so that people can publish stories themselves. They can publish stories in their own local languages.
Tomorrow, you should not let the media write and decide whether your story is cool or not. You should be able to decide whether your story is cool or not cool, you and your story on that platform. That’s what we want to do in the world. It’s a long, long way to go.
ACT: There has been a rising interest among Chinese enterprises to enter the Indian market. How does the Indian market view them? As a potential threat, or something else? What are the hottest sectors in India right now that Chinese readers should know about?
Sharma: I’m proud to be in India at this time, because it is a very democratic time. It’s accommodating and absorbing, it’s always looking for new partnerships. That’s how we see India, and how I’ve grown up in this India. Chinese companies such as Xiaomi, Huawei, Cheetah Mobile are going to India, and there’s a huge acceptance, and a huge opportunity to collaborate, just as I am coming to China to collaborate. If you see the successes of these Chinese companies in India, you can see that it is working, and people are willing to collaborate.
In India right now, for example, Fintech is hot, anything to do with apps and mobiles are hot, because we have 800 million mobile users (I think it’s by 2021). Health and education is hot, because we have a huge, 1.3 billion person population.
ACT: What have you observed in your trip to China that you’d like to share with us?
Sharma: What I found very interesting is that in India they didn’t realize that China is a community for entrepreneurs and for people. There’s so much openness toward foreigners. I find it very pleasantly surprising. I meet so many people. I just meet, meet till I’m tired. But there’s an amazing level of acceptance, openness, and willingness for collaboration. I realize many enterprises are looking at India right now for their own scale expansion. Investors are also looking into letting their portfolio companies to get into India.