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I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display itMaya Angelou
Our inspiring entrepreneur Sharmin Ali – Brings empathy to Content.
Excerpts from an interview…
YC- Let’s start from the very beginning, tell us about your family background and formative years.
Sharmin – I was born in the small town of Cooch Behar, West Bengal, the birthplace of the Maharani of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi to extremely careerist parents. I had a disturbed childhood, I have seen the devastating earthquake and floods in Ahmedabad. And finally had to flee from Ahmedabad due to riots. I ran into depression, I’m very, very open about it. My parents were kind enough to help me out and we seeked external help. There is no harm in talking to someone who can really help you out. Looking at the brighter side, it really helped me with my emotional development. Today I’m running a company, and we have 30 employees. It’s extremely important for me as a founder to understand what my employees are going through to understand them and their challenges. Most importantly to be very empathetic and supportive.
I did my engineering from VTU, a tier 2 engineering college. I was always at the forefront of all the events in the college. I participated in declamation contests, sports, dancing and all the other extracurricular events. I was also secretary for various clubs.
In my final year of engineering, I opted for an elective course called Entrepreneurship. This course made me realise that speaking came naturally to be and I had excellent communication skills. I had realised that although I was good at coding, working lifelong at an IT company was not something I would enjoy. I thought I would really want to start my own company someday. During this period I learnt negotiating with sponsors, chalking out plans, representing the college. All these helped me understand my leadership skills during these college years.
YC - What made you decide you want to quit your job?
Sharmin – Soon after college, I started my corporate life working with Pfizer, Microsoft, Walmart and MuSigma. I was working for around 14 hours a day. Even on Sundays, I would only be helping the rich get richer with little time for myself. I was quick to realise this wasn’t going to be my life and I acted on it. I was propelled by both an urge to travel and to start something of my own, this came with a realisation that my ongoing life was also not healthy.
So, I quitted, deciding I needed a break. I was always very comfortable with travelling, I packed my bags and just left. I travelled across with very little money, sleeping on odd places like benches, underneath the shade of a tree or a pile of leaves. Surviving was primary and I was resolute on doing that.
“Half my life I have lived in a box and now I want to break out.”
YC- In June 2013 you self-published a book, YOU (You Own Urself) that went on to become a best-seller in 2014. What was your inspiration and idea behind this project? And after this, you started a theatre group, Artrightis in the very same year.
Sharmin – When I travelled, post quitting my job, my headspace was completely filled up with so many stories, so many experiences that I could not compartmentalize. I wanted to put all of this into a book and share it with the world. I think this was also a result of my urge to travel and share stories. So that’s how it happened – YOU (You Own Urself).
Now, coming to the theatre group, Artrightis – My mom was into Bengali theatre. So I think theatre came to me through her; singing, acting, directing all of those things runs in our blood. The best part of the theatre is, you can get to play a character, perfect or imperfect and get out of your own self. Theatre gave me the confidence to face an audience.
Public speaking which is a fear for many people is something I became great at. I have written 70+ scripts mostly based on my experiences, the plays centred around women and were very bold. We ran for a really long time and played our shows across the country. When we closed we sold our copyrights to a Bombay based production house.
YC- After this, your second book came out in 2018, 'How I was forced to become a staunch RACIST’. What was the mindset while writing this?
Sharmin- So, I have read 500+ books and all of them have been non-fiction. My interests widely encompass humanity, evolution, and history. Since I loved writing I decided to write a second book. All of the lessons I learnt during my theatre days, from meeting people to performances served as inspirational material. I was frustrated with the stigma about exploring unconventional, out-of-the-box options and hence wanted to articulate my thoughts. I wanted to write about things that concerned me, things I wanted to question and I reproduced my thoughts in the form of this book – How I was forced to become a staunch RACIST.
YC- So finally in 2019 Instoried happened. How did it start and what has this venture been like for you?
Sharmin – In my corporate life and also while working on my books I had realised the importance of empathy as a central aspect of content creation. I always wanted to bridge this gap that I saw between corporates striving to achieve empathy and clarity in their content. Further having worked with CXOs globally in helping them build content strategies I had developed a deep-rooted industry experience along with the confidence that I can create some change. Coupled with this was the understanding of how content works and this inspired me to start Instoried – in 2019.
YC – Tell us about your future plans for Instoried.
Sharmin – We wish to expand to 45 people by the end of this year and soon to 100 people. In the next 2-3 years we wish to be a global product based largely in India or Asia. We want to add more features incorporating all the customer feedback to make the product more user friendly but first and foremost,
“We want global influence and domination.”
It has been wonderful hearing you. Thank you and best wishes for the journey ahead.
We’ll meet again for more stories!
Thank you for reading.