From a business journalist to author of the book The Wealth Wallahs to founding the online learning institution Harappa Education that focuses on personalised curriculums for skills crucial for professional success, entrepreneur Shreyasi Singh has navigated a dynamic career path. Here, she pens down the learnings from her startup journey.
Journalism gave me the privilege to observe successful people from a close distance. It allowed me to ask meaningful questions about frameworks and tools that they used to build rewarding careers. It was incredibly exciting to meet so many entrepreneurs, listen to their stories and create narratives for others to read. It gave me the opportunity to deepen my knowledge about all these different ideas and tools of productivity that got me thinking about the kind of entrepreneur that I wanted to be. I think that deep-dive into entrepreneurship was the beginning of my own journey.
Education doesn’t make you an entrepreneur
Contrary to what some people may believe, I do not have an MBA or engineering degree. I studied History at the Lady Shri Ram College for Women in Delhi, and Journalism at the Indian Institution of Mass Communications. My liberal arts education was pivotal, because it gave me the core foundational skills of writing, thinking and questioning, and assimilating and synthesizing information effectively. I went on to work as an editor of an entrepreneurship magazine, and later authored a book on first-generation wealth creators. Looking back, I could never have imagined that I would lead an ed-tech start-up someday, and I find that both my degrees were very crucial to this journey. The foundational skills I gained during these years are one of the main reasons why I believe so strongly in the Harappa curriculum.
Develop a sense of curiosity
Growing up, my family and I moved around a lot since my father had a transferable job. His work also took us to Japan, where I spent nearly six years attending a school in Tokyo. I was a curious kid. I was fascinated by everything around me and liked to ask a lot of questions. In retrospect, that sense of curiosity may have been the impetus behind my career in journalism. I was also an avid reader and always had my nose buried in a book. Till today, I strongly believe that if you want to be a good writer, you must read extensively. Speaking of reading, my top five favourite books are Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar, Kartography, by Kamila Shamsie, and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Relationship with money and wealth
I have a definite ambition to create personal wealth for myself. I have taught myself to imbibe and articulate it. It’s not because I want to buy nice things or splurge. The biggest luxury wealth gives you is the luxury of freedom: Freedom of choice, of what you can work on, how you can enable others and to be prepared for difficult times.
Working on my book The Wealth Wallahs further honed the concept of wealth. The research for it, given that it’s on India’s first generation wealth creators, also introduced me to principles on how to manage wealth. Over the last five years, I have been very disciplined about investing my money across asset classes. I actively manage money, whether it’s changing the debt to equity ratio in my personal investments. I believe in the model of ‘Expenses = Earning – Savings’, and put away money in SIPs every month, and spend from what’s left over. As an entrepreneur, managing your cash is a key expectation of a CEO.
Do something that you firmly believe in
I was first introduced to higher education a couple of years before we founded Harappa, and this experience convinced me about education being an honest, gratifying space of work, where you have the joy of seeing people transform right before you. During this period, Pramath Raj Sinha, co-founder and chairman of Harappa, encouraged me to look at online learning. He’s spent 20 years in higher education and has done incredible work in the sector. He knew I was looking for something I could own and shape, and he simply asked, ‘Why don’t we come together to do this?’ Our shared interest in wanting to create an impact in the education sector was another key factor that led to Harappa.
We narrowed down on a range of social, cognitive, and behavioural skills that we believe are crucial for professional success and personal growth for an individual, and decided to curate a curriculum around these and offer it online. Harappa’s curriculum addresses the cognitive (how to think, reason and problem-solve), social (how to communicate, influence, and build relationships), and behavioural (how to grow, act and lead) gaps in education. Our curriculum of five critical habits offers practical tools for both young and seasoned professionals to help them expand their way of thinking and succeeding in the real world.
I strongly believe that Harappa is addressing the gap in foundational skills that higher education does not provide, but professional success requires. We begin where formal education ends. By re-imagining traditional curriculum and providing our courses through an online platform, we are trying to reach as many people as possible, to help them find professional and personal meaning. Till date, more than 1,00,000 learners have enrolled on Harappa’s online platform.
Advice to budding entrepreneurs
I would urge young people to always follow their own ambition. When I wrote a personal vision statement for myself and realised that I wanted to build something of scale and impact, it became the guiding principle of my entrepreneurial journey. You must also keep in mind that the journey of an entrepreneur is not an easy one. The emotional highs and lows of entrepreneurship are insufficiently understood, and one has to be prepared for that. Finally, enjoy the process. Ensure that you find joy in at least 50% of the work you do every day.