Charu is a US-based Indian explorer, entrepreneur, and author. With 5 National Awards, expeditions to all 7 continents, over 600 stage shows, and three books in progress, this prodigy was enlisted as a "Power Woman alongside such notables as Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Gandhi, and Melinda Gates by Youth Incorporated magazine in March 2012.
Charu built two-award winning startup companies out of her dorm room before being recruited to LinkedIn. She has since dedicated her time to bringing together audacious women entrepreneurs through Go Against the Flow - her book, documentary film, and Huffington Post interview series with the goal to inspire more millennial women to build their own startup companies.
How did you get into the industry?
Before getting recruited by LinkedIn, I built two startups from my college dorm room. I realized that really smart young women around me were limited to seeking traditional career options because of inaction, imposter syndrome, very little exposure to the entrepreneurial path and lack of access to the right female mentors who they could personally relate to.
To help solve this, I brought together audacious female entrepreneurs and we launched the Go Against the Flow movement- through our book, documentary film and Huffington Post interview series- to inspire other millennial women to build their own startup companies and further create economic opportunities.
Any emerging industry trends?
WOMEN ARE ENTERING THE WORKFORCE IN EQUAL NUMBERS THAN MEN, BUT WOMEN STILL:
● Earn 79% of their male counterparts
● Receive less than 10% of venture capital funding
● Make up only 18% of all start-up founders
● Run only 4% of Fortune 500 companies
● Only 2 % of women owned firms generate more than a million dollars
3. Any industry opportunities or challenges?
American colleges have graduated more women than men every single year for the last 30 years, and women are roughly half the workforce while entering the workforce, but only 4% of the CEO's are women, as I mentioned above. Ilene Lang, President of Catalyst.org says, "Women have tremendous pressure to be less leaderlike. Everyone loves a supportive woman, but the world often puts women in two buckets: either you're nurturing and supportive and hence incompetent OR you're aggressive and hence a bitch. It's a goldilocks syndrome. There is no perfect woman."
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Go Against the Flow started in bits and pieces. Today there’s the documentary, the book and the Huffington Post column all under the same umbrella, but the idea started when I was in college. I was very lucky to end up in the startup world and to have mentors in that world, but most of my friends did not, especially women. They were aiming for marketing or consulting jobs. I wanted them to be aware of the possibility of creating revenue-generating businesses for themselves. There are so many successful female entrepreneurs out there, but they needed more visibility.
I started cold-calling female entrepreneurs to ask them to participate. One of the first who agreed was Sarah Wood, founder of ad tech firm Unruly. When I emailed her, she wrote me back within an hour and said she could meet me in New York that night. I skipped a class, got on a bus and spent 30 minutes pitching her on Go Against the Flow. I tried the same thing with Arianna Huffington – just a cold email. She was too busy to participate, but she suggested I use the Huffington Post platform to share Go Against the Flow blogs, and that’s how the column was born.
It was natural to me to take all of these great contacts and stories and share them through visual media. I put in all my savings, launched a Kickstarter campaign and got a grant from LinkedIn to make this documentary. We went around the U.S. interviewing female founders from companies including CloudFlare, Women 2.0 and others.
The whole movement is about inspiring women to make choices for themselves. I want to create awareness that entrepreneurship is a path they can consider, and give them the needed resources, mentors and encouragement to be successful.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
The project has primarily been storytelling so far. Beyond that, I am finding partners who can continue the momentum at a grassroots level. For example, if a college student is inspired by the film, that’s great, but then what? I want to find partners who can provide one-to-one mentorship to keep the inspiration going. We’re also looking at creating a scholarship fund with MassChallenge, which has a focus to get more female entrepreneurs in their pipeline and get them more access to capital.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Our champions include LinkedIn, Yelp, Unruly, Women Who Code, Wasabi Ventures and Thoughtworks to name a few. Getting these partners early on have helped us tap into their networks to get our book and film in front of out target audience.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
I give luck too much credit when doing interviews to try to come across as humble. Honestly, I think I succeeded in my pursuits because I determined my priorities and I made some very risky choices to do justice to my priorities.
I gave up a cozy internship to start my first company in a city where I knew absolutely no one. I turned a job interview failure into a business idea and created my second company to connect job seekers to industry experts to practice mock interviews in real time. It took two years and twenty something rejections to find a publisher for my first book. When Arianna Huffington declined my invite to write a chapter in my book, I turned that into an opportunity to start blogging on HuffPo. The documentary film ended up needing 1.5 more years than planned and all my life savings to produce. I could have saved all that money for graduate school, to buy a car, or take my parents on a trip abroad, but I put all my eggs in one basket.
Hackbright Academy listed my film under 'top 5 films to watch for women in tech and entrepreneurship', I ran a very successful kickstarter campaign to fundraise for post-production, got picked up by a film distributor and premiered our film at 32 LinkedIn offices worldwide. While keeping a full-time job and trying to get my books published, I spent every weeknight and weekend for several months to learn coding to build a web app I was passionate about.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
I want young women to know that they can instead of letting life happen to them, they can choose to create their own destiny, that they can pursue their passion whether in fashion, healthcare or whatever else it may be and find ways to also make money and lots of it, and own their work and spend their life doing what's truly meaningful to them. I want them to know that they can take risks, and I want them to be informed about the option of pursuing the entrepreneurial path, and give them enough knowledge and insight into being an entrepreneur that they feel comfortable pursuing this path. I mean, women already know that there are people out there who are entrepreneurs. But they don't know enough about how to be one and why to be one to see themselves in those shoes. Right now, they are pursuing consulting or grad school or IBanking because these are the options they are surrounded by - these firms come to recruit on campus.. imagine if we instead to their campuses and showed them success stories of female entrepreneurs, then these women can make more thoughtful and informed career decisions, rather than getting a job at 22, then 10 years later feeling burnt out and less inspired and then wanting to start their businesses.
I'm not saying every 22 year old should start a company. It's definitely not for everyone. In fact, you need to be very courageous and passionate about your market or audience to be able to build a successful company, and if you're bound for failure if you build a company just for the sake of building it.
How do you motivate others?
By being empathetic and listening intently, so then I can thoughtfully create a genuinely enriching experience for them - whether it’s engaging and inspiring my audience, or managing my team.
Career advice to those in your industry?
My advice to entrepreneurs is: Take a deep breath and do it. It’s a lonely path. A lot of people say that, and it’s true. You are determining your own success. In a corporate job or in student life, if you do A, B, C, then you succeed. In a startup, this certainty does not exist. You’ll get mixed opinions and you’ll have to believe in yourself to decide what to do.