• Sharmin Ali’s New Book Decodes Sexism in the Startup World

    Founder of two startups, Sharmin Ali has recently written her second book How I Was Forced To Become A Staunch Racist, which documents her journey as an entrepreneur. Importantly, it also highlights the brutal truth about the sexist culture that still persists in the Indian startup ecosystem.

    Her book also questions why most people in the startup community feel that you need to be from an IIT or similar academic background to run a company. This alma mater bias goes a long way in deciding a young entrepreneur’s future and is completely baseless according to Sharmin’s book.

    “An investor once asked me to step down as CEO because his concern was that I would eventually get married and focus more on my family.”

    Speaking about the all-pervading sexism Sharmin says, “Being a woman entrepreneur is definitely an added struggle. A few callous and misogynistic investors go an extra mile to leverage an independent woman and misconstrue that it would be very easy to get her to do things against her ideals. I too have faced this attitude a number of times, in fact, I got propositioned once and politely refused. Something very unexpected that I have faced was when an investor asked me to step down as CEO because his concern was that I would eventually get married and focus more on my family. I felt that this was the most grotesque concern ever. My book talks about my struggle as an entrepreneur and dives into some intricate aspects about the startup culture of India.”

    A few callous and misogynistic investors go an extra mile to leverage an independent woman and misconstrue that it would be very easy to get her to do things against her ideals.

    Speaking of her background, the engineer says, “I come from a family of civil servants, dad being a scientist and mom a lawyer. My dad’s transferable job rendered me a multi-cultural childhood. I have been living in hostels away from home since the age of 15, hence independence and responsibility came to me at a very early age. After my engineering, I worked with a consulting firm for two years, then quit the job to pursue my passion for arts and literature.”

    Her bitter-sweet entrepreneurial journey finally helped in the manifestation of her book, which she has written over a span of three years.

    Being a voracious reader and passionate traveler, Sharmin has been leading an eventful life with a lot of stories to tell, perspectives to share. Her bitter-sweet entrepreneurial journey finally helped in the manifestation of her book, which she has written over a span of three years. Several publishers were unsure of taking on the book as they found it a bit controversial. Sharmin went ahead and crowdfunded it instead.

    Sharmin Ali

    Entrepreneur Sharmin Ali at a TedX event

    “It seemed like the publishers wanted some sort of a validation. So I decided to crowdfund my book because it is a platform where people contribute because they believe in the story and want to support your cause. My campaign got 100 percent funded in the first three weeks of the six-week campaign schedule. This was more than proof that the Indian people wanted to read my story and so they wanted the book out as soon as possible. I have now been approached by many publishers and I have zeroed in on one. The crowdfunding money would be used to create awareness about women-related issues in India,” she says.

    Sharmin adds that every entrepreneur faces a lot of challenges: first being cash flow, paying monthly bills not for yourself but also for your team, work allocation, deliverables, funding, to name a few.

    Sharmin adds that every entrepreneur faces a lot of challenges: first being cash flow, paying monthly bills not for yourself but also for your team, work allocation, deliverables, funding, to name a few. She has gone through the same grind time and again but still managed to sustain and continue pursuing her endeavours.

    She says, “The whole feeling of being a job creator and others depending on you for your leadership is very empowering. An entrepreneur creates little but tangible impact in the society in whatever way is possible for them.”

    Being part of the startup industry means she is working round the clock and an aspirational Sharmin hopes to have written a couple of more books five years down the line and founded another startup.

    She says, “We need more women leaders as we are not only strong emotionally and mentally but also have the courage to a lead a country to a great future.”

    Read More by Amrita Paul