Shradha Agarwal is the Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of ContextMedia, a leading media technology company that educates and informs consumers as they make critical decisions about their health. Shradha was named to Crain’s Chicago Business 40 Under 40 list, and she was the Stevies’ 2012 Female Entrepreneur of the Year. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you? Who is this person? What does she do?
The word “entrepreneur” has now become very trendy to use, and it conjures up images of college dropouts-turned-billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. In reality, an entrepreneur is someone who challenges the status quo and suggests better products or services to improve an industry or society. Being an entrepreneur is an attitude, skillset, and philosophy. It is more than a success story for the magazines, or even a career path. These are a few of the qualities needed in an entrepreneur.
Attitude: An entrepreneur is curious, passionate, and unafraid. An entrepreneur asks “Why?” and “How?” — and “How else?” and “Why not?” This person is optimistic, has the ability to dream big, works hard to make it real, and has a big appetite for risk and change.
Skillset: An entrepreneur needs to have the capability to jump into the swimming pool to execute, the desire to continually learn and improve, and the confidence to know what she knows and what she doesn’t know.
Philosophy: Finally, entrepreneurs have to believe they make life happen — life doesn’t happen to them. They need to have the will to make the impossible possible and have the stamina to keep going when things get tough!
When defining who an entrepreneur is, do you think the lines are blurred? Why is this?
When we speak of an entrepreneur, it doesn’t define one type of person or career path. Someone who launched a new division in her agency by recognizing changing customer needs is also an entrepreneur. A lawyer who identifies a new industry to expand her practice in is also entrepreneurial.
What was your path to entrepreneurship? How did your career start out and what led you to the place where you are now?
As a kid, I was always looking for ways to bring information to people and make money doing it. I didn’t recognize this was entrepreneurism, but now I have a nice label to apply! I was in fourth grade when I started renting books to my classmates so they could read more — and I could have more money to expand my library of books. I started a newspaper in high school and also launched a magazine in college.
While working at a news station in college, where I was enrolled as a pre-law student, I saw how inefficient our system was — reporters were bringing us information after the incident vs. us bringing information to people to prevent the incident. I wanted to bring information to people at a better time and place so they could take action and improve lives.
Entrepreneurship was not on my shortlist of career paths; teaching and being a lawyer, writer, and journalist were. But I began to recognize the entrepreneurial traits in myself — looking for ways to improve things around me, always being positive and fearless, and believing in taking action over talking — and I knew this would be my way forward.
What lead you to make a change to become an entrepreneur? Are you a different person now because of it?
Entrepreneurship is an acquired taste. It takes a lot of practice to avoid obstacles and remain optimistic through it all. While you may enjoy an occasional challenge, are you ready for each day becoming a new challenge? A lot of people think full-time entrepreneurship is cool, and there are certainly aspects that are extremely cool! However, like anything else, the coin has two sides. People sometimes forget to evaluate whether their personalities and skills are a good fit for pursuing their own business, or whether they may be happier being entrepreneurial in another environment.
When you see other people who may want to make the same career change that you did, but don’t think they are cut out for it, how does that make you feel? What would you tell them?
I think we are cut out to do anything we put our minds to! But you should make educated decisions, and it’s important to understand the risks and benefits of choosing the entrepreneurial lifestyle.
Why is it so important to women to believe in themselves at entrepreneurs, and what effect does that have on our county and the world?
Women are natural givers; they have empathy, a strong work ethic, and willpower. (Didn’t you skip that cookie at the party last night?) But women need to be better at believing in their own abilities and strengths, and they need to toot their own horns. Our society sets high expectations for women, and, in turn, women set their own goals extremely high. Hence, we are judged by a higher standard.
We need to learn to follow our guts, ignore the naysayers, and bring our ideas into existence. Women tend to launch and build businesses that are based on solving problems or making an impact on the world, rather than a business focused on building the ego or personal wealth of the founder. It is important that we challenge and support each other because these businesses change our society and world.