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Sairee Chahal is a woman with a mission – a mission to connect about 1 Mn women to diverse career opportunities they had not thought of in the next 3 years. Founder and mastermind behind SHEROES, a Noida-based online career destination for women from all walks of life, she believes that career is a maze and not a ladder as has been traditionally prescribed to us. She founded SHEROES with the singular belief that career for women are cyclical in nature and they have unique needs when it comes to navigate their professional needs. The idea of SHEROES evolved from Sairee’s previous venture, Fleximoms, which had started as a pilot for women on career break, to identify flex work options, work from home or those who were looking for more friendly opportunities.

Through SHEROES, Sairee and her team of 30 are putting together opportunities of diverse natures to help find women their custom fit. Says Sairee,

 “The version of career success presented to us while we were growing up was very singular. It does not allow us the diversity as our lives have. At SHEROES, we want to help find custom fit careers for everyone. For some people, a two hour a day blogging assignment is their version of success while to some being a VP of a Fortune 500 company is their version of success. We feel both are appropriate and valuable. And every one’s allowed to make a transition, go from here to there or slow down and find another slot.”

Recently, the company successfully conducted SHEROES Summit in Mumbai themed on ‘Women Make Digital India’, focusing on the emergence of women’s entrepreneurship in the country. The SHEROES Summit is a platform that connects women professionals to businesses. It deliberates upon potential career paths, transformation, growth opportunities and professional journeys of successful trend-makers and women entrepreneurs. Several businesswomen attended the Summit and shared their experiences of building a business ground up and achieving success through sheer hard work and resilience.

The event saw a line-up of emerging businessmen and women like Dr N.S Rajan (Group Executive Council & Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Tata Sons), Sid Talwar (Co-founder, Lightbox), Shikha Uberoi (Co-founder, Indi.com), Raghav Mimani (Founder, Nischint Technologies), Debadutta Upadhyaya (Co-founder and CEO, Timsaverz.com),  Ajith Karimpana (CEO & Founder, Furlenco), Rachna Chawla (Coach, Managing Consultant, YSC) and Upasana Makati (Founder, Whiteprint). Renowned Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty Kundra who juggles several other roles of a businesswoman, author and mother, was one of the eminent speakers at the event.

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Shilpa Shetty Kundra, Chairperson, Best Deal TV said, “The working women of this country often face challenges in the pursuit of their career, and it is a good thing that SHEROES is taking up their cause and providing them the opportunity to further their professional aspiration without having to worry about nine-five cycle. At the same time, they take care of their personal commitment. I can understand the challenges because I am a professional, mother and wife too. We at Best Deal TV, understood the vast potential of SHEROES and therefore tied up with SHEROES.in.”

On the sidelines of the summit, Sairee spoke to Inc42 about her journey, the changing trends in the workplace, and the role of digital in empowering women in a Digital India.

Question: What made you start Fleximoms and then SHEROES?

Sairee: Look around you, there are so many talented women. Businesses need talent more than women need businesses. And it has always been made to sound like the other way round. I just need to feel the connect needs to happen. India produces maximum number of women graduates in the world. Every business has a talent crisis. It is a simple math. We need to change some approaches and the world is changing. We are so open to adapting new things from the West or the Valley so why not do it here?

Also, initially everything to do with women was very CSR centric. It was not connected to the business model. We want it to make integral to businesses because it is more valuable to business than ever. We work with 7,000 companies.  Some people are looking for partners or affiliates or stakeholders or flex workers. We feel that there is space for everyone to come around on the stage.

Additionally, trends in  workplaces are changing. The workplace is now on your mobile phone. Digital will empower women more as it is breaking down barriers faster, making marketplaces and opportunities accessible, to any and every one. The opportunity that’s available to anyone in Silicon Valley is the same which can be made available here. That’s the beauty of digital. Most women never made it to laptops but more and more women are making it to smartphones. And there are so many others trends that are panning out. Micro tasks, Uberization of work, on demand workforce, individualisation of work. All these are interesting places for us to get into.

Question: Did you have a business model in mind when you started out? Did you think it would achieve this scale?

Sairee: I just had a wish, I had no business model honestly. I wanted to solve a pain point. I wanted to do something about what I saw. I did not know how the solution is going to shape or what the solution is going to be. We have made mistakes, done many things to arrive here. We are still not done. But I was very clear on one thing – that it is never going to be charity. It is never going to be let’s do it for women because it’s nice to do. I always wanted to figure out a product centric solution. Build a product which will solve this problem. So we built this community, this platform.

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Now, we do have a model in place. While women get to use the platform for free 95% of the time, the real revenue comes from companies. They are our paying customers. They pay for three things – for the women centric programmes and initiatives we built for them, for staffing needs, and for premium products on the platform such as ad space postings, micro sites. We do a lot of custom work as well where we help companies establish their diversity programs, do benchmarking studies anything around women and their career space.

Question: How has the platform scaled out? What more will you be doing on the product side?

Sairee: Currently, we have half a million users on the platform, and have serviced about a million requests till date. About 7,000 companies partner with us and use listings on our platform. We also have offline paying users.

The product will always remain women centric though we plan to do something special for colleges, for entrepreneurs, and for the work from home community. But the needle we want to move is in 3 years, we want to have 1 Mn women connected to opportunities they had not thought of through this platform.

Question: You recently $770k (INR 5 Cr) in an angel round of funding. Is another round in the pipeline?

Sairee: We were built minus the funding premise as we were doing our own experimentation. You don’t want to pay people for experiments. But now that we are stable and we are growing like any other consumer internet basis, we will be looking to raise funds as and when necessary.

Question: What is the idea behind the SHEROES Summit? How does that add to your value proposition?

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Sairee: We call ourselves a community. You come in because you want to put your career on the map. This is basically strengthening that premise. It strengthens our relationship with our stakeholders as these women and businesses are our stakeholders. We want to have a clear, honest, transparent conversation with them. And of course then that’s where the stories of successful trend-makers and women entrepreneurs come out. You have to realise there are a lot of soft factors which are very central to building the community.

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The Summit is our way of reconnecting. We want to hear more from the community, bring stakeholders in the room. Also, to stay connected with what is going to change our world. It is also a way for more corporate opportunities and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Question: What were the challenges you faced while helping women find jobs after a sabbatical? How responsive and open were businesses to this idea?

Sairee: See the world of business is changing fast and skills getting redundant is a real story. People transit. One might have been a good project manager in an IT company but her skills might not be relevant to a food-tech company. So you have to find the niche when you are coming back to the market, and that’s what we are good at.  We go and talk to organizations, curating their own organizational structure and jobs, making modular work, making flexible work, making virtual work possible.

As far as organisations are concerned, there are two sets of companies – one who really get it and the whole idea. We don’t even have to find them they reach out to us on our own. And about 50% of companies are like that. So we have had a lot of support since the beginning. The second set is the one who find it hard to change. See if  a company has always hired males, it’s hard to make it change suddenly to make provisions for loos, for women security. So we need to work on both sides- we need the support from early adopters as well as keep on talking to the second set of businesses because they need our help more than we need their help.

Question: And what about startups? How responsive have they been to the idea?

Sairee: I love startups because they are looking for the best fit. They are also building new models. They see a merit in what we do. They see if we can help them make a connect, if it makes sense for their business. Hence they have huge opportunities – if it’s adding to bottom line, helping them become efficient faster, they will do it. You have to keep driving the point because most startups don’t even know they can do this.

The next summit will take place in Bangalore on 16th December.

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