Start-up entrepreneur Shradha Sharma spends half of her life on the road. She shares how she finds her balance.
The founder and CEO of YourStory, a media platform for entrepreneurs and change-makers, Shradha Sharma has navigated a fascinating path over the past decade – from old media to leader of a multi-million-dollar enterprise. In a nation where only seven per cent of CEO or MD roles are held by women (and many of those are inherited), Sharma has blazed her own trail, raising two rounds of venture capital funding and expanding into Europe.
Based in Bangalore, Sharma is a true road warrior. She spends at least half of her time away from home, typically catching between 12 and 16 flights a month. Every inch the modern business traveller, Sharma works hard to maintain health and wellbeing on the road – and also find the time to enjoy her temporary surroundings.
For Sharma, the simple act of walking delivers many benefits: it clears her mind, keeps her fit and enables her to discover a city. “Especially when I’m travelling outside India, I like to walk a lot. I walk for at least 10-15km a day,” she says. Occasionally to the vexation of her younger staff, Sharma arranges her meetings so she doesn’t need to take a car and can soak up her environment as she strolls – a flawless combination of business and leisure.
Meditation has thousands of years of history in India and Sharma maintains a daily practice, meditating for about 20 minutes every morning and at least half an hour in the evening. “When I travel, I ensure that I keep the early morning free for myself as much as possible, because I like to spend an hour with my own self,” she says. “I like that quiet space to read in the hotel room, or if the hotel has a garden I like to go and sit there.” A work on running and meditation is at the top of her reading list on her iPhone, which doubles as her Kindle.
Like most frequent business travellers, Sharma grapples with maintaining a healthy diet on the road and resisting the urge to overeat. “I don’t eat late at night; I try to do early dinners,” she says. “Even if there is an event or a party I ensure I don’t eat after 8pm.” As overeating cuts her energy levels, Sharma avoids the snacks that accompany every business event in India.
For Sharma, work-life balance begins in the mind. When mind and spirit are at peace, then life finds its natural flow. Both she and her husband work long hours and, as they do not travel together on business, making time for one another is essential.
“I try to be very mindful: I get very little time with my husband and the less time we have the more I value the time that we have,” she says. “Even if we are talking on the phone for just two minutes, I ensure that I’m present, not looking at work things. If I’m listening to him, then I’m listening to him.” Needless to say, fast, always-on wi-fi is a must in hotels to help the couple stay connected.
Being present, for Sharma, extends to appreciating her surroundings, wherever she may be – Berlin, where YourStory Media has an office, is her favourite stop on her regular travel beat. “I love Berlin because it has this vibration, this energy about it and it’s very inclusive,” she says. “I love going for a long walk in Berlin. There’s a very old creativity to the city.”
Another favourite is New York, which Sharma recently visited for the first time. “I didn’t feel I was coming to the city for the first time because it had a vibe to it: the scenes on the road, the things written on the walls,” she says. “One thing I’ve realised is that when you walk in a city as opposed to taking a vehicle, you get to see a lot more things – and it’s more ecological than in a car.” For someone whose business depends on understanding a city’s start-up culture and its entrepreneurs, the insights walking provides deliver both personally and professionally.
Like many next-generation business travellers, Sharma loves to discover the secret places that locals frequent, prioritising the back streets of Berlin’s Kreuzberg over the Brandenburg Gate. “I like to see the local nuances rather than all the historical and big attractions,” she says. “Of course, those are attractive, but I like to see people, I like to see how people behave on the road, I like to see the shops, the colours, the textures, the walls, because those elements reveal a lot about people.”
When it comes to hotels, however, Sharma prefers spaces that put the emphasis on the international business traveller. “I like simple places, simple rooms, nothing gaudy or intrusive – and convenience,” she says. “I like to be able to go down and go to nature if I want to, but go to meetings if I want to.” She finds 10 minutes of cardio helps her rest, so a gym is another essential. Sharma loves to luxuriate in hot showers – she enjoys at least two a day – so bathrooms matter.
As an entrepreneur with little time to waste on trivia, efficiency is absolutely central to the travel experience. “I’ve had a very good experience in Crowne Plaza hotels,” Sharma says. “The people were very hospitable and helpful. For me, these things matter: how quickly you check me in and how quickly you address my questions. The staff in the hotel were very prompt, and that was a big plus point.” In the business travel space, which can often be devoid of humanity, she values perceptive service and reactivity.
Yet there are two things that really serve to keep Sharma grounded and focused while on the road: her eight-year-old cocker spaniels Abby and Phoebe, who sleep beside her every night she is home. “They’re my life. They’re my only weakness. They’re my soulmates, the only creatures I miss on this planet! When I’m travelling, my husband puts the video WhatsApp on and I talk to them,” she says. Staying connected wherever she is in the world helps Sharma travel further, both in her home life and at work.