No fear! Nistha Tripathi’s tattoo highlights the dominant motif that has driven her through life and career.
From leaving an elite university midway through the course to launching multiple startups in a city that isn’t exactly known to be the entrepreneurship hub of India, she has taken several unconventional and brave steps that wouldn’t haven been possible if she had succumbed to her fears.
In a tête-à-tête with Careerizma, Nistha takes us through the big decisions she’s made, her books, her startup and the lessons she’s picked up along the way.
Q&A with Nistha Tripathi
Founder | Scholar Strategy
Careerizma: How would your friends describe you?
Nistha: It’s better you ask my friends because they have some weird nick names for me. I think what they might mean is – introvert, risk taker, independent, weird 🙂
Careerizma: Are there any strong influences and beliefs from childhood that you still value dearly?
Nistha: My father’s belief in ‘be the best in whatever you do’ has been a good motivator. I am deeply influenced by my grandfather who thwarted a lot of struggles and raised a family with honor and grit. I have inherited my love for writing from him and my father. My mother has been a silent contributor and I’m only appreciating her sacrifices more and more these days. We have a very close-knit family that finds it hard to express love but they are unconditionally there for each other.
Another thing that helped was – by the time I reached ninth standard, I had been to nine different schools due to my father getting transferred in a government job. So, I am never afraid of moving around. I have been to 8-9 amazing places last year including working for couple of months from Auroville, Bali, Singapore and Thailand. I love not being tied to a place.
Careerizma: What were your career plans in college?
Nistha: I was very confused. One thing I knew was that I don’t want to do an MBA because I did not understand what MBA folks were doing. I am quite a scholar kind of student, so I thought that I should continue my studies. That was the only clue I had. And following some seniors that I looked up to, I decided to write GRE and then apply for MS. But it was quite vague, I did not know much.
Careerizma: Apart from academics, what did you learn (about life, careers, business) as an international student in the US?
Nistha: That people there take so much time to learn new things, follow their hobbies and start earning sooner. Graduate School helped me meet some incredibly intelligent people and exposed me to the world of startups. New York exposed me to fast running life, ambitions and glamor 🙂 It was good to have seen it all before deciding what worked and what did not work for me.
Careerizma: You invited Seth Godin for a keynote address at NYU. Do you have any memorable aspects to share from that experience?
Nistha: That whole experience of organizing first entrepreneurship summit at a renowned institute like NYU was quite surreal. Seth Godin had released a book in those days and we cut a deal that we will help him spread the word about the book if he wishes to come and be the keynote speaker and he was very sweet to accept it right away. I remember how excited I was to be networking with these amazing entrepreneurs. One of my favorites was Alexis O’hanian from Reddit. I missed attending the event because I was running around whole time but it was mind blowingly successful and we even won the best conference award from NYU Stern at the end of the year.
Careerizma: You dropped out of a premier business school after one year to take up a startup job. What was it about the opportunity that you couldn’t resist?
Nistha: I knew that I wanted to get into an early stage startup in New York. I had already talked to Yipit for a summer internship before but at that time, they had not raised funding and did not offer me the Business Development Internship. So, I went ahead with another fintech startup in Manhattan only and was interning there. By this time, Yipit raised money and offered me a Director of Operations role. It was completely new to me and I took it up as a challenge. I think I am a quick decision maker. I was already paying a lot of tuition money to NYU Stern and the job offer was a financial respite as well. Plus it was the kind of opportunity I would have gone for even after graduation. And actually people wanted to get into startups badly and it was not easy. So, such an opportunity was not be taken lightly. As I said, I did not know much about the role etc, I just said yes.
I just told my parents, they asked few questions but went with my gut instinct in the end.
Careerizma: When did you think about writing ‘Seven Conversations’? What was it that pushed you to share your personal experiences with a bigger audience?
Nistha: Sometime in 2013. I was in a personal exploration back then. I was reading lot of books, philosophy, spiritual and religious books because I had a lot of time and I was struggling to start a business. My personal life was going through a down phase. I was fighting my divorce case simultaneously. I am a compulsive blogger (here’s the link to my site – ‘Seven Conversations‘). I have to write every few days else I start feeling restless. So, I was blogging about my life and feelings in general and I was reading Gita. Slowly the story of Meera started coming to me. I felt that I can say a lot in terms of a book rather than 10 different blog articles. And I had always dreamed of writing and being a writer. So, I went ahead with that thought.
Interestingly, the part that was uncomfortable was NOT that you are sharing something deeply personal with people who don’t know you. What was more disconcerting was that people who know me would see through it and would know what I have never shared 🙂
But I was just so deeply involved in the writing and I feel some parts of Seven Conversation are really really good. The last half came out quite beautifully and gave me a lot of happiness in those difficult times. It was also an emotional catharsis for me I guess. That book really helped me find my closure.
Careerizma: Can you share some reader comments that made you feel it was all worth the effort and time taken to write the book?
Nistha: Apart from some comments I received on e-commerce sites, it was some personal emails that made me feel very touched. I did not take my family and friends’ comments very seriously because you know they are supposed to encourage me. But when I got emails from complete strangers, that did make me smile. One email was this-
‘I am personally experiencing some lows in my relationships with my —— since past few months. Though, I was aware of the preachings in the back of the mind but this came as refreshing savior. Every time, I read a question raised by Meera, I kept myself in her shoes and tried to find answers for my agony. Guess what, I am feeling more calm after completing the book. This is a major reason that I could enjoy the Diwali happily.’
Careerizma: When did you publish the next book (MS Book: Smart Engineer’s Complete Guide to MS in USA)? Did the experiences from the first book help in any way?
Nistha: I published it in May/June 2015. Yes, publishing my first book taught me what not to do. I decided not to go running after traditional publishing for this one because I had my own email list and target audience. I could set the price and deliver in the way I wanted. I had seen American authors doing some interesting packaging strategies that I wanted to try. So, I completely self-published this one and I am very glad that I did. I have heard of horror stories when agents and publishers change what you want to write in a non-fiction book. So even though I had interest from an agent, I decided to publish it on my own. I was quite confident about the content.
Careerizma: With 2 books under your belt, do you have plans to write another one?
Nistha: Yes, I have a fiction book very close to my heart nearly ready. And I am working on a non-fiction one right now. As I said, I just cannot stop writing and it has nothing to do with publishing or making money. I don’t care if they get published or not.
Careerizma: There were other ventures (before Scholar Strategy) that didn’t take off. What did you learn from those experiences?
Nistha: Yeah. There was an online dress rental idea, a software like launchrock for creating good landing pages. Last one was a test taking software for coaching institutes. All of them bombed for some or the other reasons. Sometime, the timing was not right, while in other cases I was not the right person and so on. I learned that it is very hard to ‘create’ an opportunity and I learned to be patient.
Careerizma: What the primary challenges of launching a venture from Indore?
Nistha: That you don’t have a good network of support outside family. There is very little startup community plus being a woman in her 30s, I found it hard to gel well with whoever was there. That means you are working alone and that can be quite challenging. Plus I miss meet-ups and networking opportunities.
Careerizma: What hurdles did you face at each stage (from conception to execution of a completely virtual model) while competing with the big companies that have physical offices across India?
Nistha: First year, it was very difficult to get a client for Scholar Strategy and frankly it was a side idea for me. I knew that there is lack of good counselors in India and I felt I had some good advice to give. So I just put up a website without expecting much. As any software engineer, my heart was set upon a product startup. But the first student, Supreeth came in and I started advising him. And I love interacting with students, it comes to me very naturally. So it never felt like work. I guided him and then he referred 2 more people. Then I got few more people. The work in first year was very small but at least I had some revenues. So the biggest challenge is to get started and then hang in there till it gets bigger. It is tempting to say that look this is not working enough and let’s start something else. I only started seeing results after 3 years.
As for competition, from day one, I relied on giving honest guidance and it worked well. I do not compete with mainstream counselors on scale etc. I work with few selected students so that I can give more time and value. I am not trying to scale it 100x, and my target audience understands that and values us for that. So, I would say that as long as you are clear on who are you targeting, big or small doesn’t matter. Competition can only be won by keeping your customers happy.
Careerizma: What are the plans for Scholar Strategy in the coming years? Do you plan to add to the list of services?
Nistha: Going by gut and the flow. Listening to the students, what they want and trying to add value to them. I have realized that plans don’t mean much. If you keep listening actively, you will know what to do.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
Careerizma: Do you have any tips for the large number of bright students and professionals based in Tier 2/3 cities of India who probably assume that startups require venture capital and contacts that are only accessible in bigger cities?
Nistha: I really have not achieved that much to advise aspiring entrepreneurs but someday, hopefully I will have good advice to give 🙂
Big cities have the networking advantage but I have seen people building good companies from the smaller towns as well. It is more about your inner drive and how desperate you are.
Careerizma: Is there anything that you’d specifically like folks to know about that we haven’t covered here?
Nistha: I think people underestimate the power and benefits of reading and meeting people. Most of my growth in last 3 years has come from books and meeting people. And in India, somehow students don’t read much non-fiction. I would highly recommend reading some popular non-fictions early on in life. I would recommend – How to win friends, Dale Carnegie; Zero to One, Peter Thiel; Four hour work week by Tim Ferris; Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle.