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Sharon Lobo

IWB Blogger

Ex-Army Officer And Kargil Veteran Vandana Sharma Is Now Getting Startups Up And Running

  • IWB Post
  •  August 14, 2019

After serving the Army for a decade, she moved to the corporate world, holding senior positions in various MNCs and e-commerce startups before starting a company of her own. Meet Major (Retd) Vandana Sharma, the woman of steel, who has not only shattered several stereotypes around women in uniform but has also carved a name for herself in the corporate world.

Today, she is a successful entrepreneur with Startup People Consulting, mentoring young minds and startups on the journey to greatness. She has won several women in leadership awards including Women icons Asia Pacific, BERG Singapore, 2017 and Women of Substance, SRL Diagnostics 2017. She is a TEDx speaker and is passionately committed to building empowered organizations with diversity and culture at its core. In a conversation with Indian Women Blog, Vandana traces her journey from the field to the office, her love for people strategies, her passion in entrepreneurship and her experiences in the army. Excerpts:

Tell us the story behind Startup People Consulting.

Previously I was working at Myntra and subsequently at HolidayIQ. During my time there, many startups in Bengaluru approached me for guidance, and I used to enjoy the time nurturing them, talking to them. I used to also visit a lot of colleges to guide students about entrepreneurship and the startup culture. My work with young minds was very fulfilling, and the fact that I was able to help them achieve their dream only made the experience more endearing.

Vandana Sharma

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? 

I have always had an entrepreneurial streak in me and working with all these startups just made me grow, and that’s when the idea that I wanted to try and do this independently set in. I also wanted to go a step ahead and help set up good corporate ethics, and eventually create an excellent ecosystem for the startups. That was the basic thought behind starting Startup People Consulting.

You’ve been part of the corporate world before starting StartupPeopleConsulting. What according to you is the major difference between a well established corporate environment and a dynamic start-up environment?

There is a huge distinction between the corporate environment and startup. The primary reason for this is the fact that the former has a very structured form, well-established hierarchy, and everything is laid out in a textbook format. Also, every duty is delegated formally, every action plan is accounted for, and so every result is controlled. On the contrary, as you have rightly said the startup environment is absolutely ‘dynamic,’ ever-changing.

Every day is a new journey. So be it a founder or an intern, at a startup every person learns something new every day. Also at most startups, the biggest quest is to keep scouting for the right talent, right resources, and the right stakeholders. Despite doing enough market research and competition mapping, the environment remains mostly unpredictable, and this makes the results all the more rewarding. So basically, in such an ambiguous environment, the startup continuous to be the most dynamic and rewarding space to work in. So though it is a lot of fun, I’d say that it is not meant for everyone.

Talking about the right talent, it is a popular millennial trend to hop jobs. So how do startups retain talent and work around the job hoppers?

I think there is a conventional way of handling the situation of employee retention. A conservative

HR personnel would believe that a person like this wouldn’t be the right fit, and maybe that would probably be the right approach in a large organization. But in a startup, which has a very dynamic set up, anyone who has put in even 18 months of dedicated work has also done a stable job. So a startup does require people who come in with more energy, even if it is reckless. What does a job hopper seek? It’s mostly job satisfaction, higher pay, and a work culture suitable to their personality. And these are what startups are willing to provide.

Vandana Sharma

As a mentor to young startup founders, what are some of the common mistakes that have you seen them make?

I think a lot of them pick the wrong co-founders at the beginning and that’s where the things so haywire. Initially the synergies are skill based, but in the long run, it backfires as they do not have shared values. The other thing that I have seen is that a lot of young founders haven’t typically worked on people training skills. They treat it as a grey area during the starting period and if often times ignored. When people issues take a backseat, the day to day operations also ends up suffering, resulting in substantial talent losses. HR functions are built in a startup much later and are typically outsourced which is, in fact, a mistake, so nobody invests much in people strategies.

As a defense child and with an army background, how has your experience helped you in your current endeavor?

The army environment aligns a lot with the startup environment. It is ambiguous, extremely unpredictable and dynamic. So creating a method in the madness becomes imperative, which I learned during my experience in the army and implemented in my startup environment. Working under tight deadlines, mitigating risks, ensuring minimum damage, and optimally utilizing the resources are some of the other major learnings that I have had during my time in the army.

Vandana Sharma

You have broken several stereotypes around women in uniform. What is your opinion on the obstacles that women face, for that matter in any industry, from a gender perspective?

Gender parity exists in different forms and situations. Though people nowadays emphasize on the need for gender equality and equal opportunities, I believe before getting to that there needs to be some sort of initial push given to the marginalized sections. And all this can be included in the organization at different levels, for instance, hiring, appraisals, promotions, etc. So investing in hiring diversity is where it all starts from. As mentors and founders of the organization, we have to ensure that companies are nurturing that kind of inclusive environment. We need to think of ways in which we can make the work environment conducive to women irrespective of whether they are freshers, newly married, with kids or senior with respect to age as well as experience.

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