"Bringing a radical idea into conception and building a market around it." -- Arjita Sethi,Equally
Arjita Sethi is the co-founder and CEO of Equally , a Public Benefit Corporation with a purpose to improve access to equal education and equal opportunities for everyone. It's first product is School of Games, an 18 month long, early childhood, literacy game that teaches vocabulary and numeracy to children between the ages of 3 to 5. She took a moment to speak with the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco to share her journey so far.
What does "entrepreneurship" mean to you?
Bringing a radical idea into conception and building a market around it. The radical idea needs to be inclusive, questioning the status quo and validation. Then and only then the idea becomes a business and the innovation becomes an entrepreneur.
And how did your company come to be?
The idea of Equally come upon me and my co-founder on a facebook chat. We wanted to build solutions around equality and education. We realised that technology was creating a barrier especially since more than half the world doesn't have either access or the resources. That was 4 years ago. We got married and are now working on this Startup together. We began with early childhood and build an application called, 'School of Games'. This is preschool education in form of a pets game that runs on any smart device. The best part, it runs offline. Next we want to focus on equal opportunity. So, we are building solutions around bringing blockchain to the masses.
What's the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far?
It's not easy but then if it was, everyone would be doing it.
Tell us how your company is changing the landscape?
We have reached over 15,000 students in-need in 5 countries which include United States, India, Cambodia, Tanzania, and Peru. We were one of the semi finalist in the global literacy X-Prize which was funded by Elon Musk. As for the blockchain platform, only a small percent of people are involved currently in this sector which is going to create a disparity. Just like internet is available to anybody, we need to bring blockchain to everybody. The volume of code and innovation will rise drastically.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
You need to be a tortoise in this race of entrepreneurship. The last standing person wins. I hope everyone who thinks of being an entrepreneur understands this carefully. Running fast either leads to burnout or hopelessness which we see a lot in Silicon valley.
What credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
I am the daughter of a female founder who taught me that I need to care deeply about the world, be audacious and constantly question the status quo. And so, my personal mission statement is and has always been; build something that empowers people, not a section, not a economic strata but everyone. Every morning I ask myself, how will Equally empower everyone? Is everything that I am doing in congruence to my mission and values? I am so grateful that I have found people who support and help me grow with this mission.
What's it like to work alone or with your partner? And what advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
I think I got lucky! My husband is my co-founder. In my last startup, my mother was my co-founder. But that is not the case for everyone. I think I admire the people who are either solo or work relentlessly to find co-founders. This is certainly a challenge.
But as we built our core team for Equally, we worked really hard at getting talented and diverse minds together who cared about the mission as much as we did. I think the core for building a strong leading team is that your crazy needs to match with their crazy and it it does, you've got magic!
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
My co-founder and partner, Anshul who has this amazing patience and calmness. My mother, who even today runs a successful enterprise in India. My brilliant friends, my tribe who accepts me for being me and support me.
In addition, my previous professors and now mentors who have encouraged me, supported me and helped me in so many ways that I can't thank them enough. They are my constant cheerleaders.
The champions of the world like Sheryl Sandberg, Ellen Pao, Emma Watson, Leila Janah, Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling, Elon Musk, Melinda Gates and so many more.
Last but not the least HARRY POTTER. I don't think I have ever stopped reading this series. This has helped me come out of every sad and lost situation.
So what does "success" look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
I want to build a 1 Billion people company. Figuratively, I think I would count myself successful when I reach that mark. To achieve this I need a strong team to continue to build products around the mission, a loyal community that believes in us and capital that keeps the innovation growing.
Philosophically, I think I count myself successful already as I have a calling in my life, people who support me around me the feeling of enoughness.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
The proudest moment till date is certainly when we were chosen one of the 11 semi finalist for the Global Literacy XPrize out of almost 400 global teams in 2017.
The darkest moment was when I was going through my immigration changes and didn't know if I would be able to run Equally anymore. It was really hard as I kept questioning if I was maybe not worthy enough to be running my own company and I may have to shut down everything at any time. Thankfully, after 4 years, the struggle is behind me now.
What lesson did 2017 have for you? What do you look forward to in 2018?
- Slowdown in order to hustle: Prioritize what you should be doing and do that. Say no to every other distraction.
- You are enough! Don't let the imposter syndrome get you. I have dealt with this for the longest time being a non-tech CEO of an Emerging Tech Company.
- Grow and connect with your tribe. Most of 2017, I was travelling and not connecting with my friends. This has to change in 2018.
- Launching our blockchain platform.
- Reaching more children in need and donate School of Games to them.
- Grow, Connect, Meditate, Manifest.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as - as in - what do you want your legacy to be?
Someone who created radical strides and used cutting edge technology to empower others.
Nasdaq's Education Foundation helped launch The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in the fall of 2015. Located in San Francisco, it has quickly become the go to destination for the next generation of risk takers and idea makers who take the plunge into entrepreneurship.