From growing up in the small town of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh to launching a startup that has been vital in connecting and empowering millions of women online, Sairee Chahal’s journey has been phenomenal. Chahal is the CEO and founder of SHEROES, the women-only social network, which has 22 million members, currently, and counting.
“My mom was a homemaker, life was slow but I sensed many dreams, aspirations brewing in the people around me, especially women,” Chahal explains. She moved to Delhi, did her Master’s in Russian language from the Jawaharlal Nehru University and launched her first start-up in 1999, at a time when the internet was still at its nascent stage in India. Chahal’s first venture was Newslink Services – the country’s first magazine catering specifically to mariners, which had operations in India, the Philippines and Cyprus.
After a stint abroad, Chahal returned to India and set up SAITA Consulting in 2006, a firm that worked with tech startups, where she met many women applicants and understood the unique challenges they faced. This laid the foundation for Fleximoms - connecting companies offering flexible work options with mothers and women looking for such opportunities - and eventually SHEROES.
“When I started SHEROES, it was with the idea of building a safe, relevant, high-trust internet that really helps women connect, and have a space to grow their aspirations, be it entrepreneurship, expressing creativity, or finding support in a community,” Chahal explains.
A space to nurture
In Muzaffarnagar, Chahal sensed the universal desire in women around her to grow and nurture themselves. With SHEROES, Chahal offers such a space for women to express themselves and grow, no matter where they are. “Here she connects with other women, grows her identity, nurtures her creativity and celebrates milestones, alongside her tribe,” Chahal explains.
SHEROES is specifically aligned to using the internet as a tool for change, especially for women in high gender gap countries, offering a space for appreciation, recognition, growth and interactions. As a platform, SHEROES aims to support more women in turning aspirations into goals via their ecosystem of curated opportunities, resources, conversations, mentorship and community engagement.
One of the ways in which SHEROES has been able to achieve this is through empowering women-led micro-businesses across the country.
“Women-led micro-businesses have great potential to transform the quality of women’s lives, build financial strength and also raise the national GDP. Women micro-entrepreneurs and aspirants leverage our ecosystem to network, access mentorship,” Chahal explains. Through SHEROES, women can attend live expert sessions every day to expand their knowledge and learn, market and sell their products and also get visibility for their businesses.
“We have creators, service providers, solopreneurs and homepreneuers, building their businesses via the platform. Women can also leverage our social commerce opportunity SHECO to learn how to build businesses from home,” she states.
In December 2020, SHEROES, in partnership with Google’s Internet Saathi programme launched the Internet Saathi Accelerator to support women micro-entrepreneurs across the country. The accelerator has helped women from small towns across the country connect with fellow micro-entrepreneurs, share ideas and gain guidance and mentorship, enabling them to launch and run their own businesses.
SHEROES is also working on setting up a neo banking platform.
“Building financial knowledge is something we have been doing consistently via platform and community. But there is also a need to offer financial products that serve a wider audience of women consumers, which helps them build savings, access credit and get savvier about their money,”
Through SHEROES Money, Chahal aims to address these gaps and drive massive financial inclusion.
Journey with your tribe
Despite having so much on her plate to handle professionally, Chahal has been able to manage her role as an entrepreneur and a mother with the support system of family, friends, colleagues and mentors. “I also stay mentally and physically fit with yoga, morning walks and self-care. A mix of discipline, support and hustle, keeps me going,” she explains.
For Chahal, the biggest motivator has been the impact made by SHEROES on women around her. The platform has supported women via its free counselling helpline, it has turned aspiring writers into authors, and aspiring entrepreneurs into businesswomen. “For me, every time a SHEROES member finds value in our ecosystem – whether it is celebrating a milestone, succeeding in her business, making new connections, it motivates me,” she adds.
Chahal’s message to women aspiring to kickstart/re-launch their career is that they are not alone. There are millions of women who are experiencing similar challenges and desires to succeed and travelling on these journeys along with other women makes it more exciting, interesting and valuable.
"If you feel passionate about something, don’t wait. Start chipping away at your idea, and ask for mentorship and support. There are tons of resources and support networks available for women entrepreneurs, today,” Chahal concludes.