Sushma Sharma, the founder and CEO of Konversai, is on a mission to democratize knowledge and make the world a better place by facilitating meaningful connections and conversations. Her company, a live video-based knowledge-sharing platform that connects seekers and providers of knowledge or specialized information, enables one-on-one interactions with higher levels of personalization than those made possible by the competing firms in the burgeoning industry. Trained as a lawyer, Sushma holds two master’s degrees in law from Columbia Law School and the University of Oxford. Preceding the founding of Konversai in 2015, Sharma was an associate at two major law firms in New York City. She also spent six years leading a highly coveted post-graduate law program at City University of Hong Kong, during which time she had the opportunity to interact with, mentor, and learn from thousands of students. Konversai is the culmination of her lifelong learnings and her passion. Sushma currently lives in New York City with her daughter, Leela.
Sushma Sharma OM Interview Questions
- Essentially, what is Konversai?
An eBay of knowledge, Konversai is the world’s first one-stop shop for any and all personal human knowledge. We live in a world where technology makes our lives more convenient but also more disconnected. Konversai connects people on a one-on-one basis and enables video conversations between them for the exchange of knowledge. There are millions of people who have valuable knowledge and skills, have time, and need income, but don’t have a way to offer it and earn from it. There are also millions of people who need face-to-face interactions to learn something or get trustworthy information but are limited by geography, time, and money. Konversai offers the solution to both of these problems. It is the platform that allows everyone to be part of the gig economy.
- What was the inspiration behind the name?
The origin of the name “Konversai” is an interesting one. It is of course meant to be a play on the word “converse.” The “K” at the beginning is meant to represent knowledge. The “I” at the end represents the online/Internet aspect. And in between, we have “versai,” a root that means “honesty” or “truth.”
Konversai is indeed about conversations, but more importantly, it is about authentic knowledge-based conversations. This means coming as you are and knowing that whatever you have to offer has value. Conversations are not enough to enhance healthy relationships; those conversations have to be authentic. Simple small talk does not help relationships grow and develop. For this reason, Konversai wants users to start embracing the emerging idea of “deep” or “big talk.” We need to go deeper within ourselves and talk about the things that matter to us and that will contribute to making a positive impact in other people’s lives. This is not always easy, and in fact, it can sometimes even be scary. But we have to take these steps. These types of conversations enhance healthy and meaningful relationships.
- What are some of your day-to-day duties?
It sounds very glamorous to be the CEO of a company. But in reality, it’s far from it. At this point, my day-to-day duties are everything and anything that needs to be done for the day-to-day operation of the company. I need to do thinking on the macro level. I need to meet with people for fundraising, partnerships, tech development, marketing ideas, and media exposure. But there’s a lot of time that goes into just administrative work. The part that I love most and that I occasionally struggle to make time for that is the macro-level planning, growing the company, and coming up with high-level marketing strategies. Hopefully in the very near future, when we have more people to take over the nitty-gritty of the company, I can focus on macro-level thinking, connecting people, and partnering up with people and organizations.
- What has your journey been like? Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No. I always wanted to and knew I would be a lawyer, which I did. That being said, sometimes our personalities are made for doing something out of the box—not just thinking out of the box, but actually doing something that’s different from the traditional jobs. And I’ve always been like that. So I would have reached entrepreneurship in my path no matter what I pursued.
It has been an extremely hard journey so far, but Konversai has given me a dream that keeps me awake at night and smiling during the day. On a personal level, there have been many hardships and obstacles. The idea of Konversai began in the summer of 2015, and as you can imagine, for a non-tech person to create a website, create a team, find users, and find funding has not been an easy journey. On top of that, to deal with personal hardships, such as undiagnosed illness for my daughter (she is fine now though) and losing my husband, all I can say is it’s a journey I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But despite everything, Konversai has grown immensely, which proves the point that there is an inherent need that is being satisfied by it. There is an intrinsic need in the world for it, and I have been lucky to have an amazing team that truly believes in its purpose and impact. Most really good ideas die not because of lack of execution but because they weren’t in the market long enough for people to find out about them. I feel that we are at a brilliant cusp where people are finding out about Konversai and realizing how much it will change their world. That in itself is a beautiful place to be. From a business point of view, Konversai is getting stronger each and every day, and I propose to do my best to keep the growth momentum escalating. I know how rare it is to have a dream that gives you a purpose in life, and I intend to fully embrace that.
- You’re a very busy woman. How do you unwind?
There are days when I don’t, and I’m still figuring out a balance. It’s quite hard to disconnect from the stress of work. It’s difficult as an entrepreneur to figure out what is work and what is life, and no one tells you but it is a lonely journey on top. But if I have to unwind, then I’m taking a walk in the park—a long walk to think and clear my head. I also spend time with my daughter or with friends. My daughter luckily knows how to force me to calm down—be it with board games, cooking, working out, Netflix, or just talking through things that are bothering me. All that helps me unwind.
- Who are some Asian women you look up to?
No one particular woman. But there are lots of women who are doing incredible things. I don’t have what I would call a “role model,” but I am very impressed by so many women who have worked their way up and have taken huge risks in their lives to get where they are. It doesn’t matter if people disagree with me, but when I see a woman succeeding, I know that she at least had to work double of what the others did, and that impresses me. And I know the journeys they have been through have not been easy. It is amazing to see so many women coming up, in every sector, be it journalism, entrepreneurship, politics, finance, or law. I am happy to see so many women, against all odds, come up and be successful, which surely takes a lot of guts, and I admire them for that and for their journey.
- If you could ask yourself any question, what would it be, and what is the answer?
Am I doing enough as a parent? Am I preparing my daughter for the future? Am I making her strong enough? The answer may be yes, and we’ll know that in a few years. Could I do anymore? Probably not, but that is a question every working mother—or rather every parent—struggles with.
- What advice do you have for Asian female entrepreneurs?
Give back. Work in a team. Ask for help. You will be surprised as to how many people, unexpected people, will actually help you. It’s not a competition. We are not competing with each other. We all can do well. We just have to work together. And at the end of the day, if you can answer the question I ask myself every day in the affirmative, you are good. The question is, “Did I do my best today?” And remember, it’s your best, and not best by anyone else’s standard.
- What is your go-to coffee order?
Tall skinny chai latte from Starbucks.
- What do you consider the biggest problem facing Asian women today to be?
Finding the balance in life is a struggle for most women, but slightly more for Asian women. There is a whole cultural aspect of the Asian heritage, and sometimes it creates a conflict with the modern world in which we are living. It’s almost impossible to combine the two. Apart from the cultural aspect, there is a whole family/kid aspect that prevents women to solely focus on work, so it is a balancing act. The reality is that we women want it all, and thus the struggle, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I think most women are like that. Each part of my life is very important to me, and I am willing to work harder, balance more, and have sleepless nights, and in return I want a life that is fulfilling in every way possible.