Sourabh Sharma, CEO & Co-founder of Milaap.org, Real Leader Interview #27

EB:I designed a Milaap’s logo back in 2010. Anoj, a co-founder of Milaap is my senior from National University of Singapore (NUS) and that’s how I got into the job. Milaap has been close to my heart since!
A couple of my friends got together and raised about $2500 for education in India through Milaap, using their graduation from NUS as the apt excuse. I was also a part of this initiative. I have always known Sourabh as the co-founder of Milaap and this exercise was the handle for meeting him! I was instantly inspired by his passion for his work and saw a Real Leader Interview at hand. 

Sourabh agreed to talk to me and here is his story!
About Sourabh Sharma
Sourabh is the old man on Milaap’s team; besides business development, he looks into their online marketing strategy. A second time entrepreneur, Sourabh, brings experience. He sold his previous startup MicroAppli, a media sharing mobile application company to OnMobile Global (BSE: 532944) where he defined product strategy and was responsible for revenues in excess of 1 million USD.
Sourabh graduated with honors in Computer Science from NUS. When not labouring, he likes to run. He has covered over 200Kilometres with 10 half-marathons and one full marathon in Singapore in 2010 alone.
Sourabh is passionate about mass market activation for convenience in lifestyle. Milaap for him is an extension of this passion, an opportunity to involve the masses in bringing convenience to the poor with every loan made.
 
EB: Can you tell us about yourself..
Sourabh: I am Sourabh, one of the founders of Milaap. Milaap is a crowd-funding platform for financing loans to poor. This loan is to give them access to things like clean drinking water, sanitation, training which helps them to get a job as well as providing capital to entrepreneurs who are doing small businesses and micro enterprises.
I studied at National University of Singapore and graduated a long time ago. I worked on my first start up that is a regular tech start up. It was for sharing photos and videos on mobiles. It was much before the entire app store and iPhone economy kicked in. Our app did not do that well, so we did a distress sale to one of the companies. I worked with them for around 3 years.
After that I realized it was time to start up again. And this time I wanted to do something that impacted a lot more people and in a more deeper, meaningful way than just a software for sharing photos. I have always been interested in bringing together a lot of people to create something meaningful!
Milaap really brings these two passions together. On one side, anyone around the world can make a loan to help a poor person and at the same time every loan made will mean that someone is being drastically impacted. I think that really helps me to define why we are doing this and why I am making this my career.
EB: Where do you see Milaap in the next few years?
Sourabh:When we started out with Milaap, I wanted to completely disrupt how people did good – from the way it is being done today. Some people do it for guilt-riddance or as a personal thing. They do not like to talk about their work. I wanted to change that and the way money was being used. That is what we are trying to do with Milaap!
100% of the money is being given to the beneficiaries. You can even choose whom you give your money to. You can see how the re-payments are coming in. You can see how their life is being impacted. That’s where I see Milaap going – changing the way people do good. I want to make the process pervasive and make it an everyday activity. I want to make it part of the everyday rituals of eating, drinking, working and partying. People should be doing good and giving back to the community. If that can be achieved I’ll be really happy!
EB: What is your inspiration everyday? What drives you?
Sourabh:The primary motivation or meaning for my existence is in whether I create a difference in people’s lives and not just my own. Milaap helps me do that on an everyday basis. Sometimes our everyday operations bog us down, but once in a while you get this really nice e-mail from a lender who gave a loan. He would write about how happy he was for discovering Milaap, about how he always wanted to do this and that it was his dream to do it, about how he was glad to see someone else living his dream. That provides all the energy and motivation to keep doing this better.
EB: What are your biggest learnings on this journey so far?
Sourabh:The start-up journey teaches great many lessons. The chances of failure are so high – the only way to get it right is by doing more and more of it and learning from your mistakes. That way your success rate increases progressively. There are so many things you learn by being an entrepreneur. You need to take the form of a sponge. It does not matter what your current skill set is, you just absorb whatever needs to be done to grow your company and for its betterment. That is one of the biggest qualities an entrepreneur should possess.
Another learning is about expectation management – You tend expect a lot from the world. When you are dealing with a large organization there are different people and different issues at stake. Putting all of that together and making the machine move is an art. You also need to keep your team motivated. You need to know how to bridge the gap in passion between you as a founder and the rest of the team. You need to go beyond extrinsic motivation from compensations and bonuses to intrinsic motivation. When you see that, you see real work and results.
EB: Do you keep any productivity routines?
Sourabh:I still struggle with being super-productive! I do have one routine to clear up my mind and to be most creative. I run. That helps me clear the air and detoxify my mind. That’s something I do a lot.
Eb: What would be your message to aspiring leaders?
Sourabh: One of the things I have heard from people is, ‘I always wanted to start-up but I just don’t know how to go about it’. Be it financial or risks excuses, I think it is over rated.I think risk and safety are over-rated. By that I mean putting your bets on one thing that will happen next is over rated. I think you need to enjoy the moment and live in it. Be it a small hobby project or be it a trip or be it starting a company as well. I don’t think you should sit and wait. I think you should take the plunge. And not think about what will happen if this or that does not work out.  Life in the end is about experiences. Each experience makes your life richer and richer. That is so much more important than anything else!
 
Thank  you for sharing your thoughts, Sourabh! We respect your work and we are in awe of the change you are creating in the lives of many people.
Dhanya, Eb and yours truly.. 

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