How This Founder Helps First Gen Students Transition From College To Career
Waiting for perfection to start your business? Selfmade alum Sruti Bharat says "don't be paralyzed by some perfect vision." Instead, start small so you can test and learn. Thanks to Office Depot, we're here to share Sruti's story behind FutureMap, a nonprofit that helps first gen students, many of whom face unique hurtles in securing jobs and competitive salaries, make the transition from college to career.
We help first generation college students navigate the transition from college to career by partnering with college access nonprofits, providing job readiness training, matching students with internships and professional development training. This was all motivated by the fact that first generation students face these huge barriers when they graduate college. I think all of us can relate to the feeling of not knowing what is next but if your family doesn't have any college degrees and you are the absolute first in your family to go, studies show that you are more likely to be underemployed and make less of a salary. Also the job market relies on networks and we want to fight that. FutureMap is a workforce initiative that is trying to equalize the playing field for professional growth.
What inspired you to start this nonprofit?
I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur whatsoever. I studied engineering and I worked at a tech company, which is where I think I first became entrepreneurial because within the company it was always about new ideas. I've always been really creative but never thought of starting my own thing until business school. I took a new venture development class and my professor asked me to TA for him, so then I experienced supporting other startups. I felt like "O.K., maybe I could really do this." I had a lot of passion areas around coaching and helping people realize their potential and as the child of immigrants I always felt like career was one realm where I didn't always know what I was doing and I wish I could have helped myself back then and helped my peers.
What was your most valuable takeaway from Selfmade?
Selfmade came at a time in my life when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. I had been working as a consultant and I knew it wasn't really nurturing my creativity. I used Selfmade to evaluate if FutureMap could be something that sustained me full time. I think the Selfmade community was incredible, everyone who was there had the energy and drive to do something creative.
The community was one of the biggest takeaways for me — having this community where people were willing to take a look at my pitch deck and bounce ideas back and forth, that energy was really fun. A couple of my other big takeaways were centered around pricing. When I went to the course office hours, which were amazing, I got feedback that I was thinking of my value too low, and I think that is probably a theme a lot of women have in common. It gave me the confidence to raise some of the prices and really value what I was delivering.
What's the biggest challenge you face as a founder?
One of them has definitely been time and prioritization. As a startup, it is so hard not to be pulled in all these different directions. What I kept hearing is that I needed to be more disciplined about focusing on one thing and doing it over and over again really well. It gave me the discipline to focus on that one thing versus the 50 other things I had in my vision. This has still been a big challenge and honestly probably a big takeaway for 2021. I need to narrow the scope of what I am doing and do it really well. I think the second challenge has been around being a social entrepreneur. FutureMap is a mission-driven organization so even the decisions around making it a nonprofit and figuring out a sustainable business model have been a challenge.
Who do you look up to in the entrepreneurial space?
I started following Deepica Mutyala from Live Tinted a while ago. I think I really saw myself in her because she is also the child of immigrants. She was using her Instagram platform to talk about a lot of issues that I felt I could relate to and she was really transparent about her entrepreneurial journey. When she came to Selfmade I was SO excited because she is someone I've really been following and I don't follow that many personalities on Instagram. I look up to her in the sense that she is living the reality of many of our lives and I really respect her radical transparency.
Tiffany Dufu is another female entrepreneur I really admire; I love her business The Cru. She is an amazing black female founder who started a company that is based on community and has been wildly successful. She is very direct and transparent when she talks. I respect her for being a woman of color in this whole ecosystem. It is really challenging.
What's one strategy that's helped you start FutureMap?
I think the biggest one was the lean startup approach — test and learn. Especially back in business school, I didn't try to build the whole business at once. I did a small experiment and saw what I could learn from that. I started by putting a survey on Facebook and seeing if anyone wanted to talk to me about their careers. I offered free career coaching, which led me to realize that out of everyone I was coaching, first gen students had the most trouble. When I started researching this I realized that there was really room for me to add something to the market. It literally just started with me volunteering to be a career coach.
What's one piece of advice you would give to female entrepreneurs on the brink of starting?
I feel like the most important thing is just to do something, and to not to be paralyzed by some perfect vision. I know I have this vision of what I want my company to be but when I focus on what I can do right now, this week, I can probably do something. That helped me unlock a lot of insecurity. I thought of entrepreneurs as people who dropped out of school to work on their ventures full time, but I have financial needs and responsibilities and that isn't realistic for me. But if you legitimately prioritize your business as a side hustle, it can be the source of so much creativity and future opportunity. I think my advice would genuinely be: don't think you have to have everything prepared and your savings all lined up before you start a business, just work on it on a small scale.
How do you stay organized? What tools or apps help you stay productive?
I'm kind of an analog 'to-do list' person, I use post-its. My whiteboard was the best investment because I think visually, so for me that has been really important.The one app I've started using a lot is Miro for team brainstorming.
How do you stay motivated?
For me the affirmation that what FutureMap does matters is also really important and motivating. I collect stories all the time from students and that really inspires me. For example, we just did a workshop on 'adulting' to help seniors who are graduating think about what they need to know, and people said things like "I had no idea I was eligible to be on my parents' healthcare plan, thank you for providing these insights," or "I appreciated the real talk." Those stories and testimonials really keep me motivated because I know what we are doing really helps them and that is so energizing.
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