Credit: MIT Technology Review on Flickr
Credit: MIT Technology Review on Flickr

Shaherose Charania is doing her part to dismantle the boy’s club that presently runs the tech world.

The 33-year-old entrepreneur is the driving force behind Founder Labs, an early-stage incubator for mobile startups, and Women 2.0, a media company that hosts empowering conferences, meetups and more. These efforts — as well as her work with organizations such as Hacker Dojo and Good World Solutions — have encouraged and inspired scores of women to pursue their dreams of tech biz ownership.

And to think, it all started with a free sample CD from America Online that came in the mail.

For Charania, then a high school student in Vancouver, it was love at first dial-up. “It was amazing — I had access to knowledge, to people, that I never had before. It made me realize that, when you have those two things, you understand the world better, and on a greater scale. In that moment, I realized this could really change the world.”

While learning to code in school — an endeavor undertaken after discovering her passion for tech — she was first exposed to the aforementioned “boy’s club.” That pushed her toward majoring in business with an emphasis on tech, in the hopes of disrupting the status quo. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario with a degree in business administration, Charania went backpacking through Europe, which proved to also be a formative experience.

After her trip, she packed her bags again — this time, to move to Silicon Valley in hopes of forging a path that combined her interests in the Internet, economics, and changing society for the better. Her self-described “underdog mentality” has fueled her ever since, and now, she’s 10 years into realizing her dreams of positively impacting the world.

We spoke to Charania about making mistakes, her must-have app and how she plans to inspire the next generation of female innovators.

Edited interview excerpts below.

The Story Exchange: When you were a child, what did you imagine being when you grew up? 

I went through so many phases! I started off thinking that the best thing I could do is be a doctor. Then, I remembered that I got squirmy about dissecting frogs, and opted instead to do something in the medical field that involved less blood. I thought being a radiologist would work, so I found a way to shadow one for a day — and almost fell asleep. Then I thought, “Maybe I want to be a dentist.” But blood was still an issue.

After my AOL experience, I got the idea of being a communicator — of educating and inspiring people. So, I thought I would try being an on-air correspondent. I tried out for a local TV news show, but I wasn’t good on camera at all. Then I auditioned to be one of the main anchors, and completely froze when asked to read the teleprompter. Needless to say, I didn’t get the gig — I didn’t even go back to reporting.

The Story Exchange: What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career, and how did you work past it?

Are you serious? Every day, I make a mistake. I make mistakes all the time.

One big one though, when I was moving from running a passion project to a business, was not making the switch quickly enough — you need a different mindset, a different team, a different plan. I took too long to realize that, and instead, was doing the same things over and over. That’s all fine and good, but you move slowly. Going forward, the biggest lesson I learned is that you need to start with the right team for a business model if you want to make money and grow at an organic pace.

The Story Exchange: If you had to delete all but one app, which one would you keep, and why?

Does that include email? What about text messaging? And the browser? Excluding those, I would keep Spotify. I’m a music head — it’s how I get through my day. I need music for a mood change, for stress release. My whole life is a soundtrack, and at any given moment, I’m always experiencing music in my head.

The Story Exchange: What is your proudest accomplishment? Note: it doesn’t have to be your biggest.

I would have to say building Women 2.0 from my passion — to truly live that idea of building a business with a social impact. It may not be the biggest business, but it has real value. People use the [Women 2.0] site, and are inspired — it’s changing lives, and that’s so cool to me. We see the connections and the information that pushes [these women] to be all they can possibly be. It’s so rewarding. And it’s a challenge to run a business model that’s new to the world, that’s still impactful, important and measured. Yay for us!

The Story Exchange: When you need to unwind after a particularly trying day, what is your go-to plan?

Yoga and music — those are two things I need — and my dear friends, who are like my family (and also mostly entrepreneurs). They understand the ups and downs. As for yoga, I will schedule myself to make sure I go four to five times a week, morning or evening. It’s such a healing and energizing source of physical endurance — a mental reset. It does so much for me, and I couldn’t possibly live without it.

The Story Exchange: What is the most difficult part of working in an industry with such widespread diversity problems?

Meeting people with the same or similar mentalities all the time — it gets tiring. I thrive on not always knowing the answer in life. I don’t know what will happen to day, professionally or personally, and that’s really exciting. Monotony is my biggest fear.

The Story Exchange: What’s the most exciting part of fostering the entrepreneurial spirit of women in tech?

What’s really exciting is seeing how women introduce unique ways to solve the world’s problems. Different people think differently, and it’s exciting to see that creativity. We need more of that — that’s what makes life exciting, and hopefully we’re solving problems that are important to the world in the process.

The Story Exchange: When you retire, what do you hope to be able to say when looking back at your work?

I hope I will have had some part in fostering the next generation of innovation. I hope people were inspired to start a business, or learned something through my blog, or met a business partner at one of our [Women 2.0] events. I hope to see those companies become big companies, because when those become big, the culture of the industry will change.

I hope I will have created a brand that represents women out there that I personally relate to, that I want to see more of in the world. This reminds me of when I was young, and I was obsessed with reading magazines — fashion, music, whatever. And I had a collage on my bedroom wall of pictures and ads that I made — I loved that wall. But then, I noticed that I didn’t look like anyone on that wall. It takes a toll on your confidence, and your mentality regarding who you are in the world. I hope to look back and see that Women 2.0 lifted up people in the world that are diverse, ambitious and entrepreneurial.

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