What started as an idea in the middle of the night has evolved into the biggest online platform for women in India. Shaili Chopra is the founder of SheThePeople, a site that is filled with content by and for women. Articles cover politics, the news, culture and the arts. There’s also op-ed pieces, videos and even virtual chatbots for information and resources on sexual and reproductive health. Chopra counts the creation of ‘Doctor Didi’ — a virtual and non-judgmental chatbot users can speak to about sexual health — as one of her biggest successes. This project was particularly important to Chopra as, “Conversations about sexual health are considered taboo in India.” Today the Mumbai, India-based entrepreneur is motivated by the women she hears from everyday and the sisterhood she has created.
Chopra’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
The day I wrote the name #shethepeople at 4 a.m. on a tissue paper on my bedside table back in 2008, I was sort of clueless as to where this would go. I put the tissue in an old purse and forgot about it. In 2014 I saw it again when I was cleaning my closet and emptying out purses. I was expecting my first child at that point and was a few months into the pregnancy. I told myself, starting two unknown projects together sounded like a disaster. But in less than two weeks, the company was incorporated, in three months there was a brand name and plan, in nine months there was a website and a baby. In 2022, we crossed the 6-year milestone. And women across the world wrote back about how we were a force for good in their lives. Today, SheThePeople is the voice of millions of women and is changing how they think of themselves and their potential. When I think of achievements and success, I think not of myself, but of all those people whose lives we may have touched in tiny and small ways.
Each day my DMs fill up with stories of struggles, stereotypes and how women are beating them one day at a time. What I also get in droves are deep issues women are suffering from, and that’s a reminder of the road ahead for our team. So far my 2022 has been about focusing on how women feel and how women do. Women and money, women and health, women and their voice. Stay with me, sisterhood!
So as I look at 2022, I tell myself, “Ideas that look small are sometimes crumpled and hidden in purses. They often don’t look like the next ‘big’ thing. But they are.”
How do you define success?
My definition of success is going through the ups and downs of building something new and coming out more experienced. If I don’t take a chance on myself, then who will?
Tell us about your biggest success to date
One of my biggest successes to date is the efforts we have put into creating the world’s first multilingual chatbot to simplify women’s health, Doctor Didi. Conversations about sexual health are considered taboo in India both in rural and urban areas. We have developed a tech-enabled non-judgmental and friendly chatbot for India’s 450 million young women to access critical information about their health and body.
Our aim is provide access to and knowledge of sexual health and reproductive rights for the community of women who currently have limited access. By using technology and bringing social impact together, we are aiming to enable access to a chat based solution for women and link them to medical experts for no cost.
69% of women in India do not have access to or actively seek, medical help or guidance on sexual health. Designed and produced as a free service, the Doctor Didi chatbot addresses a critical issue that needs to be addressed to ensure a healthy community of women across the country. With over 1.06 billion mobile connections in India, a simple language based mobile tech solution can provide critical knowledge for a massive problem.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Since I started this business I have been asked, why did I choose to focus on a ‘niche’ category. That’s a reference to India’s women. I contest this ‘niche’ dig at me with the following numbers – Indian women, at 720 million are 50% of the country’s population, 10% of the world’s population, twice the size of America, seven times the size of Japan and we are still calling Indian women a niche? We are a force.
Like many founders I faced sexism, subtle and direct questions about a ‘woman in business’ and I was told to alter my vision – focused on financial freedom and health solutions for women – to selling lipsticks and diapers. I stood my ground (and there’s nothing wrong with platforms that do sell lipsticks and diapers except that I wanted to build something different) and that was a big challenge especially within the startup ecosystem and later on the client side. Since then we have changed the way our partners and the market does business and how they view women, for the better.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
I had my first child and launched my first startup ever in the same year. It was not easy at all and nor was it planned. For a moment I thought I shouldn’t launch a business while I was pregnant with my first child, and then I told myself why should a baby hold me back and play into the hands of what society always says, “Oh she just had a baby and won’t be able to work for a long while.”
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Behind every woman is herself. We underestimate our own power to start, succeed, grow and lead. I wish I had not doubted myself so much at the start.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
By talking to other women and celebrating their success and realizing how important a sisterhood is for making one feel better, stronger and more capable.
Who is your most important role model?
My most important role model is an every day woman who wants to dream, be ambitious, run with every opportunity and become the woman behind her own story and success. I met a young girl in a small village outside of Mumbai and was deeply impressed with how she was building her business by learning on the internet, despite all odds. Her husband and her family were against it but she persisted and powered on. Today she sells products on many e-commerce platforms. ◼