Focus On Building Professional Skills: Shreyasi Singh, Founder, Harappa

Oct 22, 2021, 17:38 IST

Shreyasi Singh

Shreyasi Singh, Founder & CEO, Harappa

Former journalist, editor, writer, entrepreneur. And yet, she has not been there, done that, for her motto is to keep learning to better herself, and enable others to become better, causing an impact. That is what prompted her to leave a cushy job and take the risk of plunging herself neck-deep into entrepreneurship. Shreyasi Singh, Founder & CEO, Harappa, says that the primary goal was to address the gap of foundational skills that higher education does not provide a professional worker but are needed to be successful. And that’s why Harappa’s singular focus is on driving transformative career success using Thrive Skills – an essential set of cognitive, social, and behavioural skills that enable individuals to continuously succeed.

Harappa began its journey as a B2B-focused edtech start-up and has now grown to a user base of over 3.5 lakh learners. Singh’s journey to entrepreneurship, and higher education, is itself symbolic of the diversity and opportunities of modern careers. Her book The Wealth Wallahs profiling India’s first-generation wealth creators and a new breed of wealth managers, brought her the Young Woman Author Award by India’s Women Enterprise Awards. Her second book, The Girl Who Thinks In Numbers, is a children’s book and tells the real-life story of a woman entrepreneur. Over to her.

I used to be one of those people…

…who said they’d never be an entrepreneur! But, when I spent two years in higher education during my stint at the Vedica Scholars Programme, I was convinced that higher education is the right place to make an impact. I also realised that I wanted moral and emotional ownership over my work and I think the nudge into entrepreneurship became clear then.

It was then that the online learning space happened…

During this time, Pramath [Raj Sinha], my co-founder at Harappa – with whom I’ve worked for over ten years and who was instrumental in my first foray into higher education – encouraged me to consider online learning. We spent six months extensively researching online education, skilling and the gaps that exist in the ecosystem. One thing was clear to us: we wanted to focus on a set of social, cognitive and behavioural skills that we believe are critical for an individual’s professional success and personal growth. This was the beginning of what today is Harappa.


Challenges are part and parcel of growth…

One of the biggest challenges in front of us was to figure out what our product would look like, and how best we could provide our learners with a seamless and frictionless experience.

The first was simply the fact that online learning is still a very new medium, and there aren’t many people you can turn to for help and advice. Traditional learning and pedagogy has evolved and matured over 300 years, however, instructional design, research and learner behaviours around online education still remain ambiguous. We solved this by building that capability and capacity in-house.

The second biggest challenge was putting together a robust technology team. Every entrepreneur will tell you this, especially when the founders themselves are not from a tech background themselves, which happens to be the situation in our case. We overcame this challenge by outsourcing the tech development to a reliable partner.

The final challenge was the demand for impeccable writing skills. Online education requires the capability to tell stories and write in a way that is psychologically appealing to users, as compared to the offline world where there are many non-verbal cues that can help learners along the way. This is one of the reasons why we have a course on ‘Writing Proficiently’!


Shreyasi Singh

Yes, it’s not easy being a woman founder and CEO.

I often jokingly refer to myself as the 2 per cent, to nod to the dismal number of women CEOs in India. It’s a harsh reality, that you have to be very good at what you do, better than your male peers, to gain respect.

I transitioned from being a journalist to becoming an entrepreneur…

My stint as a journalist was full of learning, meeting founders and entrepreneurs. It was always very interesting to meet so many entrepreneurs, hearing their stories and their everyday hustle. I learned a lot from these entrepreneurs that helped me in my transition to being one myself. My education in liberal arts played an important role as it gave me core foundational skills of writing, thinking, and questioning, and assimilating and synthesising information effectively. I find all my degrees crucial to this journey as the foundational skills I gained during these years are one of the main reasons why I believe so strongly in the Harappa curriculum.


Founding Harappa and watching it grow has been the best decision I have ever made...

The joy of scaling our workforce from a small team of five, then 30 to more than 150 people makes me swell with pride every time I see or hear from someone I didn’t even know works at Harappa! The privilege I have as a founder to see appetite for our courses and programmes makes every risk worth taking; seeing our learner base at 3,50,000 and growing steadily is everything. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.


To those who are looking to start something on their own I would say...

You should remember that the path of an entrepreneur is not easy. The emotional highs and lows of entrepreneurship aren’t well understood and you have to be prepared for that. Enjoy the process. Ensure that you find joy in at least 50 per cent of the work you do every day. It’s too difficult to continue the ride otherwise.


My advice for professional workers to keep their skills up to date is…

None of us have the choice anymore to stay fixed. We have to keep learning, growing and navigating the shifting landscapes of work. Learning a new skill is all about learning new behaviours, reinforcing them, contextualising them and applying them to work. Professionals today must identify key employability skills to navigate a changing landscape.  Once you are aware of which skill(s) they need to build, the next step is to evaluate how best you can start their learning journey.

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