From Corporate America To The Startup Dream

How This Female Entrepreneur Is Looking To Disrupt The Blockchain Industry

byRomana Hai

Series. CONQUERED

August 13, 2019 .5 min read

“It’s when I stopped doing what I thought I should be doing and started listening to what I wanted to spend my time on and what my team really wanted to be doing, I started leaning into that. I think that’s allowed us to find a product that we’re really happy with.”

Aishwarya Balaji, the founder and CEO of Impact Chain Lab, a blockchain innovation lab focused on global development and social impact, is breaking through boundaries and helping pave the way for aspiring female entrepreneurs. 

Aishwarya started her career in consulting at PwC working with Fortune 500 clients globally with a focus on technology and security in the consumer products space. 

“I thought it was the most glamorous thing. I was meeting all these really interesting people working with clients all over the world.”

But while it was definitely interesting and an opportunity most would kill for, it just wasn’t the right fit for Aishwarya.

“Very quickly, I realized that it wasn't what it seemed like. And I started to feel like I was selling my soul a little bit.”

That said, Aishwarya found herself surfing the web and frequently checking websites like TechCrunch, to find out about the latest startups. 

“I found it so fascinating how people could conceptualize a random idea and solve a solid pain point. I was just really intrigued by the startup landscape.”

But scouring the internet for the latest startups looking to create some noise wasn’t just an interest that came out of sheer boredom. At a young age, Aishwarya knew that at some point, she would want to start her own company. It was just always a question of what kind of company she would start and when.

But with a traditional consulting space background, Aishwarya knew she needed to learn more before making such a big transition in her career to the startup world.

“I didn't understand the ecosystem; I didn't understand the terminology.”

Instead, she opted to take more of a calculated risk by joining a really small startup in Manhattan as their first employee; the company was called Build Academy.

She spent about two years there working their strategy and ops, growing their platform to roughly 70,000 users.

Through Build Academy, Aishwarya was able to see how the inner workings of a company, especially at the ground-level.

From there, she joined 37 Angels, an angel fund based out of New York to get a better understanding of what it felt like to wear an investors hat. She wanted to understand where they were coming from and what they had seen that might have prompted the advice they had been giving. 

And while Aishwarya was at Build Academy, she transitioned with the company as they pivoted to working more closely with NGOs and governments. Through this pivot, Aishwarya was able to notice a lot of the pain points in the global development space that could potentially be filled with their new technology.

That’s where Aishwarya started having more conversations in that intersection and not only was she fascinated by it all, but she was consumed by it. 

“Before I knew it, I got to a point where I was having more conversations about that than my day job. I was pretty fortunate to have gone into the blockchain space at a time where not a lot of people were in the space. And so I think that uniquely positioned me to be a part of a lot of conversations and experiences that I think I would not have had had.”

This was an area in blockchain that she had been following for quite some time. Aishwarya eventually made the decision to quit her job and launch a blockchain Innovation Lab focused on global development.

Initially, Aishwarya and her company, Impact Chain Lab, focused on consulting, incubating, thought leadership and workshops in areas of energy, sustainability, trade and commerce, financial inclusion, and data ownership. 

A year and a half later, they made a pivot and decided to focus all of their energy on a project called Bystander - a platform that simplifies wellness, navigation and Information Discovery, especially in niche areas. 

Aishwarya made this decision to pivot very well knowing that the Wellness space, in general, is subjective. But she loved all the opinions, the noise, the controversial thoughts and most of all the passionate within the space.

“We realized, you know, if we can extract some of the subjectivity, we're left with more objective information that can help people make better consumer decisions. And so that's kind of like our mission and my personal mission.”

And through her experience, Aishwarya wasn’t afraid to pivot and focus her energy on something she and her company were passionate about. 

It was through her time in the startup ecosystem that she learned that while there are so many rules as to what you should be doing, startups were meant to disrupt. So who is to say if you’re not working out of a garage, living off of ramen noodles and working over 100 hours, that you’re not working hard enough?

“You know your business better than anybody else. And you know, yourself and your team better than anybody else.” 

Aishwarya has learned to take the advice of others, which can be super valuable but learning to administer it when she feels it’s appropriate. She has also learned to listen to herself more often.

So, what advice does Aishwarya have for anyone looking to start a company of their own?

“There's a lot of really exciting things about starting a company, but it's not glamorous, and it's not as easy as sometimes it's portrayed in the media. I think it's really important not just to want and have the drive, to start something, but to be really, really passionate about the solution that you're bringing to the world and the need and the problem that you're tackling.”

Aishwarya notes that she didn’t just start her company for the sake of starting a company. She knew at some point in her life that she would want to start a company, but she wanted to be prepared. As we said before, Aishwarya had a very traditional background in consulting. Prior to consulting, she attended Boston University. 

And when she found herself immersed in learning about the latest startups in blockchain, her appetite to learn more grew extensively. So, she made her way into working for her very startup, Build Academy. From there, she joined 37 Angels to understand things from an investor's POV. 

And when the situation presented itself, as she was explored the industry and received feedback on the problem she was trying to solve, that’s when she decided to take a leap of faith. 

“I never realized how much how different it was going to be from starting, like my own company, compared to being the first employee at a different company. Like I thought it would be pretty similar. But it’s actually a huge difference. In the end, it fundamentally comes down to the fact of responsibility.”

Aishwarya notes the responsibility and accountability you need to take for yourself as well as your team and your vision. And you have to think about it every single day. 

“It gets really exhausting.”

She also divides the mindsets of people who want to start a company into “two camps.”

“There’s camp one, where people sometimes want to start a company, or they say they want to start a company but never do. And then there’s the other camp, camp two. I see people jumping in, right away, without even thinking through something.”

While Aishwarya gave herself experience in the world she wanted to become a part of, she did essentially jump into it, putting herself in “camp two.”

And that’s okay. 

I said I would figure it out as I go. But when you jump in it into it that way, what you find yourself doing is like making a lot of pivots.”

But as long as you allow yourself for those pivots to happen and you evolve your company and your vision with what like the actual market wants, Aishwarya notes that you’ll be okay.

Aishwarya also speaks on what makes her a strong leader;

“It’s taking the time to think about what drives me, what I want, what I want my future to look like, what my team cares and values outside of work, is important. I think taking the time to self-reflect on things like that, makes me feel stronger as a leader."

So, what does the future hold for Aishwarya? 

Aishwarya hopes to one day make her secondary mission to support startup founders, women in tech, more specifically, to be more mindful around wellness and self-care.

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