My de-facto co-founder at HabitStrong, Nisha Salim, is brilliant but often runs into a problem — she does not have a degree from any tier-1 college.
She has been way better than any pedigreed folks we have hired from IIT/IIM etc., but investors have often been dismissive about her.
In the past, before HabitStrong, during the fundraising discussions, investors would invariably ask, “So who are the key team members?”
When I would tell them about her, I could see their faces drop when they did not hear things like IIM, ex-Amazon, or ex-Google.
To reassure them, I would talk about her staggering contribution — she has brilliantly donned every leadership hat, be it leading our tech, operations, or anything else. She is so aloof and understated that she is not even on LinkedIn.
Yet, my testimonial was rarely enough.
Often, I would hear a very condescending, “I am sure she is very good but you need someone really solid for XYZ role.” As if solidity only comes from your college.
Getting into a good college in India is extremely hard and I respect the grit and intelligence it demonstrates. But these are not the ONLY metrics that matter. The work you did last year matters much more than the college you went to ten years ago.
Also, not everyone has the same opportunities growing up. My colleague grew up in a small town where girls were not encouraged to pursue a career.
Integrity, perseverance, hunger for learning, and obsession with doing the right thing are what truly matter.
I will take a chance on anyone obsessed with doing great work. Everything else is irrelevant.