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Shradha Agarwal: Entrepreneurship is a practice & you have to ask why

KANSAS CITY—When Shradha Agarwal was in fourth grade, she started a secret classroom book club. After she'd devoured all of her parents' books and been refused an increase in allowance to buy more, Agarwal got entrepreneurial. She decided to charge her classmates to borrow her already-read books to earn money to buy more books. Even

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When Shradha Agarwal was in fourth grade, she started a secret classroom book club.

After she’d devoured all of her parents’ books and been refused an increase in allowance to buy more, Agarwal got entrepreneurial. She decided to charge her classmates to borrow her already-read books to earn money to buy more books. Even though her teacher tried to shut the venture down, Agarwal walked away from the experience with one key idea.

“A lot of great businesses are started by asking that integral ‘why?'” she told the audience Friday at Big Kansas City. “Entrepreneurship did not really come to me naturally, but what did was asking a lot of whys.”

“A lot of great businesses are started by asking that integral ‘why?'”

For Agarwal and her co-founders at ContextMedia, a Chicago-based company that provides waiting-room TV systems to educate patients with chronic illnesses, that meant finding out how to make healthcare patients’ lives easier.

It’s also what helped grow Agarwal’s belief that entrepreneurs should always be “empathetically authentic” when it comes to relating to their user base and figuring out how to serve them.

“Empathy for the user is what turns curiosity into a business,” she said.

At first, Agarwal says that investors scoffed at the simplicity of ContextMedia’s mission, but through the team’s values, they learned what was most important to their users.

“The concept that media needs to speak to people at a time and place where it actually resonates with them is really important.”

For ContextMedia, the time where media resonates most is when patients are waiting for care and need to research medical terms or symptoms of their condition. But when it comes down to it, Agarwal says, as an entrepreneur, there’s no golden ticket to building a successful business or establishing best practices.

“Entrepreneurship is a practice. It’s not an art. It’s not a science. It’s a practice.”

Early on in the life of their company, Agarwal and her co-founders found themselves at a crossroads moment when they had no money left in the bank. In another, Agarwal shares how even though the team had hired talented employees, they didn’t necessarily reflect the values and long-term mission of the business they had built.

“There’s no perfect answer or right path. The only thing you can do is try, fail, try again and fail again.”

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