“Simply an insatiable desire to explore. Learning is at the very core to entrepreneurship and in this day and age a plethora of resources are available right at your fingertips.”
How do you take on Amazon or ABC’s Shark Tank?
If you want to succeed, you use Disha Shidham as an example and apply some serious skills, boundless creativity, and a whole lot of boldness!
Two years ago, Disha founded Savy, an online marketplace designed to help business owners convert “window shoppers” into paying customers. Her strategy? Teach herself code and create a unique site that levels the playing field for designers that want to compete with big online retailers in selling products to knowledgeable millennial shoppers.
I first met Disha at the Hatch Experience in Montana, an inspiring networking event designed to bring people together to “Hatch” a better world, and I was blown away by her drive. At the age of 20, she had already started two businesses, taught herself coding, and engaged gang leaders in North Carolina to help them find a better life.
But, even with all her accomplishments, something still weighed on Disha’s mind. When we met, Disha had just returned from shooting her Shark Tank pitch. It hadn’t gone as planned. The Shark Tank panel had panned her business idea and sent her on her way.
Although humbled by the experience, Disha is one tough Nerd! Having already handled gang leaders and Amazon, she remains determined. Mark Cuban and the other Sharks shouldn’t underestimate this persistent Nerd’s drive for success and ability to compete with industry Goliaths.
Here is this courageous Nerd’s story!
We LOVE your boldness. Your mission with Savy is to create a level playing field for entrepreneurs in a very challenging retail environment. Tell us how you came across this idea and the impact you hope to make on your generation.
The idea for Savy has evolved over the last two years after speaking to hundreds of small businesses. I found that many of them are struggling to compete against Amazon and other large players in the e-commerce space; I built Savy to help them better leverage the traffic that is already coming to their site and hopefully give them a fighting chance in today’s e-commerce driven retail environment. Savy stores gets access to invaluable data and insights gathered through the Savy widget. Additionally, our paid tier, called Savy Sales, helps small businesses revamp discount sales through personalized pricing.
“I’ve always craved to create, build and learn – even as a kid.”
What does Savy mean?
Savy fights for the underdog; the ones who are resourceful, scrappy and smart – the ones who eventually prevail against their Goliath.
You seem to be a serial entrepreneur (that’s a good thing), where did this passion for building businesses come from?
I’ve always loved tinkering and building as a kid. This passion quickly translated into me wanting to learn how hardware and software works and from there building something of value that was my own. Entrepreneurship was the perfect fit!
Was there a specific moment in your past that served as inspiration that sent you on your career path?
Attending MIT Launch during the summer between my junior and senior year truly served as the catalyst for choosing my current path. But even before then, I remember throughout elementary and middle school I would make physical products of my own and sell them to my classmates. One specific example was an iteration on the whole “Pet Rock” concept. I would find a cool looking rock, craft a story about it, and sell it. I also made homes out of Popsicle sticks and other “accessories” that I up-sold to my classmates. I’ve always craved to create, build and learn – even as a kid.
You talk about teaching yourself to code, living up to your “scrappiness” brand. Where did you get started? What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation?
I used the site Free Code Camp to learn the basics of front and back end development. There are a bunch of other sites that other self taught developers have championed though – Code Academy, Code School, Site Point, and of course Khan Academy. My advice to those interested in learning how to code is to be determined, look at each obstacle as a challenge and an opportunity to learn, don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know, ask questions and relentlessly google until you’ve found the answer you’re looking for. Also, Stack Overflow will be your best friend!
Who were your early influences/mentors? How did they encourage you to pursue this kind of career?
My parents and older brother have always been incredibly supportive and my biggest cheerleader in this endeavor. They’re my rock when I’m doubtful or apprehensive – without them I’d never be able to pursue entrepreneurship. Outside of my family, Josh Collins from Q-Zero, an entrepreneurial incubator for young people, and Laurie Stach from MIT Launch have been soundboards for brainstorming solutions to issues that I’ve had along the way. They’ve continuously supported my efforts, even through the trials and tribulations that are inherent to building a startup.
You’ve gone through a few very competitive entrepreneurial programs (Q-Zero and MIT Launch). Talk about your experiences in these programs — what were your expectations and what did you get out of them?
Both Q-Zero and MIT Launch were incredibly valuable and integral to me being where I am today. Not only did I gain the mentorship, but I found a community of like-minded young entrepreneurs. Being among individuals who held the same ambitions and dreams as me was the one of the first times I didn’t feel like an outlier in a group of my peers.
Tell us about your experience on Shark Tank and what advice would you give other ambitious entrepreneurs?
I was incredibly nervous! I grew up watching Shark Tank, so being in front of the Sharks and pitching my company was fulfilling a childhood dream of mine. Also, that was the first time I’d ever been on a film set – every moment was new and captivating. Being in the Tank was such a cool opportunity that I am endlessly grateful for! Advice I’d give to other entrepreneurs is simply be yourself! Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear – so laugh, be playful and have fun.
You also attended the Hatch Experience in Montana, a global network, movement, and a series of experiences designed to catalyze CREATIVITY to HATCH a better world. What was the biggest part of that experience?
Hatch Experience was absolutely astounding – I am so grateful to have taken part in such a catalytic event. HATCH was the intersection of youth and experience – where one’s knowledge served to fuel curiosity in others, where the alchemy of brilliant minds resulted in action.
“Never stop tinkering. Whether you’re learning a new language, teaching yourself how to code, delving into a new book – never suppress your innate desire to grow and attempts to comprehend this beautiful world.”
What are three things every Nerd should practice to stay creative and inventive?
Never stop tinkering. Whether you’re learning a new language, teaching yourself how to code, delving into a new book – never suppress your innate desire to grow and attempts to comprehend this beautiful world.
You talk about the Millennial generation and their unique tastes and habits. How do you see this impacting business and retail in the future?
The influx of technology – with everything becoming faster, smarter, more ubiquitous – will either drive legacy retail into extinction or force it to adapt. The first step towards adapting is listening to customers and re-evaluating how to best serve them – this is where Savy can help!
You clearly have a passion and talent for business and helping others. Talk about your work with gangs in North Carolina and how that changed your perspective on your role as an entrepreneur and a person.
Running the Hero Program in North Carolina this past summer was one of the most challenging and fulfilling endeavors I’ve taken on. I learned how to work with people who were circumstantially completely different from me – and was able to motivate them to grow and learn about business. My biggest takeaway from this summer was that people, to their core, are the very same – it’s external situations and responses to them that produce differences in behavior. Speaking to that core – the kernel of truth that lies within every person – is how you become a leader, how you motivate, influence and foster action.
At Raising Nerd, we’re all about encouraging Nerds to explore and learn by failing — trial and error. Talk about a time that you failed but learned or became further motivated.
Early last year I decided to pivot Savy to the business that it is today. I had to let go of my entire team in order to sustain the changes. That was difficult. To say goodbye to friends who seemed to be “ride or die” and suddenly be on your own? I spent quite a bit of time wondering why in the world I’d taken the path that I had.
I have a weird way of overcoming emotional turmoil. I guess I distract myself by pursuing a new intellectual endeavor. This time it was coding. I spent a chunk of last year learning frontend and backend development languages – HTML, CSS, Node JS, MongoDB, etc – and built Savy from scratch. The whole experience of going from never having written a single line of code to building a scalable web app was incredibly empowering and gave me renewed faith in myself.
What does a Nerd, or a future Nerd, need to get started on a pathway to entrepreneurship?
Simply an insatiable desire to explore. Learning is at the very core to entrepreneurship and in this day and age a plethora of resources are available right at your fingertips. If you want to build a software company, learn how to code. If you want to build a physical product, start tinkering and building prototypes. Programs like Q-Zero and MIT Launch can be wonderful supplements to acquire resources and mentorship, but if you don’t enjoy learning you won’t be able to sustain the challenges that are bound to emerge along your entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us your Nerdiest secret.
I have a coin collection that I started when I was in elementary school. I think my oldest coin is from the 1800s.
What’s the hardest thing about your job? What’s your favorite?
Honestly, I think the most difficult part of my job may be the same as my favorite part – working with people. Managing people problems and building a team is incredibly difficult and challenging at times but also infinitely fulfilling.
If you had the chance to have dinner with two people – past or present, who would it be?
Elon Musk & Catherine The Great