The Indian-born entrepreneur made a huge splash with SlideShare and continues to pave the way for self-made women in tech to find success.
Rashmi Sinha is a trailblazer and an inspiration to women, particularly women of colour, who are pursuing the entrepreneurial dream. She started her own company, SlideShare, which she eventually sold for more than $100 million, cementing her place as a leading voice in tech entrepreneurship, and a true global influencer.
Born and raised in India, Sinha relocated to the US as a student and acquired a PhD in cognitive neuropsychology at Brown University. After taking some courses in computer science, she encountered HCI (human-computer interaction). Intrigued, she switched the focus of her study to HCI while attending University of California, Berkeley, for postdoctoral studies.
After her studies, Rashmi co-founded her first company, the user-experience consulting firm Uzanto, and worked on projects for eBay, healthcare provider Blue Shield, and auto-service company AAA. Her first proper product was the game-like consumer research software MindCanvas, which was released in 2005. Not long after, Rashmi, her husband Jonathan Boutelle, and her older brother Amit Ranjan, founded SlideShare, the company that would help make her the business leader and entrepreneurial icon she is today.
Built in just six months, SlideShare is a Web 2.0-based slide-hosting service that allows users to upload slideshows and presentations privately or publicly in PDF, PowerPoint or OpenOffice formats, view slideshows or embed them, as well as comment, share, and rate them. Launched in 2006, SlideShare quickly became one of the world’s most popular slide-hosting sites, with more than 9 million presentations having been uploaded to the service since it was created. (The site currently gets about 80 million unique visitors each month and has some 38 million registered users.) In 2012, SlideShare was acquired by the professional-focused social networking site LinkedIn for $119 million.
The world has taken notice of Sinha’s success. In 2008, she was named one of the Most Influential Women in Web 2.0 by Fast Company, she was ranked No. 8 on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs list in 2012, and in 2015, India’s leading business publication, The Economic Times, listed Rashmi as one of its 20 Most Influential Global Indian Women.
As a woman of colour succeeding in Silicon Valley, Sinha’s position is an important one in tech. Over the past several years, there have been increasing calls for greater diversity in the tech sphere, and Sinha’s accomplishments as a female entrepreneur make her an inspirational figure for women and girls aspiring to succeed in the male-dominated (and largely white) world of Silicon Valley.
Her involvement with India-based CXO Partners’ SheLeads initiative, which is “dedicated to empowering women to realize their professional aspirations”, is a testament to her acceptance of her role to encourage women to follow her lead. “I’m seeing more and more technically-inclined Indian women nowadays,” she said of her work with SheLeads, providing advice and encouragement to women working on startups of their own. “There is definitely potential to bring that talent, with a little bit of mentorship and encouragement, to foster a wave of female entrepreneurship.”
While Rashmi stepped down from her role at SlideShare in 2014 after spending two years running it as a part of LinkedIn, she remains active as an entrepreneur-at-large. Her training as a scientist – with her PhD, she is, technically, Dr. Sinha – combined with her experience as a tech entrepreneur give her a unique and specific skillset. As for her next project, she has discussed writing a book about how people use social media, and she continues to be involved in the HCI community. Regardless of where her career takes her next, Rashmi Sinha is one of the leading lights for women entrepreneurs in the world of technology.
Justin Anderson | Staff Writer