Meet The Founder: Karishma Mehta {Humans of Bombay}

Karishma Mehta started Humans of Bombay in 2014 on a whim. Her love affair with books and stories always made up a large part of her life. From reading voraciously to writing a book and now giving bite-sized anecdotes for everyone in the world to read, story-telling has driven her and ruled her world.

6 years and two million followers later, she is living her dream life of sharing stories from across the world whilst running a successful business. She’s come a long way and she’s here to share some tips and tricks with you!

1. What was one thing you wish you knew when you started Humans of Bombay?

I wish I were told back in the day that there is absolutely nothing that you can do that will please everybody. It would have saved a lot of time wondering where I am going wrong. Of course, it is good to wonder what you are doing wrong and introspect, but it would have helped me to deal with criticism in a better manner.

2. Do you have a vision board for 2020? If yes, what’s on it for this year? We know you are a fan of The Secret!

I create a vision board every year. Although it is not a traditional vision board; I have a jar that I put notes in for the next year, and I only open these notes the following year on 31st of December to look back and figure out which goals I achieved. The idea behind doing this is while manifesting; I write it down so that it is done and I forget about it. I don’t think I remember what is in the jar.

3. How do you choose stories to feature? We are sure you are inundated, what’s the process? How do you make sure nothing falls through the cracks, and every story worth sharing makes it?

It is pretty much impossible to do that because of the number of entries we get on emails, direct messages on Instagram, the Facebook messenger. We try to sift through as many as possible and pick up the ones we feel would align with us. In a lot of cases, people narrate another person’s story, and we always tell stories from the first-person narrative. There is no real model that we follow because that would be unfair, but we try to go through as many narratives as possible and pick out after doing our internal research.

4. What are the causes that are close to your heart? With everything going around in the world at this moment (Gender equality, black lives matter) are there any causes close to your heart?

I would not say particularly close to my heart, but I do tend to take up causes to do with women and children because I feel the gender balance in a complex society like India has been flawed. It is a personal interest to me to forward the movement of equality, so I tend to take up cases or causes relevant in the women and children space, but I am not limited to that. Last month we raised 23 lakhs for Mr Ali Bhat, a man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 23 years. We definitely try to live by the equality rule. If we were selective with only women and children’s cases, we would be defeating the purpose of equality. Hence there is a distinction that I would like to make that while on a personal level I do feel for women and children, on Humans Of Bombay we try to maintain the balance and include as many people as possible.

5. What’re the most memorable humans of Bombay profiles?

I get asked this question very often. I edit almost 99.9% of the stories. The most honest answer I can give is that I cannot pick one narrative because there have been a couple that have made me really think long and hard. I don’t think there is one that I can pick definitively and say this is the one for me. It has been a journey, and each story has added to this journey for me as an individual or Humans of Bombay as a company. Every story has added to this!

What advice do you have to other digital creators?

The advice that I wish I had known earlier. There is absolutely nothing you can do, which will please everybody, and that is something that you should keep in mind going forward, especially in the beginning. We just live in a very interactive world where people have opined vehemently. I don’t think there is any rule that you can apply, or discovery is yet to be found where you can please everybody. You are going to be at a stage where you offend someone or hurt somebody’s sentiments. The best advice I can give is to deal with those reactions and not react. The other advice is to bootstrap everything. Live each day in the company trying to save as much money as possible. You can always dig into resources to stay afloat, and this should be applied even outside a pandemic because we are living in a world of variables. So today you will be up, but tomorrow some random event happens somewhere around the globe, and somehow your business is affected. So buy yourself the buffed period by saving as much as possible and bootstrap everything.

What have you learned during the pandemic?

I have always believed in it but now all the more that you have to be fluid to survive. Business or outside, you have to learn to adapt. Even just adapting to be at home or not being able to visit your loved ones, you need to adapt or grow into. It takes mental strength to be able to deal with that. I know that mental health deterioration is affecting many people on a large scale, and that is something I think that can be highlighted during this pandemic because you are out of your comfort zone. The collective consciousness has awoken to the fact that we are in this time and space where there is a lot of unpredictability, and we are living through a pandemic which happens once in a few centuries. Being mindful is something that everybody is realizing- mindful of the environment, mindful of our health, or knowing that life goes beyond the materialistic aspect. I have always been spiritual, but now more than ever.

If you could go back in time would you pick a different course at University?

No! I have an Industrial Economics Degree. I don’t think I still use economics other than to understand what is happening around the world. But I wouldn’t do anything differently because I believe everything that I have done in my life pre Humans Of Bombay led to Humans of Bombay. At the IB Level, I took History, English and Theatre, at college, I took Business and Economics. So I always had mixed subjects, and I feel like grappling with different subjects gave me clarity while being unclear! I wouldn’t change a thing!

Operationally in terms of Humans of Bombay, how have you guys adapted? Since you can’t meet and shoot during this lockdown?

So, we’ve worked it out as a team. The writers have figured out a way to get great photos from the individuals they are interviewing, and we apply pre-standard edits so that our feed looks similar. We had all been working from home, but now we have started to work from the office thrice a week. Pre- COVID life was hectic as we had 2-3 face to face meetings for the book or the podcast etc. and we realized it was kind of unnecessary and we can operate from home. So the question of workspace is something that I am actually contemplating, and I am eager to see where it lands towards the end of the year. I may or may not move to remote working, but again it is fluid. It does not necessarily have to be black or white, and I could adapt to a grey.

What is on your coffee table right now?

I just finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning; I spoke about it on my Instagram recently. It is a very interesting narrative of a prisoner in Auschwitz overcoming his suffering, and it puts a lot of human suffering in perspective. It is so relevant in today’s time because everyone is going through something at this time and how you can prevail no matter what the condition is. I am also reading the autobiography of A Yogi and enjoying it, but I have not finished the book in its entirety, and I am waiting to read that. Apart from that, I read Shoe Dog, which is Phil Knight’s book on Nike, and it was great from an entrepreneurial and business perspective. I also read a bunch of political stuff, and I have read Indira Gandhi. I finished reading Sanjay Gandhi Story and it’s a simple read to understand a very complex personality in Indian politics.