Trisha Sakhuja-Walia took the LSATs not once, not twice, but five times before realizing maybe being a lawyer wasn’t for her. Good thing she had her minor in journalism and women’s and gender studies in her back pocket. “I did it for the sole purpose of impressing law school admission counselors. I wanted them to see that I was well-read, but I never thought that I would pursue a career in journalism.” If only Sakhuja-Walia knew what was to come…
In one of her journalism classes, she was assigned to either start a blog or write for a blog. “And I was not starting a blog, that's for sure. I couldn't even wrap my head around how to buy a domain. I wasn’t thinking that far ahead,” recalls Sakhuja-Walia. She was scrolling through Facebook when she came across Brown Girl Magazine (which, at the time, was just a small South Asian digital publication). “I had never seen something like it, to see South Asians writing content about themselves. It was so narrative driven, so memoir driven. I was literally blown away. Finding that post on Facebook literally changed my life.
Over the next six years, Sakhuja-Walia contributed to Brown Girl on the side, as she finished school and worked at a few PR agencies and news outlets, never really thinking that it could be more than a hobby. But the lightbulb moment came when she was working as a content manager at a South Asian TV station, Zee TV. She saw how much money and time they were spending trying to target South Asian millennials, when Brown Girl was doing it organically for free. “I started to realize, ‘Wait, there's nothing like it,’” says Sakhuja-Walia. “There's such a gap in the market. The young, millennial-esque media companies, they just didn’t exist for South Asians like myself who grew up here.”
After four years at Zee TV, Sakhuja-Walia knew she wanted something more. And as fate would have it, Brown Girl’s original founders were ready to move on, so she swooped in. “I was like, ‘Listen, this deserves a lot more time. Brown Girl deserves a full-time employee, let me be that person, let me try taking it to the next level because I feel like I can.” Six months of negotiations later, Sakhuja-Walia became the co-founder and CEO of Brown Girl. “Timing is everything. And always listen to your gut. Those two things worked in my favor at that moment,” she said.
That was in 2018, and now? Sakhuja-Walia has completely transformed Brown Girl into a scalable and sustainable business that fosters community, self-expression and South Asian storytelling with a roster of over 250 freelancers from around the world. She even raised the first round of capital after bootstrapping for three years and launched a podcast, a book, a digital community, events and merch. And most recently, Sakhuja-Walia hosted Brown Girl’s third annual Slashie Summit, a conference dedicated to South Asian “slashies” a.k.a. people with full-time jobs and part-time side hustles. “From the start, my goal was to create spaces for Brown Girl that takes us off of the internet,” she says.
Pretty impressive for a full-time team of one right? That’s right, Sakhuja-Walia is the only full-time team member. “My office is my Slack channel,” she says. This year, she’s hoping to hire Brown Girl’s first editor-in-chief and grow the team even more because the demand is only getting bigger. Makes sense, when you’re scoring interviews with Bridgerton’s Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran, Never Have I Ever’s Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Love is Blind’s Deepti
Vempati. “We’ve been like this small website that hasn’t had giant people funding it. It hasn't been backed by a celebrity. So, we've just been kind of chugging along for the past 10+ years [Brown Girl was originally founded in 2008], with our heads down. And so, it's cool to just feel that recognition,” says Sakhuja-Walia. “I've been so grateful to have watched representation grow from the sidelines.”
Brown Girl is everything Sakhuja-Walia and so many other South Asians wished they had growing up. “Like many immigrants do, I kind of put my Brownness aside. I would tell my younger self to not give up on being Brown. Because one day it's gonna be cool.”
Who are you inspired by?
“My biggest inspiration is the small businesses, hundreds of them, that reach out to us because they see Brown Girl as their first go-to marketing strategy. They are building something from scratch. They're building products that are truly bridging the gap for South Asians like myself. That's probably been my biggest inspiration: watching all these really cool founders start their own companies. And the cool thing is, they all have full-time jobs. Special shoutout to Modi Toys, Soma Ayurvedic, Ranavat, Scrumptious Wicks, Sahajan Skincare and Holichic by Megha Rao.”
How do you unplug from work?
“I am obsessed with reality TV. I have watched everything there ever was on Bravo. You have to watch Family Karma. It’s the first-ever South Asian reality TV show on Bravo. I love it. It's cool. Everyone will always ask: ‘What is self-care to you?’ And I'm like, ‘Reality TV, myself, Bravo.’”
How many unread emails do you have right now?
“230—and unfortunately, these are all real emails.”
What do you look for in an employee?
“For us at Brown Girl, it's always about folks who can really speak to their identity. I think that part is so important. Everything that we're doing is so culturally nuanced. And second, because we've always been remote and freelance at Brown Girl, communication is just so important. Oh, and being true to the deadline that you've picked up and being true to the story that you've picked up and following through with the interview that you want to do.”
Best piece of advice?
“The best piece of advice that I received was probably while raising capital: ‘abundance over scarcity.’ It’s the idea that there’s room for everyone. Raising capital was truly hard. I'm a solo founder. I'm a South Asian woman, and I'm trying to scale a company in the South Asian space, which to many VCs and angels, they just don't feel like it's scalable. And as South Asians, many of us grew up as immigrants with this feeling of competitiveness—but there is room for all of us.”
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