Harini Sridharan

Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Sturfee

Tell us a little about your background, parents, family, where were you born, and where do you live?

I was born in Mumbai and raised in Chennai, India. My dad is a hard-core engineer, who has always been and still is my inspiration of an ideal engineer. My mom is a home-maker. She is a polyglot and one of the smartest women I have met. My recent home has been San Jose, where I moved about two years back.

What did you want to become growing up and what did you go to school for?

I was really one of those people who wanted to become everything! My dreams changed quite often as a child. One day when I was around 13, I strongly believed that fashion designing was my calling just because I chose the right shade of blouse for my sister! Luckily, my father, the wise man that he is, always kept it real. When I was in the last year of high school, I stumbled across a two-page introduction on Remote Sensing. And voila true love found! I did my undergrad in Geomatic Engineering. I flew to the USA to pursue my masters in Geospatial Science and continued there for my PhD degree with specialization in Remote Sensing.

In one sentence, who/what are you?

A jack of many trades and master of some. I take absolute joy in going outside my comfort zone and doing new things. Normalcy bores me.

How would you describe your business in one sentence?

I am the co-founder and chief-technology officer of a startup called Sturfee. I am in the process of building a highly technical team that is working towards building core computer-vision based augmented reality technology for streets.

How did you get the idea for Sturfee and what made you venture out on your own?

Before Sturfee, I was working as a Post-Doctoral researcher at Oak Ridge National Lab (if you don’t know them, they are the dudes who initiated the Manhattan project and made the nuclear bomb!). I was working on writing algorithms that would mine intelligence data from high-resolution satellite image. My current partner and my then-boss would always have this engaging discussion of how much geospatial data is available and despite a lot of commercialization, how under-utilized it is outside the clique of geographers. In the course of one such discussion, we realized how valuable it would be for augmented reality and saw a business opportunity. We explored it a bit more and spoke to a number of people. We had the good fortune of consulting with Google’s StreetView Director Luc Vincent. He was impressed by the idea and kind of validated/blessed it. We decided to quit and move to the bay. We started as a small three people team and had absolutely no contacts in the valley. I used to talk to anyone and everyone who would listen. I used to attend a lot of events in the beginning. Then, quickly learnt to weed out the useful ones from the not-so-useful ones. Slowly, our network grew and so did the company.

Describe your daily/weekly routine.

I have a packed schedule and I love to keep it that way. I wake up at around 5.30 AM and take the dog for a run. I get to work at around 8.30AM and then I just get things done. I am very focused for the next 10 hours. I come back and hit the gym and get some cooking going. During the weekends, I usually try to do some fun projects on my raspberry pi or sketching. My husband and I love watching movies, so we try to catch one or two over the weekend.

Do you or have Did you used a coach, mentor, or a mastermind group? If so, how did you find them?

I do not have or had a coach/mentor. But I do have Luc Vincent, Google’s Street View Director as an advisor for Sturfee. I met him through my academic contacts.

Share some of the growing pains in your industry. Some failures, setbacks that you faced and how you dealt with or overcame them.

I am a scientist by training. The biggest issue scientists in general have is –they are bluntly honest and just lay down the facts. I am realizing that diplomacy and correctly phrasing sentences will go a long way in getting the job done.

Has your Desi ethnicity and upbringing helped/hindered your business and plans?

Definitely! I strongly attribute my persistent nature of getting things done to my desi upbringing. My natural flair for science, math, music and dancing definitely comes from constantly being surrounded by exceptionally talented people. Also, it wasn’t too bad to be the “exotic girl” at all the American parties when I was living in Tennessee. Although, I kind of lost that privilege once I moved to the bay area!!! On the negative side – well, sometimes I do find myself being stingy and haggle for pennies.

What drives you? Is it the approval of someone you are trying to impress, consciously or subconsciously?

My parents and my grandfather. My parents faced a lot of financial hardships but always managed to focus on what was important. They were very clear in raising their two daughters to be very independent, hard working and filled with passion, despite being in a very conservative society that still holds back women. My grandfather was a man who simply enjoyed science! He was someone who got extremely excited when he saw Skype for the first time. He will call me to talk about the centrifugal and centripetal forces. Each time I make a small progress in augmented reality, I think of him and just wish he were here to see it.

What next? Where do you go from here?

Right now Sturfee is a small team of 6 working out of tiny office space in San Jose. Hopefully, in 5 years, we would own a few buildings in the heart of Silicon Valley.

What are you most excited about in your life right now?

Right now, I am very excited about snowboarding. My husband has been snowboarding for years and is teaching me now. It is teaching me a lot about falling down and then getting back up.

Any ‘lessons learnt’ that you would like to share with our readers?

Inhibitions should be shed, locked in a box and buried six feet under. If you do not ask you will never know if you would get it or not.

Any practical and philosophical advice you would like to share?

Be passionate. If you do not have enough passion towards something, it would eventually show.

Any charity or non-profit you support that you would like readers to know about?

I am a strong supporter of Karuna. It originally started as a charity event to support a fellow-student from University of Texas at Dallas who was suffering from cancer. But the event organizer was very inspired by the outcome and established a full-fledged trust that helps under-privileged cancer patients.

Rapid Fire:

Favorite City – New York
Favorite Movie – One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Favorite Song(s) – Abhi na jaao chod kar
Favorite time of day - 5.30am
Weirdest thing you have ever done – Accidentally pulled into a private farm in Texas and almost got shot by double barrel.