Sharvan Pethe moved to the UK from New Zealand to join London Business School as part of the 2024 MBA cohort. After several years working as a Strategy Consultant, Sharvan decided to combine his love of world culture and technology together to create Sapia, a new kind of social media platform. To learn how to grow as an entrepreneur, and to build the knowledge he needs to expand his business, he moved to London. Now, alongside his studies, Sharvan is an integral member of the LBS Entrepreneurship Club, and a leading contender for Launchpad 2023.
I was born in India, but I was brought up in New Zealand after my family moved there when I was two years old. I graduated from the University of Auckland, with a year exchange studying at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Travelling has always been important to me, and I’ve spent a lot of time visiting other countries. I loved backpacking because it always gave me the opportunity to meet and integrate with local cultures in a way not offered by other kinds of travelling. They were genuinely formulative experiences. There’s so much to learn from people that are different to you, and I became increasingly frustrated at the way that media has become a polarising entity. Even with so much connectivity possible online, people still live in echo chambers.
After university I worked as a strategy consultant in New Zealand for about four years. I was part of the team that helped develop New Zealand’s world-leading covid-tracing programme, helping to scale it from a hundred employees to over a thousand. Having a strong sense of social responsibility, I volunteered for a charity called Big Buddy, which pairs boys without strong male role models with men. I was partnered with Ethan, a fourteen-year-old in my community with a completely different upbringing, and it was probably one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.
It was this that led me to create Sapia, a new kind of social media. It’s designed to engender diversity, connecting people from different walks of life by feeding you content that expands your view of the world. But to get Sapia off the ground, I knew there was a lot I still needed to learn. I began looking for master's programmes that could provide me the technical and business acumen I needed. It was actually my boss at the time, a London Business School alumnus, who suggested the School.
The more I learned about it, the more LBS seemed like the perfect place to help me build my business. Sapia is all about connecting people – and the student body at LBS is just so fantastically diverse, it brings together people from every walk of life. I’ve already met so many people who have networks across the world that I know I wouldn’t have been able to reach if I’d studied elsewhere. London isn’t just one of the most diverse capitals in the world – it’s geographically close to so many other great places to visit. I had never been to Europe before coming to LBS, so being able to hop on a plane with friends for a weekend and travel to somewhere on the continent is incredible. Particularly coming from New Zealand, where the closest place to visit is a nine-hour flight!
I am a recipient of an LBS Fund Scholarship. The extra money has helped alleviate some of the pressure that I might otherwise have felt, it’s given me latitude, and having additional financial backing means I can put my own savings towards working on Sapia.
Of course, another large part of why I chose to come to LBS was the course itself. I have chosen three electives – Developing Entrepreneurial Opportunities, Tech and Innovative Strategy, and Design Lead Innovation – that are helping to cover both the business and the technical sides of developing Sapia. The professors are always ready to go above and beyond, it’s not just about clocking in to teach a lecture and being available for office hours. For example, early on I attended a lecture on the ethics of algorithms with Nicos Savva. I knew building an algorithm was going to be essential for my business, so I engaged with him, got into his diary, and had a series of chats with him over a couple of weeks. Nicos went beyond that and connected me to others in his network that could help me build out some of the technical aspects.
Every week at LBS is different – there’s such a vast amount on offer aside from your course, you don’t know what you’re going to be doing! There are so many clubs to be part of that have various meetings and activities. I joined the Entrepreneurship Club, and I’m now the co-host of its new podcast “Lightbulbs” where we interview founders and VCs to get a deeper understanding of entrepreneurship. First of all, it’s fun and I’m learning a lot, but it’s also giving me experience in public speaking and broadcasting, both of which are things that I may want to pursue as part of my career. It seems like wherever you look on campus, there’s another opportunity to broaden your horizons.
I’ve also just found out that I’ve made it through to the next round of the Launchpad pre-accelerator competition. Launchpad is a phenomenal initiative by the LBS Institute of Entrepreneurship and Private Capital and the Entrepreneurship Club. Similarly, to the Developing Entrepreneurial Opportunities module, it takes advantage of the alumni network. The Institute invites external speakers, often alumni, who explain the pitfalls and successes they’ve had throughout their careers. It’s an opportunity to ask questions and gain advice on your business decisions. The Launchpad finalists get to pitch their business to a group of investors with the chance to win up to £10,000.
I’ve still got over a year left on my programme, and the plan is to absorb as much as I can and carry on working on Sapia. I’m going to keep working and see how far I can progress by the end of my second year. Properly developed, Sapia has the potential to really shift the way people use the internet, helping to bring purpose back to browsing and connect communities. Current media can have serious effects on mental health, and it’s time to use technology to reverse that trend.