Deepali Vyas, Founder and CEO of Fearless+, is building a digital subscription platform that helps youth and young adults develop essential leadership and life skills.
Deepali credits her journey into entrepreneurship to her father and her experiences as a child helping her family’s motel business. Having witnessed how underprepared young people were for the workforce, Deepali saw the importance of equipping them with the necessary leadership skills to create change in the world. As a result, she launched Fearless+ with a mission to empower the next generation and revolutionize the way children prepare for the future.
We asked Deepali about the story behind the founding of Fearless+, how her experiences contributed to how she operates as a leader, and the hardest and most rewarding parts of her entrepreneurial journey.
Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding. How and why did you start working on Fearless+?
A: Through my experience in hiring young talent, I began to see a pattern with a lack of overall emotional intelligence skills. I wondered what young people were actually learning in college. As I began to peel back the layers, I realized that the social and emotional learning loss traced back to middle and high school. I started Fearless+ with the premise that I could empower the next generation with the necessary leadership and life skills to prepare them for a successful future. To further confirm my thesis, the patterns I recognized in the best leaders was their EQ skills. It didn’t matter how these leaders were able to do their job; it was about how their emotional intelligence and other soft skills made them truly great leaders.
Q: What problem does Fearless+ solve?
A: Fifty-two percent of students feel that high school prepares them for the workforce. More than half of college graduates have not applied to an entry-level job in their field because they felt unqualified, and nearly half feel unqualified because they do not have all the skills listed in the job description.
High schools are focused on preparing students for college, but they do not prepare them for the life ahead. College focuses on teaching theories and concepts, and does not focus on teaching students how to react in practical situations. Too many students are leaving with high school and college diplomas in hand, but with no clear path forward.
Q: What makes Fearless+ different from other companies?
A: We know the framework for success based on extensive experience in leadership development, entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation. Fearless+ is the culmination of years of assessment and coaching leaders across the globe into a proprietary framework for success. We want to be the de-facto destination for young people to create a modern portfolio and showcase their unique personalities to the world, while learning professional and life skills. As a mission-driven firm, we aim to democratize access to all students. We treat every student as an asset to be maximized.
Q: In what ways has your upbringing or past experiences contributed to how you operate as an entrepreneur/leader?
A: I am an immigrant. My family moved to the U.S. when I was three years old. At the age of 12, I was helping my family run a motel business. During the day, I went to school. In the evenings, I rented rooms out to clients and operated the business. I had a front row seat in seeing my dad as an entrepreneur. The experience I had in the motel allowed me to meet people from all walks of life. I was building my people intuition skills. I strongly believe my EQ skills came from this pivotal experience in my life. I learned to operate a business in every facet, from accounting to operations. I credit my soft skills from being in a customer-facing role on a daily basis at the motel, and ultimately my professional role in executive search. Through these experiences, I honed my leadership skills.
Q: Have you ever felt like you’re “different”?
A: I’ve always felt like I have had such a unique experience growing up—much different than my peers. For starters, I lived in a motel apartment, when my friends lived in houses. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. This upbringing has prepared me to take on whatever is in front of me.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
A: I was built to be an entrepreneur. I love all aspects of building a business—the creativity, empathy, service, innovation, purpose, and all the grit and hard work it takes to make something great. Seeing my father being his own boss without limitations was inspiring to me.
Q: What were the most difficult and most impactful lessons you’ve learned since starting and running a company?
A: I’ve been in executive search for my entire professional career and I know firsthand how challenging hiring can be. Having A players early on, even though they may be expensive, is extremely important. Your employees are the heart and soul of your business. They are what makes it run each day. Hire for talent and for culture fit, because good employees who believe in you and your company mission will stand the test of time. Skills can be trained—personality and work ethic can’t. Find the right person the first time, and you will not waste time hiring and training over and over again.
Q: What’s been the hardest and most rewarding part of your entrepreneurial journey?
A: The hardest part is the sacrifice of time with family and friends. I’m lucky to have a very understanding support system, but I feel guilty not being there for my son’s LEGO sumo battle, or my husband’s holiday party. The most rewarding thing is knowing that my son respects my hard work and understands my mission for Fearless+. The bigger rewarding moments are when I see the level of confidence that Fearless+ students show in a coaching session, and how motivated they are to take on the world.
Q: Have you struggled with self doubt as an entrepreneur? How do you navigate this?
A: When we hit the button to launch, I questioned whether we would get any responses. Would anyone want our product? But I go back to my mission and purpose, knowing that I want to make the world a better place by empowering the next generation to be successful. And it’s those successful humans who will continue to make the world better. I am comforted that my mission is one that is going to help so many young people. That’s when self doubt disappears, because I know I’m doing the right thing for the right reasons.
Q: Have you felt like giving up? What made you persist?
A: No. Fortunately for me, I am an eternal optimist. I manifest my will and push through any barriers to move forward. I don’t give up easily. I keep a smile on my face and expect the best outcome. There are always ways to overcome obstacles. My bigger purpose gets me up in the morning and helps me forge ahead.
Q: What resources or people have contributed the most to your successes?
A: I am eternally grateful to have a partner who I trust and who brings a skill set that I do not have—which has changed the trajectory of the business for the better. I am also lucky that the first employee hired at Fearless+ has been exceptionally talented, tenacious, and a seamless culture fit. We have a shared vision on how we want to impact the world. We pursue that purpose and vision every single day together.
Q: How do you celebrate successes along the way?
A: We celebrate the small wins and the big ones every time. Whether it is small gifts, dinners, or drinks. We make time to recognize our accomplishments, so that it motivates us to keep going. It’s these small, thoughtful gestures that always keep a smile on everyone’s face.
Q: What would you tell your younger self if you were to start your entrepreneurial journey all over again?
A: Learn your natural talents, preferences, abilities, and limitations, and make choices that play to your strengths. It’s impossible to be exceptional at everything. Don’t waste precious time and energy trying to master everything. Narrow your focus and work on developing your strengths.
Q: What’s next for you and Fearless+?
A: Currently, we deliver content on topics students are not learning in school—from financial literacy to emotional intelligence. As we help kids build their leadership and life skills and we match them with micro-internships. We believe nothing builds character and confidence like experience.
We want to become the de facto platform for building multi-dimensional portfolios to showcase personal and professional accomplishments and identities for the next generation. We want every teen in high school to think of Fearless Connect as a place where they can meet like-minded peers, traverse reality and the metaverse through our VR-based learning modules, and get matched with mentors and internships to round out their experience. We want every teen to be prepared for the real world by creating a portfolio of their whole self on our platform and unlocking every opportunity that comes their way. We are bridging the last mile gap by empowering the next generation for a fearless future.
Deepali is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.
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