Sharada Bose retraces her route from Oregon State to HP to startup COO.
In the early 2000s, Silicon Valley was abuzz with excitement.
“At every social gathering I attended, people were talking about jumping off of large companies and into startups,” said Sharada Bose, B.S. computer science ’84, M.S.’88.
Bose, at that point over a decade into her career at HP, was intrigued by the speed, agility, and creative possibilities the startup world offered.
“I was very excited. I wanted to go do this stuff,” she said. But a startup also meant risk. An oft-cited statistic estimates that nine out of 10 startups fail within 10 years. Bose, a single mom of two kids, needed stability. She couldn’t jump ship just yet.
When 2012 rolled around, “the stars aligned for me,” she said. Her kids were grown, and she had just retired from HP after 24 years. When a parking-reservation startup called GottaPark invited her to join as vice president, she took the opportunity.
Though this venture shut down in 2015, the experience provided a great crash course in how a startup works.
“What they were trying to do was so different from HP,” Bose said.
GottaPark rented out parking spots to commuters in San Francisco, making the company a business-to-consumer venture, while all her work at HP had involved business-to-business relationships.
HP had hired Bose after she finished her master’s degree in 1988. In her time with the technology giant, she worked on a variety of projects across the company’s many divisions.“I spent most of my time in operating systems, and I also spent time working in compilers, software development for applications, and manufacturing,” Bose said. “Oregon State gave me a very well-rounded and foundational knowledge of everything there is to know about computer science.”
After GottaPark, another startup called Way.com came knocking. The CEO had been keeping his eye on similar companies and persuaded Bose to come on board. Her first task was to garner investments for the company, the first round of which came in 2016. Bose was named chief operating officer soon after, a role she describes as a sort of sieve for any new idea the CEO might dream up.
“My job is to see whether it’s feasible, whether it’s doable technologically and businesswise, and do we have the money to do it,” she said.
With a hand in every aspect of the work, and as one of Way’s first five employees Bose could be agile and influence Way’s growth directly.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” she said. “I could make a change, and immediately see the revenue impact.”
Over the next four years, the company scaled up, adding customer support, marketing, and finance departments, and doubling in growth year over year. The company also expanded its offerings beyond parking, adding verticals through which customers could book restaurant reservations and purchase event tickets.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, demand for parking and out-of-the-house events screeched to a halt. Way’s revenue dropped 98% by the end of the month. The company’s agility was its saving grace.
“We made some very quick decisions,” Bose said. The company used the downtime to cut out unprofitable offerings, cleaned up its technology, and decided to become a car-focused company, adding auto insurance, car washes, and other car-related services.
“We kept the core of our business, and we evolved into something slightly different,” Bose said.
It paid off: Way grew from 4.5 million users and $105 million in revenue at the end of 2021 to 6.5 million users and $180 million in revenue at the end of 2022. While Bose will always be a founding member of Way, today she is not operationally involved with the company and plays the role of advisor. She’s remained an active member of the Oregon State community and currently serves on the alumni association’s board of directors and the OSU Foundation’s board of trustees. She received the university’s first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Alumni Legacy Award in 2020.
Bose advises students and recent grads to keep close ties to the university in whatever way they can, too.
“There’s a desperate need for technologists, especially computer scientists, today,” she said “Remember where you came from and follow your passion.”
Photo By: Karl Maasdam