(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Here is my interview with Roshni Mahtani, CEO & Founder at Tickled Media and theAsianparent. Roshni is also actively involved in the start-up community. In 2015, she founded the Female Founders Network, a group of over 2,000 female founders. She also sits on the board of TIE Singapore and is a mentor at JFDI and the Crib where she works with early stage start-ups. Besides her interest in the start-up world, Roshni is also an Executive Producer of Untouchable: Children of God – A 2014 documovie about young girls in the brothels of India and how they are sold and trafficked from Nepal. The film won the Humanitarian Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival 2014 and is currently playing on Singapore Airlines flights.
Roshni has graced the cover of multiple magazines and newspapers in the region. Her company has been mentioned in over 200 media outlets ranging from the BBC to the Singapore Straits Times.
What makes you do what you do?
I’d always wanted to create something that would have a positive impact on the world around me. I noticed that a lot of organizations focused on education, children’s welfare, housing – covering our basic needs. But even more fundamental is parenting, and I knew of none that was singularly intent on making that better.
So I thought, if I could capture a mere 1% of the 20 million Asian families online, I’d be making a difference in at least 200,000 of next-generation children. We all want to make the world a better place; and to us at Tickled Media, the simple solution is: better parents = better kids = better tomorrow.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
When you say ‘rise’, you think steady upward trend; but it’s really been more of an uphill battle with lots of stumbles for me. Startup life is neither easy nor predictable. We got to where we are through making calculated yet still gutsy moves, eventually making mistakes and learning from them, then using this knowledge to refine our strategy.
Despite the hurdles, we’ve just had to stay laser-focused on our mission and goals and one thing that’s helped us do that is our market research department. We conduct both commissioned and our own studies on Asian mums, so we can keep track of how the market is evolving. Again, knowledge is power; acting on what you discover propels progress.
Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
I remember way back when I started my company at 25, and people just didn’t take 25-year-old Asian women seriously. I would go to meetings with male business owners in their 40s, and they wouldn’t even look at me, directing their questions to junior male employees instead.
I powered through anyway, not to prove them wrong but to do something right – to pursue what I believed in. I fully knew that entrepreneurship would take over my life and even change its course; but I persisted, taking on this challenge for the same reason we all do – because I knew it mattered.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
My first mentor, who continues to advise me to this day, was Zoomit co-founder William Klippgen. William has been an integral part of theAsianparent’s success and is an exemplary leader. Amongst a score of others in my support system, it’s important to have advisors with a good understanding of your industry. For that, I’m fortunate to have the support of people such as Ashwin Puri, formerly from Komli, and Dave Weiss, formerly from BabyCenter.
As the founder of the Female Founders Network, I’ve also tapped on the expertise of a global community of women entrepreneurs who come together with the common objective of sharing knowledge and empowering women to achieve their goals.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
Spotting talent is the easy part – a person’s achievements speak for themselves and word gets around about rising stars in the industry.
Crucial to developing and supporting talent is setting people up for success. Provide the right resources, have the right culture + environment in place, and challenge don’t choke. Training helps, but what I’ve found to be more important is mentorship. It gives me great satisfaction to know that many of our former employees have gone on to do incredible things – that we’ve played a part in helping them reach their potential.
Supporting our Ticklers’ personal alongside their professional lives is something we’re also keen on. If someone in our team has to move all the way to the other side of the globe, we’d still find a way to make it work, time difference and all.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
As a company speaking to mothers, we actively support working mums in our own environment. We offer flexible schedules and work-from-home arrangements, we have breastfeeding and kids’ rooms, we’ve built a culture of understanding – these are all part of our efforts to be truly mum-friendly. We have dads working for us too and they’re equally supported.
Since we’re present in Singapore, Thailand, India, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, we’ve got such a rich multi-cultural pool of talents. Even with the complications in logistics – time differences, different holiday schedules, having to do calls instead of face-to-face meetings, etc – the benefits absolutely outweigh the costs.
Our flagship product is theAsianparent.com and we’ve got so many Asian parents under our roof! This doesn’t just help us in terms of authenticity and knowing our audience intimately; it also allows us to learn from each other’s parenting principles, styles, and traditions. All these elements come together to provide our readers and partners with the best we can offer.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
There’s no one formula; no one size fits all. Each person must tap into their leadership potential given their own context and decisions thus far, skill set, passions, support system… all these things that make each leader’s journey his or her own.
I wish I could tell you what the key is, but I can only share what has been mine. Macro view, it’s been to always be one or even two steps ahead. The industry is moving at light speed and competition is intense. You can’t fall behind in the game; you have to be best player you can be. Your team looks up to you to make the right decisions – what you decide puts food on their tables and sends their kids to school. There’s no slacking off when that’s what’s at stake.
Within the organization, be a good listener. Take the time to get to know each of your team members – not just their strengths and weaknesses, but also their families, their dreams. People are your best resource so invest in them. You can’t have a good grasp of your organization if you only know the operational side. Be familiar with its every aspect, especially your people.
Advice for others?
Listen to your mom/wife! She’s always right.
To learn more about Tickled Media, please see http://tickledmedia.com/.
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