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Female Founders: Mya Papolu of Brandbass On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Persevere and let time tell. Starting your own business or pursuing your lifelong passions is never simple. But, if you are truly committed to making it happen, stick with it no matter what. Things work out if we work hard and give ourselves time.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mya Papolu.

Mya is the CEO of Brandbass. After graduating with a BS in Engineering from Carnegie Mellon, Mya started her career on Wall Street, consulting at Deloitte on CPG/Retail Fortune 500 clients as she explored her personal likes and interests with next-generation, digitally native brands. Working as a corporate in-house analyst at fashion house Chanel, she simultaneously worked to receive her MBA from NYU Stern and pivoted into the world of tech. From Wall Street to working in Venture Capital (she was an entrepreneur-in-residence at 500 Startups) and high-growth startups, Mya is passionate about all things technology.

She has more than a decade of experience in eCommerce and supply chain solutions, domain designing and executing across various product launches. She was instrumental as a key product team member in the fast-paced environment at Anaplan, from its time as a private company to an IPO in 2018. Previously, she worked at Skava’s eCommerce Platform team, which was acquired in San Francisco in 2015. She has also worked with app accelerators, helping startup teams to home in on their app offerings, marketing, and fundraising efforts.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

The idea for Brandbass came from my well-known shopping addiction and how my love for finding the latest and greatest trends evolved as I became a mom. Before, I loved to see what celebrity influencers were recommending. But when I became a new mom, how I shop changed. Instead of looking for new products from big-name influencers, I turned to my friends, family, and friends of friends who, like me, had kids. I wanted to find out what products really worked for them. I needed people to whom I could relate and whom I could trust to recommend products. I became more conscious in my shopping — I started shopping smaller and learning the stories behind the brands and how the materials were sourced.

Having worked with various enterprises, such as Macy’s to Nordstroms, implementing checkout optimization, building gift registries, and mobile commerce applications, I became more passionate about tech and its influence in retail and e-commerce. I had an “aha” moment while sitting with a client one day, realizing that the next generation of commerce is social — driven by the digital word of mouth from your friends, friends’ friends, and the everyday person who has the same interests as you. I started my social commerce journey with the goal of making it accessible to all, not just celebrities and big brands.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

During the pandemic in March 2020, I personally interviewed more than 500 small businesses that were online as well as boutiques that had shut down as a result of lockdowns. And that’s when we really started to understand the impact that we can have on small businesses and how we can help them with the creators and ambassadors on our platform.

We realized the importance of tapping into small business ambassadors and everyday people during both the highs and lows. Online content creators are key to helping brands, especially at times when many people can’t or simply don’t often visit brick-and-mortar locations.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While I was in my ideation stage and working a corporate job, I built so many clunky prototypes with Wordpress plugins that would crash everyday — but this still helped us get brands onboard from the very beginning! Thank God that my co-founder has now re-engineered our platform to be a robust and scalable one that we both built together and still stands today.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I feel extremely fortunate to be constantly surrounded by so much support but also tough love. My family and friends have pushed me and continue to do so every day.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience, what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I feel that a lack of awareness and access to key networks play a big role in holding back women from founding companies. The numbers certainly don’t play in our favor. As women, we sometimes need to work twice as hard to succeed.

We need to get out of our comfort zone and really tap into networks, ask for the introduction and make an appearance at events. Taking that extra step to get out of our safety and comfort zone is sometimes the hardest thing to do. But it’s important to realize that it will yield new results, open new doors and more.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

As a society, we need a much deeper focus and much more investment in STEM education and careers. And we need to ensure that our young women are receiving enough encouragement to follow their dreams, instead of making them feel as if they don’t have a place in the professional world.

There are so many levels of tech, making it hard to follow and understand everything. But taking steps to educating oneself in the areas that they are passionate about, including reading, converting learning into action, attending education webinars and series, can all help young women with their personal and professional development.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women have a way of identifying and understanding pain points in the world and market where men are not all focused. For example, there is a disproportionate ratio of men to women in gigwork, from ridesharing to other freelancing jobs. Brandbass aims to bridge that gap by providing a platform for women in gigwork.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

You can’t do everything all by yourself. You need to build a strong team of advisors, mentors, investors, and more who share your same vision. It can sometimes be a little nerve wracking entrusting one of your team members to carry out a part of your vision. But maintaining this trust and ensuring that your entire team feels that they have what it takes to succeed is vital to succeeding.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I believe a regular job can help you get the experience and skill set needed to then home in on something specific to be able to build your dream company and then become a founder. I believe that those who are truly committed to doing whatever it takes to successfully establish their dream business idea can do so. It’s not easy, but it can be done with enough determination and the right support system.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Take risks. Nobody has ever accomplished their dreams by kicking their feet up and watching life go by. Founding Brandbass took courage. It wasn’t easy. But I am so glad that I took that risk.
  2. Build prototypes. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous or unrealistic your prototypes might seem at first. If you don’t even take the time to explore your ideas and tap into your creativity, nothing happens. Craft your ideas, create a rough representation, refine your product prototypes, and repeat.
  3. Iterate. There are always new ways to refine and ensure your idea or product is the absolute best it can be. Take the time to make sure that happens.
  4. Save money. You never know when you might need a little extra cash to help on a rainy day, or to allow yourself to fund future projects and pursue your dreams.
  5. Persevere and let time tell. Starting your own business or pursuing your lifelong passions is never simple. But, if you are truly committed to making it happen, stick with it no matter what. Things work out if we work hard and give ourselves time.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

We connect small businesses and everyday creators who in turn help each other succeed. At Brandbass, we have helped countless small and midsized brands redefine what is possible for them. All brands, regardless of size, can find ways to implement a successful social commerce strategy without being completely at the mercy of influencers. It’s been a joy to see so many of these smaller and midsized brands find their place in a crowded marketplace.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Democratizing promotional work for the everyday mom and/or creator, to be able to make that extra income on the side on her own terms and in her own time. Those who choose to do promotional work for whatever reason should have the ability to obtain as much control as possible over their career development and the workplace opportunities available to them. Everyday moms and creators would especially benefit from such control as they strive to juggle the many demands their lives throw at them.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to one day meet up with Indra Nooyi, former chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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