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Women Of The C-Suite: Garima Kapoor of MinIO On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

Conventional wisdom is just that — conventional. You have to challenge that thinking if you want to shape the market you are in. Most investors told us we couldn’t compete in the object storage market, and that all of the value was accounted for. It turns out very little of the value had been accounted for, but they just couldn’t see it.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Garima Kapoor.

Garima Kapoor is the Co-Founder and COO of MinIO, where she is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of the business. In addition to her role as COO, Garima is an angel investor for several Silicon Valley companies, including Isovalent, Procurify, H2O.ai, Helpshift and Treasure Data, Inc. Garima earned her PHD in Finance and Accounting from Nirma University.

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

The most interesting story is probably how I ended up becoming an executive in the high-tech business segment in the first place. When I was growing up in India, my choices were very limited. If I scored well in school, my family would have insisted I become a doctor or an engineer of some sort. But, those professions were not for me and I instead chose the path of economics, in part to rebel against my family! I enjoyed everything about economics and eventually got a PhD in Finance and Accounting.

I think the most important thing that education has taught me is the actual process itself of learning new concepts. If you apply the process of scientific reasoning, all problems are one and the same irrespective of the domain. Still, with no formal background in computer science or engineering, it has been quite the journey to get where I am. But, I can comfortably “pretend” to be a technologist and no one will ever doubt me.

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?

I have made my share of mistakes along the way, but now that I think about it, none of them appear to be terribly funny. But, in the early days of MinIO, we did get kicked out of a co-working space because of a no-pet, no-kids policy. Someone abandoned a dog in front of our office building, and we ended up falling in love with her and adopting her. After others in the building complained about kids and a pet running around, we were asked to leave and had to move to our own independent office. Rent is certainly not cheap in Silicon Valley, especially for seed-funded startups.

But, in the end, it turned out to be an amazing thing because we wanted our office to give off the feel of a home shared by family, as opposed to someplace more mundane, especially since we spend most of our time there. Small things like this helped define our cultural identity early on and eventually made MinIO what it is 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?

It has to be my mentor and husband, Anand Babu Periasamy. He goes by AB and is a fellow co-founder and serves as CEO of MinIO. I probably don’t say it nearly enough, but if he wasn’t here to guide me every step of the way and patiently teach me about all things technology, I don’t think I’d be nearly as successful in my job.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Busy, back-to-back meetings are actually not extremely stressful for me. Since I also own the sales target for our company, I sometimes worry on the days I am not busy enough. But, when you have a great product that customers need and are in love with, it’s actually fun to buckle down and work. We are also brutally honest about what we can and cannot do and customers seem to really appreciate that. Even our board meetings are similar.

Having said that, my source of stress is different. Once you sign up to lead a team, burdens any team members have are now on your shoulders. If they fail, I tend to take it personally and put a lot of the blame on myself.

I’d say the most stressful part of my job is letting people go when they don’t fit in culturally. There is no easy way to do this. To me, letting people go respectfully and with care is even more important than how we welcome them into our home.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

As per the McKinsey study, for organizations with a diverse team, the productivity actually increases by 35%. So, going off the capitalist viewpoint, this problem should not exist at all and organizations should strive to be diverse. But, reality is far from this.

I feel there are multiple factors that go into making sure that an organization is able to meet its goals of diversity and inclusion. Unless you make diversity a core part of your organization’s culture and religiously pursue it, it won’t happen automatically solely because of good intentions. Culture is inherited from the leaders of an organization, so it’s important to recognize that diversity within companies stems all the way from the leadership team to begin with, whether that be the Board of Directors or C-level executives. The rest of the organization will inherit and reflect upon the values set by the leaders.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

At MinIO, I feel my role as co-founder helped attract other women to come and work for us early on. My presence made them feel welcomed and comfortable. We still have a long way to go when it comes to diversity, but I’d say we have a decent start.

An inclusive, diverse and equitable society can only be achieved if we make a conscious effort towards working against our inherent biases. For example, it’s important that we make a conscious effort to hire more women. Since I am a founder, I feel I was able to attract female talent in our organization. It might not be the same for other organizations, but there needs to be a systematic effort towards making sure we present women with more opportunities, especially in tech.

When it comes to salaries, skill levels and productivity, there is an inherent bias towards women. Bias leads to justification. Studies show that women are paid .78$ for 1$ earned by men for the same amount of work. This ratio is far worse for women of color. In our startup, we not only go out of our way to hire female members, but also make sure they’re paid equally and fairly. For women specifically, we need to make sure we don’t use previous salary history as the determining factor for their compensation, because we know there could potentially be built-in bias from their previous jobs. In California, there is even a law now banning inquiries into applicants’ salary history.

Some of our members even got their spouses to join MinIO and it turned out to be a hugely successful outcome in establishing a family-like atmosphere.

Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

In a startup, the CEO plays both the composer and the conductor role. However, other co-founders essentially share the CEO’s burden, only without the title.

As the organization matures, the CEO’s job primarily skews towards the role of a conductor. Whether the organization creates music or noise depends on the executive team.

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

Most people relate “executives” to power and glory. The truth, however, is leadership is a huge responsibility and it can be a very lonely job. It can sometimes be nothing but pain because you take everyone else’s dreams and aspirations onto your own plate and try to make them come true. If they fail, you feel like it’s because of you.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I feel that female executives in general are undermined in their abilities. On top of that, there are fewer opportunities to begin with. Women have to deliver a lot more to achieve the same status as men. They have to constantly find ways to stand out and be “extraordinary.”

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

As a founder, you’re expected to do everything that needs to get done. There is no ‘job description’ per se. In the earlier days of the company, I owned everything from finance to HR to engineering management. As the product matured, my role became more aligned towards the revenue function and managing the organization more broadly.

If you take away one thing from this conversation, let it be this: nobody can prepare you for the role of an entrepreneur. You cannot learn it from books and business schools. You just have to do it. Take a leap and the net will appear.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I will explain executive in terms of leadership. Leaders are normal people with enormous passion and drive. They are hidden among us until they discover their cause. Once they do, nothing can stop them. They can and will endure long-term burdens all alone to further their cause.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

As a woman, I know there are times when I myself have experienced self-doubt. I have actively and consciously made an effort to fight it every step of the way. When your goal is to drive your team to greatness, you cannot afford to leave room for any form of self-doubt.

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

Domestic violence is a cause that is close to me. I used to volunteer at a domestic violence organization, Maitri, as a counselor. Unfortunately, due to lack of time, I had to give it up. I now support the organization from the outside by being a contributor to their activities.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Conventional wisdom is just that — conventional. You have to challenge that thinking if you want to shape the market you are in. Most investors told us we couldn’t compete in the object storage market, and that all of the value was accounted for. It turns out very little of the value had been accounted for, but they just couldn’t see it.
  2. Brands are built on love and trust. It’s rare that folks will speak on the value of a brand — but the value could not be more clear to us at this point. It’s a mass amplifier of our work. Every experience and interaction, from the interface and the SDK to our chats on Slack, needs to be helpful, educational and kind. That builds your brand more than your advertising or marketing slogan.
  3. Similarly, no one touches on the value of authenticity. As a woman entrepreneur, this is really important to highlight. It is hard enough for us as it is. Trying to be something you are not adds complexity. Be true to who you are and you will thrive. It should be noted that you can be authentic to more than just one thing. I feel that I’m authentic in my role as an investor, a co-founder, a mother and a business leader.
  4. It is OKAY to learn the hard way from experience. They don’t reward that in school, but it’s the way of the world. I have made countless mistakes, but as long as you learn from them, you are on an upward trajectory.
  5. Culture matters. Again, as someone with a PhD in Finance, I was not exposed to the culture of a company until I experienced Gluster. We have sought to build a family-first culture here at MinIO. We have multiple wife/husband teams and we love having kids visit the office. We love celebrating birthdays and holidays. Creating a strong culture is the foundation for growth because it allows you to easily identify those who will thrive in your environment and ensures that no matter where you hire them (engineering, marketing, support, etc.) that those teams will have the same perspectives.

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.

One of the things that COVID has helped to bring to the forefront is healthcare. Every one of us is affected by it. To this end, one of the things that I would like to see more in healthcare is open innovation and research. Many of the challenges here come from healthcare being highly regulated, and for a good reason, but I feel we need to have a more collaborative environment for scientists all over the world to come together and innovate. This can’t happen without proper government funding and an open infrastructure. This has successfully happened in other fields. CERN is a great example of open innovation, and we need something similar in healthcare.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

‘Impossible is Nothing’ is my all-time favorite quote. We are only limited by what we think we can achieve. At times, we get scared about the possibility of failure before we can even take that first baby step towards our dreams. This has been my biggest lesson — no one else should judge you for what you are capable of.

Is there a person in the world 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!

Indra Nooyi has been an inspiration to me for as long as I can remember. She is one of the few first-generation women of color to lead a global organization (PepsiCo) for over a decade. Also, she transitioned from the role of CFO to CEO very successfully. She is definitely a person I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with. I’ll even take a coffee date!

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