Women Of The C-Suite: Vanita Pandey of Arkose Labs On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive
Be yourself: I grew up in a very different world and initially I felt the pressure to blend in. Looking back, I realize how important it is to be true to our unique differences and to be aware of who you represent as there could be someone who looks up to you as a role model based on them identifying with you.
As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite” , we had the pleasure of interviewing Vanita Pandey.
Vanita Pandey is the Chief Marketing Officer at Arkose Labs. She helps drive demand for the platform in key markets, elevate the brand and execute seamlessly on its go-to-market strategy. Pandey is a fraud expert with previous experience as the VP of Product Marketing at ThreatMetrix (acquired by LexisNexis) where she established the company’s strategic vision and market positioning. She also served as VP of Marketing and Product Strategy at Simility, (acquired by PayPal) where she was charged with strengthening the brand worldwide and driving key elements of go-to-market strategy. Prior to ThreatMetrix, Pandey oversaw merchant development and global marketing strategies for digital products at Visa.
Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
If someone asked me where I would see myself in my career, I would never have picked the CMO role. My career journey had me more on a path toward the analytics, strategy and product side of business.
I started my career in India and had the opportunity to be a part of the burgeoning financial services industry there. After grad school in the U.S., I took the corporate route — first at Capital One and then Visa. But, being in Silicon Valley, one can’t escape the energy and the pull of being part of a startup, so after Visa I joined Silicon Valley-based ThreatMetrix to lead their product marketing and GTM. It was an instant fit. I love all aspects of B2B marketing, from crafting the go-to-market strategy to storytelling to influencing the sales cycle.
B2B marketing is rapidly evolving and the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on how companies search for, consider and ultimately purchase new technology. I am grateful for my diverse experience and the non-traditional route I took to this point as it helps me leverage other skills and try approaches that may be a bit out of the box.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It is hard to choose one but I would say it was when Arkose Labs was recognized as a Gartner Cool Vendor in 2020 — it was a big achievement and a stamp of approval from one of the most respected analyst firms in the tech space. What we do is unique and groundbreaking and being recognized by an industry authority was a proud moment.
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 was young and it was early in my career when I was in a meeting with the senior leadership team about the marketing campaigns that were being run. The marketing team had no understanding of the reality of selling consumer products in India and I decided to speak up and share my opinion in the meeting, even though I was the most junior person. The managing director patiently listened and called me for a follow-up meeting where he assigned me the ‘big task’ of doing exactly what I thought was missing. So for the next couple of months, I spent my time going from one rural location to another, traveling via local transportation, staying in less than optimal hotels and guest houses. It turned out it was a big joke and the joke was on me — the ultimate punishment for insubordination.
Looking back, it was also a tremendous growth experience. Rural India is not the safest place for a young woman to travel, especially someone who had a very sheltered upbringing and was not familiar with many of these areas. I learned to trust my instincts, hone my ability to navigate situations, find creative solutions and most importantly, connect with people who didn’t have anything in common with me. My recommendations did eventually get implemented and overall, I am very proud of this person who had the conviction to voice her opinion and follow through with it.
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 would like to call out two people who have been instrumental in helping me shape and shift my career. Partha Mukherjee initiated my financial services journey back in India and coached me through the transition into a nascent and fast-growing industry. Later on, when I was thinking about my next career move, Reed Taussig, CEO of ThreatMetrix at that time, hired me and helped me transition from a big company to a start-up environment.
I remember meeting Reed and talking about what I wanted to do, sharing some of the frustrations about feeling like a ‘misfit’ and he matter-of-factly asked me if I would like to explore working in tech where no one is a misfit. He was right, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the fast-paced tech start-up environment.
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?
While being prepared is not a last-minute effort, I use the time leading up to a big event to regroup and de-stress by listening to music and deep breathing. I try to put the ‘big task’ in perspective and use past successes — and more importantly failures — for motivation. We often avoid thinking about our failures, but channeling them properly means that we develop the self conviction that we will prevail.
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?
When a company truly embraces diversity, the benefits are far reaching. Having a diverse executive team ensures that the leaders are not only bringing expertise around their discipline but are also bringing diverse perspectives that have been shaped by their cultural backgrounds, upbringing and family values — as well as their life experiences that have made them who they are. Two people can go through the same situation but have vastly different experiences based on who they are and what they represent in terms of gender, race or ethnicity. These experiences shape them as individuals and professionals and create their own unique ability to process information and make decisions. This also creates a healthy work environment with thoughtful debates and helps to minimize groupthink.
A diverse executive team, or for that matter a diverse team of any kind, is definitely more productive, resilient and resourceful.
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.
We all need to recognize the need to change. We have come a long way and still have a lot left to do when it comes to achieving true equality. We need to start by creating an environment where diverse perspectives are not only encouraged, but are in fact table stakes. We need to let people voice their opinions, however unusual they may be, and actively seek out perspectives that are different from ours. Rather than judge one another, we should work to understand differing points of view and ask questions. We may be genuinely surprised. And we should do it not because it is expected, but because we want another perspective and realize the immense opportunity to grow when we seek out diverse voices and ideas.
In one of my previous gigs, I had the opportunity to work closely with a truly diverse team. I was amazed by the thought process that some of the members brought to the table, the way they approached the task at hand. When we sat in focus group interviews, they were able to look for things that I had missed. What we were able to achieve was way better than what would have been possible without the diverse perspectives.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or 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?
Executives create the environment and culture that strong leaders and high performers want to be a part of. Our job is to guide the teams to ensure we stay true to our values while executing at the fast pace that is expected of a high growth startup.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the myths that surround all executives is that it’s their job to make decisions. While that is true in a broad sense, it is more about working with and encouraging capable leaders in one’s team to arrive at the right decision. It may involve the team analyzing the situation and coming up with their recommendation and the leader asking questions to guide them on the right path.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I think one of the biggest challenges is that women executives have to prove themselves while the male counterparts get the benefit of the doubt. Women have to demonstrate that they can effectively balance work with their family life, which is not something that is ever in question for our male counterparts. There aren’t many women in leadership positions and so women’s experiences and expectations continue to be the exception and not the norm.
However, things are rapidly changing. If the pandemic has shown one thing, it is that women leaders are able to lead effectively with empathy and care, something their male counterparts may have lacked.
There are more and more women taking up these positions and the mindset has evolved from competition to cooperation. There are women leaders that I regularly rely on for advice, counsel and support and there are men who are challenging their unconscious biases everyday to build a truly equitable workplace. The pandemic has shown that people can be effective even while maintaining their personal responsibilities.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I am not sure if there are any striking differences. I always expect the job to evolve, especially as I learn more about the space, company and the rapidly changing commerce landscape. We have a great team at Arkose Labs and I have the opportunity to work with some of the smartest people who are solving one of the biggest problems digital businesses face — cyber fraud. The cross-functional collaboration and the learnings have been amazing.
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 think it’s less about specific traits one possesses and more about acquiring traits and experience over time that make you a good leader, which include self awareness, resilience, empathy, bias for action, passion, influence and communication, to name a few. However, I don’t think we can isolate and call out people that should ‘avoid the aspiration’ to lead. I believe that as long as there is self awareness and the desire to improve — we need to give everyone a chance to grow and aspire.
We have to truly work on giving everyone the opportunity, without compromising on our expectations. This is what being truly inclusive is all about.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
The post-pandemic work environment has shown that women leaders have the ability to manage high functioning teams while operating with compassion and empathy. I think this is one of our biggest assets, the ability to simultaneously lead and drive results while being empathetic. We should leverage it. Hire the right people — those that challenge you and help you grow, and empower them. Communicate frequently and openly, celebrate success and use setbacks as a time to regroup and learn. People are the biggest asset we have and we need to constantly invest in understanding everyone’s perspective.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I think this is something we can all continue to do more as it is easy to get caught up in the daily grind of life and forget about these things that really matter. I have become a big proponent of amplifying women’s voices in the workplace and have been coaching and advising other women.
Also, investing the time to make sure that we are empowering the younger generation and educating them that assertiveness and leadership are the norm and not unusual
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
#1 — Be yourself: I grew up in a very different world and initially I felt the pressure to blend in. Looking back, I realize how important it is to be true to our unique differences and to be aware of who you represent as there could be someone who looks up to you as a role model based on them identifying with you.
#2 — Have a sense of humor: Many times in my career I have seen that humor can diffuse tense situations and make everyone feel at ease, thereby bringing their best to the table.
#3 — Invest in relationships: Be it with industry leaders, mentors, work colleagues or team members. Take genuine interest in their growth and well being of your team members and colleagues.
#4- Be vulnerable: Admit when you make a mistake and learn from it. There is a perception that one has to be strong all the time and any sign of weakness will work against one’s career aspirations. I think it is very important to seek feedback and try your best to improve. We all make mistakes, I have certainly made many, but I think we can all work on learning from them and trying to be a better version of ourselves.
#5- Check your unconscious bias: I have caught myself working with these implicit biases or automatic patterns of thinking. These may apply to areas that one may not even be aware of. It is critical to question and challenge the thinking that may be stopping us from trying something new or innovative or opening ourselves up to new challenges and opportunities.
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 thing that has come out of the pandemic is the realization that personal life and work can coexist. I think it is time we normalize parenthood, especially for working moms. Let’s not make our assumptions on what the optimal arrangement is, let the women decide and empower them to make it work for them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s not so much a quote but the concept of the ‘personal legend’ from Paulo Cohelo’s book, The Alchemist, which is something that I try to live by. It is about finding your purpose and then having the desire and perseverance to follow it and become the best version of yourself. To me, this reinforces that we have the ability to choose our path and that the desire to win is ok as long as you are willing to work hard for it.
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
If you would have asked me this question a year ago, I would have answered without hesitation, RBG. May we all work hard to be worthy of her legacy.
I would also like to meet with Whitney Wolfe Herd, the CEO and founder of Bumble. I am a huge fan of hers and her tenacity, resilience, career and story inspires me. She is a role model for both the younger generation as well as us seasoned professionals.
Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!