I had a secret growing up. While other little girls I knew dreamed of being the next pop star (Tiffany and Debbie Gibson back then) or famous actress and dreamed of the perfect wedding with Prince Charming (Kirk Cameron, Michael J Fox), I dreamt of being a CEO. In the 80's there were a few movies that showed women as powerful CEOs and while not all were painted positively, I still wanted to be Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl and J.C. Wyatt in Baby Boom. I even wanted to be Bonnie, Tom Cruise’s cougar girlfriend in Cocktail.
I would lock myself in my room and pretend I was taking important business calls and flying off to meetings with high powered executives. But I had to keep this a secret! I was a small, scrawny Indian girl with big glasses and a funny name (adolescence was not kind to me) growing up in a suburb of Syracuse, NY — the land of beautiful blond, blue-eyed beauties. I was very different and I was teased for it…a lot. I didn’t want to draw any more attention to my “weirdness” with my dream — one that was not common in the 80’s, especially not for girls. My dream didn’t even seem like something that other people dream about and on top of all of that, I had no idea how I was going to be a CEO? Other people wanted careers, degrees, jobs — I wanted to be CEO.
There is endless debate and research on whether CEO’s are born with certain characteristics or if environment factors into it. In my case, I am fortunate to have both. I do have certain natural tendencies that make me competitive and driven but I was also born into a family where entrepreneurship was revered. I recently had lunch with my dad and suddenly everything became clear — I was both born and raised to be an entrepreneur.
Here is how I got to where I am today:
1) My Dad: Father, Best Friend, Mentor, Teacher
As we were discussing my startup KidAdmit over that prolific lunch and my dad said, you have been taught to be an entrepreneur your whole life. He said think about it. Every day you saw what it took to build and sustain a company. He was right.
When you are a business owner, you have flexibility but you never have a day off. The best example of this is what happens on family vacations. My family took some great vacations when I was a kid and of course, many of them were road trips. In the 80’s and 90’s business was done via pay phones and faxes. So on a 7 hour road trip, we stopped every 2 hours at a rest area where my dad pulled out quarter after quarter to check into the office. Back then we didn’t have an iPad or earphones to tune out, so I heard everything in those conversations — and I am so glad I did. I learned how to handle negotiations, manage employees, give great customer service, and above else, how to be an effective leader. Over the course of my childhood, I was able to see the roller coaster of business ownership: the good, the bad and the ugly. When my dad would get a large contract, we celebrated, but I learned the most when things didn’t go as planned. I remember vividly a time when his customer had installed the system incorrectly, ignoring detailed instructions, and had called my dad irate. Instead of calling him out, my dad was gracious and did everything to make it right. No blame, no ‘I told you so’, just superior customer service. This goes a long way. Now this customer has been with him for over 30 years and has built a strong, loyal relationship with my father’s company. In fact, after the customer figured out it was his fault, he apologized and thanked my dad for not reporting his mistake to his boss, thus saving his job.
Having been able to see all of these experiences through my dad helps me today tackle the very same issues. After all, business is still the same today, just the vehicle is different. I handle emails from our KidAdmit users everyday and while we love the great emails, we know it’s how we handle the tough ones that really make us a great company. This is part of our company culture. We never blame the user nor say “I told you so”. We politely ask how we can make it better and give them the best experience possible. And we always say thank you!
2) Me, Myself, and I
I am a hard worker and am very determined. I am competitive and have known to have a tantrum or 2 in my younger days. But I am not going to apologize for it. Who doesn’t like to win? I was born with these traits. These traits keep me fighting and persevering. As I mentioned briefly, I struggled with an unpleasant adolescence. Because of those dark days, my mom enrolled me in karate when I was 10 years old and karate became a huge part of my youth. It helped take those type-A traits and channel them into a beneficial activity. Getting my black belt became my number one goal. Karate gave me the confidence to go after my goals and achieving my black belt gave me the motivation. At 10 years old, it was quite an undertaking to dedicate the next 4 years training consistently for 4–5 days week — but I did it! I attained my black belt at 14 but I wanted more. I wanted to be the best and continue to keep going — so I trained for another 2 years with the same amount of motivation and dedication and achieved my 2nd degree. I share this because though my mom enrolled me in karate, my parents didn’t force me to move forward; I wanted it for myself. These traits were not taught, they are innate!
My black belt days are a constant reminder of setting goals and working hard to achieve them. Since starting KidAdmit, people ask me all the time how we are growing and what is helping us. The answer is simply, we set goals and work hard to achieve them. Sometimes there are no shortcuts and no easy answers. We are working hard to help families, create a reputable brand and we are not afraid to pick up the phone when needed.
3) What my 12 year old self would think of me today
My friend recently posted this quote, “When you were a little girl, would you have wanted to become the woman you are now?” I have been thinking about this a lot. For me, my young self only thought certain things were possible and didn’t consider all of the options my adult self might have. I didn’t grow up seeing myself represented, I didn’t relate to the pop stars and actresses, and I definitely didn’t see too many female CEOs. When I was younger, I thought I had to go to college, study engineering, law or medicine (obviously since I am Indian-American), get married, have kids and live close to my parents. This was the track and even back then, this was not exciting. It actually completely sucked! But I thought this was what was in store for me. But, I remember asking my dad ”How did you just leave everything behind in India and come to the US?” He said that he knew there was someplace better for him and I knew that for myself too — I just wasn’t sure how to find it.
I didn’t have the plan mapped out when I was young but I had big dreams. As I continue on my journey it’s definitely been a rollercoaster of wins and challenges. I feel I like win big when I face my fears. This is what keeps me going. Every time I doubt myself and think I can’t do it, it’s facing the fear head on that makes it worth it everyday, every time. This is what I think my 12 year old self would love about me today.
Today, I am the founder and CEO of a startup called KidAdmit. I live in San Francisco and am married to a supportive, wonderful husband and have 2 lovely boys who call me Momma. I think my young self would be in awe of me today NOT because of these titles but because I push myself at every turn. I take risks, face adversity head on, and continue to pave my own way — and I see possibility everywhere.