“Entrepreneurship means a bird’s eye view and a ‘hands on deck’ approach!”

Words of Wisdom from Pooja Krishna, Co-founder, Maroon Oak and Founder, Win Thinks

I had the pleasure of interviewing Pooja Krishna, an MBA, an Entrepreneur & Business Mentor, with 24+ years of experience working in the corporate world and running her 3 ventures. As the co-founder of Maroon Oak and founder at Win Thinks, Pooja works with entrepreneurs and professionals to empower them with fresh perspectives and resources. She also loves teaching students about jobs and life skills, as well as entrepreneurship. Pooja is an amateur acrylics artist and yoga & hula hoop enthusiast. Off late, she is discovering the pleasure of drawing Zentangle patterns for ‘creative mindfulness.’ Her mantra: Success is a balancing act!

What is your “backstory”?

I’ve lived and worked in 3 different countries over the past two plus decades. I enjoyed the corporate sector, but ultimately, found it more thrilling to run my own show. Entrepreneurship has been a great learning journey for me is so many ways. Running Trading Paces as a day trader for over a decade taught me the value of calculated risks and the need to keep a cool head with it. During that time, I also helped a lot of entrepreneurs, which was an amazing insight into the world of small business. I realized that many women entrepreneurs, particularly, are playing catch up on technology and business skills. Plenty need connects and inspiration to restart or grow their careers. So my friend and I co-founded MaroonOak.com to provide them with a free professional networking platform. I also started WinThinks.com, a solo venture, to share my business insights with others.

Can you share the factors that drove the course of your career?

I switched professional gears several times, both out of my own interest as well as due to personal factors, notably motherhood. I love the challenges and the creative freedom of entrepreneurship. My strong belief is that technology is integral to services, and we have taken that forward with Maroon Oak. Virtual collaborations and mentoring are the norm today, because being digital is de rigueur to survival.

Working across cultures and time zones is another dimension of experience — much recommended. Then there is the host of possibilities that the online world offers — I love that one can ‘e-meet’ so many talented and awesome people everyday!

As a mom, I’m constantly striving to embrace my version of work and life balance, and to try and set the right example of what construes success.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

This actually happened a few years ago when visited with some older Japanese clients, very mindful of the instructions on maintaining cultural etiquette. While leaving, we entered the elevator, turned to face our hosts and everyone bowed in unison. And bowed again after a few minutes. And yet again, since the elevator was still open and they were politely waiting for us to leave. Awkwardness rising, I sneaked my eyes to the panel, only to realize, that my colleague had his fingers on the Open instead of the Close button.

How are you giving back ? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Giving is actually a circular process — the rewards you reap are manifold!

One question I often ask of others is — “Where are you in terms of opportunity, skills, collaboration and visibility?” Volunteering to teach the different aspects of business to entrepreneurs who struggle in this area, has helped me become a better leader and doer too.

As a student mentor for K-12, I’m also passionate about teaching work and life skills to children early on. This includes problem solving, creative thinking and hands-on learning. So I encourage students as early as elementary school to share business ideas and solve ‘real life’ problems. Many older kids have great business ideas that can use practical insights on marketing, funding etc. and I work with them there. Apart from the classroom setting, I work with them one-on-one to ideate, troubleshoot or pitch themselves at events. The energy and enthusiasm they bring is enormous and infectious.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

It’s always very thrilling when so many women say that a conversation or session inspired them to find answers or solutions. A scientist embraced an alternate career after a decade away from the workplace raising her family. A teen-aged single mom took courses to land a remote job with a big company so she could be home with her baby.

I believe that mentorship is not about giving the answers — it’s helping people navigate their path!

A lot of students I guide don’t come from advantaged backgrounds. Even if they want it, college isn’t an option — they need to work to help support families. So encouraging them to improve their communication and interview skills can take them a step further in finding employment with better companies.

While the stories and dreams that most kids share are very touching, a young high school senior moved me deeply with her desire to save up, so she could to train as a pediatric nurse. She wanted to do this after seeing so many premie kids suffer in her inner city neighborhood of Atlanta. I coached her, and she now works as a helper at a daycare centre, committed more than ever, to claiming her dream.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Mindset first — because success is an attitude.

If we see ourselves as the underdog, then that’s how the world will view us. No, I don’t mean fake it. But do, deep dive within to find what amazing ideas and values you bring to the table. Figure out why you believe your voice counts. All those amazing success stories we hear — the audacity is the big lever. So go right out and embrace your winner’s mindset.

People before product — always!

MBAs learn a lot about marketing theory, product design, ops and tech, but it all comes down to the common denominator — people! How well can you work with others, lead a team, motivate those around you and finally, catalyse an organization. I’ve seen savvy CEOs who’ve made big blunders, because they were clueless at reading a room and managing their teams. On the other hand, there are home grown execs without fancy degrees who managed to deliver great results, simply because they were tuned in and genuinely invested in their people.

Build your brand, then brandish it.

Be clear about what you stand for. Then be vocal about it. If you believe in something, get people on board with you. Use clear communication to showcase your strengths. It isn’t always necessary to shout about your wins, but keeping them under wraps doesn’t help either. There is a whole new breed of influencers today, who drive the success of products and ideas and every one of them is very ‘visible’.

Learners inherit the earth

The work landscape is constantly evolving and technology — often new and unfamiliar — will continue to drive everything. While that’s a big challenge in itself, it’s amazing how many of us find it hard to learn a new concept, a novel gadget or even an unfamiliar route now. But here’s the thing — your ability to ride the wave will determine the winners from the stragglers. It doesn’t have to be anything big — try brain games, take up a new skill like public speaking or Italian cooking, maybe unravel 5 new features on your phone.

For the best of us, our minds are losing agility — I recently interviewed 11 C-suite (or senior VP level) execs — all Engineers and MBAs — who after a lifetime of working on computers, now prefer to print out important documents rather than read on their machines, for fear of missing out errors on the screen.

Predict and preempt to get ahead

I learnt this early on — I just didn’t apply it all that well. To be truly successful, you need to estimate the unknown and make it work for you. Market forces will change, technology will always evolve and success metrics will never be constant, but as astute entrepreneur learns to stay a step ahead of the trend. Know where the ball is going, and where all it can possibly go, then you can never be out-shot.

Despite the naysayers, I have always held strong that the most enduring social media channel will be Facebook, given its sheer depth of engagement. And I’ll go out on a limb to say that it will rival Google within the next 1–2 years as the extremely curated recommendation engine.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I’d love to meet J K Rowling, Roger Federer and Amitabh Bachchan, amongst others. Each brings not only richness and consistency to their craft, they are also very grounded despite such enormous success.

To me that’s deeply admirable — knowing that your achievements are but a milestone. Because tomorrow is another day…