Meet The SHEROES: A QnA With Lakshmi Ananthamurthy Of Siyawoman
Lakshmi Ananthamurthy, the SHERO behind Siyawoman.com speaks to us today and shares her thoughts on her career journey and transition to entrepreneurship.
Take us through your journey...
I come from a much grounded South Indian family but was born and raised in Mumbai. My role model – my father, Mr Anantha Murthy, is a very successful first generation entrepreneur from Mumbai. However it was my mother who is responsible in shaping my personality as a no nonsense person.
My work is my lifeline.
I completed my university studies in 1997 with honors and took up my first job with British Telecom. Following this I co-founded a company with my ex-boss from MBT. We wrote technical books and articles related to software programing. At this stage I felt the need to strengthen my strategy and entrepreneurial knowledge base. An MBA from Chicago Booth was the next step. I worked in the corporate world for thirteen years at many high level positions across the globe. During my stint at British Petroleum, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Late Shri C K Prahalad. We set up BP’s business for the bottom segment of the pyramid in South Africa.
In 2008 I got married to a supportive partner and who encouraged me to break the boundaries and climb the ladder to success each day without break. My parents in law and children, Siddartha (5 years) and Yamini (2 years) are supportive in their own myriad ways.
How did the entrepreneur journey start? Was the idea seeded long ago that – one day you will start a company?
Entrepreneurship was the only way forward for me since childhood, but natural for a person born into a family of entrepreneurs. Each project brought a shared joy and a feeling of accomplishment. I saw the ups and downs at very close quarters. One of the most satisfying and mentally challenging projects of my career was a funded startup project in South Africa. Late Shri C.K. Prahalad, Mr. John Browne and the program head Mr. Roberto Bocca were my advisors for this project. My entrepreneurial path became far clearer after the birth of my second child. I could be there for my children and also be satisfied with my profession. Being an entrepreneur lets me control my time.
I am able to see people from another perspective and be a leader on my own terms.
Siyawoman as we see is just a year old, so how did you made the transition from being a salaried employee to an entrepreneur? Was the transition smooth? Any tips/advice for others thinking of quitting a secure job to go the start-up way?
The transition is not easy and is still underway. The last day of every month still brings in panic for I know that the generous replenishment of a monthly salary is not going to be there. I am not comfortable asking for any kind of help, least of all financial. SiyaWoman took off because a group of friends, close family believed in me and my venture. They invested readily in my startup.
The work cultures of a large organization and a startup are vastly different. In the latter every person who helps in taking forth your vision is very important. My efforts combined with those of the core founding team Kiran, my husband, Ushasi Sen Basu, our Editor in Chief and the content owner - both important contributors to the strategy and direction of SiyaWoman and Rashmi our illustrator and graphic designer.
A startup means a careful coordination of resources and human resources. The right amount of investment needs to be handled well by capable and efficient people and in turn, they need to be treated very well.
In this field of work, what are your biggest personal driving factors and biggest challenges?
It is imperative for us to return the belief and trust placed in us by our investors with honest hard work and constant creative growth. While I was in the serious world of a corporate job I often wanted to be in a non-judgmental space where I could interact actively and/or passively with content that helped me to bring things into perspective. I craved to read what other women were thinking, to see the humorous side of life that would help me to ease out my stress and tackle life on a much lighter note. Our content is all user generated and we don’t pay our users for writing on our site. What we do promise them is a great audience. Our challenge is to always keep the content fresh and relevant to all women of our target segment, irrespective of their marital and/or parental status. It is not an impossible task, but requires continuous improvisation and creativity.Ushasi from our team is constantly working on ensuring that this is achieved and doing a brilliant job at it.
In terms of the "working woman" and work-life balance, after being a careerist for so many years, where do you feel the major challenge areas lie, how would you tell others to overcome them?
Most women tend to try becoming superwomen. Blame biology or the universe for the way we are wired. But we do like to be really good at everything we do. All women, whether they are home makers, or office goers, (or both!), in my view, are working women. The biggest challenge is when you reach a burn out phase or have more than one part of your life gain importance over the other and you are mentally unable to accept it. This happens at many stages of life – changing houses, cities, martial status and in changes in physical and hormonal balances. Just accepting ourselves as we are, respecting and recognizing our current state and limitations, and remembering that every phase is a temporary phase helps a lot in overcoming any difficult phase of life.
What are the top 3 things you would tell young working women who are about to enter a digital media role.
I personally don’t like lists like top 3 things, or top 10 things. However, being a programmer early on in my professional life, I have realized that the digital world is constantly changing and upgrading itself. To be successful in the digital media world, one needs to constantly keep learning and implementing. Carve a niche for yourself and become and expert such that everyone seeks you out.
In your 14 years of professional career did you ever face any gender disparity in terms of salary or promotions? If yes how did you overcome it?
I was almost always the minority gender in class, ever since I embarked on my engineering degree. But, it has never worked to my disadvantage. I have however been ill treated by another female colleague during my working life. I always believe that we become victims of circumstances only if we allow that to happen. Even when I was ill treated by another female colleague, I raised my voice against it, everyone else around me were rather junior and were too scared to speak out. We are solely responsible for what happens to us. If there is something that you do not like, do something about it or change your situation. Almost all companies have policies in place to prevent gender bias. But if you feel that you are being discriminated against, then stand up for yourself and raise your voice or walk out of it. You need to pick your battles, and fight them only if they are worth. At the end of the day, your happiness and peace of mind is of utmost importance. World peace will follow. Also, if you see someone else being discriminated against, it is your duty as a future leader to raise your voice against it.
What’s the mantra of your life?
I stay calm (other than the times I am pmsing!!), keep a smile on my face, and I don’t take anything more seriously than I should.