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6 Tough Lessons I Learned As A CEO

June 20, 2022 13:31 IST
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Challenge the status quo, question the why behind processes, and push yourself and your organisation.
That's how you will win, even if you 'lose' is Neha Sampat's advice to wannabe entrepreneurs.

Neha Sampat

IMAGE: According to US-based entrepreneur Neha Sampat, it's important to celebrate when you win, focus on what you can learn from the stumbling blocks, and set aside time to release bad energy.

If you are a woman working toward a career in tech, Excellent! We need more of us.

In India, women make up only 14% of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce.

This has to change.

One of the ways it'll change is if those of us who make it commit to transferring our knowledge.

Those women coming behind us can avoid the same mistakes and progress up that ladder faster.

So, here goes: Six lessons I've learned throughout my tech career.

1. Your Network Matters

Build and nurture your network as you grow.

You'll want people who are pacing along with you, and others who are years ahead.

You'll want champions, but also those who aren't scared to tell it to you like it is.

I sometimes call them my 'Board of Directors.'

You're never going to know when you'll need someone, when you can help someone, or when there's an opportunity for collaboration.

Meaningful relationships don't have to equate to frequent chats or visits, but it does mean you have to show up and be genuine about what you can give.

2. Be a Continuous Learner

Curiosity will get you even farther than what you already know.

If you ask the right questions, raise your hand for the right projects, and find opportunities to voice your opinions and ideas, you will never stop learning.

One of my most valued early tech career moments was when I was able to present one of my ideas to the Board.

It had to do with monetising the Web as a revenue channel, and it resulted in a new role to help turn downloads into revenue.

This was before e-commerce was widely used at large software companies.

I had a vision. I didn't necessarily know how each step of the journey to achieve the vision would play out, but in doing, I learned.

3. Resilience is a Super Power

I'm a serial entrepreneur, so I knew I'd have to become rejection-proof pretty early on.

You're taking risks and making big bets every day, and the odds are you're not coming out ahead each time.

But whether you're an entrepreneur or not, building your resilience is a secret weapon.

There will be a job you don't get.

There will be a manager who simply doesn't believe you can code because he has never met a female coder.

There will be an employee you were mentoring that leaves for another opportunity.

I'm not going to lie; those moments hurt.

You have to find ways to bounce back.

Some things that have worked for me are: Celebrating when you win, focusing on what you can learn from the stumbling blocks, and setting aside time to release bad energy.

4. Entrepreneurship is a Real Option

The Economic Times reported this year that women represent only 14% of entrepreneurs in India, a number dropping steadily since 2018.

This doesn't mean that entrepreneurship is out of reach.

If you have an idea for a tech business, talk up the idea and seek out those willing to lend a hand or even invest.

In one of my recent podcast episodes, Dr Debbie Chen (co-founder and CEO of Hydrostasis) advised us to get comfortable talking about your business idea everywhere.

It might seem a little opportunistic, but you never know when you're surrounded by people who have the means to support you.

Dr Chen was a VC (venture capitalist) world outsider and didn't come from a wealthy family, so she found her first angel investors for her hydration self-monitoring system right at her gym.

They saw her ambition and hard work and knew they were investing in someone special.

You could also look into the newer VCs that fund only female-led tech startups like India's SahaFund.

5. Hold Yourself Accountable

It's your responsibility to give your dreams a chance.

If you don't act towards and build structure around achieving your goals, they stay floating in space with nothing to ground them.

Here's an example of accountability: One year, my friends and I started a monthly meeting called the 'Hot Seat.'

Each of us had a goal we shared with each other, and met monthly to discuss what we'd done to achieve that goal over the previous month.

By the end of the year, I had become a sommelier and one of my friends left his corporate job to start his own tech company.

The structure around accountability was what led to the success.

6. You Only Lose if You Settle for Status Quo

One of the mantras I live by is this: Never settle for the status quo.

I love this so much that I made 'Never Settle' one of my company's core principles.

I can't count the number of times I've heard leaders cite 'that's the way we've always done it' as a core reason for sticking to outdated processes and technologies.

Many think innovation must be something brand new or cutting edge. But innovation can also be taking a different approach to improve something old and inefficient.

Organisations have the most to lose by standing still.

Challenge the status quo, question the why behind processes, and push yourself and your organisation. That's how you will win, even if you 'lose'.

Being a woman in a male-filled tech world may be tough, but you also have some advantages.

You see things that others can't and solve problems differently than the majority.

I can't wait to look around the tech table and see more women.

I hope these six lessons provide a higher ground for other women to start on.

Neha Sampat is the founder and CEO, Contentstack, a content management company.

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