Culture

Meet the Indian women taking the tech industry by storm

Who run the world?

Insight and foresight, undaunted vision and unrelenting hard work have rocketed these women to great heights in the tech industry. 

Payal Kadakia: Founder, ClassPass

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Way back in 2013, the frustrating search for a ballet class close to her work in New York City got Payal Kadakia, 36, thinking that there had to be a better way. So, she leveraged technology to create ClassPass, an app that was initially conceptualised as a way to connect people to fitness studios nearby. Since its inception, however, ClassPass has grown into a platform that lists both fitness and wellness (or as Kadakia calls them, “soul-nourishing”) experiences from spin classes to deep-tissue massages. “We want you to spend the extra hours of your life doing something nice. Our vision is that every life should be lived, and this app can help people spend their time in an easier way,” says Kadakia. The MIT graduate, a trained classical dancer, is now focused on the future of ClassPass. She is also simultaneously building her second venture, Sa Dance Company, which she founded as a way to further bring Indian dance forms such as Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Odissi into the American mainstream.

On juggling multiple roles: “The key is to get rid of the things that don’t matter. It’s all about decluttering, and focusing your attention and time on the ones that really do”

Photograph: Nayantara Parikh; Styling Pujarini Ghosh; Hair And Make-Up: Blossom Kochhar College Of Creative Arts And Design; Assisted By: Sidharth Mehta (Styling); Location Courtesy: Andaz Residences. 

Organza jacket and skirt, price on request, Fendi 

Ankiti Bose: Co-founder & CEO, Zilingo

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Ankiti Bose’s entrepreneurial journey began at Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, where she noticed that the merchants who ran clothing stalls had impressive inventories, but were not well equipped with the technology and services needed to compete with larger players. After a light-bulb moment, Bose, 27, says, “I realised how many small enterprises like these existed across the region, and I wanted to create something to fill this gap.” So, after having worked with McKinsey & Company and Sequoia Capital India, she set up Zilingo, an e-commerce platform that connects small fashion businesses to the rest of the world. Today, the Singapore-based company that Bose co-founded with software engineer Dhruv Kapoor in 2015 serves customers through its B2B and B2C services across multiple countries, including Vietnam, India and Brazil. The start-up is valued at $970 million (approx `6,500 crore) and has created opportunities for over 400,000 indirect employees through its merchant network. Something that Bose confirms will always be Zilingo’s focus.

On finding her voice in a male-dominated industry: “Actions speak so much louder than words, so I make sure to be relentless and undaunted by criticism and obstacles” 

Photograph: Juju Tan; Hair And Make-Up: Priscelia Wong

All clothing and accessories, Bose’s own

 ASHWINI ASOKAN: Co-founder & CEO: Vue.ai, Mad Street Den

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“AI is like the Internet. It’s going to change the way we live, forever. What we’re doing with Vue.ai is phase 0, the start of that journey. It feels terrifying, exciting, challenging and emotional all at once,” says Ashwini Asokan, 37, who previously worked at Intel. She explains that her company uses the power of artificial intelligence to make retail businesses (specifically fashion and home) more efficient by automating key functions and processes such as merchandising, buying, product digitisation, customer experience, styling and outfitting for global labels. Vue.ai aims to change the scale and access to potential customers for brands and retailers, in an unprecedented way. “Imagine an AI stylist that can automatically style millions of customers,” says Asokan, who is still as delighted by the infinite possibilities of AI as she was 19 years ago, when she would stay up with her now-husband, dreaming of this brave new world.

The one piece of advice for women looking to shake up the tech space: “Be relentless. The odds will always be stacked against you”

Photograph: Tarun Koliyot; Hair: Dhanalakshmi B/Vurve Salon; Make-Up: Jessy Shimphuri/Vurve Salon

All clothing and accessories, Asokan’s own 

SHIVANI SIROYA: Founder & CEO: TaLa

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Shivani Siroya’s greatest loves have always been numbers and people’s stories, but it was a while before she found a way to marry them. “After graduating, I had different roles in investment banking. But while it was fast-paced and educational, my heart wasn’t in it,” she says. Then, Siroya, 35, who grew up in Udaipur and has a master’s in public health from Columbia University, New York, worked as an analyst with the United Nations Populations Fund. It was here, after thousands of interviews with small business owners in Africa and Southeast Asia that she noticed the problem: no access to capital and a lack of financial solutions. “My parents taught me how access to resources and opportunities can impact our ability to be successful”. This early life lesson, coupled with her on-ground experience later on, led Siroya to create Tala, an app that offers unsecured loans via a smartphone. Tala has clocked $700 million (`4,800 crore) in disbursements, with over 2.5 million customers and repayment rates at over 90 per cent. This year, her dream is slated to come full circle as Tala sets its sights on launching in India.

On prioritising: “For me, productivity is all about prioritising. It’s not about crossing a thousand things off my list every day, but rather accomplishing five key goals”

Photograph: Joe Kathrina/ Career Contessa

All clothing and accessories, Siroya’s own

Tanvi Malik & Shivani Poddar: Co Founders: Fab Alley

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Shivani Poddar and Tanvi Malik’s success story is one of incredible insight. The duo, who have been friends since they were 13 years old, noticed a void in the Indian fashion landscape and then hustled to fill it. Their tech venture, FabAlley, is an e-commerce platform that stocks affordable, globally trendy fashion, something that Poddar and Malik, both 33, felt there was limited access to in the country. The management graduates (Podar from Faculty of Management Studies in Delhi; Malik from MICA in Ahmedabad), have turned FabAlley into one of the most profitable e-commerce ventures, with over 400 employees and monthly sales as high as `10 crore, in just six years. The secret, they believe, has been expansion. “FabAlley is now a fashion company that houses three brands, all retailed through our website, online marketplaces such as Amazon, as well as our own offline stores across Mumbai, Pune and New Delhi,” Malik says. They have also leveraged technology to give their company an online presence in 25 countries.

On maximising productivity: “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the key to being productive; eating the right food and exercising regularly helps keep you energised despite the chaos of start-ups”

Photograph: Abhishek Bali; Styling Pujarini Ghosh; Hair And Make-Up: Blossom Kochhar College Of Creative Arts And Design; Assisted By: Sidharth Mehta (Styling); Location Courtesy: Wework At Two Horizon Center, Gurugram

On Malik: Cotton-blend jumpsuit, FabAlley. Leather heels, Charles and Keith. Acetate earrings, H&M.

On Poddar: Crepe dress, FabAlley. Leather heels, Zara. All accessories, Poddar’s own

 Taru Kapoor: GM – India, Tinder & Match Group

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Since Tinder began its operations in India in 2015, Taru Kapoor, 32, has managed to rid the dating app of its tawdry image and even turned it into a tool that empowers women. The Harvard Business School graduate, says, “With millions of young, single smartphone users, and a shifting cultural paradigm where youth want more say in the people they love, date, and marry, we believe India promises a lot of potential.” Her role at the company involves, but is not limited to, user research, organic growth and marketing efforts, and inorganic growth through mergers and acquisitions. Simply put, she’s fuelling the platform’s growth in a country where, she says, “conventionally, it is hard to meet people outside of your immediate social circle”. On finding her perfect career match in Tinder India, she says, “I wanted to work with a start-up that had global impact,” and Tinder India fit the bill. Looking to the future, Kapoor believes 2019 will be an exciting year for singles in India as she continues to tap into the 100-million-strong user market that’s looking for love.

On maximising productivity: “Aim for distraction-free sprints with clearly defined outcomes and actively avoid checking email or answering phone calls, or any unsolicited texts and in-person requests unless urgent”

Photograph: Vikram Kushwah; Styling Pujarini Ghosh; Hair And Make-Up: Blossom Kochhar College Of Creative Arts And Design; Assisted By: Harshita Chopra (Styling); Location Courtesy: The Quorum

Cotton top, Bodice at Ogaan, Delhi. All accessories, Kapoor’s own