#3 of the Best Mistakes I've Made as CEO
and the surprising things they led to
There are times when I wish I could open a meeting, speech, or even my Linkedin profile with “Hi, I’m Roshni Mahtani, Founder and CEO of a company, and I’m human.”
To some degree, we expect our CEOs to have superpowers: clairvoyance, mega-strength in times of crisis, mastery of time and space.
But we’re flesh, blood, and a frazzle of thoughts and emotions like everyone else on the planet. We need sleep and food; get sick, and (we’d like you to believe otherwise, but) aren’t always right.
Still, the pressure is intense – and it doesn’t always yield diamonds.
I’ve committed my fair share of mistakes; and the first one had me coming back to an empty office after the one and only holiday I took that year:
#1 Not Paying enough Attention to Company Culture
When you’re getting your startup off the ground, you think revenue, cash flows, and getting the best product out there. Failing to look inwards, I realized too late that my team was overworked (as most were double-hatting) and at the point of disillusionment. They couldn’t tell me that they could no longer take part in my dream, so they left.
After this wake-up call, I put everything on pause and zeroed in on HR and Company Culture. I broke down barriers to collaboration, had coffee dates and did daily stand-ups with the team, held weekly lunch and learn sessions, quarterly outings, improved benefits (free lunch every day!), among so many other initiatives. The move paid off. Most colleagues stay for a minimum of 3 years and our attrition rate is in the single digits.
#2 Getting Greedy in Entering a New Market
Our initial entry into the Malaysian market was a flop – for the simple reason that we employed a ‘catch-all’ strategy, setting up an English website targeting both the Malay and Chinese mums.
We leaned towards Islamic parenting on our second attempt in Bahasa Melayu, and that’s when things clicked.
Though painful then, that error in judgment led to so many other successes. We’ve since considered culture and language as a pillar not just in new market strategy, but even in growing the user base in existing Indusparent countries.
#3 Not Factoring in my Personal Life
For the longest time, I’d run my work and personal life in parallels. Then we decided to have a baby; and with a jolt, I realized that I had no idea how to break the news to one of our lead investors, Vertex Ventures, the early stage venture arm of Temasek Holdings.
At that time, I’d been shuttling weekly between Mumbai and Singapore – a schedule I obviously couldn’t keep up once the baby was born.
After weeks of preparing what to say, coming up with plans A-Z, and delaying the inevitable, I ended up blurting the news out at our quarterly performance review.
I was taken aback not by my rashness but at their reaction – of full support. I was never questioned on how I was to balance both roles of CEO and mother. I told them I could do it and they trusted me 100%.
Had I waited for ‘the perfect time’ to start a family, I probably would’ve still not boarded the rollercoaster ride of parenthood by now. Today, I am mum to an amazing toddler; and though I’ve never been this exhausted, I’ve also never been this connected to our audience.
Keep Doing, Keep Learning
These aren’t ‘the best mistakes’ because they led to accidental discoveries or fortunes. They’re certainly my biggest; and that’s what made them the best wake-up calls.
As CEO, the costs of mistakes are high – losing money, losing faith (both your team’s and in yourself), jeopardizing jobs, even disrupting the industry. And the scary thought is that we will keep making them.
Taking cue from Elon Musk’s recent sentiment of leading “from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower," best we can do is to be in the thick of the action – to never succumb to the tempting trap of complacency and having others to blame.
We may never live up to the expectation of being superhuman, but one thing you can always count on us to do, is lead.