Take care of your relationships. You and your company are nothing without the people who support you. Take the time to nurture relationships with your friends and family. It can often seem that you don’t have time to go for that coffee, or lunch with your parents or grandparents, but very often we are just keeping ourselves busy for the sake of being busy. Spending time with loved ones is incredibly replenishing and is a healthy distraction every now and then.
Asa part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anastasia Pashkovetskaya.
Anastasia Pashkovetskaya is an entrepreneur and digital media creator. She has producer award-winning virtual experiences for travel brands, governments and NGOs. She founded Globetrotter VR, a platform that allows users to go on virtual tours and experience far-away destinations with real tour guides. She is a public speaker and an activist for environmental sustainability and gender equality. Anastasia is an ambassador for Women in Immersive Tech, an NGO breaking barriers and inspiring women in immersive tech all over the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
When I was little, I had this dream of hosting my own travel show that would take viewers to exotic places. I wanted to be a journalist growing up, but my parents didn’t approve of this choice of career. I ended up studying Law and then building a successful career in the Finance industry. At the time I was doing a lot of travel blogging and photography as a hobby, and I started experimenting with VR. I worked for five years in hedge funds and private equity in London, before realizing that I really wanted to build my own business that aligns with my core values — creativity, authenticity and sustainability. Before I knew I was creating VR experiences for top travel brands and governments, and winning awards! I started Globetrotter VR because I want to make travel more accessible and sustainable using immersive technologies.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There have been so many interesting stories and crazy moments! I think serendipity played a big role in my journey as an entrepreneur. I was scouting for talent to join the team and spotted this UX designer on LinkedIn that I was very interested in hiring. I approached him and arranged a meeting. A few days before the scheduled meeting, I went to a small industry event that a friend invited me to, and it turns out one of the organizers of the event, was the UX designer! It didn’t click until much later in the evening, and by then we have already shared a few beers and laughs. This made our first work-related meeting much easier, and more productive, and we ended up working together!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I consider myself a very well-rounded person, and when I was starting out, I thought that I would be able to get my company off the ground as a single founder. I found out quickly that investors shy away from single founders, especially single female founders. I realized that if I want to build a great company, it needs to be less about me and my talents and more about having a great team that can create something amazing together. In something as creative as virtual tours, it’s really thrilling to see what a team of talented people can conjure up together! I really enjoy working with my team and seeing the different perspectives and opinions that form the product.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, and not just one! My partner and my best friends have been incredibly supportive of me and I wouldn’t be able to do it without them. Alexander has been there for me from day 1 and has encouraged the transition I made from the corporate world to starting my own business. He literally went to the end of the world with me, when we traveled to Mozambique for 3 months with me back in 2017! His backing and belief in me gave me the strength to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. Olga and Lauren are my long-time friends and support network. They are both brilliant and successful, and I love being able to talk about business and share personal concerns in the same conversation. During lockdown, we had weekly zoom calls where we would share our worries and make each other laugh. I don’t know if I would have survived the lockdowns without them! It’s so important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and give you strength. Doing a start-up is tough, but it’s also a lot of fun, and you want to be with people who will be there for the good and the bad.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I practice yoga and meditation in the mornings. During the summer, I swim. I feel that it sets my mind straight for the rest of the day. Before important meetings or public speaking, I find a quiet corner and stretch, making my body expand in all directions. I also give myself a small pep talk if I’m nervous. I remind myself that I don’t have to be perfect or put on an Oscar performance. Showing up and sitting at the table, or standing up on that stage, is already an achievement. When it comes to making an important decision, I try to let my mind ruminate on it for some time. Often the decision comes to me while I’m doing something else, entirely unrelated, and I have this epiphany moment. If it’s a decision that needs to be made urgently, and I’m struggling to make up my mind using logic, I sit quietly and listen to my intuition. I imagine different scenarios and sense the response in my body. If I feel a tightening in my chest or shortness of breath, it’s the wrong decision. I go with a choice that makes me feel light and happy. So far, this technique has not failed me.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I’ve been extremely lucky to grow up with diversity in school and University. It baffles me how people don’t see the benefits of having more diverse teams in the workplace. If you imagine a team as a brain, and the brain has a very limited number of synapses, that are identical to each other, how can you expect this brain to make new connections and come up with interesting and innovative ideas? Diversity means having different synapses, different neurological pathways, different connections. When you bring these together, you form new synapses, which means fresh and new ideas, innovation and progress! It’s also a much richer experience from a personal perspective. I love learning about different cultures and traditions from my colleagues. Who wouldn’t want that?
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Inform yourself about different cultures, ethnic groups and their experience. Read books and watch movies where the protagonist isn’t just like you. Try to understand the perspectives of different races through the eyes and words of their artists and authors. Americanah, a novel by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie completely changed the way I see racism.
Practice compassion. It’s advice that’s as old as the Earth, but we still struggle to follow it. There’s an interesting distinction between empathy, which can be emotionally draining, and compassion, as Buddhism teaches it. When we become too distressed about the suffering of others, we don’t have the cognitive and emotional resources available to do much to help them. Having compassion, a cognitive understanding of how they’re feeling, is better for our own well-being and the well-being of those in need.
Take active steps. If you’re a business leader, create an HR policy that ensures that you interview and hire diverse candidates. Set yourself targets for diversity; review how you’re achieving them on an annual basis. I’ve experienced this when hiring for my team — I see fewer applications from women. Studies have shown that women are less likely to apply for a job if they don’t feel fully qualified for it. Let me tell you, I went through hundreds of CVs from men who weren’t even 60% qualified for the role! My message to the women out there — don’t be afraid to take the initiative and put yourself forward. I also love it when I get approached by talented people who are looking for new opportunities, even if I’m not actively hiring for that role. More women should do that! The worst that can happen is you get told that there’s not a vacancy. The best thing can be you just created a job for yourself!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The role of the CEO differs greatly, depending on the size of the company. In a stat up the role is very different from the role of a Fortune 500 company and would be fit for people of very different profiles. They say launching a startup is like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on your way down. So, as a CEO in a startup, you’re the engineer, the pilot, and the ticket sales guy trying to get people to board the flight! Often, it’s wearing different hats on different days, depending on what needs to be done — whether it’s interviewing for a new hire, putting together a pitch deck and financial projections, or speaking to customers and getting their feedback. While other leaders have a lot of responsibility, they tend to be focused on their function.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The myth that being a CEO means you have to be this alpha type, the aggressive person that everyone is afraid of! I believe that this idea of a CEO has roots in toxic masculinity and bad TV. Women can be excellent CEOs because they lead with compassion, they have excellent verbal memory and social cognition. Science has also shown that women are better at integrating analysis and intuitive thinking in their decisions than men. We need to re-imagine what a CEO is and realize that there is space for different kinds of leadership.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Being taken seriously. I have a ton of achievements and accolades. And yet, because I’m a young woman, sometimes, I find myself being treated like a little girl by investors. Once, I was outright told that I should focus on getting married and having kids instead of building my virtual travel platform. It’s ridiculous, and I know for a fact that my male counterparts don’t face similar issues.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought that being a founder meant that if you have a great idea, you secure a bunch of funding to build the product that everyone loves. A big company comes and buys you out, you celebrate your big exit with your team in your open-plan offices. In the West, we talk a lot about the beginning and the end of a founder’s journey (whether it’s successful or not), yet there isn’t much about the actual journey in the popular culture. I realized that being a founder is much more about building relationships, working on yourself, continuously learning, improving and persevering when things get tough. It’s “Messy Middle”! If you haven’t read that book yet, it’s a must!
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
An executive primary function is to lead, so they need to be comfortable with people looking to them for answers and solutions. I believe that having a secure sense of self-worth is important so that you can separate business troubles from your ego and focus on the benefit of the team and the company. It’s important to be able to make decisions quickly and effectively. When we were initially started out with Globetrotter VR, the idea was to have a platform that uses immersive tech to help people plan better trips by letting them try different tours and activities. When COVID-19 hit, I realized that the travel industry is about to go through a huge transformation, and we have to change with it. That’s why we pivoted to our new model of virtual tours with real guides. You have to be able to see things from a birds’ eye view.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Hire for talent, transferable skills, values and culture. We live in a world where the boundaries of work and personal space have disappeared. Hire people who you get along with, people who share your values, your vision, and importantly, believe in you as a leader. Loyalty and trust are so important and having a team made up of people who will stand by you in hard times is extremely important. Don’t hire someone just because their CV is impressive.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I feel very strongly about the need to protect our planet, and especially the oceans. I am always looking for interesting creative projects to support, whether in terms of my time and skills or funding. I have produced several VR pieces that share important stories of ocean conservation and reef protection. Check out the free 3D Experience “Warna Warni” on Youtube!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Take care of your health. For the last few decades, wealth and success were our number 1 objective as a society. With the pandemic, physical and mental health is again at the forefront of our minds. A lot of first-time entrepreneurs lose track of keeping healthy, and it’s damaging not only to them but also to their businesses.
- Take care of your relationships. You and your company are nothing without the people who support you. Take the time to nurture relationships with your friends and family. It can often seem that you don’t have time to go for that coffee, or lunch with your parents or grandparents, but very often we are just keeping ourselves busy for the sake of being busy. Spending time with loved ones is incredibly replenishing and is a healthy distraction every now and then.
- Plugin the gaps — Be strategic about your goals and milestones. If there is something that you’re missing in terms of knowledge or skills to achieve them, think of what you can do to plug in the gaps. Is there a good book you can read? A course you can take? Or a friend/colleague who can help you?
- Be strategic about building your own brand — We live in the world of social media, transparency and free-flowing communication. You have to make sure that your public profile fits the brand you want to have.
- How to negotiate. Why don’t they have this as a subject in high school? Negotiating is a huge part of life, yet we’re never taught how to do it properly! Reading “Never Split the Difference” forever changed the way I do negotiate my deals.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to see a world where everyone is doing the work they love. The fulfillment you get from doing what you love, and bringing value to other people, is unlike anything else. My transition from the corporate world into doing my own thing has already inspired a few of my friends to do the same, and I love to share this experience with them and see how much happier they become when they embrace their dreams and just go for it!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Whatever happens, happens for the best.” I went through a lot of challenges in my life personally and professionally, and this quote always helped me re-center myself and keep going. We may get upset because something didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but that just means that Fate/ the Universe / God knows something we don’t (yet). Letting go of hardship and moving on with a positive outlook on life will always bring you to the place you need to be.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to share a lunch Sir Richard Branson! I admire how unapologetic he is about being himself, how he built company after company in different industries that he initially knew very little about, and how he puts his people first. Such success would go straight to the heads of many. I’d love to know what keeps him grounded and what his opinion is on virtual travel!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.