Mindfulness is key — That clarity and ability to be present in the moment, even while having intense conversations and navigating through tough situations, is critical to success and personal fulfillment. I had been meditating for a decade before starting Zūm but did not realize how useful it would be in this journey.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ritu Narayan. Rittu is the CEO and co-founder of Zūm, a Sequoia-backed startup offering an award-winning service platform that has already provided safe, reliable, efficient and personalized transportation for more than 750,000 children through its partnership with more than 2,000 schools to meet their transportation needs. Ritu graduated from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and worked for more than a decade at companies like eBay, Oracle, and Yahoo!. The mother of two children, Ritu’s mission through Zūm is to help working mothers and families achieve their personal and professional goals by providing safe and reliable part-time care and transportation.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was a child in India, my mother sacrificed her career to focus on her children, and especially on our education and development. When I started a family of my own, I was a technology executive with a fulfilling job and big aspirations. But when my children began going to school, I had to decide to either slow down or give up my career because of a lack of safe, reliable part-time care for my children. So, not much had changed since I witnessed my mother face the same dilemma 30 years ago.
I realized my childcare challenges are the same as millions of parents in the US. In the past, it was common for women to stay home. Today, working mothers are a huge and vital part of the workforce but the problem endures, and 41 percent of women in the U.S. say they find it hard to progress in their careers due to childcare needs. Things have changed for today’s mothers, fathers and kids, but the school, work and childcare systems haven’t evolved enough to meet the needs of many modern families. It’s common for one parent — often the mother — to leave work early to care for their children after school. That comes at an incredibly high cost to their careers, financial independence and ultimately society. So I wanted to create a platform to give working mothers and fathers the flexibility they need to support both their children and their careers.
This is why I built Zūm, and it’s why we are incredibly family oriented and driven to empower women and families to have more choice in their lives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
I had to present the final round of Series A funding at 10 a.m., and my husband was traveling to France for work. My children were taken to school by Zūm drivers and traveled 84 miles round trip — something that I could not have done alone that day while preparing for my presentation. With 20 investment partners in the room, the stakes were incredibly high and we had been courting this investor for months. This was the make or break meeting. I was surprised by how calm I felt, and was proud and confident of how Zūm had enabled that sense of calm. None of this could have been possible without the existence of my company. It was a surreal moment, and one that made me feel more sure than ever that I was on to something meaningful and important for working families.
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 was Zūm’s first driver and learned so much from that process. There’s one particularly vivid memory where I picked up a student around my son’s age, 10 years old at the time, and I just didn’t know how to talk to him. I wondered, “should I talk to him as child? As a young adult?” I was so worried about communicating with him in the right way that I accidently missed a left turn I meant to take. From there, he started giving me directions and was even reassuring me that everything would be fine. It was quite a funny moment but as Zūm’s first driver, it was a stressful experience. It taught me to be not only more at ease in my future rides, but as an entrepreneur breaking into new ground.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe that while as a society we are showing a strong desire to act on gender equality in the workplace, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Over 41 percent of women in the U.S. say they find it hard to progress in their careers due to childcare needs, and over 10 million women have left the workplace completely for this reason.
What makes me really proud about Zūm is that it’s a mission-driven company focused entirely on supporting both working families (moms in particular) and children to achieve their dreams.
Zūm is ultimately rooted in a dream for societal progress in the long term, and for career opportunities and advancement today. We’re on a mission to create endless possibilities for families by providing safe and reliable rides and care on our platform. I’m so proud that Zūm is a resource which enables more choice and less sacrifice.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Unfortunately, burn-out is all too real, and it’s important to acknowledge that we are complex beings with needs — including emotional and spiritual — that require consistent attention and care.
What’s helped is understanding better what it is I need to bring myself back to the core of who I am. For me, that means making time for loved ones and activities I’m passionate about. Each morning, I wake up early to meditate and make sure I have breakfast with my children. I personally love to hike and devote time to reading and working on personal and professional projects, daily, in an environment where I really can relax and disconnect for a while. This helps bring me back to feeling that I’ve come back home within myself. It’s grounding and helps me take a step back, recharge and refocus.
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?
This person for me is my mother. She’s my dreamcatcher. As a child and growing up, I was fascinated by math and physics. I wanted to be an engineer or an astronaut. At that time in India, where I grew up, there was only one astronaut in a country of 1 billion people. Nevertheless, my mom believed in my aspirations and never discouraged me. It was her unconditional faith in me that helped me become the first female engineer in my family. At that time, as a girl in India, the idea of a female going on to engineering and advanced degrees was progressive and forward-thinking. My mom was (and is) my fiercest supporter and encouraged me to achieve my goals every step of the way.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Through Zūm, we’re making lives easier for working parents and in particular, women, who have been yearning for a reliable, trusted ride for their children so that they can balance their career aspirations with their personal goals. Mothers who use Zūm have told us they’ve experienced many work-related benefits as a result of using the service, like being able to make their morning meetings and truly elevate their careers.
This is so important to us as a company. We take care of our people to make sure they feel motivated, fulfilled and supported. We incorporate paternity leave into our company benefits. And we invest in self-motivated employees who believe in our mission to support families and communities.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can’t be what you can’t see.” It’s about breaking through your own self-imposed, mental barriers as well as the barriers our communities put upon us. We can be our own worst critics, and therefore hold ourselves back. What drives me is not only breaking through those personal, ingrained barriers, but also wanting to provide strength and inspiration for people in similar situations.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
● It’s an emotional journey — Starting your own company is a deep, personal investment. You get emotionally invested. My husband is also an entrepreneur, and I witnessed it from his perspective, but I didn’t really understand it until I lived it. Having your own company feels like a living, breathing thing you are personally responsible for everyday.
● It’s a spiritual journey — You grow tremendously as a person in a short period of time because you have to think about things far beyond yourself. Your decisions make an impact on people’s lives, including the lives of those around you. The company is bigger than you and it’s very humbling.
● It’s all encompassing — Having your own company is so all-consuming and all-encompassing that it can be hard to establish boundaries in every sense of the word. You have to learn to integrate the demands of your company into the demands of your personal and family life. The way that I’ve approached it is to not force work-life balance, but to instead integrate my work with my family and get them involved and enthusiastic about it.
● It’s important to be authentic — You need to maintain your own sense of self. There’s no hiding. You have be public facing day in and day out — in front of employees, stakeholders, customers and at conferences and events. You need to show up for people while maintaining the core of who you are. That is why it’s important to be authentic more than ever when you are starting and running a company.
● Mindfulness is key — That clarity and ability to be present in the moment, even while having intense conversations and navigating through tough situations, is critical to success and personal fulfillment. I had been meditating for a decade before starting Zūm but did not realize how useful it would be in this journey.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m very passionate about helping working moms, children and youth achieve their potential. This, for me, is the key which will help move our society forward for the benefit of all. And in many ways, Zūm is a movement because it was born out of an idea for a better, more equitable future for mothers, children and youth.
My team and I are on a mission to improve the lives of busy working moms through social innovation, technology and operational excellence. Not only are we helping women (and men) safely and efficiently get their children to and from various places throughout the day, we’re empowering parents with the freedom to achieve their professional and personal goals while creating a wonderful life for their families. Not only do our leadership team and employees have one foot in the future, but we’re employing forward-thinking drivers, also known as Zūmers. We’re honored to be creating jobs for parents and other professionals like teachers, nurses, etc. who want a flexible schedule and to earn extra income. We’re a mission-oriented company helping parents pursue their passions while keeping their kids engaged — and we offer unique and flexible career opportunities for people throughout the country.
Zūm inspires a sense of independence for the children who use it, and helps them to pursue extracurricular opportunities that may have not been previously available due to logistics. In effect, we’re fostering the next generation of forward-thinking leaders, as well.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Originally published at medium.com