Neha Kesarwani: “It’s okay to not know everything”

When you are an executive in a successful company, people normally consider you a successful person. For me, personal success cannot be measured only by the success of the company but truly by how happy and joyful your employees and customers are with what you offer to them and to the world. As a part of […]

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When you are an executive in a successful company, people normally consider you a successful person. For me, personal success cannot be measured only by the success of the company but truly by how happy and joyful your employees and customers are with what you offer to them and to the world.

As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Neha Kesarwani. Neha is a conscious entrepreneur and co-founder and CMO of Vertoe, one of America’s leading short term storage providers. Kesarwani is a veteran leader and marketer with over 10-years of experience building and launching products in India and the US markets, she has led national level marketing and branding efforts for leading firms such as Penguin Random House and Lindt Chocolates.

Born in Lucknow, India, she holds a Masters of Fashion Management from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in and a B.Sc. (Hons) in Statistics from Hindu College, Delhi University. She also serves as a contributing member at Forbes Business Council, is a speaker at Women Economic Forum and a volunteers at Isha Foundation.

Currently living in New York, NY, when she isn’t hard at work you can find her unwinding with yoga and meditation. She’s also trekked up to 12,000-feet in the Himalayas and is a river rafting enthusiast who has led the raft for 10.5 miles thrice at level 4 rapids.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I moved from India in 2014 and faced many challenges in re-establishing a career and a sense of purpose in the beginning. This gave me a huge motivation to start something that brings more meaning to my life. It was during that time when Sid (my husband and co-founder) and I went through the problem of lugging first hand when we got stuck in LA with 3 suitcases and it ruined our vacation day. After going through the horrible experience, we decided to solve this problem ourselves.

I have significant consumer marketing experience and Sid has a great product, strategy and analytics experience that’s a great mix for this kind of business.

We have known each other for 20 years and worked on numerous school projects and non profit work together.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The idea of on-demand short term storage was very new when we started Vertoe. Most people expected it to fail but we were fortunate to find some initial partners who believed in us and were willing to test our idea. After a few months, one of the location partners offered to invest in our company as an angel investor! It was extremely gratifying for us.

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?

Funniest mistake… Hmm. I think we underestimated the potential of our vision in our early days. The lessons learned were perseverance, resilience and to do more faster.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

Creating space in the consumer’s mind has always been my favorite problem to solve which is why I have been pursuing consumer marketing throughout my career. At Vertoe, it was not only the challenge of creating a new industry that was still an unmet need but also a problem we faced first hand during our travel.

Vertoe is solving the problem of on-demand short term storage where we are connecting anyone looking to safely store their bags and personal items to nearby local shops and cafes that have space for a few hours or days so you can have freedom to experience at your convenience.

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?

As an executive, the most important aspect is to ensure the entire team is always aligned with the values and vision of the company. Not only that, as founders, it’s very important to ensure that we empower our team members so they can own their job responsibilities and meet their personal goals while fulfilling their professional targets joyfully.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

I truly believe people are assets and I love to empower my team. In a startup, it is very common for the teams to get overwhelmed with too many ideas and tasks to meet aggressive goals. I really enjoy brainstorming and figuring out ways to prioritize tasks to attain maximum returns w.r.t time, effort and money spent. Once the problems are simplified, the goals seem more realistic and achievable

What are the downsides of being an executive?

Stress and uncertainties. These can arise in any business. Even in the most difficult situations, you have to put the ‘game face’ on to ensure teams are not troubled with issues that don’t concern them directly. However, I do promote the culture of complete transparency and involve the entire team when necessary. This helps us deepen the bond.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

When you are an executive in a successful company, people normally consider you a successful person. For me, personal success cannot be measured only by the success of the company but truly by how happy and joyful your employees and customers are with what you offer to them and to the world.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Being perfect at all times. I truly feel women executives are judged more if she is assertive or passionate in their approach. The same attributes could be considered as a great leadership quality in a man.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

As a co-founder and CMO, my current job is a lot more gratifying than anything else I have accomplished in the past. One of the most striking differences is the number of tests we conduct before investing into a campaign. For us, it’s Test, Measure, Build, Repeat.

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?

I don’t think anyone should avoid aspiring to be an executive if they truly want to. However, there are some traits that would help you succeed as an executive of a startup that is usually full of more uncertainties than any other job. For example, patience, resilience and perseverance go a long way. The ability to never give up would take you a long way.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Believe in your idea, do not give up and voice your opinion! Today we need female leadership more than ever so we can balance the emotional quotient with Intelligence quotient.

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. My co-founder and husband Sid. We co-founded the company when we were on a vacation and were stuck in a problem. We had bootstrapped the company for a year working on weekends to get the traction before we decided to quit our jobs. It was a tough decision to go all in as immigrants but we wouldn’t have done this if we did not have each other’s support. Moreover, it was our early core team members and location partners who truly believed in our vision and supported us through our early days.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Other than solving the problem of on-demand short term storage and helping our customer enjoy the freedom to store their bags within 5 mins of wherever they are, I personally love to motivate other entrepreneurs to follow their dreams while staying transparent about the real challenges founders face as they build their company. I am currently advising another startup — Chattodo — a productivity app in India.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Mental and emotional well-being are of utmost importance on a daily basis for better outcomes in your personal and professional life. As an entrepreneur or a professional living in NYC, I had started getting burnt out. Burn out meant I spent more hours at work but my productivity was perhaps not as much — I am sure a lot of us experience that. Once I realized the importance of keeping my well-being in check, not only was I more joyful in my workplace but also were able to work more efficiently while inspiring others to do the same.
  2. Your ego will be challenged. When you are in discussions with your team or investors sometimes they will simply reject your idea and challenge your thought process. This can end up hurting your ego but if you have the wisdom to detach yourself from your idea, you will only end up refining it.
  3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Always have plan B or C. When you start a new venture, you obviously plan for success. However, there will be more moments of failures and rejections than success when you are in an uncharted territory. We followed this rule while looking for investors, partnerships, hiring, promotions and for almost everything.
  4. Don’t shy away from testing and learning before you invest in your wacky and cool idea. Test, Measure, Build and Repeat has been our mantra before investing in a new campaign. Sometimes what you perceive is completely different from how it is received by your customers. Conducting tests and talking to customers will give better insights for a healthier solution.
  5. It’s okay to not know everything. Reach out for help and advice if you need. Most people will not judge you if you are passionate and honest about your goals. During our time in Techstars, we learned that there are more people willing to help than we had anticipated.

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 have recently co-founded a social initiative ‘Behavioral Research and Innovation Community’ in India that has a mission of providing tools and methods to recreate human behavior and move towards harmony and inclusiveness, for development through Theater in Education and other scientific tools. I truly believe that changing deeper behaviors and understanding the importance of building emotional quotient will help us evolve as species.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Don’t Give Up! It’s cliche but has been the most relevant for me. In my entrepreneurial and life journey the two attributes that always worked for me are resilience and inner power.

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

Michelle Obama! That’s because I absolutely adore her grace, confidence and intelligence. I would love to ask her some personal questions 😉 Oh yes, and I would love to have lunch with Jaggi Vasudev (Sadhguru — an Indian mystic) so I can ask all the life related questions.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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