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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Amit Knaani, Co-Founder/CPO of bob

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is my interview with Amit Knaani, an amazing female startup founder and an entrepreneur with experience in building SaaS and FinTech products. Amit is a Co-Founder and CPO of hibob.

hibob


What makes you do what you do?

It’s a complicated question of course, but I’ve always been fascinated by how and why people do what they do. Being a product person is a bit like being a naturalist or anthropologist. I want to make products that will have an effect on people’s lives, and I want people to love using them. My professional motivation initially comes from there.

Having spent many years in technology I now have a complete understanding of how technology can work to better and simplify people’s lives. To free them up from the burden of complexity and give them time to do what they really do. Take hibob for example, my latest startup. I have no experience in HR whatsoever, but I know how to build products which take an existing complexity and make it simple, to disrupt existing practices and reinvent them for the next generation. This is now my fundamental motivation.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I didn’t start with a master plan to get here! Originally I wanted to be a photographer and I was on track for a Ph.D. in photography and cultural studies. Then, all of a sudden, I understood that this was going to be too theoretical for me. I had discovered the world of online forums and communities whilst working as a photo editor for a news site, I promised myself that my next job would FORCE me to spend all day in online communities, and that’s what happened!

So my way to product management was a winding road, based in psychology and the need to know why people do what they do, how they communicate online, and how it affects their lives; how online text, pictures, and visual entities become a language of their own, and this is still what drives me. I was lucky to get into the product world and I’m still in love with my work.

I’ve met lots of people that have pushed me to be better, and I’m always on the lookout for new techniques and interesting combinations of the above, it’s a never-ending search.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

When I met my business partners I was at a personal and professional crossroads, and I needed a new challenge. Being able to affect the way people manage their employees and deal with the human side of organizations was something I couldn’t resist.

As a single mum it was even tougher to make the decision to commit, but my girls are now 14 & 12, and I had never stopped work to have kids. They were there from the first day of my career and I knew I could do it with them. Also, I’m lucky enough to be working with my best friends, and that’s priceless.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

I always wanted a mentor but never had one. I’ve met loads of amazing people over the years and have great friends who come from different industries that I can consult with. The one time I had something close to a mentor was when I worked with ooVoo. I became really close to an amazing woman who was the HR for the company. She was (and still is) strong, super smart, funny, and very very supportive. I learned a lot from her.

Being a woman in a very male-dominated industry can be tough. All my bosses were men, and even if they were the best men ever, I still couldn’t find a female character I felt I could identify with. However, I do have an everlasting role model in the funny and crazy Liz Lemon from 30Rock (http://30rock.wikia.com/wiki/Liz_Lemon)! She doesn’t take s*it from anyone, she is a mum, a friend, a boss, a teacher, and a devil all in one. She might look all confused, but at the end of the day, nothing can happen without her.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

I could talk about my team forever. I’ve always understood there are lots of things I can’t do, and part of being a grown-up manager is to understand your own limitations. So, I’ve always made sure to hire people that are so much better than me. I try to find passionate people, who care like I do. It may be harder to manage them as they demand attention and respect, have never-ending daily challenges, and even create a healthy tension between strong smart people with strong opinions and tons of creativity – but I believe that this is the only way to do it. I’m totally in love with my team, and it’s been like that in every company I’ve worked with.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

My team includes four women, my company as a whole is 48% female, and our Chairman (Lady Barbara Judge) is a woman. That wasn’t a deliberate decision – they were just the best people for the job. I believe in giving people opportunities and to have faith in their capabilities, just like those who gave me chances when I was starting my career.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

I wish I knew the answer! I think it’s all about the people, and my way is to always move between great people. I try to help others and to make them better, and it always comes back to me. I think you should never stop searching and never stop learning- from your industry and from others. Always look around you, and always search for more.

Advice for others?

Currently, I’m a Co-Founder and the Chief Product Officer of bob, a great young startup that aims to change the way that businesses manage their people. My advice? It’s similar to what I wrote above – be kind, be passionate, and never give up. You don’t need a dream, you need to live in the now and love what you do, otherwise, it’s not worth it.


To learn more about bob, please see https://www.hibob.com/.

I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.

Entrepreneurship

What Kills A Startup

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1 – Being inflexible and not actively seeking or using customer feedback

Ignoring your users is a tried and true way to fail. Yes that sounds obvious but this was the #1 reason given for failure amongst the 32 startup failure post-mortems we analyzed. Tunnel vision and not gathering user feedback are fatal flaws for most startups. For instance, ecrowds, a web content management system company, said that “ We spent way too much time building it for ourselves and not getting feedback from prospects — it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I’d recommend not going more than two or three months from the initial start to getting in the hands of prospects that are truly objective.”

2 – Building a solution looking for a problem, i.e., not targeting a “market need”

Choosing to tackle problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was often cited as a reason for failure. Sure, you can build an app and see if it will stick, but knowing there is a market need upfront is a good thing. “Companies should tackle market problems not technical problems” according to the BricaBox founder. One of the main reasons BricaBox failed was because it was solving a technical problem. The founder states that, “While it’s good to scratch itches, it’s best to scratch those you share with the greater market. If you want to solve a technical problem, get a group together and do it as open source.”

3 – Not the right team

A diverse team with different skill sets was often cited as being critical to the success of a starti[ company. Failure post-mortems often lamented that “I wish we had a CTO from the start, or wished that the startup had “a founder that loved the business aspect of things”. In some cases, the founding team wished they had more checks and balances. As Nouncers founder stated, “This brings me back to the underlying problem I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made.” Wesabe founder also stated that he was the sole and quite stubborn decision maker for much of the enterprises life, and therefore he can blame no one but himself for the failures of Wesabe. Team deficiencies were given as a reason for startup failure almost 1/3 of the time.

4 – Poor Marketing

Knowing your target audience and knowing how to get their attention and convert them to leads and ultimately customers is one of the most important skills of a successful business. Yet, in almost 30% of failures, ineffective marketing was a primary cause of failure. Oftentimes, the inability to market was a function of founders who liked to code or build product but who didn’t relish the idea of promoting the product. The folks at Devver highlighted the need to find someone who enjoys creating and finding distribution channels and developing business relationship for the company as a key need that startups should ensure they fill.

5 – Ran out of cash

Money and time are finite and need to be allocated judiciously. The question of how should you spend your money was a frequent conundrum and reason for failure cited by failed startups. The decision on whether to spend significantly upfront to get the product off the group or develop gradually over time is a tough act to balance. The team at YouCastr cited money problems as the reason for failure but went on to highlight other reasons for shutting down vs. trying to raise more money writing:

The single biggest reason we are closing down (a common one) is running out of cash. Despite putting the company in an EXTREMELY lean position, generating revenue, and holding out as long as we could, we didn’t have the cash to keep going. The next few reasons shed more light as to why we chose to shut down instead of finding more cash.

The old saw was that more companies were killed by poor cashflow than anything else, but factors 1, 2 and 4 probably are the main contributing factors to that problem. No cash, no flow. The issue No 3 – the team – is interesting, as if I take that comment ” I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made” and think about some of the founders and startup CEOs I know, I can safely say that the main way that any decision was made was by agreeing with them – it was “my way or the highway”. I don’t therefore “buy” the team argument, I more buy the willingness of the key decision makers to change when things are not working (aka “pivoting” – point 9).

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About the Author

This article was produced by Broadsight. Broadsight is an attempt to build a business not just to consult to the emerging Broadband Media / Quadruple Play / Web 2.0 world, but to be structured according to its open principles. see more.

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Callum Connects

Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor

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Jasmine saves her clients time and effort when doing kitchen fit outs with her biz Stone Amperor.

What’s your story?
I started working in the industry in 2003. I was in a marble and granite supplier company for 5 years. Even though I left the company, I still had customers calling me for my services. I referred them back to my previous company but they refused to because they loved the fast response service that I offered. I realised that customers do look at prices, however most of them prefer quality over quantity. Thus I have decided to establish a sole proprietor company also known as 78 Degrees which later rebranded as Stone Amperor in 2014.

What excites you most about your industry?
The kitchen countertop industry is a very confusing market. There are many brands, materials and prices to choose from. What excites me the most is my ability to help clients choose the best materials and brands within their budgets, whilst saving them time and effort.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have been in Asia all my life and I love Asia. No matter where you go there is no place like home.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I love Singapore. This is because Singapore has always been a stable country and it is great for doing business. However as it is a small country, it can be really competitive. I believe that if just do your best and give your best to your customers, you can overcome this.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Take actions. Learn and improve continuously. An idea without action is just a dream.” This was really good advice that I received from my partner.

Who inspires you?
A very down to earth billionaire from Malaysia, Robert Kuok

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Property is the foundation of every business.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Own instead of renting property for my business.

How do you unwind?
I enjoy going shopping, watching movies and hanging out with friends. I am quite a simple being.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love going to Taiwan as I love the culture there. Everyone is so polite and the weather is great.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Sun Tzu, Art of war

Shameless plug for your business:
Perfect top, Perfect price, Perfect life from Stone Amperor

How can people connect with you?
Email me at [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@StoneAmperor

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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