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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Nisha Maharaj, Managing Director at Niche Integrated Solutions

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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 Nisha Maharaj, Managing Director of Niche Integrated Solutions – established in 2013, a 100% black women owned and managed Organization. Niche Integrated Solutions lead technology innovation to the Africa continent and through this, create jobs, uplift skills in technology and foster technology transfer.


What makes you do what you do?

Typically people do what they have to do because they do not have a choice so many people go to work hoping that entire day could pass by quickly. I like the doings that I want to and more importantly enjoy which is why I decided to build my own business. I admired many entrepreneurs, mostly my own managers who were the CEOs and wanted to have a taste of entrepreneurship for myself. I spent many years believing that I could also be like my managers until I finally got out and decided to do it for myself and, my children. I now have all the flexibility in the world even though I often work 15 hours a day.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I am still rising, it has been a tough journey but we have been persistent. People who worked with us previously had a high regard for us and as a result, it is easier to access clients because they trust us. We are also specialists in what we do so people value our opinion because we put a serious amount of energy into thinking of easier and better ways to do things. As we moved along, people started to recognize us for what we were doing and now -we are the ones receiving the calls.

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)

I took on this role because I was a single parent and it was frustrating trying to deal with my family life whilst locked into my work 24-7. No flexibility to watch my son’s school football tournament canceled holidays, the working life with the targets that I had was overwhelming. I needed flexibility and to be my own boss and for my children to have more of me. I was always one of the top performers in most of my own jobs so I had he faith in myself to believe that to make my own salary on my own would not be a difficulty. I did exactly this and have never looked back once.

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 never really had a mentor, my stupidity that my head was burrowed in work in the start-up stages of my company. There are however two Long standing ex-bosses whom I always admired, aspired to be like them whom I have always remained in contact with -Chris De Beer and Eugene van Niekerk. I believe that what I have learned under them will serve me well for the rest of my future -I have yet to meet such impeccable persons in my lifetime.

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

The one thing that I am good at is networking and connecting dots. I have the ability to be able to identify talent- in that crowded room, there is always that one person that you want to reach out to but never do, and I make it practice to do so. People always ask you questions but most of the time, they have the answers themselves, what matters is not giving the answer to them, you should be able to help them probe and examine in order to arrive at the answers themselves.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

I am pretty much color blind, I support diversity unconsciously, just as how the co-founder Priya Singh and I happen to black women in ICT-we are both specialists in our fields and co-incidentally conform to the bbbee codes, though unplanned. I will not purposefully go out looking for a black employee, my focus is youth or any color or kind because I am proudly a South African and any proud South African will realize that serving the youth of this country should be the premium objective.

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

The only words that I would use to say what distinguishes leaders are their level of emotional intelligence versus the intelligence quotient. Take calculated risks, do your homework well and make informed decisions is generally what works best.

Advice for others?

Entrepreneurship is not easy, many entrepreneurs fail -so pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and try again. As they all say, is not bad when you try and fail but bad if you fail to try.

Technology innovation is our passion if you need anything in the arena of software, IT services and networks and telco, feel free to give us a shout anytime.


To learn more about Niche Integrated Solutions, please see http://www.nicheintegrated.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.

Callum Connects

Trung Nguyen, Founder & Managing Director of Advertising Vietnam

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Having initial success with his first start up in the ad industry, Trung Nguyen went on to start other ventures in the ad world in Vietnam. He now has the largest agency community in Vietnam.

What’s your story?
Three years ago I got my first job in the advertising industry. I worked for a local agency in town, and I fell in love with the creative industry. In June 2015, I founded Agency Life Community in Vietnam. It quickly became the most engaging community in the ad industry. The main content focuses on entertainment. After six months we had over 30,000 organic followers, now we have 120,000 followers.

Because the industry had been good to me, I decided I had to something for the industry to help the industry be better. So, I opened http://AdvertisingVietnam.com – a creative industry ad site which keeps advertising informative, creative and inspiring.

After more than a year in the ads industry in Vietnam, I figured the industry needed a better solution for the recruitment of good staff. Given I own the largest advertising community platform, why don’t I utilise Agency Life to help connect talent with ad agencies. So, I founded job site, AdJob.Asia in January 2017.

What excites you most about your industry?
The ad industry is a creative one with very passionate people who are always challenging themselves. The exciting part for creatives, in the morning they might be working on a baby brand and in the afternoon they are answering a beer brief. There is so much diversity. Every day is the new journey.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am Vietnamese.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Thailand. The Thais are the kings of the creative industry in SEA. Thai ads are very smart and creative.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Do what you love.

Who inspires you?
My friend, mentor and partner Mr Nghi Nguyen, founder of BrandsVietnam.com. We started our businesses at a similar time. He doesn’t see us as a competitor but rather, he believes that we share the same passion and we are working to provide better knowledge for the ad community.
Mr Nghi also guided me a lot when I first opened the business. I am inspired by his vision to make our marketing industry better.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Our business is a startup company and as a founder I do everything from operations, business development, planning and strategy. However, this is not the good way grow our business. You have to share the workload – find a co-founder or hire a great employee to help share the workload. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Quit my full time job sooner.
During the first year of running my business, I was still working as an ad manager for an agency. However I lacked focus at work due to the overload of work and it affected the company I used to work for. I strongly recommend people who have an idea to start their own business, quit their job early on and focus 100% on it from the get go!

How do you unwind?
Play with my cat.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love to travel throughout all of Asia. I enjoy new places and meeting new people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Carpenter: A story about the greatest success strategies of all.

Shameless plug for your business:
AdvertisingVietnam.com is a site where you can quickly update yourself on the advertising news in Vietnam. We have 15,000 unique monthly readers who are professional people in the advertising and communications industries.

The Agency Life, https://www.facebook.com/agencylife is largest agency community in Vietnam. This is the right place for ad agencies to share their creative work.

AdJob.Asia now has more than 160 agencies in Vietnam who use our services. We are a leading recruitment service for the advertising industry in Vietnam.

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/trungnx26
Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trungnx26/

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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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Minette Navarrete, Co-Founder, Vice-Chairman, and President of Kickstart Ventures

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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 our interview with Minette Navarrete, Co-Founder, Vice-Chairman, and President of Kickstart Ventures. Kickstart is an investment firm that funds early-stage digital startups, providing capital, incubation and mentoring, and market access.  Minette has held CEO/COO positions in various industries, ranging from Philippine startups to iconic multinationals.

What makes you do what you do?
I’m keenly interested in innovation and ecosystem development, and committed to contributing to nation-building. I love that my job combines all of that, and allows me to leverage all my past experiences into a new role that creates value for founders and fund-providers alike.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Counter-intuitively! I don’t have a background in tech; nor do I have a long history of venture investing. My skill sets are in strategy, general management, and marketing; and my experience has largely been in innovation and business turnaround. But I have a broad range of work experience (FMCG, apparel, property, and online game publishing in a startup), and that has helped inform my views. More than anything, though, Kickstart has made this progress because of the trust of our principals, and the initiative of a wonderful team. Truly, people make the difference.

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)?
All throughout my career, I’ve only taken on difficult roles. There’s little growth in a role that is easy; and the challenges are what makes a role worth doing.

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’ve had the benefit of a number of good mentors through my career.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
First off: I have had both male and female mentors. Generally, I’ve met mentors in work situations: i.e. they started out being an immediate superior, or being on my Board of Directors. The close work association evolved as both sides found the experience productive, intellectually satisfying, and fun.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
Mostly through the same process: nothing compares to actually working together. That said, with more and more experience, I think people develop a sharper instinct about talent, and the potential for development. It’s also important to build the relationship over time, and to invest in actively supporting talent by both seeing things through their eyes as well as helping them find other lenses with which to view the situation they find themselves in.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Yes, we care about diversity, although the primary filter for Kickstart is always ability and performance. Many studies have shown that diverse teams are closely correlated to better results; and given the kind of work we do, it’s important that we all sharpen our ability to deal with varied types of people and situations.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
It’s important to be trustworthy, especially given that venture investing deals with the highest-risk asset class. Trust is earned through competence, diligence, honesty, clarity, and courage.

Advice for others?
I say this a lot: Build strong foundations. Be clear about your values, principles, and priorities. Volunteer for the toughest jobs. Do the unsexy stuff. And work with conviction, commitment, courage, and honour. None of this is particularly glamorous, and they don’t deliver instantaneous results, but the value-creation is real, authentic, and sustainable over a longer period.


If you’d like to get in touch with Minette Navarrete, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/minettenavarrete/

To learn more about Kickstart Ventures , please click here.

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