“To succeed in life, don’t get bogged down by people’s thoughts, biases, processes or culture. Believe in yourself, be yourself and stay honest, to get the best out of yourself.”
Upasana Taku, Co-Founder, MobiKwik
In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Upasana Taku, Co-Founder, and Director, MobiKwik, shares the essence of leadership and importance of hard work. She openly addresses the matter of gender-based stereotyping in the workplace and lends her valuable advice to women at work on how to rise above such obstacles. She believes in maintaining a positive outlook and advice others to do the same.
Upasana Taku is the co-founder and director of MobiKwik. She along with her husband co-founded MobiKwik in 2009. Her current focus is to bring a million retailers into the MobiKwik payments network. Upasana comes with a strong background in payments and has worked as a senior product manager with PayPal in the Silicon Valley and prior to that, with HSBC in San Diego, US. An engineering graduate from NIT Jalandhar, Upasana also holds a Masters degree in Management Science from Stanford University. She has over 14 years of experience in Payments & Financial Services.
Her mantra ‘Kick up a storm or die trying’ has helped her stay focused. For the last 10 years, since the conceptualization of MobiKwik, Taku has spearheaded numerous strategic launches for the brand, which has evolved over the years from being an independent mobile payments network to a leading payment gateway with a network of over 3 million direct merchants and 260 million plus users.
Being the chief anchor, innovator, and leader at MobiKwik, Taku is widely recognized amongst the top women achievers in India. Her success story and achievements are an inspiration for thousands of young women entrepreneurs in the country.
In recognition of her achievements in the tech startup ecosystem of India, Taku has been featured by Forbes as one of the ‘Asia’s Women to Watch in 2016’. She has also been felicitated at CNBC Young Turks Conclave 2017 with the ‘Young Business Women Award’. In August 2017, she was conferred with the ‘Best Woman Entrepreneur Award 2017’ by Assocham. She was also featured in the Fortune 40 Under 40 List in the year 2016.
Q. Some believe leadership is in the DNA, some say it is nurtured. What has been your secret ingredient towards fearless leadership- was it in your nature or did nurture play a bigger role?
I believe that leadership is all about taking charge and at the same time developing other leaders within the team who are self-motivated and go that extra mile to achieve the organization’s objectives. One key skill that I have learned from my mother is to – ‘work hard and never give up’. There is no replacement for hard work.
One of my greatest learnings is that being a good leader is much more than achieving your goals with a team. It is about mapping out where you need to go to “win” as a team or an organization; and it is dynamic, exciting, and inspiring. Apart from strong business skills, one must acquire people management and coaching skills to groom oneself and the entire team.
Q. As the industry is rising to diversity and removing unconscious biases, what is it that still holds back women from reaching those seats in the boardroom, and what can we do as a generation about it?
A. It is very difficult to understand why some believers of this male-dominated society underestimate the power of women to understand finances or technology. This belief is completely illogical and brags no credit!
In the corporate world, we see a lot of women working in marketing, creative roles, and advertising. But, we don’t see many women in technology and finance. We don’t have many female CFOs/CTOs. The reason for this is that women are not able to reach these levels as they face roadblocks all through their careers.
Initially, when I was responsible for managing finances at MobiKwik, often auditors or investors and bankers would be surprised and would request if they could deal with someone male. This was shocking to me given that banking is an industry where female leaders are not uncommon. But this was not the time for me to change the mindset of the people. In fact, the only way I could find to change this belief was by proving them my potential.
That is what I worked more on. I have also faced stereotypes internally; even from people, I have hired myself. For example, there have been instances when someone I have hired, at a future point in time, thinks that he/she does not want to report to me. This does not work for me and we need to put people in place. Yes, it’s a problem but we need to continuously keep working to address it, and not give up.
Q. Creative thinking and innovation is the fuel for the sustained success of any organization, how do you ensure innovation at Mobikwik?
A. This is not only an era of innovation but also a time to showcase how your innovation benefits to one’s key customers. Only the benefits can describe your innovation to your customer. Our recent innovation has been our latest program – ‘Magic’ – India’s first digital platform for end-to-end corporate processes, rewards & reimbursements and loyalty program for our loyal users called ‘Supercash’.
‘Magic’ – India’s first digital platform for end-to-end corporate processes, rewards & reimbursements and loyalty program for our loyal users called ‘Supercash’.
At MobiKwik, we are committed to enabling a billion Indians with one tap access to digital payments, loans, investments and insurance by the year 2022. Innovation is in our DNA and we will continue to innovate and roll out new products/ offerings, in line with our brand vision.
Q. Having started and grown an organization of this size, how did you establish your organizational culture and core values and how do you ensure your organization’s activities are aligned to them?
A. Setting up a start-up of your own is a challenge in itself. Like any startup, we started small and used to work out of a home-office for a long time. However, team bonding is something that we focused on, from very early days. We ensured we built a team that stays together in the good and bad times.
A close-knit team can make all the difference. Team building and specially planned activities not only boost the morale of employees, but it can also increase the success of your business. We also gave a high priority on building a team that trusts each other.
I and Bipin have always led by example. We don’t shy away from putting in long hours. We are approachable, and a flat hierarchy structure has helped us to enhance productivity across the organization. We are transparent and strive to offer a workplace that every individual will look forward to coming in.
“We are approachable, and flat hierarchy structure has helped us to enhance productivity across the organization. We are transparent and strive to offer a workplace that every individual will look forward to coming in.”
Q.How do you view the competitive landscape in India? Given that large global players such as Google are launching payments apps in India, where is MobiKwik positioned, in this scenario?
A. The competitive landscape has improved to a great extent as compared to the last few years.
If you look at 2014-15, everyone in the ecosystem wanted mobile wallets – banks, e-commerce companies, payment gateways such as Citrus and PayU had wallets.
It was a herculean task for us to explain to investors, especially to international investors, where we are in the whole landscape. We had to make complex charts to explain to them what we are good at and what competitors are good at.
Today’s scenario is relatively easy. None of the top three banks has any interest in developing its own mobile wallet. A lot of other internet players who had aspirations have quit. Some of them still have them but I think the off take of those services is limited to their own products.
For example, Ola money is used only on Ola. Same is the case with Amazon payments. Hence these are not a competition to Mobikwik One of the most important aspects of running a payments network is to keep in mind is that you can’t be selling all products and services which compete with your competitors. There is a need to be neutral and independent.
From that point of view, MobiKwik is largest independent payments network. Many fashion retailers work exclusively with us. And I think that from the market point of view, a lot of consolidation has happened and our position has only strengthened to a great extent in the market.
“If one thing is not working out, we should look for other ideas. When we are trying to do things differently, we cannot get dejected.”
Q. A great leader is often defined as somebody who can make his purpose as the purpose of others; please share how you keep your teams motivated, and employee engagement levels high?
A. We have always imbibed a culture of transparency and trust in our organization. We have always treated our employees as our family.
In order to keep our teams motivated we do a number of internal sessions, including Company Townhalls, internal time off sessions, team building activities and celebrating special days. I maintain a positive outlook and advice others to do the same. Having a small group of people in my personal life and the large group of people at MobiKwik is what keeps me happy and socially viable.
Our mantra is simple- Happy employees build happy workplaces and successful brands. We roll out interesting employee engagement initiatives from time to time to keep our employees motivated at an organization/ team level.
“Our mantra is simple: Happy employees build happy workplaces and successful brands. We roll out interesting employee engagement initiatives from time to time to keep our employees motivated at an organization/ team level.”