Finding Your Ikigai with Spinta Co-founder Ketki Sen

This is part three of our mentor interview series for GITxFB Startup Success Factors Bootcamp 2017. Look out for more interviews coming soon! To get a chance to learn from these successful entrepreneurs and veteren industry leaders, sign up here. Application deadline extended to 23rd June.

Part one: Be inspired by Delegate Co-founders, Melissa Lou and Jacqueline Ye

Part two: Ensuring Top-Notch User Experience at Uber, Maita Gaerlan

Part four: Taking the Leap of Entrepreneurship, Crystal Koh

Being an entrepreneur is risky business – as the saying goes, 9 out of 10 startups fail. So how do you know if your idea can survive these odds? You apply to a global accelerator program, and find out if you have what it takes to turn your humble idea into a startup to watch.

Spinta Global Accelerator – Force Multiplier For Startups

Spinta Global Accelerator’s mission is to be a launchpad for spirited individuals to start and build a successful venture, through an ecosystem of global mentors, funding and development support, as well as networking and community partnership.

Spinta Global Accelerator is backed by the technology company KloudData, which is at the forefront of building transformative software solutions, built and based on its deep expertise in Mobility, Analytics, and Enterprise systems through user-friendly UI/UX. This gives Spinta the unique positioning of being a Technology Accelerator with its own reliable tech arm.
Spinta’s unique Katalyst™ process helps achieve its mission of helping startups through a 3 step process:

Start: evaluates and nurtures the initial spark (idea) of the startups
Sprint: refines, validates and help build a ‘Minimum Viable Product’
Scale: establishes credibility, creates market value and wins customers.

Girls in Tech spoke to Spinta co-founder Ketki Sen about how she became an entrepreneur, what gives her purpose, and how she forges her own path in the ever-changing landscape of startups.

Going with the flow of entrepreneurship

Ketki stepped into the corporate world of banking straight out of school – she was recruited on campus by Citibank and benefited from a foundation of excellent teams and structured training within a large organisation. She found her bearings and began to shape her career – in 1990 she put in place a signature verification system for the bank and designed her own algorithm – before algorithms were even a buzzword. She was asked to be part of Citibank’s first Business Analyst Group (BAG), saying “It was a big risk I took back then, moving to a not-so-sexy tech team from the coveted Corporate Banking role.”

She caught the entrepreneurial bug after joining MphasiS, an IT company started by ex-Citibankers. “As part of the early founding team we put in place procedures on our own, there was minimal hierarchy and a very flat organisational structure which made us very flexible and nimble. I ran Singapore sales and operations with just one admin – it was great fun – from picking up phone calls to interacting with CEOs of large corporates. I discovered how powerful technology could be, and Citibank in fact became my client!”

Forging her own path

Ketki credits her parents with helping her to gain the strength and independence to create her own career path, as well as the mindset of understanding one’s strengths and being your authentic self. She says, “I am one of three sisters and my father raised us to think for ourselves and do everything from changing tires to managing bank accounts.

In 1989, I was the only woman in my batch of management trainees to join Citibank. I never thought in terms of binary male and female gender roles as limiting factors. Performance was evaluated purely merit based during my foundation years at Citi and later at MphasiS, we had equal female representation on the managing committee.”

She returned to lead transformation projects at Citi’s innovation lab when Fintech and Bitcoin were still very new, and then found her calling: “When I got the chance to start Spinta Global Accelerator with my co-founders, and help foster the growth of entrepreneurs and startups, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s been an exciting journey since then – meeting many different people across geographies with so much open collaboration. As one of my bosses told me: ‘Ketki you were always meant to be an entrepreneur.’ “

Her career has not been without its challenges – she grappled with being labelled and limited to her designation after becoming a mother and having a difficult pregnancy. On how she dealt with this: “There is a balancing act that a woman needs to strike in getting her voice heard over potential mansplaining and hierarchical power plays – being assertive vs. being aggressive. I also realised the importance of women supporting other women – not viewing other women as threats – we all need to consciously encourage and lift each other.”

Find your own ikigai – your reason for being

Ketki finds strength in her ikigai, or reason for being. “My mantra is be an everyday hero in all that you do – being self aware of your unique strengths and weaknesses, being confident with your authentic self, being open about your vulnerabilities, compassionate and kind to all you meet, and viewing challenges in life as opportunities for growth – finding your own moral compass to drive change in your life.”

She also has a renewed perspective on applying oneself and diligence – having a child with learning differences made her feel alone and unable to help in the struggle of facing an educational environment that caters best to students who fall in the normal distribution of the bell curve, and not to the outliers.

She shared how she navigated this new challenge with her son: “I learnt to focus on the unique strengths of my child: to believe in his own intrinsic value, to adapt and teach him in the way he learns best, help him visualise his own life goals towards becoming a contributor to society – and to never give up on his dreams.”

This perseverance has carried over to her efforts as an entrepreneur: “At Spinta, I have an equal voice with my male co-founders and even as I bring a different perspective to their views, I also get help from theirs. We all complement each other with our unique strengths. Diversity of views is what I think is most important for any organisation, as is carrying yourself with the confidence of being your authentic self.”

Keep moving forward

Ketki isn’t sitting on her laurels – she’s currently working on the Silicon Valley Cross Border Scalerator Program with Reliance GenNext, a program to select a top ten of startups across the globe in seven identified areas including artificial intelligence (AI). Also on her plate: a partnership with the Institute of Product Leadership for a PIM (Product Innovation Management) – a silicon valley model certification program for corporate leaders, SMEs and startups looking to develop their idea into a minimum loveable product (MLP) for customer adoption.

With Spinta she has also started a Silicon Valley Immersion Program in the second half of 2017 – startups will visit Silicon Valley and get first-hand experience in how it functions; visiting tech campuses, interacting with developer programs, sit in lectures by prominent entrepreneurs and attend pitch fest and demo days to present their ideas and products to potential investors. A similar India Immersion Program is also in the works.

Ketki also drives Spinta’s commitment to promote the entrepreneurial spirit for women: Spinta Global Accelerator and KloudData recently hosted India’s Top 10 Women Entrepreneurs in May to a select audience of Silicon Valley investors and ecosystem partners. These entrepreneurs were identified and supported by the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India and Anita Borg Institute, the world’s largest fund for women entrepreneurs.

Looking for where you’re meant to be

Ketki continues to live her mantra and chart personal milestones. She says of her personal goals, ”I have always wanted to help those who do not have access to the same opportunities and resources that some of us are blessed to have. With Spinta I found I was interacting with more and more people from all backgrounds and there was a giving and a taking – true collaboration. I also found time to volunteer at AIDHA where I teach financial literacy to Foreign Domestic Workers. I am now also working on a solution that will help me take the same to a larger audience and hopefully positively impact many more lives. This is that very moment where I am meant to be.”

Her advice on important life skills for any entrepreneur: “Know your own strengths, be prepared to work alone as you build up your company, adapt to each situation and pick yourself up each time, while learning what works best for you – in order to arrive at a solution best suited for your customer. Go find your own ikigai!”

Written by Tasha Abdul Mutalib

Tasha is a people ops and project management professional who specializes in tech and startups. When she’s not working on making tech a better place to build, learn and grow, she’s finding new ways to enrich the local community by volunteering and supporting worthy causes for women, youth and tech for good. Follow her LinkedIn feed for the latest on workplace trends and insights.

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