Full Interview Transcript

Alejandro: So what is your favourite food dish?
Anu Shah: You know, I can eat… I’m not so I can pretty much eat the same dish three times a day, 365 days a year without any complaints.
Alejandro: I love it! Why is it?
Anu Shah: I’m not kidding. It could just be anything – tofu would be like… pretty much anything. Anything that is just edible and is reasonably good, I can do it.
Alejandro: Edible and reasonably good. As long as it doesn’t make you sick.
Anu Shah: No, that’s it. That’s it. That’s it. My cousin and I when we were in Dubai, he would come visit me every weekend. So he comes like Thursday evening. Friday, Saturday used to be weekend in Dubai. So he comes Thursday evening. We’ll go to the restaurant which is just at the back of my house and order the same dish every time and literally we will eat it throughout the weekend like Thursday night, Friday morning, Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday night.
Alejandro: It sounds… I can never get sick of eating rice, beans, eggs. There’s a certain plate in Colombia that’s called bandeja paisa, which is rice, beans, eggs, avocado, sweet plantains, like sausage – just as many things as you can put on the plate. I can never get sick of that dish.
So what was the one that you ordered with your friend then?
Anu Shah: With my cousin. It was just one dish. It was like I think tikka masala. That’s it.
Alejandro: Ooh.
Anu Shah: But it’s not just mainly tikka masala. When I used to be in Singapore, literally every day I would just have tofu. Every day like tofu curry. That’s it. And the restaurant knew me so well that I first lived there for a year and a half when I did it every day. That was in 2013 and 2014. So in 2017 when I moved again, I went to the restaurant. I took a friend with me and the restaurant, the staff was still the same. They knew me.
And so my friend comes in. She’s like, “Oh, I know what you want.” And the waiter was at the table and she said like, “Do you know what you want?”
And the waiter said, “Even we know what she wants.”
Alejandro: You eat tofu…
Anu Shah: “We know what she wants.” I was very no fuss person when it comes to food.
Alejandro: That’s hilarious. All right. So is there a morning routine that helps you get your day started with the right mindset.
Anu Shah: Yes. A 12 kilometer run every single day without fail by the river in Manhattan downtown. I have to do that.
Alejandro: Wait, you have to do what? I missed it
Anu Shah: A 12 kilometer run every day in the morning.
Alejandro: Wow! 12 kilometers. What’s 12 kilometers? Is that like five? Is it half?
Anu Shah: I don’t know how much would that be. I’m still not…
Alejandro: What is that in miles?
Anu Shah: I’m still not American, right? So I…
Alejandro: I don’t know why the US has to come up with this distance. This just makes it horrible. Like 12 kilometers to miles. Here we go.
Anu Shah: Like six miles.
Alejandro: Oh, my god! Seven miles? Jeez!
Anu Shah: Seven miles! Okay. That’s not a lot.
Alejandro: That is. Every day?
Anu Shah: Every day.
Alejandro: Wow!
Anu Shah: Everyday.
Alejandro: And you say at what time in the morning?
Anu Shah: Six thirty.
Alejandro: Six thirty in the morning, seven miles. Wow. And your knees? Nothing hurts after doing it all the time?
Anu Shah: I already have bad knees from a ski accident so I have to be very mindful but this is my addiction. If I run, I feel better. That’s like my own time.
Alejandro: That’s awesome. It gets you in the right mindset. Wow. Seven miles. I’m still shocked. I’m still trying to recover from that.
Anu Shah: You think you don’t need it.
Alejandro: I’m happy with like my walk around like five blocks.
Anu Shah: But you’re very fit. You’re okay.
Alejandro: Oh, thank you. I appreciate it. Making me feel better. Do you have any hobbies?
Anu Shah: Over the years, there’s not been much time for hobbies but back in the days, I used to go horse riding very regularly. I used to own a horse when I used to be in Dubai. But now I prefer to do more like running, swimming, yoga. I try to be more physically active.
Alejandro: How do you feel? Do you miss it being able to ride on a horse? Or it’s one of those things that’s yes, it’s fun when you do it and it’s neither…
Anu Shah: Yes, I miss that. I totally miss that. I was very passionate about it so that’s why I bought a horse when I used to live in Dubai. But you know, I’m not the kind of person who gets upset when things are knocked around. I feel very passionately about something, some stuff but if it’s not there, I’m equally happy. Like I can let it go.
Alejandro: What’s the name of the horse?
Anu Shah: The name of the horse… Can you guess that? Okay, given my personality, what do you think it would be?
Alejandro: Oh, my god. I’ve have no clue. We just got started. I was going to say seven for seven miles. I don’t know. What…?
Anu Shah: No. The name of my horse was Ambition.
Alejandro: Emission?
Anu Shah: Ambition
Alejandro: Oh, Ambition. Ambition. Wow! That’s to set the record straight.
Anu Shah: That was ages ago though.
Alejandro: Wow. Ambition is still back in Dubai or no longer…?
Anu Shah: No, it is back in Dubai. So the way you would do is, you can buy a horse and lease it back to the horse club so that way they can take care of the horse. They can groom the horse, train the horse and then use the horse to train other people who want to come and learn horse riding. So that’s like buy to lease back.
Alejandro: Got it.
Anu Shah: That’s how it works.
Alejandro: Did you learn very young? Or this was…?
Anu Shah: Much later in life. I think a lot of activities and hobbies that I loved was when I started living overseas back 10 years ago. So that’s when I loved these hobbies. I started learning horse riding when I was in University of Leeds so that’s like back in 2011. But since then, it remained with me.
Alejandro: Wow. That’s really cool. And what do we have here? Who is one of your favourite music artists?
Anu Shah: Oh, my god. This must [inaudible 00:12:12].
Alejandro: Someone asked me that, that’s hard.
Anu Shah: It is. It’s like… There are so many varieties.
Alejandro: It depends on the mood. It depends on…
Anu Shah: It does actually. It’s the mood. It’s the environment. But I generally, I’m not a fan of hard metal rock and stuff like that. I think songs…
Alejandro: So no Metallica for you.
Anu Shah: No, no, no. I like Eminem though. I don’t think you can categorize him into like hard rock or something, right? If it’s something which is soft, meaningful, softer, on the softer side.
Alejandro: How about Bryan Adams. I saw a video of him yesterday and I shed a tear. I didn’t even do anything. I just watched the video. It was the Everything I Do.
Anu Shah: Some of his songs… It resonates with you, right? Everything I Do.
Alejandro: I actually think that was one of my… No, it can’t be one of my first songs. When I came to the States, I don’t know what year that video came out. Was that…? I think that song was attached to a, I don’t know if it was The Musketeers or a movie that was coming out.
Anu Shah: I suppose.
Alejandro: And it was one of… I don’t know. There’s something there but I don’t know. It hits a certain button. I cried.
Anu Shah: But you know, I think your exposure to Western music would be more than mine. So I am obviously because I grew up in India. We got more exposed to Indian Bollywood music and…
Alejandro: What is an artist from there? Is there someone there that is your favourite?
Anu Shah: There’s an Indian singer called Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. I really like all of his songs. He’s a singer but I like all of his songs.
Alejandro: And is it with the music videos so most people usually see where the dancing and all that?
Anu Shah: All Indian music is like that, right?
Alejandro: I love it. Those moves are not as… those moves are hard.
Anu Shah: Are they?
Alejandro: Well, yes. I consider myself pretty decent in dancing, you know, like with salsa. There are some Latino dancing that I can do but I look at those videos and it looks great. And I try and mimic it and it’s hard. It’s not as easy as it looks.
Anu Shah: I can say the same about salsa and what not.
Alejandro: There’s like a certain flare. I don’t know. All right. And what is this? We already asked this. What do you do to get rid of stress? Running is a big piece of you day when you get there. All right.
So having asked those questions, let’s go back in time and can you share with me where you grew up and what did your neighbourhood look like?
Anu Shah: I grew up in India. My neighbour… It was very… I grew up in a small city in the Western State of Gujarat, Western state of India of Gujarat in the city of Barula. It’s a very, very traditional, very, you know, very Indian kind of neighbourhood that you can imagine. Small town or a small city. Gujarati is a generally considered liberal on the surface because Gujarati women, they dress up the way they want. They’re very outspoken. They’re kind of considered… their point is taken in consideration in all family matters and discussions and all of it.
So on the surface it was a very, very liberal environment but I mean, on the surface it was a very liberal environment. I don’t know what else to say to that.
Alejandro: Did you have siblings? Do you have siblings?
Anu Shah: I have. I have a younger brother, yes.
Alejandro: A younger brother. And were there other family members in the vicinity or it was mostly you and your parents living in this neighbourhood?
Anu Shah: Ours was a nuclear family unlike any Gujaratis or Indian families where everyone lives together. Ours was a nuclear family. We would see our grandparents occasionally when we were growing up but they were never living with us. So it was a very nuclear, independent family.
Alejandro: Were your grandparents living pretty close by or it was also quite a distance?
Anu Shah: It’s a very small city where I grew up so it’s pretty much like a 20 minutes drive to where they live so it was pretty close by.
Alejandro: And I’m just visually trying to put this together. Tons of… where there a lot of kids your age during…?
Anu Shah: Lots of kids my age. Yes, a lot of kids my age. Everyone will gather all throughout the day. We’ll be playing together, morning to evening, go to school together. It was very socially pleasant environment. So there are always people like you get out and there are tons of kids to play around with and you get your hands down and dirty. You roll in the mud, in the sand. You come back home dirty.
Alejandro: I love it. And your parents… It’s very cultural where parents would just let you go and do your thing and you come back at a certain time?
Anu Shah: Yes, kind of. Yes. There were no restrictions on what time can I go, what time can I come back. No, there were no such restrictions.
Alejandro: Yes. I noticed when I moved here that that was very different for many people where they are like, “Wait, they just let you go out and play?”
And you’re like, “Yes, they did.”
Anu Shah: Yes, we do. It’s normal.
Alejandro: I know. So what were your parents up to during that time?
Anu Shah: My father used to work for a state owned company. He was in the finance department. My mother… so it was a very interesting split. So my mother was an entrepreneur even before she got married to my father. She was working with her father. They had a tourist and travel company. Back in the days, tourism or tourist and travels looked very different like now you just book hotels independently and you do stuff on the online. Back in the days, it was very different. And my mother, she was still instrumental. She still works with her brothers though we live in Barula, which was a city in Gujarat. Her family and her father’s business and everything was in Bombay, Mumbai now. It was a very weird thing how the business went down then how she would be instrumental in working with these guys that just making things happen.
Things was still different, I remember how my mother would do it. Like they had to sit down and make the whole plan on the paper. They have to do all this pricing and calculations, you know, their files like in the house. She’s like discussing with her brothers over the phone – what should be the pricing and stuff. And they’re like, “Okay, we’re going to have brochures and I’m going to distribute it here.”
And people will call up to our place like the phone will be ringing continuously. Like she’s taking like, “Okay, how many tickets of yours? Two? Okay, I’ll book that.”
So they used to sell packages to all the places in India. So they take it to Kashmir and sometimes it will be like these stations and all these packages per person. This is the price. Brochures are sent out. These guys are calling. My mother will take the order. Then they’ll have to like make a list and the tickets. Everything was done manually.
So I grew up in an environment where half of the time she was a complete control freak mom and other half she’s like a hard headed woman who’s like taking calls and like negotiating.
And then there will be the actual tour season where she would take us with her. And those were like, funny it is, they would actually book the whole trains on their own so they like send the quotations and, you know, like pricing and, “We want the whole train because we have 1200 people coming in this group.” And she will be like leading this group of these, the 1200 people and then they’re like [inaudible 00:20:25].
Alejandro: And you got to go with her from time to time.
Anu Shah: Which was actually the most unpleasant part. And I remember…
Alejandro: Oh, really?
Anu Shah: Yes, because I think it’s supposed to be done manually. What do I tell you? Like one thing that happened for instance is you’re going to this place X for two days and place Y for three days. So on the third day before 1200 people will arrive, you need to make sure that all the cooks and the food and the grocery and everything is there because when they come, you need to serve them breakfast.
So our mother has made us travel in trucks with the truck driver, all the grocery in the truck and like the two kids, six and four year old seated next to her in that truck, like crazy trips. I mean, like scooting over and we’re like squeezing in. This is not the travelling experience that I wanted.
And like think of it, she was the one who was needing it. It was her business and this is how the kids get treated.
Alejandro: So for the tourists, everything was incredible. You were behind the scenes making sure that everything works.
Anu Shah: Yes. And so back in the days, like you need to make hotel bookings over the phone. So sometimes you tell them that, I need 60 rooms but they only have 45 rooms or 55 rooms when you get there. And now you have to give the priority to all the passengers or all the group members.
So pretty much me and my brother and my mother will be like, we’ll have the shittiest rooms. Sometimes we’ll have the shittiest room and it’s like such an unpleasant experience. And much worse, you had sightseeings. So you need to take everyone sightseeing. And my mother has to be behind the door, talking to the caterers and the cooks and this and that. And she’s like, “Just go sightseeing. Just go sightseeing.”
And I’d say, I was a shy kid. And I am, “Hold on a second. I don’t want to go.”
And she’ll be like, “Just leave me alone. Go and let them pay.”
It was traumatic. I never enjoyed that.
Alejandro: Was that common for a woman to be… no?
Anu Shah: Absolutely not. I saw… And I come back to it like I grew up, I was told everything was liberal and acceptable but when I wanted to be liberal and more hard headed and stuff, it was not acceptable. So but I grew up looking at this woman who was so hard headed, who was so strong and staunch and, you know, sometimes the trains they don’t give you the stop designated stops that you have requested and you would have booked the whole train. So and the passengers, you would have promised them that you would actually drop you at this station and suddenly that station is missed and you can’t stop and these passengers get aggressive. They come and fight especially men. They get over aggressive and like, they’ll talk you down and I’ve never seen my mother back out. She’s always standing strong and she’ll fight it out. She was very strong.
I remember an instance, I think we were in Delhi and there was like this huge fight and someone who was like leader of the group came to fight physically with my mother and she was like still standing strong and she was like fighting it out. It was like a brawl. And I was scared. and you know like I said, the phone will be continuously ringing at home when we go visit my mom’s brother and we want to spend vacation with my cousins. The house was a mess because everyone’s talking about business and tours and, you know, everybody’s supposed to work like all my uncles and aunts and my mother and all the cousins’ kids are in the house. It was a harrowing experience like I felt like she’s continuously on the phone and screaming and shouting and everyone’s like… It was like madness.
Not that she did it full time. She would only like do it occasionally or on during vacations to just help her brothers. She was not doing it full time but whatever glimpse of entrepreneurship that I saw was unpleasant.
Alejandro: Did she have parents that also were entrepreneurs? Mother?
Anu Shah: No. My mother has six sisters and two brothers. And she was the first daughter who joined her father’s business. So she had an older brother as well but the business was expanding. It was doing very well. They needed more support and they could just use people from the home. Like there are eight kids in the house. Use one of them away and have them make money.
My mother was 17 or 18 and she would just send all her summer vacations, all her winter vacations will be spent into work supporting her father sometimes leading things on her own. Everyone used to say like she was bright and my grandfather used to consider her like his go-to person. So she was enterprising in that sense.
Alejandro: When was your… I saw here that you worked at a consumer goods company. And can you walk me through about…? Was that your first job? What was that? Or that was…
Anu Shah: So that’s a bit of a story, okay. I did not grow up ambitious but it was fed in my head everyday that I need to do well in my career and I would d have to have a career because life of a housewife is very boring. So my mother would instil in my head everyday because I think she was torn between these two identities of being a housewife and a homemaker and the glorious past of being career driven, an entrepreneur. And she was just living it vicariously over the vacations because she wanted to be home with us but I think for me, she wanted me to have a career. But I was not very ambitious. My aim was because you grow up, you grow up in an environment where every woman has the ambition of finding a rich guy, getting married and just living a comfortable life. So I was happy to be in that sense but that’s why I said like, i grew up in a liberal environment but it was very contradictory when I grew up.
So when I grew up, I understood that my mother was sometimes scared of my ambitions as well. And my mother would always make it sound like a daughter is a burden. “I will always have to look after you. I have to give a dowry when you get married. I’ll have to do this and I’ll have to…” A daughter in our culture is still perceived to be a burden. So you may have… even educate you, even make you everything, very presentable for you to find a suitable guy. And it is fine if you want to do the job for a while but they don’t want you to excel. You can’t do better than men. You can’t do better than your brother.
When I became a teenager, it was kind of stifling because I saw her being very independent. I saw her being very hard headed. I though you wanted me to do well but when all these restrictions came, I resented it especially the comments where she would always bring up like, “I’ll have to do everything for you financially. I will have to do this when you get married. I’ll do that when you get married. You’re a burden.”
So it was a summer vacation. I had finished my graduation. I was too bored and I got in some sort of a fight with her. And I pretty much left my residence to get a job in a call center in Mumbai. Those days, those were like very charming, fancy jobs. My Thai good friend used to live in [inaudible 00:27:36] and she used to do this call center job and she used to make a lot of money. And I thought it was fascinating like you’re making so much money, which is not much when you convert it today in dollars. It’s probably less than $100 but I used to make…
Alejandro: But it was a big deal especially when you’re young and during that time.
Anu Shah: Yes and like oh, I’ll at least be living in a metropolitan city, away from home ,away from all these voices and away from all these statements. And I still couldn’t process why the contradiction existed.
So I literally left. I went to a call center and series of events, people that I came across. I met someone who was working in marketing and branding. I thought it was fascinating. And I just picked up the term marketing and branding and I just wanted to be in that field not realizing what it…
It was so funny, this girl. She used to sit like next to me and she would call everyone and she will be thrashing them and she will be so rude to them and I’ll be like, “This sounds like a cool job. You get to be the boss.” And it turns out, she was in marketing. That was my first brush with the term marketing. It sounds like, oh I want to be in marketing because it’s a fun job.
Alejandro: I want to do that.
Anu Shah: I literally want to do that. I became friends with someone. I used to go travel in a bus. I became friends with someone and I told her… how naive I was. I was, “I’m going to be in marketing,” but I have no experience in marketing.
So this girl said, “I have a friend in human resources in my company. I should put you in touch with him.”
The first conversation that I had with this guy over the phone, I thought he was flirting with me and I’m like literally [inaudible 00:29:00] like, “Oh, my god. I have not even seen you and you think that I’m flirting with you.” He said, “Listen, I don’t want to talk to you. Months later, we became friends and he was like, “Okay, you’re crazy but you’re a nice person so listen, I’m going to help you on your way to become, you know, something in marketing.” And he put me in touch with a lot of head hunters who then groomed me, who made me understand how it works.
And they’re like, “Listen, go back to school. Get a degree. That will be the easy part.”
And I’m like, “I’m not going back.”
And they were like, “Okay. So then you need to start from sales.”
I’m like, “Okay. I’ll do that.”
And they were like, “But that is hard sales. It’s actually selling products door to door.”
I said, “I will do it.” And that’s how I landed my first gig in an FMCG company, in a sales and marketing role pretty much selling products shop to shop. It was such a hard job. I used to walk for eight hours a day in blazing sun in Mumbai, humid, covering at least 40 shops a day and reaching the target of at least $100 so that I would get at least $150 in salary end of the month.
Alejandro: Wow.wow.
Anu Shah: Pretty gruesome.
Alejandro: That is super gruesome. I see now why your seven mile run in the morning doesn’t seem so crazy.
Anu Shah: It comes from there.
Alejandro: And what were these products? Like these beauty products or…?
Anu Shah: No. These were beverages. It used to be a beverage Frooti.
Alejandro: Frooti? Oh, that’s great! Yes.
Anu Shah: Frooti. And it is a mango drink so it’s what you’re selling. So it’s not like you take carry the products. You pretty much go with the order sheet and you tell the retailer, “How much do you want? I’m revisiting this distributor in your area and the distributor will then deliver it to your place.” But I rose to the ladders. I became Brand Manager. I did well with the organization. And to be Brand Manager was a very big deal because it was probably the largest beverage company in the country after Pepsi and Coke. And to be a Brand Manager with that organization, you need to have an MBA from a top school probably like top five or top ten and you need to be top of the class and then you get all these opportunities.
And I rose to the ladders. When I got there…
Alejandro: That’s incredible. Once you did that, how long were you in that role for?
Anu Shah: Well I stayed with that company for five years maybe.
Alejandro: Five years. And then what happened afterwards?
Anu Shah: You know, I did not like the… I mean… Okay, I cannot go on the records to say that but I wanted to do more. I wanted… I said like, okay, this is the third largest but I want to be with the top brand, in a top role doing much more than what I’m doing. I was super ambitious.
You know, before I started working, I know it started as a joke and like call center and like selling stuff. It started as a joke but suddenly I was this… Financial independence teaches you a lot about yourself. You’re suddenly in your own element. Like suddenly I had opinions. Suddenly I had a spine. Suddenly I would stand up to people because I was not dependent on anyone for anything. That changed everything in my outlook and that just made me realize that maybe I want this for myself. This whole independence thing was very addictive. Like, I don’t have to answer to someone. I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to listen to anyone. And I felt like I wanted to do more. Like I want to buy a house and I wanted to do, be more independent.
I also understood by that time that as a woman, no matter how educated you are, degrees were generally used as a flashing bait to trap men or to get married to them.
Alejandro: India was always the, get the man.
Anu Shah: Yes, so just be very educated, very decent, very docile, very good looking and just find the right guy. And at first like, when my mother can dominate me so much, when my mother can say all these things to me, so can a man. A man can also come in my life and if I show that dependency, and I did not want that dependency. I wanted equality. And so I did not want to get married or I did not want to be with someone who beneath me because then I don’t want to sound like a hard headed person but I also don’t want to marry someone who’s above me and then he will be a hard headed man. I wanted equality like I wanted… at first like I wanted to raise my level so high that I find someone more suitable for myself.
So my ambition to have a comfortable life, comfortable living, everything amazing, rosy should be initiated from my end. And so education I felt was a means to that end. And when I wanted to do that, so surprisingly I was doing very well. Like I started with nothing. I walked out with literally nothing. It was like 3,000 bucks. And in today’s time, 3,000 bucks would be like what? $20…
Alejandro: When you arrived in Mumbai to do this, you just went at it on your own.
Anu Shah: On my own.
Alejandro: You had $20 to yourself.
Anu Shah: Not 20. I think 3,000 would be, I think the exchange rate is 70 now so a little over $30, $40.
Alejandro: Was your plan… Did you think, oh this might not work and I’ll just go back? Or you were just…
Anu Shah: All days. All days. My objective was only to be there for summer, to like stay for one summer, enjoy my time, just have enough money to shop like few fancy clothes then go back home and literally find the guy and get married. And then I’ll be like, I did shopping. I lived in Mumbai.
Alejandro: And when you started making some money, you felt independent.
Anu Shah: I felt…
Alejandro: You felt empowered.
Anu Shah: I can never articulate in words what was that feeling but it was something very liberating. It was like, I don’t know. Empowered, liberated, independent but it was something very good and very positive, something I was getting addicted to and something which made me feel like I don’t want to go back to that. Let me continue.
Alejandro: While you were doing this, did you have people like friends and family that were constantly saying, come back home or…?
Anu Shah: No. I had people, they wouldn’t say this nicely. I had people who sends family, who look down upon it and made me feel… they did not make me feel good about it because I was not making a lot of money in the call center and I wanted to be completely independent. I actually took up a room or a place like in a very lower class kind of an area.
So everyone was judging me based on that and everyone was like, what are you doing with your life? I mean, have you gone crazy? And it was naturally conducive environment to live in. Mumbai rains are crazy. It’s like torrential rains. So when it rains, my entire house will be flooded. My ceiling used to leak. Those are not good, you know, environment to live in. I was surrounded by… Like Indian they are like, are you poor? What are you doing? What are you doing?
Alejandro: There’s this class.
Anu Shah: So many things I never realized when I was growing up but eventually I realized like class makes a lot of difference. How much money you make makes a lot of difference. Money, if you’re successful…
Alejandro: What’s expected from you?
Anu Shah: Expected from you. I did not understand that and I think all the discovery was making me feel like I should stick around a bit more. I still don’t understand it because my curiosity or liberty or whatever but something was making me [inaudible 00:36:33]. Yes, there were judgments being passed like what kind of people are you living with? How much money are you making? What kind of a job this is? What are you doing in your life? And it was very harsh, very bad treatment by very close family members saying very horrible things about me, to my face.
Alejandro: And you did that for five years and then what were… Did you end up…? When did you go to the university and to study and what are…? Or that was much further ahead?
Anu Shah: No. Here’s the thing. First and foremost, not all throughout those five years everyone was tossing at me. It was like in the initial journey where they were insulting because they were judging how much money I made. Eventually they knew that I was doing all right but then I wanted to do more. So after like… I think I moved to Mumbai in 2005. And in 2010 or 2011 is when I wanted to move out and I wanted to pursue my Masters. That decision was marked with extreme resistance from back home. Like parents were infuriated.
So what happened is, my brother first went to do his master’s abroad. My brother first went abroad and he was starting and I later followed him to finish because I was like, okay we are all pitching in to support his education. So when he’s probably done, he can pitch in for mine. I wanted to go to Oxford. I wanted to go to a very expensive university as in international student and I did not want to take mortgages or like with a collateral to get loans and stuff. So I felt like maybe he can support me and I can get some scholarship. I have enough savings.
When the admissions came through like when I got through and everything, nobody was happy. Nobody was happy. It’s like, when my brother got to his, like he went to a university in the United States. When he got his admission letter, everyone was like so happy, celebrating. When he left, it’s like everyone came to congratulate him and like he was such an amazing guy. He’s the first guy from my entire family going to the United States. You bring such fame to the family and stuff.
When I wanted to do admission, at first when I got to Oxford, when the admission letter came, it was beyond my expectation. It is Oxford University of all places in the world! It was not celebratory. It was derogatory. And it is like, I remember closest family members coming up and saying things like, this is beyond your means. You’re being too ambitious. Why don’t you just do a…?
Alejandro: This constant pressure.
Anu: And they’re like, why don’t you just do [inaudible 00:39:13] from a distance learning university in a part time course? Why do you have to go for that course? Why do you have to spend so much money? Instead of looking at it as like, you’re so deserving that you actually went there or you actually are going there. And it was marked with so much, like it was a tense environment. I obviously couldn’t make it without the financial support that I needed and with a heavy heart I had to because Oxford wouldn’t give me full scholarship.
Alejandro: So you sent it to Oxford, it was way too expensive. And then you had to figure out what your next move would be.
Anu Shah: I had given up. I did not want to study further. I went back to work. I was extremely unhappy because I would apply to better companies. I would apply to Unilever, L’Oreal, a couple of other places that the interviewers, they’re like, “Hey, you are our top candidate. We interview you but the position is given to someone else who actually holds an MBA degree. We’ll give you an assistant brand manager role, and the money will be more but you’ll not be in the main thing.” Like the brand manager…
Alejandro: Yes, still holding you back.
Anu Shah: Yes. Then I looked back today, a logical step would have been to just still take a bigger brand and still go ahead within and all of it but back in the days even when you’re younger, you are hot blooded. You expect more. I felt like I deserved more and I’m just being, you know, like this is unfair.
So I was like, no, I’m not going to accept anything lower. Instead I get a degree. So I was very upset when I came back and I said, what do I do? What do I do? Unilever then was my dream job. I wanted to go and work at Unilever and be the Brand Manager for any of their brands.
Alejandro: Products, yes.
Anu Shah: And yes, you know Facebook was a new phenomenon then and I saw some girl who went to University of Leeds and she was at Unilever. I said, should I apply? And I said, maybe not, I’ll not get through. And I said, okay let me just apply. Leeds back then was like bottom of the top 100 schools. So it’s still in the top 100 but the bottom. It is cheaper. It will be more affordable and it can just, you know, probably work out.
And I applied and i remember the deadline was 30th May and I applied on 27th of May because I was like, this is my chance. This is so stupid. They have low admissions. I was probably one of the last few candidates in the who probably had no feeds so I don’t know what but I applied. I got to but even after I got to, it was… I don’t think my parents were really happy. We had a lot of fights, lot of fights. It was horrible. They did not agree. Until the last minute until I boarded the flight, I wasn’t too sure if I was actually going to the University of Leeds or not. And I felt, I think that incident has impacted me a lot. The trauma that I went through to fight for the right of education. And that also became like a stepping stone to empower myself more and to make sure that I empower others in the process.
But then I went to University of Leeds and that changed everything about my life because it expanded my horizons, my mindset like never before. And it is actually at Leeds that I started getting very active in sports and extracurricular. At first, I got into all these things because I did not have enough money. I was literally down to the last nickel in my pocket. I had no savings. There was a lot of fear, you know, like okay I’m in a cold country. I need to buy those clothes and business schools can be like you literally dress very well and all of it.
Alejandro: Of course.
Anu Shah: So it’s a little pricey environment and so I’m like, what do I do? They used to have a lot of competitions like sailing competition, business consulting competition, this competition, that competition. And every competition had a price money. And I would participate in all of it, as many as I could so that I could buy clothes or so that I could…
Alejandro: That’s incredible.
Anu Shah: And actually, I had never before in my life sailed. And I actually got a final aid of the sailing team in University of Leeds. And we competed like an inter-university competition. We won, created history for University of Leeds. Never before in the history of University of Leeds sailing team for last 21 years they had won until I was on board.
Alejandro: That happens when you have fire, when you need to buy clothes.
Anu Shah: You need to buy clothes. It’s cold, come on. Travel. I wanted to travel because everyone’s going to Europe and I was like, I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity. I’ll participate in Marks & Spencer’s business consulting challenge.
First, University of Leeds sailing competition first. Inter-university marketing competition, second. It’s like, you need money right? You want to travel.
Alejandro: After making it through the university, was it… with Rocket Internet, was that before EFI Hub or that was after or is it in-between? What was that?
Anu Shah: It was during actually EFI Hub. So after University of Leeds, I got into mergers and acquisitions strategy consulting private equity. And I just took a break. I came to the United States. I came to Harvard and I was doing a non-degree course. A lot things had happened in Africa. Some incidents had happened in Africa like [inaudible 00:44:54] a lot of companies approach you. A lot of people… One of the ladies had approached me for her company. We couldn’t help her. It was a very small deal. We couldn’t have done that.
So we were like, okay, let’s create a network. Let’s connect her to people and help her get funding. She found the funding. In fact it was for a good cause. It was a good initiative. And that incident kind of remained iwth me. And then I came to Harvard, the environment was very, it was very inspiring. You meet people from all around the world. Everyone has an incredible story to themselves. They have done something remarkable. They all want to change the world. They have a vision. They want to do something remarkable. The environment was very exciting.
I started EFI Hub, it was supposed to be ideally a non-profit where the idea was to reach and engage people so people like you and me will offer free services to entrepreneurs in frontier and emerging markets of Asia and Africa, to help them scale their business and, you know, create employment and stuff.
And this was the vision. This was all what we wanted. We did not want to do anything else. But my classmate in that university, his name is Lavan Gopaul. He was also a South African politician, a seasoned investor. And he said, “Why don’t you actually make it a profitable business and I can give you initial funding for this.”
And so he committed $300,000. We started not realizing the impact, not realizing what I was creating. I just did it like no long-term plans. And entrepreneurship was something I deliberately did not want to do. I deliberately did not want to be an entrepreneur. Like those harrowing memory and stress and it was trauma when I was…
Alejandro: The effects of you on a truck going to your mom’s…
Anu Shah: With the truck and mom like, you know, going to my mom’s brother’s place. And it was stressful environment like business families, they have a lot of stress. And they bring the stress back home. So I was like, I don’t want to do this. I am not doing this. And it’s a lot of miss because sometimes you lose money and I had seen my mother’s family go through a lot of… Hello? Go through a lot of financial turbulence and stuff.
So I deliberately wanted to be away from it. But things happen and I felt like I was doing something more impactful, meaningful rather than sitting behind the desk evaluating assets and evaluations and I’m doing something impactful. And it completely drew me into it.
And EFI Hub was basically then we have network, we will be advising entrepreneurs but I felt like I’m doing still being a consultant. I’m still being a strategy consultant telling them what to do, what not to do. But the fact is, i don’t really understand the risks attached to their businesses.
Alejandro: Of course.
Anu Shah: It’s very easy to sit back and be like, do this, don’t do this, do that, don’t do that. It’s so easy. Like hey, your strategy is wrong. What do you know what stress he’s going through? What his capabilities are? Or what resources that he has and how can he manage and stuff?
And then luckily Rocket Internet opportunity came up and I can feel like I can do that. I can just go and I can be…
Alejandro: What was Rocket…? So with the EFI Hub, your friend gave you $300,000 for you to take it and apply it to the businesses you were helping consult or that was for operational purposes just to keep it going for EFI?
Anu Shah: Just to keep it going. Just to keep the business going. So that was initial investment to run the business. So initial capital injection and then build the team. We did everything. We were like doing a lot of remote stuff so I was like, I can manage two. Like I can have this one and I can look at it remotely and keep travelling and still have the Rocket.
Alejandro: Sorry. At this stage, did you already see yourself as an entrepreneur? No? Or it was still like this pet project, I’m definitely not going to be an entrepreneur. I’m running this organization but that doesn’t make me an entrepreneur.
Anu Shah: 100%.
Alejandro: Got it.
Anu Shah: 100% like that.
Alejandro: And then you mentioned that a friend shared with you about Rocket Internet. Can you share a little bit what Rocket Internet is and what they do?
Anu Shah: I already knew… So Rocket Internet is a Berlin based, publicly listed venture builder. What they do is, they find concepts and they will have like a two line concept. They will have a million dollar investment and the find people like me to come and run the show as co-founders and CEOs. So they have the concept. They have the money. I will be brought in as a co-founder/CEO to run the business.
Alejandro: That’s not at all common in this world. Venture capitalists don’t do that. Usually the norm is, you have some money, you find an entrepreneur, a co-founder that has an idea, a pain that they’ve faced themselves and they want to solve. And if they have a compelling narrative, team, big enough problem then the venture capitalist or the angel or whoever it is would give money but they’re usually, they step aside. They have nothing to do with Rocket Internet. You mentioned they come up with the concept, with what problem it is that they want to solve and then they find a co-founder. That’s usually very different, right?
Anu Shah: Yes, it is. You’re right. First and foremost, Rocket Internet is a venture builder not a venture investor. And they’re venture capital arm is Global Founders Fund, which is different where they would actually be like passive investors.
Here, what they do is… in here, yes it initially started like that. They used to do it. They used to observe very interesting concepts which are done in the Western part of the world especially in the United States. And they will copy paste that model and bring it to frontier markets like imaging markets of Southeast Asia. They’ve done e-commerce projects, Jumia in Africa, which is an e-commerce project which is similar to your eBay or similar to your Alibaba, any other e-commerce project. And similarly they had a replica of e-commerce Amazon called Lazada in Southeast Asia.
So initially they used to do that. They will have like these copy paste ideas and they like bring these concepts and they want to implement it locally. And they will hire the team to build it. But they will still behave like passive investors. They like keep a tab on you. They keep checking on you but they’ll not come and meddle with everyday decisions like, who did you hire? How many did you hire? How much did you spend?
They agreed to fund. Let’s say they funded, they’ve agreed to spend 50,000 Euros. 50,000 or 60,000 Euros a month. And they’ll be like, okay, this is will be the runway for like seven, eight, ten or twelve months. And then every month, you will have to send in a request for equity letter, as they would say it, like you would call for equity, call for capital saying stuff like, “Okay, this is the budget. This is the expense for the month. We’ve already agreed at the beginning of the year but I’m like sending this sheet again to you. Kindly approve and disburse the capital. That how they will work on and work like month on month and then…
Alejandro: So they gave you a certain date, right? Like a due date in essence of when they’ll believe. They give you capital for these many months, let’s say eight months and it’s a preview to convince them if how well you’re doing, if you need more, why do you need more, all of that.
Anu Shah: Exactly. So it’s still in a sense like a venture capital, right? They agreed to fund you. It’s slightly different but they agreed to fund you. They’ll be your capital runway. So your runway is up to a certain horizon. And they check on the progress how you do it.
So if during that runway or after you want more money, then you’ll have to justify. We grew. We had some issues. Now we like the user base is going very fast. We need more capital. We need this. We need that. So that’s how it works.
Alejandro: And normally for a tech start-up founder and another founder, right. So you have a group of founders. Normally in equity, the amount that they own of that company is usually split depending on how many co-founders are in a company. But let’s just say is there a CEO and a Chief Technology Officer. They’re both co-founders. The split can be, you know. 40/40 and then 20 or 15 or 10 for like an employee pool. How did that break down look with Rocket Internet for a co-founder that they choose?
Anu Shah: Very different because when you’re given the title of a co-founder/CEO, you are in a sense an employee. So you may have an equity but you’re not going to be 80% equity owner or you’re not going to be a majority owner, a 50% owner of the company.
Alejandro: What’s common with their company? I’m guessing it varies but what’s like a common percentage? We’re talking about if you’re a co-founder or CEO, you’re like 10%, 15% or less? Or i don’t know. Maybe one. I’m not sure. It’s for other entrepreneurs out there that hear this and find it interesting.
Anu Shah: I am not at the liberty to disclose the structure that I had or that of the other founders that I know of but I can tell you that this will not be as low as 1% or 2% but it will also not be as high as 40% of equity in the business. So you are still a very minority stakeholder but you have all the liberty of co-founder or CEO. So the vision that you want to get, the direction that you want to get, the support that you want – all of that is, it’s very hands free.
Alejandro: They trust you to run the ship.
Anu Shah: It’s very hands free. I have never had an instance or an incident where I’m actually reporting to the board every single day or every single month. No, that’s not how it is. They designate a meeting, monthly, quarter board meetings and that’s how it was working.
Alejandro: Wow. Very cool. So you mentioned that your friend shared with you about Rocket Internet. And what was the company?
Anu Shah: So my friend, yes, he was working with Rocket Internet. He was a CEO. I was kind of reaching out to him and he said, “Oh, there might be an opportunity. I can put you in touch with the HR.” They were then looking for a CEO or a co-founder for their Human Resources tech start-up called UShift.
Alejandro: UShift.
Anu Shah: Yes. And UShift was basically connecting gig employees with employers in Southeast Asian market. And I felt it was an interesting space because, you know, the gig economy is taking up, shared economies and stuff. So like in the future, everyone wanted to be a freelancer or independent worker and having more flexibility. So far it’s like a promising space. More importantly, I could relate it back to EFI Hub and I was like, how can I advise them when I’m not an entrepreneur myself. And I have not really done anything techie so far or ran a tech start-up for me to say like, I know your pain. I understand and I can advise you.
So it such a good opportunity to put yourself out there and see if you can really do something on a bigger scale. And I felt like I had my investor with EFI Hub who was also my classmate and a very close friend was very understanding of this. So he was like, you can do that remotely. I trust you. I already had a team set up. i knew and I already had very trusted, very capable employees and I could kind of like, you know, take a passive step back and see how things work from family day travel and stuff so I took that step.
Alejandro: And what was that? Did that require you to move and live somewhere else?
Anu Shah: So I moved to Singapore. From Boston, I moved to Africa. From Africa, I moved to Southeast Asia. I was living in Singapore.
Alejandro: Got it. And when you were in Africa, was that with EFI Hub?
Anu Shah: EFI Hub but I was also in Africa before when I worked with Acorn Capital because then I used Acorn Capital was focused on Africa and I felt that was a good stepping stone to understand about the geography then.
So I had Africa experience even when I used to work in the Middle East, a couple of my projects were focused in Africa. They were telecom projects. I was familiar with the geography.
Alejandro: Where in Africa did you live when you were there?
Anu Shah: Mostly Rwanda.
Alejandro: Rwanda. Wow. How was that experience?
Anu Shah: You know, I think it was the most fascinating experience of my life so far. There’s so much to learn from their environment and I know whenever I say this, it sounds so cliché like people are satisfied and they’re happy and I saw happy people and peaceful and this and that. Very cliché but I think when you go and experience that, it’s a different level. It’s like nothing. It does not…
Alejandro: You feel the energy from the people in…
Anu Shah: Very honest, very simple, very happy people. Very content.
Alejandro: That’s a very big shift from Rwanda to Singapore.
Anu Shah: But no, how come see. Look at my journey like from India. India to UK, UK to Singapore. Then I was in Hong Kong. Then I lived in Dubai. I was in-between in Germany, as well. I was doing my exchange program. They missed it. So then Dubai then Dubai to London again. From London to Boston, Boston to Africa, Africa and back to Singapore.
Alejandro: You’ve done a whole circling.
Anu Shah: Oh, my god. I’m just like all over. It’s the fourth continent I’m living in. It’s unbeatable.
Alejandro: And so you moved to Singapore for UShift and are you still with UShift? Or what are you up to right now?
Anu Shah: No. So I exited everything…
Alejandro: Actually let’s… for UShift, how was that experience? One thing was understanding how things were supposed to work? Like the process of okay now you’re the CEO and you’re the co-founder and you just need to run it this way. And every month you send us this and this is your team. There’s that of the whole and kind of division and then there’s you landed Singapore, you meet the team and you have to execute. So how was that experience? Were there things from that experience that looking back you’d say, I would do it a bit different or any lessons or anything you want to share on that?
Anu Shah: Oh, my god. A lot. Entrepreneurship teaches you more than I think what I learned in the last two years from the entrepreneurality, the magnitude of learning has been way higher than all my previous years of experience of working everywhere across the globe.
You asked a very interesting question. Two thing, right? What happens when you start a business from a scratch when you are the owner, you’re the visionary, you’re the CEO. You hire everyone. You know [inaudible 01:00:53].
At UShift, I was hired to replace a CEO. And so the existing CEO was leaving and I was supposed to be the replacement.
Alejandro: So a whole new dynamic.
Anu Shah: Very, very. So the team has been set. Culture has been set. Things are being done in a different way. Now comes the new boss. A woman, one of color, an immigrant, and now she is going to come and meet the team which is largely a boy scout, okay, driven in tech, they are invisible. I mean, there are not too many women. They weren’t in my team either. There was only one girl. The rest are all guys, very young people.
Alejandro: Also the age difference as well.
Anu Shah: These are like… In start-ups you generally have fresh grads, college grads. Hot blooded. And the culture has been set with the previous CEO had a certain vision and now I have a certain vision and a certain working style.
My first few months were marked with extreme resistance and literally running a non-cooperative moment against me, resisting all the changes. It was hard because I’m trying to set the pace. I was also very ambitious, very aggressive. I wanted to do things a certain way. It was very hard like you go, you try to reason it out with them. They don’t want to change. They have become complacent. Now comes a new boss, she wants you to come 9 am straight in the morning, not leaving before nine.
So it becomes like a very, very hard environment. You’re trying to push change. They’re resisting and it was a very verbally challenging environment at first. Like these guys were and I had to be like at first, I was like okay, I can reason it out. Then I was like no, I can’t sit around with this legacy. So either these people… it was a very authoritative stand that even I took, either they kind of come down to the median and start cooperating or I’ll replace the team. So that’s a bit of a hire and fire to create an environment, but you create an environment of fear because like if I don’t cooperate…
Alejandro: Not your ideal environment.
Anu Shah: Not my ideal environment. And I think, and like I said I had not been an entrepreneur before. I came from consulting and private equity environment which is very hierarchal and you don’t question the hierarchy there.
And so I’m like, why are these guys so lazy? Why can they not understand? Why can they not work long hours? But I missed the point. And the point being is that in consulting, in private equity, there’s a lot of money. In start-ups, there isn’t a lot of money so that incentive is not there for them to work extremely hard unless they are extremely passionate about it.
So what do you do now? Now you’re not going to find everyone who’s invested in your idea. So the ideal thing would be for you to nurture it and be nice and be kind and be super like cooperative and all of it. But I did not know that so I was still bringing in that consulting mindset. I was still bringing in the private equity mindset where, you know, if you are on board, you have to do what your boss says and your boss is always right. The authoritative stand.
And so it became a very difficult environment both for me and for them as well. And I think I was also learning one of the biggest lessons I have learned from that is you need to understand and lead from the softer side and not from a more authoritative stand. And you have to time it very well. It is like parenting. Like when to be strict, when to be soft, to give them incentives, when not to do that, when not to be…
Alejandro: And to your point, everyone’s… I agree and i would add that there’s even more, there are a number of more dimensions when you just include the fact that your background, your heritage, like all these different things. your gender, the situation itself, you know, that’s one of the things having had a number of ventures that there are certain lessons that can be applied overall to certain things and it will be okay but with a twist. There’s always a little twist because all the variables change.
Anu Shah: Everything.
Alejandro: And one thing changes. Even the lesson you learned from that other experience might not be applicable because that one little change in that one little thing and, you know, it changes everything. So that’s a really difficult situation.
Anu Shah: Very difficult. And you’re right. With the combination of factors that were at forefront at that point in time, I was supposed to raise a new funding down. My funding was only up until a few months so you learn a lot.
Now you can’t go and tell the team everything like, hey I’m funding only for two months and after that you’re going to be jobless. So either you cooperate and you do everything or you’re going to be jobless. See you can’t do things like that. Honestly I felt like the whole entrepreneurship journey was like parenting. Like you have kids, you can’t tell them everything but you have to give them enough information and very fabricated information. You have to be strict but you have to be nice.
One thing I know after this, I’m going to be an incredible mother.
Alejandro: You got to come up with the right incentives to your point.
Anu Shah: My god. If I had kids like I had at most of my start-ups, I’m going to have a tough time. No you can’t. They have a thing of their own and like, you know, I used to think horse riding is similar because a horse has a mind of its own so you know when to pull, when to like tighten the rein, when to loosen it, when to kick. And I felt like I mastered management when I was horse riding until I came to start-ups and I’m like, no.
Alejandro: And another thing also, it’s very different when you did not get to choose the people you thought would be a great fit for whatever vision you had. Yes, that adds a whole another dimension of difficulty. At this point, was it that vivid at all or no? Was that still the original vision that these people were hired for?
Anu Shah: No.
Alejandro: It was different.
Anu Shah: No, I was changing everything. I felt like the model that these guys were following, they’d had a lot of competition in the market and if they continue that route, they will not have the market share that they are aspiring for because then you’re just another person on the block. And so that means you’re just burning capital to like on investing in marketing to gain more users which is not a good strategy. It’s not sustainable in the long run.
They look at models abroad, they look at models in the Western market and decided to pivot and become like change the business model, add more verticals to it, be more fully integrated HR platforms. So not just new hiring but also do [inaudible 01:08:07] payment processing and also do learning and development and have like elements of [inaudible 01:08:12] and everything on the platform. So changing drastically everything.
So it’s a lot for everyone to…
Alejandro: That’s a shock. And how long did that..? What was the duration of that?
Anu Shah: I was with them for almost, I think six, eight months.
Alejandro: That’s a long time in entrepreneurial world.
Anu Shah: It is.
Alejandro: For people that don’t have their own business, six to eight months is a long time.
Anu Shah: Six to eight months is a long time and I think the last few months were last month was very, it was full of very… How do I say it?
Alejandro: You went off in fireworks? You left…
Anu Shah: Kind of. Kind of the went off in fireworks because of a lot of things that internally with Rocket Internet. Rocket Internet decided to rigid their entire portfolio, all the portfolio companies which means that they wanted to shut all the new ventures or all the young ventures and non-profitable ventures to then redeploy their capital to other bigger ventures that needed funding. I was their latest venture, a venture which was just a year old. So they said, I actually had the team come up to me and say like, it was very unexpected. One day in the month of February, the beginning of February I was called in and they said, “Lights on. The start-up is shut. Tell everybody we’ll pay them for a month but they have to be out by the end of month.”
And I was like, “What?!” I was like… I’m not… I was like, okay I have to convene. It’s like a business decision, nothing personal. We like you, blah, blah, blah. And all of it is true. It’s a business decision and I understood that coming from an investment side. This is how it works. You don’t see it and you like axe it and move on.
So I didn’t question that but I believed in the model and I saw everyone and I was like, I have to tell them that you guys are not going to have internships or jobs here onwards. What am I going to do? And I told them and they were like. It’s okay, never mind.
I was disappointed. I went back home with a very heavy heart that day thinking, oh my god. I failed. What am I doing? I’m supposed to help… I mean, this venture is amazing. I went home. I went to sleep. Next day in the morning I call my uncle and I said, this is what happened.
And he tells me, “So do you believe in the model?”
I said, “Yes.”
“So can you not find a new investor?”
And I was like, I never thought about it. I just have 30 days.
And he goes like, “So then but you have 30 days. So go and do something.”
Alejandro: Wow.
Anu Shah: I went to the office. I maintain an Excel sheet of all the investors that I ever come across. This is my habit from working in private equity. You keep a note of all the investors so if you want to co-invest, you can get them as limited partners or something. I opened that Excel sheet, I have over 300 investors that I know all over the world.
Alejandro: You started talking away.
Anu Shah: I started shooting emails to all of them literally like mass emails. One standard draft and I had to make a 10-page pitch deck on a slide. I did not have the pitch deck, by the way because I was never expecting it. So how do I make a pitch deck? Now you never send those emails for meeting request or anything like that. Pitch decks.
First ten emails went without a pitch deck and these guys… I had this headline saying, “Rocket Internet venture, looking for $X million in CSA.” So the minute it says Rocket Internet, everyone wants to read.
So then they all wrote back saying, “Where’s your pitch deck?” So first ten emails came back like, “where’s the pitch deck?” Oh, shit. I had to make one. I don’t have any. And I already have this non-cooperative movement running against me.
Alejandro: Oh, no.
Anu Shah: These guys are just… And they were all because nobody believes in it anymore. Everyone’s worried about their jobs and they’re like, how are we going to find a new job? And my job is also to help them find jobs. And so I said, what am I going to do? But then I like pulled out all the old materials and I just made like one 10-pager deck that I just started sending out. Literally I’m sending 300 emails on a… I think it was Thursday or Friday. Thursday when I’m sending all the emails and one investor had kind of reached out to me. He was new in the ledger. It was from Attico. Attico had a new APAC head so he had reached out to me.
I showed up at his office unannounced and it was like such an aggressive move and he was like, “Are you okay? I’m busy.”
And I’m like, “I’ll wait for you.” I went with my intern, a friend intern and I went with my brother and I literally just stand there. And you know, I had no guts to go alone so I took a 19 year old intern with me just for moral support. This idea has to come. I can’t do it alone.
I literally went and stand there. And he was like, “I’m not at office now.” He’s like, “I have meetings.”
And I said, “I will wait for you.” And from my phone I’m sending all the emails. I’m scheduling meeting.
And so Rocket Internet investors, they come to me and they’re like, “What’s wrong with you?”
I said, “Listen, you gave me 30 days. You are paying everyone’s salary for 30 days. I am the CEO for 30 days. Let me do what I want to do. What I want from you is, if there is any meetings that I am going with one of the investors, you will come but do not tell me to do this because you do not have anything to lose here.” And everyone was in a state of shock.
She’s like, “What!?” They were like, “She’s doing what? She’s fundraising? She’s got 30 days. She’s not shutting? What is she doing?”
And in my head I was like, I know the game. I have been on investment side. I am running this business. I know investors. The model is right. My strategies are fine. I’ll find someone. It’s very surprising. Everyone was in a state of shock. My team was in a state of shock. I lined up investors after investors. Like Thursday I shoot out emails to like 300 people. Friday, I have two meetings. I’ve got investors to come and meet me over the weekend. I had investors come fly from different parts of the world over the weekend, have a meeting with me, get into serious discussions on Monday and you assume like this is such a great start but fundraising is a different ballgame altogether. Everyone will do the meeting, nobody would comment. Matters got worse after a press release happened which said all Rocket Internet assets are on fire sale.
Alejandro: Oh, that doesn’t give you too much leverage.
Anu Shah: Too much leverage. And I’m already saying my run is 30 days. That’s like, wait your run is not 30 days. You are on fire sale. And all of this, this press release in particular came when I was with an investor, 9:30 at night in a Starbucks Cafe opposite to the Parliament in Clark Quay and obviously my phone is off. But they get Google Alerts and then they’re like, “You’re on fire sale.” And this was like a very advanced discussion that we’re having.
I said, “No, that’s not true. This is a wrong rumor.” I literally remember going back to Rocket Internet picking up a huge fight with them saying, “Why did you guys not tell me? Why are you not telling me the truth that all assets are on sale?”
They’re like, “No, that’s not true. That’s not true.” And they’re like, “Okay, so you guys are going to make a press release.” That is not true because I don’t want to go there and be like, you know, in front of everyone and make a fool of myself. Either you tell me the truth or… and there was like so much of a back and forth. But every day is passing. You have 30 days. You have three or four weeks. You don’t have a lot of leverage. And everyone knows now you are on fire sale.
So at first I was focusing on Southeast Asia. Then I just went all borders. I reached out to my investors in the Middle East. I reached out in Europe. And I was like, I’m ready to hop on this slide and go to [inaudible 01:16:19] next week because I am just meeting an investor there. And I’ll go to Indonesia. I’ll go to San Francisco. I’ll go all over the world to get capital.
And what happened in the process is, my team got super charged up. It was very scary because I have to come and put up this very like brave front and i have to tell them, “Listen, you’re launching new stuff which means you have to work doubly hard because I want to tell them that I have just launched new stuff with new features and after that my product is doing much better so you guys still have to work that hard. That’s not fair because I’m telling you after 30 days whether you have the job or not, I don’t know but I’m making this effort.”
And so every day I would come on the white board. I would write down all the investor that I had a meeting with Sequoia. I had a meeting with the [inaudible 01:17:08]. I had a meeting with Golden Equator, with Unilever, with this. Sometimes I would take even the junior guys to the meetings with me. And the investors were like, “Why should we have junior guys in here?” but my objective was like so that they know that I’m working hard and there’s a chance and if they contribute, maybe, just maybe we’ll be able to save ourselves.
Honestly, my team worked so hard the entire month. So hard like one of the marketing managers came up and said like, “I am just so amazed that our CEO is working so hard to save our jobs. We should do our part.” And it literally got the team to work hard and I made more connections. And when I was making connections these guys are like, “She may not survive.”
So one of the VC Funds said, “We really like you. We will not invest in you but if you need a job offer for CEO for our other portfolio, you’re most welcome. It was like, come and join us if you’re not able to raise the funds. Come and join us.
So that was like a very… it was fireworks. It was fireworks.
Alejandro: That is an incredible story. That’s incredible. Wow. I’m fired up. I want to… I don’t know. Now I need to go and run or something to burn off this energy.
So what happened? So you did that. It didn’t work out?
Anu Shah: My battery is only 2%. Do you want to switch to laptop?
Alejandro: Oh, right because to charge it… uh… oh, how do we do this? I do. I want to keep… two more questions. If this thing runs out, let’s connect on the laptop.
Anu Shah: Okay, let’s do that.
Alejandro: So you gave it all and then what happened? You had to close it? So you had to close it down but you closed it. You gave it…
Anu Shah: I finished well. I finished very well.
Alejandro: You gave it the biggest fight, gained respect from those that were there, got offers from other people.
Anu Shah: I got offers from ventures.
Alejandro: And then where did you end up going? What was your next move?
Anu Shah: So this is what happens. I’m disappointed but yes, I would call my uncle and he would tell me, finish well. Finish well. Finish well. And I could see that I am earning so much respect just by putting up this strong front. You know, I felt when I was doing that, you would go with enthusiasm every morning. Time is ticking. It’s like a time bomb and you go with enthusiasm every morning. And by the end of the day, you haven’t been able to close it.
I used to come home, i used to cry. Will I just get through this? But the next day, you have to put up this very confident side because there are all these employees and you cannot tell them that you’re losing. So it’s pretty much, again it’s like raising a baby. Like you’re going through so much but you can’t tell the baby that things are not good at all.
But thereafter, what happened is investors noticed me. There were stories written about me. And this is what’s happening with the media start-up which is EFI Hub. I had never thought about selling EFI Hub before that or I had never thought that I would actually exit that business. But investors noticed it and some people just, you know, voluntarily reached out saying, “Here, you’re looking for capital,” or something.
And I was like, “Oh, i never thought about it. I actually have another start-up.” And i can actually fundraise for that. I completely forgot about my [inaudible 01:20:40] baby. This baby needed so much attention. And accidentally people just reached out and my previous employer, Acorn Capital, got to know about it and they made a bid. So they reached out and they… at first Acorn, let’s have an expansion in Southeast Asia. Let’s have an accelerator in Southeast Asia but let’s have a VC with it.
So I actually reached out to Acorn Capital for them to be the limited partners and for them to set up a venture capital fund in Southeast Asia. And they were like, “Okay, let’s do it. We’ll do it together. We’ll be the limited partners. We’ll give you $5 million. Have a venture capital fund and be an accelerator in Southeast Asia.” And then like a few weeks later, they were like, “How about we just buy you out because you have a strong project pipeline especially in Africa and we can benefit from out of that? And why don’t we do that?”
I was like, “Uh, I never thought about it.” So I was like, “Okay, I can sell for $5 million.” And I was like, it was so informal. It was so ill thought through and I was like, “No, maybe not. Maybe I don’t want to sell it.” And I was like, “No, I’m not selling for $5 million.” I can’t say like, “No, I don’t want to sell it. I changed my mind.” I said, “No, I want $10 million.”
They’re like, “Okay, for $10 million.” And that’s how the sale just went. And that’s how I closed it.
Alejandro: Wow! When did that happen?
Anu Shah: It happened last year. We announced it in October. I officially resigned as the CEO and from the Board of Directors on the first week of January.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. Congrats! How many people…? I mean, in terms of pipeline for that you mentioned, so there were a number of companies already in there that you were helping as like an advisor?
Anu Shah: Yes. Mostly in the Frentech space. Frentech is very big in Africa. It’s like the growing sector, growing segment. We had more than 30 start-ups in East of Africa, Nigeria, South Africa but we also had a big network of mentors and investors and stuff that they wanted to come on and we had worked a lot with the government so we are presented by papers to the government and trying to influence the policy infrastructure for foreign direct investments, etcetera.
So they wanted to tap on that network largely and then the project pipeline as well. And yes, that’s…
Alejandro: What are you up to now? What does the future hold for you?
Anu Shah: Oh, my god. That’s a very tough question. From the capital or from the money from the sale of the start-up, I’m going to invest in a capital of… I’m investing some in United States so…
Alejandro: So angel. You’re an angel investor.
Anu Shah: Kind of. I don’t think I am a full-fledged investor as I am still taking…
Alejandro: That’s how it always starts. That’s what everyone says and then they find themselves having 10 companies already in their portfolio.
Anu Shah: But I’m also working kind of as a co-founder of starting something again in the human resources space. So human resource deck is what I’m doing. So I’m CEO and co-founder of the Resume Ranks, LLC based out of New York City. In fact, I just had an announcement this morning that Acorn Capital will back us again with a $10 million…
Alejandro: That’s amazing! Congrats!
Anu Shah: Thank you.
Alejandro: Oh, my god! That’s huge! So you want to… It’s time to redo. You want a second match for your what happened with…
Anu Shah: Exactly. So I was talking with them. I said, we start off with a number that we ended last year. So it was $10 million. You bought me for $10 million now you’re going to give me $10 million again for me to start something.
Alejandro: I love it. I love it. Can you hear me? Oh, I think we are… Anu? Anu? Anu? Let’s pause this for a second.
Anu Shah: … speak about on your show. I know you don’t have like any question around it was more about mental health and women’s mental health, their low self-esteem, how they built it, what happens. A couple of stories, you know, I worked in the Middle East. A lot of my projects were in Saudi Arabia and women consultants were just 12% of the overall team. When I worked in private equity, I was the only woman in [inaudible 01:25:13] profession in the team. Even in M&A, there aren’t too many women.
And I also grew up in an environment which is very contradictory. You think when we give women an opportunity, we let her like wear what she wants, speak whatever she wants, liberty is not just doing and being. Liberty is liberty of thoughts and speech and freedom of conduct and I didn’t see that happening in a lot of places when I was growing up, when I was working.
What that led to was a lot of self-doubt as a leader. And I always felt like the previous CEO at UShift, he… if in my place if there was a man in UShift, if there was a man at EFI Hub, if there was a [inaudible 01:26:00] that individual will be having much more easy. I was always… Every time I would speak up something, I’m ill-tempered, I’m crazy, I’m hormonal, I’m just being very difficult. Everyone likes strong women until they flex their muscles and show their strength. So the display of strength is not admittable. You still want to see the feminine side but that there is no ambition and the fire is very attractive. You don’t value them.
What that used to led to was a lot of self-doubt, a lot of low self-esteem. I would grow up doubting myself so much, I would doubt all my decisions. I want constant validation, constant reassurance. It comes from having grown up also in a very not a happy home in a very abusive environment, verbally abusive environment. When you’re taught that if I’m abusing you verbally, if I’m misbehaving with you, I’m ill treating you, it’s because I’m being protective about you…
Alejandro: Oh… what happened? Hello, hello.
It’s really good. Man, I wish I had your cord but it’s okay. Go for it. So you were saying that in terms of mental health, all these expectations… You have the expectations of, yes you have the freedom to do this but then when you flex your muscle and you actually try and do the things that supposedly you’re supported for doing, when you do so, then you’re looked as aggressive. You’re looked as someone that’s, you know, just wild, not in control.
Anu Shah: Yes, not in control, crazy. One term which a lot of people use for me is, “She’s crazy. She’s crazy.” And it resonates very loudly in a woman’s head. The point I was trying to make is, the manner that I grew up in I was taught if we scream, if we shout, if we misbehave with you, it is because we are working for your protection. We are working in your favour. We’re trying to protect you and we love you. But the language of love is abuse. And when you go out your work… When I went out to work, there was a lot of self-doubt because I was told constantly not to do it this way. You’re wrong. You’re wrong. You’re wrong. You don’t know your way. It gave me a lot of self-doubt, very low self-esteem. But you know, in these jobs you learn to mask it differently so you learn to put up a confident front and logical front but underneath, I’ve always been very vulnerable never feeling that I was good enough to be a CEO, never feeling good enough to like lead a company.
I think this position that I was put in, what I did was remarkable. I had investors come up and say, “You are remarkable but you are a woman and we will not invest in you. Why don’t you have a man as your co-founder?” This is not lying. This is actually said on the…
Alejandro: It wouldn’t surprise me.
Anu Shah: …in San Francisco. They’re American. You would assume they would be very liberal and smart but this is how they look at you. “We will not invest in you. Sorry, just get a male counterpart.” And so stuff like that.
What does that lead to is a lot of self-doubt. You think you’re not good enough. You can’t get a lot of things. You got a lot of conflicting emotions. That also translates into poor personal relationship choices but I… and I am just going to be very upfront about it. For as long as I was running these two start-ups, I had a crazy journey, crazy time going on. I ended up in a very abusive relationship. When I say abusive, like a lot of emotional abuse and mental abuse.
Alejandro: That is not equal.
Anu Shah: Not equal. But as long as he’s protective about me, as long as I could go home and tell him my issues, he’s protective about it. It’s okay. So you re-teach women that it is okay to be abused, to be like put down upon or talked down to or misbehave with like emotionally being tortured. As long as someone does something a little nice or kind for you, it’s not out of love. It changed when I became successful. It changed when I started reading about myself. It changed when I was being written about. It changed when I got all those awards and honors. I got this external validation and maybe, just maybe I might be good enough and I don’t need that constant criticism in my life.
Why am I sharing this is because a lot of women, they are discouraged from pursuing their career. A lot of women themselves, they’re not too sure they should have a career. I would day, because I have a career, because I became successful, because I saw being celebrated for my success elsewhere in the world, it fed into me and my ego in a positive way to build a better self-image of myself.
The only reason I will encourage every individual, men, women, all to have a career and have an independence is because when you become successful, you see yourself in a different light and you become more positive about your own self and you owe that to yourself, to feel at ease.
So my word, my one message, the reason I share my story is because I want to tell that when you go through all the odds in the process, there’s a lot of mental damage. You look down upon yourself sometimes. People will tell you a lot of things. Sometimes they are very aggressive. They’ll be very aggressively putting you down and it affects your vulnerability. It affected me but when I succeeded, when I became more successful, everything inside of me changed. And now again this is very shallow which means I’m external validation when I really should be stemming from inside.
Alejandro: No, it’s human.
Anu Shah: I shouldn’t be feeling it but it’s true. But i think it means that like a head start and once you have that, you can build on it. A lot of women, they grow up without even that basic validation from within the family. They grew up with very conflictive environment. It’s like my mother would say, “I paid for your education. I’m doing you a favour.” You’re not doing me any favour. Nobody is doing anybody any favour.
My mother, when I wanted to go to UK when I wanted to study, she even went on to say like, “No, I want to have my son educated. He’s the one who’s going to look after me.” And this is such a contradictory statement coming from someone who was highly educated and an entrepreneur herself coming up and saying, “No, I want my son…” because the social structure is such. I don’t blame her. I understand she was scared like she was like, “If I let you do that, everyone’s going to be after my back.” I don’t know how everyone can look at me. So even she doesn’t know. Like I talked to her something and I wanted it to stop somewhere.
Alejandro: And that’s what you did when you break the chain of repetition from generations to generations of this is what’s expected and this is, you know, all of a sudden you just… what you’ve done is extremely difficult and it sounds super hard and it’s 20 million times harder if you’ve actually experienced it. Thank you for sharing that. That’s incredible. I agree with you 100% that there’s… it’s all mental strength.
Anu Shah: It is.
Alejandro: It is mental strength and the difference between entrepreneurs that end up making it and those that don’t. There are a lot of circumstances around it but it does not help our underrepresented communities to start off with not even knowing anyone in their family or in their network that could possibly mentor them or introduce them into learning a little bit of something more within this entrepreneurial world. Like if you did not come from it and even if you have a dream, it’s a lot harder for someone who comes from a community that you can’t even dream about anyone that you might know that could possibly introduce you to somebody.
Anu Shah: Yes. That you have to make your own way. And you need a lot of strength that what you do, you start leaning on others. Like I lean a little on you. I’m getting some support here. And even if you lean on them, they abuse you in a different way. Like because you’re dependent on them. And I experienced that more so in my personal space than professional space because professional space is very transactional. I’m doing you a favour because I need something in return professionally from you. But personal space, it tends to give power to other people to abuse you like in a different…
I don’t think anyone does that intentionally. I think when my mother said all these things, she didn’t know what she was doing or it might be this relationship whatever I went through. I don’t…
Alejandro: It could be what she heard from her parents or from…
Anu Shah: Her parents are like, it’s just how they raise people kind of structure we hsave in society. This is why it is important for women to step out, to be independent, to endure and still make a way and like be open about your struggles and tell them. I don’t want to sell a fairy tale story. I don’t want to come up on your Podcast and say I had a [inaudible 01:37:05]. I just walked out and I made it big. No, I didn’t make it big easily. It was marked with challenges, with depression.
When I was doing the fundraising, it was such a difficult time and I was like losing myself somewhere. And then you understand that when you go through these times, when you succeed and you come up on the other side of the darkness. There you see the light. You gain strength required to just be self-sufficient and start loving yourself. And that’s how I started.
It is absolutely non-philosophical. It is absolutely not by the book but I experienced it myself. Like when I… I had lost all the confidence in myself because there was constant negative feedback. And even at work, you are the CEO. You’re not the employee. You don’t have friends. You have employees. You’re not their friend
Alejandro: And even if you have a very good relationship with them, you’re just… it’s a very different dynamic.
Anu Shah: They are not going to open up. The point is like, let your success follow your dreams, be successful, be ambitious. It does help. It does help heal you in some ways. It helped me a lot. And now I look at myself very differently. Like there wasn’t so much self-doubt now. I wouldn’t want everybody to be, “Oh, you are the CEO.” I still don’t introduce myself as the CEO. I think that’s a crown I should leave at work.
Alejandro: I think it’s time. I think you can.
Anu Shah: I think I want to be… Listen, I think I’m a very fortunate individual, very ordinary individual put in some very extraordinary circumstances and luck favoured me hugely. Okay. I haven’t done anything extra. I was there right place, right time.
So I don’t think this is me. Anybody in my place could have done so. I’m a very ordinary individual in some extraordinary circumstances and I won the game, that very ordinary individual.
But if a man was in my place, I think he might be apologetic. He might be like, “I’m the CEO. I’m the CEO.” For one, I don’t do that. It’s my choice. But I want most people to have that kind confidence like go into like, “I am someone. I am something.” Know your self-worth. I know for a fact that a lot of women do not know their self-worth and you learn a lot because that’s what you’re taught by the society and in the families.
And I want to put my story out there so that they know that if they want to do something different, there is a way and they are going to succeed. But I wanted to have my own start-up, when I wanted to go for my education, when i was looking for tough jobs, everyone said like, “You’re here to ruin your life. No one will marry you. You will not be acceptable. You’re not in your place. You’re not appreciated.”
And there are fears. It’s not like I said, “Okay, I’m going to do it,” the next day I had done it. Those jobs I fear many times. So then those words resonate. It’s just like, remember we told you so.
And that’s why just beyond this part, keep working, be successful and you’ll realize that you were not really wrong.
Alejandro: Yes. And know that you’re not the only one because it feels lonely.
Anu Shah: It does.
Alejandro: For many people when you’re on that journey, it’s like, you know, poor me and you talk with somebody else who’s also a founder, also going through fundraising, also doing all this stuff that you like. Okay, we’re not alone. There’s a lot of people out there.
Anu Shah: That’s true.