Vasuta Agarwal, Head of Global Partner Management in InMobi is a charm indeed. She is one of the fastest rising stars in InMobi having donned lead roles across various facets of the organization.
It was a delight to host this interview where Vasuta spoke about her time in InMobi, McKinsey, career growth, her view of success & failure, ambitions, thoughts on female leadership and much more!!
I experienced relativity of time at its best – had no clue how an hour of talking flew by! I present you Vasuta Agarwal from InMobi – Read on folks!
Thanks a lot Ms. Vasuta for giving this opportunity. Let’s get started with InMobi first – you’ve been around here for more than 3 years now! Please tell us about the time you spent here.
I joined here as part of the Founders Staff Team, which was actually a sort of strategy and operations team working closely with the founders in different initiatives. The 9 months I spent there, I was involved in a lot of execution support, planning and initiatives which involved thinking though like an organization. It actually gave me lot of exposure to different people and to different teams.
I spent about 6 months or so in the product team handling the location-based advertising products and online sales products for online customers. And after that I had an option to move on to a business role – which was where both my strengths and interest was – and I’ve been here for two and half years now!
This shift from handling an internal product based role to a business role to sell your products to the outside world is generally considered very good and seen as an opportunity to grow your wings in the organization – please tell us how different and difficult it was and how it complemented your career.
I think the big difference here was one – the business handling and the external facing part and the other is the part around revenue and targets etcetera. The later was stuff related to revenue goals, meeting certain growth expectation while the former was around building a team, innovation and other aspects related to it. The change was something really exciting as I felt my forte lay there! It was more about my interest than anything else.
Moving into this role also gave me something like an outside in view as you get the opportunity to pitch it in a competitive scenario and bring a lot of inputs back to the organization. Initially it was indeed challenging but overtime it was very interesting with so much development happening in the market.
Before going into InMobi, you spent a couple of years in McKinsey. Probably a quick 2 minutes about your time there?
I joined McKinsey immediately after my MBA; I was extremely excited to join there considering it was one of the most sought after jobs out of campus. My experience there was phenomenal, it’s just the breadth of exposure it gave me across different industries, different geographies and working with extremely good and smart people; people who are execution focused and learning from them was very good for me from learning perspective.
You were living the Indian dream – from BITS Pilani, MBA from IIM Bangalore and McKinsey! That would be the definition of success for most Indians. What made you leave McKinney?
The learning experience and the foundation which I built at McKinsey was absolutely unmatched – but after I got exposure to couple of industries and clients, I wanted to drill deeper in one industry and really develop my career there. Consulting gave me the breadth of exposure, but not really the depth in one vertical this was one consideration.
Secondly, from lifestyle standpoint I really didn’t want to do a role which required 5 days of travel a week, being away from home.
Post McKinsey, why InMobi? What are the factors which helped you take the leap into the firm?
My batch mates and alumni were working with different people in the firm already (at that time); they were in different roles cross functionally and they themselves had some very good things to say. This good feedback across functions really helped my confidence as it was not limited to a particular person or one team.
The other aspect is that, it was a really interesting sector. As a person also I am very risk taking and not the type to launch a massive research and know everything before taking the leap!
Let’s dig a bit deeper on your InMobi career. Being in the founders’ team in InMobi for close to ¾ a year, was it the strong foundation you had which convinced you to stay and made you grow at InMobi? Tell us about the time you spent in the team!
One big aspect of my experience in founder’s team is it exposed me to many people and teams cross functionally. You end up building a lot of rapport and relationship with people across function because I have to work with them. This gave me a bird’s eye view of the organization and set me up to identify my interests, helped me understand where I can path my future.
Also because you’re working with the senior leadership team you get the chance to exhibit the quality of your work to senior members including the founders. This part gave me recognition as I got the opportunity to show my skills to senior people directly. The relationships you make from the role lasts with you forever!
Tell us about the business development role which you’re currently in InMobi.
Business development at InMobi is about developing long-term partnerships, locking mid to long-term deals etc. obviously revenue targets are part of the role, KPIs associated to every quarter. It is a lot about trying to pitch to the client what they’re looking for than just sell your product. So, the key component is understanding your client needs and positioning your products in the way your clients would want it.
The aim is more to develop a sustainable business through the relationship we develop – than being a onetime success.
Lot of MBA and Engineering grads end up in their first job through campus placements; and we all know how hap-hazard campus placements are! You might end up in a firm/ role which might not be best for you. How do youngsters tackle this? While still at an unsatisfactory job, how do you climb out of it?
I would say you need to be able to decide for yourself – job after MBA is not really the end of the world as you’re just starting your career. I think every job requires 6-9 months for you to really know about it and you may actually be pleasantly surprised. You might think am not made for finance but 6 months into it you’ll like it.
But if you genuinely feel it’s not your cup of tea, you can always switch – considering the plethora of options you have. Some people have this idea that since you started on this role you’d want to stick to it for a few years – this mentality is not going to help on the long run.
What really motivates you for success?
Solving a challenge is the best motivation for me – be it a business challenger or team challenge. Any opportunity to grow and learn more things; to get more exposure – that really motivates me. Being part of a really good team also is a good reason for me to do the extra mile…in terms of who I am working with, their energy levels etc.
A lot of future planning doesn’t work out for me; I think the more you plan, the more you try to change the current and that may not always work and it does take away focus and energy from your current role and you might miss out on something because you’re fixated in a particular future.
My belief in this philosophy is strengthened also because of the dynamism in the industry I am in, with the kind of new roles opening on almost a daily basis; it’s really hard for me to plan
Apart from the fact that I want to be in a senior level role in this space as I believe there is a lot of growth potential in this space I haven’t really thought much about it. Maybe at some point think of my own start-up or company – again not really thought too much into that!
I am a big fan of Sheryl Sandberg and think what she is doing with her “Lean In” campaign is fantastic! I would like to hear from you the practical aspects of female leadership – what does it take for an aspirational female to be successful in this majorly male dominated world?
Frankly, I think it’s about how you think about it. In all my professional experience, I’ve been in an environment which has largely been guys – this is always going to be there if you look at it that way! This is something women need to think of as an advantage rather than handicap.
If you expect privileges and special interest because you’re a woman, people will probably treat you as a different person and not as a colleague/ peer.
Graduation is a person’s first view of the outside world, mostly the first time an average person steps out of one’s comfort zone. Can you share you life at UG and how it helped you to where you are?
BITS Pilani was a wonderful experience for me as it was not only about the studies and classes but also about overall person development. My UG helped me develop interpersonal skills through theatre, dramatics and so on.
Academics is only a part but the overall development you get at that stage helps you a lot in terms of communication skills and interpersonal abilities and boosts your confidence level.
You still do stage?
I am part of the theatre group in Bangalore.. and many of them in the group are my juniors from BITS. My husband, senior from BITS, is also part of that group and acts actively. Theatre is actually how we met. Even though I am associated with the group I’ve not been active in the last 4-5 years.
That’s great, am myself interested in theatre and do take an odd visit to Raghashankara/ Alliance Francaise. You also mentioned reading as one of your hobbies – any favourite books?
Am more of a fiction person – I don’t read that much non-fiction. I have a diverse set of books, the classics – Jane Eyre, Little Women, the Victorian Classics – I’ve read the whole lot of that.
I later moved into fantasy fiction – the entire Harry Potter series.. recently even read the entire Game of Thrones series.
There it is folks.. That was Vasuta Agarwal – young, dynamic and ready for new experiences from the word go! At the end of an hour-long call, one thing about her hit me – she is highly execution oriented and a real pragmatist.
Her willingness to come out of comfort zones and embrace change is really inspiring. It was a delight talking to Ms. Vasuta and would like to thank her and wish her well!
Thanks for reading! Please leave your thoughts in the comments section. If you have any particular question to be asked to Vasuta herself, do drop it in the comments!
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