“Don’t be afraid to take risks. In risks will come your biggest opportunities. Be realistic and be prepared for any outcome while giving your best at whatever you do.”
These are the words of Kirthiga Reddy, a woman who has made it in the male-dominated world of technology businesses. She has done it all – in engineering, in building partnerships, in investments, and in growing the next generation of entrepreneurs.
A rarity in womankind, she is one of the frontrunners in carrying the flag for the small group of women in technology from India to have got global recognition. Currently a Venture Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers in San Francisco, Kirthiga stands out among women leaders across the world, with many firsts to her credit.
Before SoftBank, Kirthiga was with Facebook for eight years, since 2010. Her impressive CV includes top engineering positions at large software giants such as Motorola and Silicon Graphics, where she was the youngest Director of Engineering and, not to mention, the only woman in the team.
Till recently, Kirthiga played a major role at her alma mater, as the Chairperson of Stanford Business School Management Board. According to her LinkedIn profile, she is also a mentor at Sequoia Ascent Programme. In 2018, she co-founded venture capital firm F7 Ventures, along with six other women leaders who met at Facebook, focusing on early stage startups.
Now 46, Kirthiga was listed among the ‘Top 50 Most Powerful Women in India’ by ‘Fortune India’ magazine in 2011. Her journey is nothing short of inspirational, and one for future generations to look up to.
Born in Nagpur, Kirthiga grew up with strong middle-class values. She spent her formative years in places like Dandeli and Nanded because of her father’s government job. After completing her computer engineering from MGM College of Engineering, Nanded, Kirthiga moved back to Nagpur to join Kanetkar Tutorials, helping engineering students master C skills.
After she finished her master’s in business administration from Stanford University and an MS in computer engineering from Syracuse University, Kirthiga started working with US-based Phoenix Technologies, which is when Facebook offered her a “dream job”.
Kirthiga was Facebook's first employee in India – the story goes that she literally pulled open the shutters of the Mumbai office for the social networking giant. In her eight years at Facebook, she was MD of India and South Asia based out of Mumbai for six years and then heading global partnerships in the US. In the initial role, she was instrumental in growing Facebook’s ad sales through huge partnerships like those with Coca-Cola and also with small and medium businesses (SMBs) in the subcontinent.
Although her efforts for Free Basics, a Facebook project based on differential pricing for data services, could not succeed, Kirthiga left India in 2016 to move to an even better role with the tech giant in the US. As the Lead of Global Partnerships, she was in charge of Facebook’s advertising partners in emerging markets, and grew the company’s business across Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, and the Middle Eastern countries.
First Female VP at SoftBank
Worldwide, women are a small minority in the venture capital business. According to the Crunchbase Women in Venture report for 2017, the percentage of women partners at the top 100 VC firms in the US edged up to eight percent. It is no small feat that Kirthiga became the first female venture partner at SoftBank in December 2018. She now works as part of SoftBank Investment Advisors, the team that manages the massive Vision Fund.
SoftBank's $100 billion Vision Fund has been touted as one of the biggest disruptors of the venture capital business, and has committed to invest close to $65 billion in companies like Uber, WeWork, and Didi. In her current role, Kirthiga will be in charge of handling what could potentially be the world’s largest pool of technology investments.
Balancing Personal and Professional Life
Like many other women professionals, Kirthiga has struggled between balancing her personal and work life. The mother of two has a success mantra: to embrace the power of the “And’” vs the tyranny of the “Or”.
She reveals how she came up with this. “After my younger daughter, Ariya, was born, I had to make a professional choice (after the six-week maternity leave was over) to travel on work. But it was also super important for me to nurse her for a year. I went through agonising days.”
Kirthiga says that at the time, she wondered if this was the moment that everyone talked about, where you have to make a choice between your professional goals and personal goals. “But I realised I could do both.” Thus, when she travelled on work she would take her baby with her. Her colleagues helped find good day care, and in between meetings, she would take time out to nurse her child. She had learnt to push the boundary of the ‘Or’ and found the ‘And’.
Kirthiga’s cycle of learning, unlearning, and relearning involves accepting change. “Don’t resist change. Change is good. Be open to avenues of inspiration, there will be some expected and some unexpected,” she says.
With her career spanning the roles of a techie, sales head, investor, and mentor, Kirthiga Reddy does walk her talk too.