Rathna Sharad has combined a love for fashion with years of experience in technology, online advertising, and logistics to bring runway2street to life. Prior to launching runway2street, Rathna was the Director of Product Management at Microsoft, where she was responsible for overseeing the Advertiser Marketplace for Bing Ads Business Group. Earlier in her career she held technology leadership positions at UPS, Menlo Worldwide Logistics, and Emery Worldwide.
Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
I have been fortunate in my life to have opportunities to travel the world, discovering amazing new designers and sharing my spectacular finds upon returning home. It was during my travels that the idea for runway2street started to take shape. After spending time with the brands I found that many faced the same challenges –that in an increasingly competitive market it was difficult to create awareness and reach the ideal customer. It was at that point that I realized there was a way to combine my passion for fashion and travel with my years of experience in technology, online advertising, and logistics, and with that runway2street was born.
Prior to runway2street, I was Director of Product Management at Microsoft, where I was responsible for overseeing the Advertiser Marketplace for Bing Ads Business Group. Earlier in my career I held technology leadership positions at UPS, Menlo Worldwide Logistics, and Emery Worldwide which rounds out my experience in transportation and global logistics.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up I remember always watching my mom pick out clothes and dressing up. She was incredibly fashionable and loved accessories and fashion. She was also extremely creative – I remember her designing dresses for my sisters and me, picking out fabrics and getting them tailored. She also did a lot of embroidery and taught me that skill as well. It was because of my mother’s creative side and keen fashion sense that my first dream job was to be a fashion designer.
My dad is a computer science engineer, a fantastic teacher and just simply brilliant with math and science. My earliest memory with my dad is learning how to solder ICs onto a motherboard to make our first TV – yes, my dad made our first TV as a hobby following a technical journal!! It is from my dad that I get my love for technology and I am also a computer science engineer.
The differences that my parents represent – the creative, artistic side from my mother, coupled with the analytical and determined side from my father – are what define who I am today. Their skills and passions have become my skills and passions, and the ying and yang of those passions have helped to make me the best leader I can be of a small start-up.
How have you learned from these challenges and successes?
We have quickly learned that in order to react efficiently to challenges that arise we (as a company) must be both nimble and creative. Startup life means never knowing what each day will bring, and being both creative and data-driven allows us to stay on top of the challenges that may arise.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your time as a business owner?
Since launching to the public last month, we have been so thankful for the positive press response we have already received. It is always hard taking an idea that you have been so passionate about, and announcing it to the world, as you don’t know what the reaction will be. Also, it is always so wonderful hearing from women who see our site and really relate to it and fall in love with it.
Our biggest challenge so far has been global logistics. It is a very complex process to work with multiple carriers and providers in order to bring the best shipping rates and convenience to customers and our brands. The challenge arises primarily because we are pioneering this at a global scale and at this time the technology provided by the carriers does not support this global model, yet.
What practical advice can you offer those seeking to start their own business?
I think two things standout for me.
1) You need to be absolutely passionate about whatever you want to get into. It’s incredibly hard work but if you are passionate about it – it doesn’t feel like it, and you enjoy every moment of it.
2) You need to be learning something new – at least for me I wanted to get into something that would offer learning in area that I am unfamiliar. It keeps each day fresh, interesting and also helps you think about problems as an outsider.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the beginning of your business journey?
The frequency of highs and lows – I wish I had known that you can go through a rollercoaster of emotions within the same day!
How has technology changed the fashion industry, and how is this impacting upon your business?
It is an incredibly fascinating time for the fashion industry right now. There are many areas where the fashion industry is lagging in terms of technology and other areas where consumers are driving rapid changes. The digital age and globalization is completely changing the way we perceive, follow, produce and purchase fashion.
At runway2street, we are bridging the global creative process with technology and providing a cutting edge platform that fosters creativity.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I thought work/life balance was difficult before, when I was working in a very demanding corporate job however, nothing can prepare you for long hours in a startup life. In startup life you are constantly thinking about your business and it can be extremely challenging to turn off.
For me, it is important try to make time every day to cook, which is a hobby that relaxes me at the end of a busy day and also helps to keep me healthy and in shape. I also like to spend some time on yoga to regain balance between my body and mind. As I’ve said, startup life can pull you (both emotionally and physically) in many directions in one day, and yoga helps me to bring that all into perspective.
On the weekends, is when I try to let go (at least a little) to make time for friends and family. It is important to me to maintain my relationships, and making the time for the ones I love to hang out with is key to maintaining my work/life balance.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have looked up to many special people in my life on a personal and professional basis. They have really helped shape my path, supported me and believed in me.
This was especially important for me in terms of my career when I chose to work on runway2street. Finding people, who on both a personal and professional level, whom I could bounce ideas around with, discuss the turmoil’s of emotions that you go through, and who can offer sound advice through it all, has been indispensable for me.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Natalie Massenet for vision and creativity.
Sheryl Sandberg for courage, leadership and being a great role model for women.
What one word sums up where you have got to today?