Women in Business Q&A: Monisha Perkash, CEO & Co-founder, Lumo BodyTech

Huffington Post
Monisha Perkash is CEO & Co-founder at Lumo BodyTech, makers of the Lumo Lift and Lumo Back posture and activity trackers. She and her team are shaking up the wearable tech space with fashion-forward designs to help people look and feel great. They have recently received notable coverage in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Oprah Magazine, and ABC News. Lumo Lift was also selected as one of TIME magazine's "Best Inventions of 2014." LUMO is backed by Madrona Ventures, Eric Schmidt's Innovation Endeavors, and Jerry Yang's AME Cloud Ventures. Monisha previously served as CEO and Co-Founder of TuitionCoach (acquired by SimpleTuition in 2009), where she oversaw the financing, launch, and general management of the start-up. After the acquisition, she stayed on with SimpleTuition as VP Products. Monisha has an MBA from Stanford and a BA from Yale.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
As a young Nepalese immigrant, I learned that tenacity would be a key ingredient for achievement. My working-class parents reminded us regularly that, by coming to the US, almost any door could be opened if we worked hard enough. My older sister and I fondly remember my father telling us, "Whatever you choose to be, be the best at it. If you want to be a plumber, be the best damned plumber out there!" With that spirit, I excelled in academics, sports, and extracurriculars.

However, my paradigm of success completely changed because of my younger sister with Down Syndrome. Minerva is a remarkable human being who has the ability to console, nurture, and connect with others without pretense or preconception. As I recognized the effect of Minerva's kindness and affection on others, I humbly began to learn that there is much more to life than just making the honor roll or winning a tennis tournament. Because of Minerva, I am better able to appreciate people for the unique contributions they can make to the world around them. She taught me the importance of making human connections, which means living a life of compassion.

These values of tenacity and compassion are ones that have carried me into adulthood and have molded me into the type of leader who I am today. I believe that they help me to attract teammates and business partners who also believe in these values. Personally, I find that working with them is the best part of the company-building journey.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Lumo BodyTech?
I previously led another startup and learned the very hard way that there is a critical difference between a good idea and a good business idea. After a few years of running the startup, I found that while there was a need for the services that we provided, there really wasn't a market for them (i.e., there was no business model to make it sustainable). With that key learning, I was determined that my next company would address an important need and have business viability.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at LBT?
Like most start-ups, we've definitely been on a roller coaster, experiencing the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. The highlights have included hearing from customers that we've positively impacted their lives, winning various awards and honors such as TIME Magazine's 25 Best Inventions of 2014, and building a very talented and passionate team. The challenges have included disappointing our customers because of manufacturing delays, launching a product that initially had much room for improvement, and the growing pains of evolving from a scrappy fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants startup to a more mature company with many moving parts, systems and processes.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
The two most important things I advise are:
1. Don't be afraid to ask for help, and surround yourself with supportive family members, friends, advisors, and business partners. Leading your business can feel incredibly lonely at times, and you'll constantly hear signals reminding you of all the reasons why you might fail. To muffle all the noise, you'll need to believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who also believe in you.
2. Go for it! Play to your strengths, which include turning differences into strengths. For example, know that as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, you'll be more memorable. Also, your female perspective may help to inform product design and marketing, thereby making your solution more relevant to the roughly 50% of our female population which is oftentimes underserved by other companies. Finally, you may be able to tap into a broader talent pool and attract a more diverse team.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
As a start-up, we've experienced many near-death experiences and through it all we continue to embrace the philosophy to "fail early, and fail often," believing that by embracing failure, we allow ourselves to take risks, learn, and improve ourselves and our company. For example, this might mean making a product available before we think it's quite ready. By doing this, we risk bad reviews, but we also benefit by getting feedback earlier on, so that we can course-correct and, in the end, get to the right solution sooner.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I've found that a work/life balance isn't the goal. Instead, I embrace work/life convergence. I'm a passionate mom, entrepreneur, athlete, and dreamer, and I integrate those aspects of myself into everything I do. For example, at every opportunity I can, I expose my kids to what's going on at Lumo and often bring them to work. They love testing our products and are constantly making recommendations. They see first-hand how much hard work goes into building a company, and they take pride in being part of it. I feel that what I do is my calling, and not a job, and therefore it becomes natural for my personal and professional lives to converge.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I believe that the lack of women in positions of leadership is a large issue because the fewer of us there are, the fewer of us there will be.

There is a lot of truth to the old saying: "Birds of a feather flock together." As humans, we tend to find comfort in the familiar and fear the unknown. So it is no surprise when this comfort with familiarity shows up at the workplace. It results in a gender bias where it can be tougher for women to "break into" career paths that have been historically male-dominated.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have tremendous admiration for Kirthiga Reddy who is the Head of Facebook India, and started it from scratch. Kirthiga embodies her message about creating your own choices, "to not accept the tyranny of the 'or' but embrace the power of the 'and.'" I've watched Kirthiga debunk many myths about supposed tradeoffs you have to make when you're both a zealous mom and ambitious business leader. She has managed to juggle a demanding career, often requiring traveling and also relocating her family, while still being an attentive mom, wife, daughter, and friend. Anyone who knows Kirthiga is touched by her radiant energy and generous spirit. Every time I interact with her, I am inspired to remove the word "can't" from my vocabulary.

What do you want LBT to accomplish in the next year?
We plan to scale our business across additional platforms and channels, and to continue delivering innovation solutions that empower people to live healthier, more productive lives.
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