“Creativity, resilience and perseverance are key skills for bringing a new idea to fruition. As an entrepreneur it can be easy to have multiple ideas on the go at once, so self-prioritization of those ideas is essential,” said Uma’s founder in an interview with Idea Mensch.
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Rita Kakati-Shah is an award-winning, gender, diversity, inclusion and career strategist, speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 companies. She is the Founder and CEO of Uma, an international platform empowering women returning to work. Prior to Uma, Rita lead Business Development globally in CNS healthcare. Rita began her professional career at Goldman Sachs in London, where she was awarded the prestigious Excellence in Citizenship and Diversity Award. She is also the recipient of the King’s College London Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of her outstanding professional achievement, civic leadership and service to her alma mater.
Rita is a graduate of King’s Business School, and actively involved with the King’s Leadership Mentoring program, Entrepreneurial Institute and International Alumni Committee in New York City. She also mentors women veterans and spouses returning to civilian work after active duty, and survivors of domestic violence. Rita also sits on the Women in Legal Profession Committee of the New York City Bar Association, Co-Chairs the Working Moms of the J at the JCC of Manhattan, is an ACP Women Veteran’s Founding Circle member in the US and Governing Board member of Ormiston Park Academy in the UK. She is also a frequently invited guest speaker at University of Southern California and an Oversees Ambassador to the London Bihu Committee.
Rita has been featured as an expert on multiple international television and news shows, interviewed and quoted in various podcasts and publications such as Fast Company, Thrive Global, Dell Technology, PRWeek and iHeartRadio, opined on many panel discussions and has vast international speaking accolades such as UNESCO in Paris, Young Women in Politics in Los Angeles, Woman Who Matters in Moscow, Women in Finance in London and High Water Women in New York. Rita is also trained and accomplished in the classical Indian dance forms of Bharata Natyam and Xattriya, Post-Impressionist oil painting, a foodie and loves trying new spots for afternoon tea around New York City, where she lives with her husband and two small children.
Where did the idea for Uma come from?
I started Uma in response to my own personal journey of transitioning careers, relocating countries, and taking a career break to raise my two children and experienced the biases firsthand of having a career gap on my résumé when looking to re-enter the workforce again. So, I took the idea – the idea that all women should have equal opportunities and be treated fairly – and grew it into a thriving business. Uma now has presence in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto and London and our community continues to grow.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There are some daily and weekly commitments that are in the diary, such as team meetings, corporate training and speaking commitments, candidate workshops, mentoring, for example, which are managed by calendar entries and auto-reminders. That aside, being an entrepreneur means there is not a “typical” day as such, so I find that categorizing tasks according to must-do now vs could-do over time, then breaking down further its impact on revenue and time commitment helps immensely with productivity and focus.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Overall, I would say creativity, resilience and perseverance are key skills for bringing a new idea to fruition. I think about what I’m trying to solve. What’s the problem that currently exists, and what can I do to change it? Once the passion exists, the “how” is the fun part. I am fortunate to have a wonderful team around me that is critical yet unwavering in their support, and this is much needed. As an entrepreneur it can be easy to have multiple ideas on the go at once, so self-prioritization of those ideas is essential.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The move to automation and A. I. excites me tremendously as it makes the work we do at Uma that much more scalable. Our aim one day is to help and empower communities in different demographics around the world, and although we are a very people-oriented business, working hand in hand with the advances of technology is key to advancement, so I follow trends in tech closely.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m sure my friends, family and clients can attest to this, and it’s being persistent! As an entrepreneur you are often challenging existing channels of operation, questioning existing policies and procedures and on top of that offering up a solution that many cannot even grasp the concept of yet. So it’s important to break down concepts as simply as possible and sticking with your belief.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Uma formed from a collection of my life’s experiences, both professional and personal, and expertise that formed along the way. Life is an adventure, so, I would start by telling myself to really soak up as many of life’s experiences as possible, as it’s those that shape up your views and ultimately lay the foundation for your future. I would also tell myself to stay in touch with any mentors or colleagues that you come into contact with earlier on, as it’s these relationships that you can call upon one day for advice, guidance and even investment.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Gender parity. Many people feel getting men involved in the conversations at corporations will allow this issue to be solved. That is of course true, but what people often forget is the impact of cultural, socio-economic and demographic backgrounds being equally if not more important to tackling this issue.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Definitely do your research. As a thought-leader in your industry, you should not only have a keen grasp of your target audience, but know your market, your competition and any data inside out. Equally important is staying up to date, so make sure to keep tabs on any new trends or data out there.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
As people say, it’s all about who you know. Never underestimate the power of relationship building. It’s my contacts, former colleagues, friends that have helped tremendously in growing Uma. Some of these contacts are years old, others newer, but regardless of who they are and how long I’ve known them, relationships need to be nurtured and how you stay in touch with these contacts matters.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I would call this more of a change in tactic rather than a failure per se. When I first started out as an entrepreneur, I was super passionate about what I was doing, the lives that Uma could change and how companies could benefit from what I did. However, Uma was new, and my ideas were not run of the mill, so not everyone understood what I was trying to do. Ultimately companies wanted to know how hiring Uma could increase their bottom line, and so changing the way I pitched made all the difference.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would love to see a vending machine or service that delivers pre-selected food and beverages to your desk at pre-empted times. I for one don’t always remember to fill up my water bottle or forget the last time I ate, so this would not only be a great way to stay on top of your health and nutrition, but make things so much easier for around the clock professionals.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Not quite a $100, but I recently bought a new pair of everyday walking ballet pumps. I’m on my feet all day, so it’s key to be comfortable, and also look and feel good in them, as I’m constantly hopping between meetings, air travel, errands for my children and so good footwear is a must.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Depending on the nature of your work, having a data management tool to document all your contacts, revenue streams, leads, conversations is very helpful. HubSpot is a great example of a starting tool, and Salesforce as your network becomes more established. Calendly is great for scheduling meetings and calls, and should you need it, can be synched to certain data management tools.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I love “Climb” by Michelle Gadsden-Williams. It’s a great read for anyone looking to take a leap into something new. It talks about fear, self-belief and finding the confidence to take that next step.
What is your favorite quote?
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” I have been hearing this quote for years, but it certainly rings true in the work I do now. Definitely key to live for the moment and enjoy the present!
• Organize your day for enhanced productivity. Consider auto-reminders, calendar entries and categorizing tasks according to must-do now vs could-do over time, and then prioritize according to impact on revenue generation for your business and time commitment required;
• Creativity, resilience and perseverance are key skills for bringing a new idea to fruition. As an entrepreneur it can be easy to have multiple ideas on the go at once, so self-prioritization of those ideas is essential;
• Keep ahead of industry trends. Do your research and if automation and A. I. helps you scale up, then do not shy away from this. Read up and follow industry trends closely;
• Persistence pays off in the end. As an entrepreneur you are often challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries. Key is to keep on at it, until your message is heard.