Vision, Drive and Ambition: An Interview with Seedcamp’s Reshma Sohoni

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We recently had the chance to do an interview with Reshma Sohoni, an inspiring business women who is a Partner and Co-Founder at Seedcamp.

Seedcamp is one of Europe’s most successful first round funds and provides promising startups with up to €200k and a lifelong platform. Reshma has previously worked in M&A and venture capital across B2B Software and Internet services businesses in the US and India. She had a small helping hand in building MakeMyTrip (NASDAQ) in its formative days. Following on from this, Reshma went to INSEAD and earned her MBA, fell in love with Europe and stayed on to work in Commercial and Marketing Strategy at Vodafone.

Earlier this month, Reshma also made it into our prestigious list of Europe’s most influential women in the startup and venture capital space. Enough said – enjoy the interview:

Who is your role model as a leader?

I get this question a lot and find it difficult to name one person, mostly because leaders often have glaring flaws and no person can be everything to everyone. Leadership is about mobilising people of course, but in my view is often about making something happen from not much. My mother is one person where I draw a lot of inspiration around my own leadership qualities. Moving to America with 2 kids and starting up a life there from not much took a lot of inner strength and leadership. Some of her best leadership principles I try to embed in practice are 1) having a true north that a team can get behind 2) making no excuses for the difficulties that arise 3) taking ownership 4) being positive about the world around me 5) being pragmatic and rational during the most difficult times

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Personally – it’s recognizing when I and my family/friends are happy and remembering what allows us to be healthy and happy. Discarding all the other things that don’t

Professionally – it’s taking risks in my career and particularly in starting up Seedcamp. Seedcamp as a movement has had far reaching impact across the European footprint. It has started so many things and been a critical part of so many people’s lives

What has been your biggest challenge as a female leader?

The deck is often stacked against female leaders, from a young age. So the biggest challenge is feeling you are staying ahead of these obstacles and that you have energy to keep pushing forward. Given I am not one to make excuses, I use what I have to my benefit versus see anything as a weakness. I have been helped by many a men and a very few women to push through these glass ceilings.

Tangibly – suboptimal childcare options, dinners that take away from parenting, are particularly troublesome.

How do you grow people in your organisation?

I love seeing the hard work being put in and the results that come out. It’s all about what are your inputs and the results – whether is making your customers happy, growing your workforce, making a difference in the world, etc. I love this interplay – results & outputs. My Partner has a similar ethos. So we aim to group our people in a few ways 1) we generally have people work on things slightly out of their comfort zone so they feel a push to be that much better all the time 2) we enable our team members to feel full ownership for the results of their role. This allows people to be independent in their thinking and leverage others if/when they need to 3) we strive to give people flexibility so they can have professional and personal balance customized to who they are. Ultimately we believe in hiring better people than we are and also that as leaders our most important job is growing our talent so they can mobilise to achieve great things for themselves and our stakeholders.

If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?

As a teenager, I would have really pushed myself to get out there to understand what the real world implications of my career choices would be. One advice I’d give to young entrepreneurs is to immerse themselves into multidisciplinary concepts and ideas and really understand how the academic and the social work evolve and progress into the real live. We live in very sheltered environments. First it’s growing up with your close family, then going into university and being around your peer group you do extend a bit more, but you’re still in this very protected environment. Get out of your comfort zone sooner rather than later. I often say you don’t know what you don’t know. So the more you know things, the less you don’t know and the better you can be in controlling your own destiny.

What differences do you notice between men and women’s leadership styles?

Sometimes we tend to focus too much on looking at these differences and building up unhelpful stereotypes. Mostly I’d love to see more women getting out there and sharing their leadership experiences more. That way we can realize that both men and women can be inclusive or dictatorial, decisive or confused, meritocratic or clique-y.

How would you describe your leadership style?

One of the things we’re aiming to do, both Carlos (Seedcamp partner) and I, is to give the teams a first hand, front of the field experience, a sort of “learning by doing” experience rather than “learning by talking” and teaching. A combination of some of our fundamental beliefs and how we grow people is a good way of seeing our style in action. It’s very much about pushing just beyond the limits, being available to coach and advise, promoting from within, giving a huge level of ownership to individuals, and ensuring there’s a lot of cooperation across different functions within our business.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

When I was 18 going into my degree, I was really passionate about finance and engineering, but I didn’t know the VC world existed. So my biggest advice is, when you are that age, really open yourself up and drive into the unknown. Think a lot about what you know you don’t know. That’s part of the answer.

As much exposure you can get in university to a diversity of disciples is really fantastic. As a VC, you get to understand what are the fundamentals of the industries you’re investing in and you need to develop people skills – from the founders you’re backing, from your team, your partners, the people who’s money you’re managing.. we’re talking about a lot of relationships and a lot of working closely with people.

What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?

There are new challenges in the growth of our family and our business. We are aiming for bigger and better things with Seedcamp – we’ll do more and be in more places. Our businesses are scaling in a big way and we look forward to achieving some significant milestones for them and for us. We look forward to being on the pulse of the next decade in advancement in technology. Mostly I hope that the uncertainties and imbalances in the world today move towards being alleviated to a greater extent. We hope to be a part of the solution rather than the problem.

3 key words to describe yourself?

Positive
Purposeful
Funny

What 3 things would greatly improve entrepreneurship?

  • Better storytelling – my view is this skill requires a critical assessment of if a problem is worth solving, is your solution the right one, and are you the right person/team to be doing it
  • Results and execution focus – there’s so much hard work and multiple ways to problem solve every day. Entrepreneurs need to be much more focused on tangible results and executing at hyperquality
  • Talent – attracting and retaining the best talent – often entrepreneurs try to do too much with too little or don’t do enough with too little. A+ talent is critical to deliver A+ results. Greater investment in Talent at every stage of the business is a crucial gating factor of success

What advice would you give to others who want to be entrepreneurs?

Loads to say here, but it all starts with the impetus for starting up a business. Entrepreneurs aren’t something you do at the start, it’s what you are because you started something. So one needs to think hard about what they are starting up, why, and if they have the perseverance to make it their life’s calling for likely the next 10 years. Another critical decision is what kind of business one wants to build. A high growth startup that needs a lot of capital or a startup that grows organically which could be fast or slower.

If you do decide to undertake the journey, then focus on the fundamentals: what is the must solve problem and what is the USP of “yourself” and the business. Think about the way you approach in solving the problems and put yourself in the other person’s shoes – whether it’s an investor, someone coming to work with you or for you, or a user/customer. Set ambitious but realistic expectations and be time efficient – time is your most precious asset. Think “people first”, starting with your team. For Seedcamp and myself it’s critical that we see vision, drive, ambition and talent in a highly ambitious and functional team.

What is your favourite quote?

They all sound pretty brilliant and pretty naf at the same time.

“Carpe Diem” was the first quote I ever remember remembering so I’ll go with that.
and “The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to” – R. Mullin