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Power of Big Bold Vision
Our first ever guest post!
The reason for starting Scale It Up was to share learnings from my experiences with a larger audience. However, as I wrote in my last post where I reflected on this writing journey, I am humbled to see all of the subscribers who have joined to form the community at Scale It Up. You are an accomplished lot of inspirational entrepreneurs, seasoned executives, stellar investors, aspiring leaders and fresh and ambitious graduates from all around the world!
As this community grows, it feels timely to dive into the wealth of experience that each of you bring, and share it widely. Therefore I’m adding “Guest Posts”, a new section on Scale It Up. Here you will find occasional posts from our members, on what it takes to scale up!
And who else better than Kirthiga Reddy to write the inaugural guest post. Kirthiga is a dear friend and a mentor to me. I have learned a lot about having a bold vision and clarity of thought from her, by having a ringside seat to her career.
I met her for the first time in 2010, when she became the MD for Facebook in India & South Asia. Over the next 8 years she scaled up the regional business to several $100Mn+, and it’s now $1Bn+. She also built Facebook’s SMB APAC business and worked with some of Facebook’s largest clients on their emerging markets strategy.
Kirthiga is currently the President of Athena Technology II, the third in a series of all women-led SPACs bringing leading talent, access to capital and transaction experience to enable a market leader to access the equity capital markets. She serves on the Board of multiple public companies including WeWork and Pear and is a Founding Investment Partner of F7 seed fund. She was SoftBank Vision Fund’s first female Investment Partner, where she managed a portfolio of $5Bn+ focused on enterprise, health tech and frontier tech investments.
To me, she is someone who is always scaling up herself, the teams she works with and the people she cares about. Her recent post on the “21 firsts”she did in 2021 is a testimony to that!
I hope you enjoy reading her take on what it takes to scale up as the first ever guest post on this newsletter!
Power of Big Bold Vision
- Kirthiga Reddy
In his book, The Habit of Winning, Prakash Iyer tells the story of a woman walking down the streets of Rome. She sees men working with bricks. To paraphrase Iyer, the woman stops one of the bricklayers and asks, “What are you doing?” The man looks up, visibly frustrated at being disturbed. He replies, “Can’t you see? I’m putting bricks one on top of another,” and resumes his work. The woman walks a bit further and asks the same question to another man. He smiles and replies, “I’m building a wall.” When the woman asks a third person, she is met with a beaming smile. The man shares, “I am building the tallest cathedral in Rome.”
This story has stayed with me for decades. It has been at the heart of my approach to “Scale it Up” for businesses, organizations, and even myself. In Iyer’s story, each individual is performing the same activity. However, their perspectives are vastly different, influencing the way each person approaches their work.
When I was Managing Director of Facebook India and South Asia, starting as their first employee in India, our first charter was to build one of the four global operations centers that together now serve over 3.5B people. People were tasked with reviewing objectionable content that was not permitted on the platform—hate speech, violence, and more. Machine learning and AI were central to tackling this challenge. For content that the systems couldn’t address, however, manual review was required. The tasks involved in this were repetitive, and they required intense focus. It was easy for the energy to run low, and we had to constantly remind ourselves of the larger vision: This work was central to the principles of trust and safety, and the mission to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
As leaders, much of our conversations center around the “what” and the “how.” I frequently have to remind myself to spend more time on the “why.” This is even more important for Generation Z — 60% of Gen Z want a job that will impact the world. More on this small yet powerful word “Why” in an earlier article by Ishan.
In addition to the global operations charter, we were also working on the India market charter. It took months of discussions across the organization and with key global stakeholders leading to our big bold vision of “100-100-100.” 100M users, $100M in revenue, and 100M people positively impacted through our community efforts in our first four years of operations. Facebook, like most other multinational companies, was initially organized functionally. For example, functions like the User Growth team, HR, Finance etc. reported direct-line to regional or global leaders. Operations and Sales reported locally. The 100-100-100 vision was deeply cross-functional, and one that bound all of us together.
At the time we outlined this vision, India did not even have 100M people on the Internet, and Facebook had no committed plans to build a local sales and marketing team, so this was a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) in all regards. Give or take a few quarters, however, we hit each of these goals. The last 100M in community impact was measured through initiatives like Safety Check in situations like disaster management.
In my current role as an investor, I have the privilege of working with founders and entrepreneurial teams across multiple industries who are using disruptive technologies like AI, data, automation, and web 3.0 to transform the way people live and work. Disruption is never easy. There are inevitable ups and downs: the naysayers; the clients, partners, investors, or other stakeholders who need more convincing than one may believe is needed. The big bold vision provides an anchor across functions—staffing, HR, finance, legal, engineering, product, sales, marketing, operations, analytics, and more—to, as Al Pacino says in Any Given Sunday, “win inch by inch.”
At a personal level, I have adopted the practice of defining a big, bold vision for myself and sharing it with others. I am so grateful to Carolyn Everson for institutionalizing this practice at Facebook. At the start of each new year, I visualize what I want to look back on at the end of the year. I then write it down. Research shows that you are 42% more likely to achieve something if you write it down! Why wouldn’t we want to take those odds? :) My vision for this year includes Athena Technology II SPAC completing the business combination with a transformative company at the forefront of today’s new age economy, and in doing so, lifting the tide for women in business, tech, and finance. We will be ringing the NYSE opening bell today, January 5th!
COVID has taught me to live life with no regrets. Every brick I lay down is fueled by big, bold visions of the cumulative impact over the decade(s). I also leave room for serendipity. As we start the year, I would love to hear from you: What’s your equivalent of the tallest Cathedral in Rome? Define it, share it, and celebrate every win!
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