Tickled Media’s Roshni Mahtani on being a hustler, a hacker and an operations manager in building her startup

"If you ask me what I learned, it’s that investing in people is never a waste of your time."

Roshni is the CEO and Founder of Tickled Media, which runs ParentTown, theAsianparent.com and IndusParent.com. Her goal is to build an indispensable resource for mothers in Asia. I met Roshni (you can reach her on email at roshni@parenttown.com) about a year ago when I first started The Splice Newsroom and I was immediately struck by her generosity of time and advice. Here’s a look at what it took to build her business.

I can’t believe you were 25 when you put theAsianParent.com together. What made you think this was a good idea at that time
You have to know the exact story of how it all started — in New York City, with a 3-year-old.

I was babysitting an adorable toddler who was fascinated by where I came from: What Singapore was like, how we dressed, what we ate. And wanted to prepare some Singaporean food for her.

Back home, it would have been a quick phone call to my mum; but when I googled “Can you give a 3-year-old paneer,” I realized that these things just weren’t being written about. Seven years later, theAsianparent.com is the largest parenting portal in Southeast Asia.

Every successful startup needs these three: a hustler, a hacker, and an operations manager.

 

What do you know about yourself today that you didn’t know 7 years ago when you started the business?
I had no idea what this would take when I first started. Over time I realized that every successful startup needs these three: a hustler, a hacker, and an operations manager — and being a sole founder, I had no choice but to learn to wear all 3 hats, sometimes all at once!

 

You studied Mass Communication and Marketing. How did you fill the gaps in your knowledge about building a business?
I’ve always believed in surrounding myself with experts and it’s vital that they have this one trait — the desire (and aptitude) to keep learning. That’s how we get better. We avoid gaps before we have to bridge them.

I’ve also had the fortune of having brilliant mentors and that’s precisely why I’m giving back to the community, mentoring as well, and forging relationships between fellow entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur’s network is not just about opening doors — it’s her support system as well.

 

As a publisher that provides a service to a community of parents, do you see yourselves as journalists?
If we’re referring to tenacity when it comes to research and getting stories right, as well as integrity in process and product; then yes. We hold our editorial team to very high standards.

 

You weren’t a parent when you started this. Was it challenging to get advertisers to take you seriously?
Our numbers and track record always spoke for themselves. I always made sure too that key positions, especially editorial ones, were taken by mums. I’ve always envisioned theAsianparent to be a mum’s best friend, and our mums on the team have been critical in helping us fulfil that role.

So what’s changed now that you’re a parent (to a child I’ve actually had the pleasure of holding!)?

Nothing and everything! Tickled Media has always been my baby so now it feels like I have 2! In terms of running the business, nothing much has changed. We’re aggressive, busier than ever. And how I am, as a leader of this tribe, is still pretty consistent with how I was before becoming a mother.

What’s changed I suppose, is really just gaining a different perspective (I’m now both audience and resource!), a deeper understanding of our mums, and having so much more respect for every single one of them. Really, every mum is a super mum.

 

What lessons do you wish you learned earlier in the process of being an entrepreneur?
Getting 100 people to share the same mission and culture!

 

Do you remember the first time that you had to fire someone? What lessons did you derive from that experience?
Looking back to that first time, I suppose I validated things that I already knew — performance outweighs being good on paper tenfold, the line between flexibility and compromise (especially when it comes to core values and hard results) must never be crossed, etc. But if you ask me what I learned, it’s that investing in people is never a waste of your time.

Businesses with women do better… our economy stands to gain so much from having more women at the helm of companies.

 

What do you feel are the things that people misunderstand when it comes to gender diversity and female entrepreneurs?
People have to know is that businesses with women do better. The average turnover of companies run by female entrepreneurs was 13% higher than the average managed by male entrepreneurs. This is from the 2016 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report. From additional revenue to job generation, our economy stands to gain so much from having more women at the helm of companies.

 

I’ve heard you speak passionately about building the right culture in your team. What should early entrepreneurs know about running teams?
Expectations always have to be crystal clear. To oneself, an entrepreneur should know that the start-up life is 24/7 and something you’ll be committing at least the next 7–10 years of your life to. Managing all the moving pieces of a business is no easy feat and every day presents new challenges. I’ll admit, it’s also part of the fun.

Startup life is all about resilience. You expect the falls. Getting back up isn’t your struggle — it’s what’s expected of you.

To the team, one important expectation to be shared is that having a product, no matter how much work you already put into it, is just the beginning. The hard part comes after. Startup life is all about resilience. You expect the falls. Getting back up isn’t your struggle — it’s what’s expected of you.

Also, do your best to set your team up for success. Provide resources for them to maximize their potential, without smothering their growth by micromanaging. Easy to say, hard to do, right? Resources are hard to come by when you’re just starting your business (actually, it doesn’t get that much easier down the road — every penny saved is a penny you can invest back into the business!) — so be creative. Whether it’s your time, actual tools, system, or training that they need, find a way to make it happen. I cannot stress enough the long term value of empowering people.

 

Jeff Bezos or Jack Ma comes up to you and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea in this space. What is it?
Oh I already have! It’s called ParentTown, a mobile-first Q&A app for parents, and I would like to thank the both of them in advance for their contributions. 🙂

 

If we’re sitting at a bar for drinks a year from now celebrating what a great year it’s been for you, what would be some of those things you would want to celebrate?
Getting funded by Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma of course!

But seriously, it’s been a year of tremendous growth for us. We started the year launching ParentTown and just today we welcome 5 new Ticklers into the fold! Expanding into new territories is also in the works so there’s really so much to both be grateful for and be excited about.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from your audience?

We hold theAsianparent Baby Bash now and then — it’s pretty much a large (very large) playdate for babies and their parents — and in one of them a dad actually came up to me and said that we’ve been such a great resource for him and his wife. I wasn’t expecting that. We always talk about engaging the digital mum and I was reminded at that moment that dads, today especially, are in it as much as mums are!

As a professional, what scares you about the future of the media space?
I always tell my leadership team: Fear is for the unprepared. Yes, there are so many things that happen in a snap. Companies skyrocket to success and go out of business overnight — even tech giants are no longer untouchable. But it’s our job to see and be three steps ahead.


This interview is part of a series of stories around the journey of entrepreneurial journalism and the different ideas that could help build sustainable models.

We want to showcase both the ideas and the courage that goes behind breaking new ground on the business of media. If you know of someone who should be interviewed here (or yourself), please drop me an email: alansoon@thesplicenewsroom.com.

Co-Founder, CEO of The Splice Newsroom. Covering the business of media transformation in Asia. Follow Alan Soon on Twitter.

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