Networking is not just about connecting with people. It is also about connecting people with ideas, opportunities and skills. And when it comes to women, it is almost a necessity. As they say, a mixture of empathy and brainstorming can move mountains. One woman’s success can only help another’s. In that context, let’s meet Pooja Krishna – mom, entrepreneur, ex-trader, co-creator and founder of Maroon Oak – a women’s networking platform, and find out what her role is in creating this spiderweb of women who are armed with talent, time and the skills and readiness to serve!
AM: Hi Pooja and welcome to TWI! Tell us a little bit about your educational background, where you’re from etc.
PK: Thank you, Anu!
My learning has always been in all areas business-related, with a background in Management and with a Bachelor’s in Economics. Growing up in India, I went to six different schools, since we moved around quite a bit, so I’m quite comfortable in new and unfamiliar situations. After college and since, I have continued to travel. I’ve lived in North America for about twenty years now, and most of my family is in India and New Jersey.
AM: What has been your work experience since you graduated? What was that life like?
PK: After my MBA from XLRI, India, I worked with the GE and ANZ groups. My work was primarily in the area of financial services. But what attracted me early on, was the way technology was shaping businesses – everything from customer service to product design and delivery. And that interest has only gotten stronger.
When we relocated to Canada, I tried my hand at writing. Published some work – including short stories with the Chicken Soup series of books. But then, I went back to finance with day trading after we moved to the U.S in ‘02. Since then, my entrepreneurial journey has continued with Maroon Oak and Win Thinks Consulting in recent years.
I’m lucky to have worked with great mentors. My one big learning in the 25+ years has been how a lot of formal learning become dated quickly, but clarity and communication are always prized skills in the long run. As is the ability to work and collaborate with others.
AM: What was your overarching vision for all your different ventures? Has it evolved along the way?
PK: I think the big driver for any venture is that it must fulfill a need, or create one. Match that with your own expertise and ability to deliver results. That, plus market observations and data have also influenced my choices, particularly for Maroon Oak and Win Thinks. And finally, when you go to market, the reality may still turn out to be a little different. For me, despite all the groundwork, the outlook for both the companies has pivoted more than once. So yes, in business, you need to evolve or become extinct.
AM: What led to the inception of Maroon Oak? Is it a service based network?
PK : Maroon Oak was born out of the Mom experience. My longtime friend Aditi Tandon and I saw a lot of moms struggle to relaunch their careers after a hiatus, because they were completely out of touch, professionally speaking. We felt that women needed a space, where the skills they’ve acquired in their mom years count, and they could find the answers and connections to restart.
Today, our members offer a huge pool of virtual skills like marketing, design, coaching, tech, creative and copywriting, blogging, social media, style, administrative work and lots more. Maroon Oak’s platform is technology enabled, so you can find members by skill(s) or location, see their web and social profiles, message them one-on-one, hire or collaborate, even post a review about their work. And it’s all free!
The best part is that different skills and combos have a place. Your expertise can be in music and fundraising. Or digital marketing and design. Maybe public speaking and style. They are all valuable on Maroon Oak. And thanks to technology, even your location isn’t a constraint anymore.
For moms, flexible work options are big and online connectivity lets them find gigs from home. That said, the biggest surprise for us has been that it’s just not just mothers who prefer online work. A lot of young entrepreneurs who have started digital gigs have joined us too.
AM: What is the aim of your organization? How has it impacted the careers of your members?
PK: Maroon Oak’s mission is twofold – Business Networking + Digital Marketplace.
We want to provide our entrepreneurs a place to be seen and share their skills. Apart from being on the Member Directory, our feature lists, Member Showcases and Spotlights are very popular and go a long way in offering them visibility.
The other offering is a curated Marketplace to find the digital resources you might need to DIY your business. Say, you want to create a business plan or monetize your blog. Or even learn to use Instagram for your company. Our Digital Marketplace offers up lots of tools and online products like eBooks, Courses, Podcasts, Checklists etc. on all things business. These are all created by women entrepreneurs in their niche and lots are free! As always, our goal remains enrichment for women in work through connects and content!
AM: How many women roughly do you have in your Maroon Oak network? Are they entrepreneurs or in the corporate world or a mix?
PK: We have several hundred members from 30+ industries on our platform, apart from which, we have a fairly engaged audience on the top six social media and via email too. Most are entrepreneurs but we have a lot of professionals and mom re-launchers too.
While members get the best benefits, each channel serves a certain need and we reach thousands of women every month.
As an example, we have a mompreneur from Oklahoma who works with a blogger from upstate New York. Another who has hired a Virtual Assistant based in the Philippines. Yet another is a race car champion who wants to grow awareness for her non-profit work.
Most of our members have connected with one another via the Network and might never have met otherwise.
AM: What was the purpose behind Win Thinks?
PK: Win Thinks is about all things entrepreneurial, and it’s my solo ride, with teaching and business mentorship. I help entrepreneurs be more visible and stand out better in the digital space. So many business owners grapple with technology – either due to a lack of knowledge or because of mindset reasons. But no matter what we do, our work needs to be in tune with the trends.
My other focus at Win Thinks is classroom mentoring. I’ve taught over a thousand K-12 students across many U.S states over the last 2-3 years. A lot of schools want real-world insights on entrepreneurship and job skills, especially at middle and high school levels. More so, because students are more academia-minded now, and work and life skills tend to lose out.
AM: You mention conducting workshops and giving presentations as part of Win Thinks. What is your typical audience and how do these influence how they think/act?
PK: Yes, I’ve taught a lot of workshops for entrepreneurs, on topics like business planning and using digital media effectively. For students, I’ve covered everything from starting a new business, job interviews, growth mindset and presentation skills.
Last year, I was invited to teach a Seminar to the Graduate students at Rutgers University on building your online persona, so clearly this is a big need.
I also moderate expert panels and teach webinars, because they are a great way to reach a large audience globally. My workshops are interactive and include a lot of examples and stories. The idea is to tell, not sell.
AM: Do you help women build their brand? How do you achieve this and how has the experience been?
PK: Yes, this is something I’m very passionate about, and both Maroon Oak and Win Thinks are trying to do this in different ways. As women, a lot of times we are seen as moms and partners first, which is great, but not enough. I meet a lot of talented and smart women every day, who downplay their worth. But unless we think of ourselves as a brand, the world will not recognize us as such.
The main thing is to present the complete picture about ourselves. Structure your narrative in a simple statement – who you are, what you do and what makes you interesting/ amazing/ worth knowing.
Another way is to describe yourself in 5 words. Then ask someone who knows you well to do the same, and compare the two responses.
AM: Trading Paces is another venture you have launched. Could you tell us a little more about what its goals are?
PK: I was a Day Trader for many years and found it very exciting! But investing in stocks carries a high element of risk and I saw many people make unwise or uninformed decisions. After a few years, I created a learning circle for investors. It started with mentoring other traders and amateur investors, with tips ranging from the basics to using advanced tools and technical indicators. And soon a lot of other pros joined in as well. I feel that sharing knowledge actually enriches your own understanding of concepts, so everyone wins!
AM: As a mentor, what are your observations about women in the workforce or the entrepreneurial landscape? How do you help them break the common stereotypes?
PK: I’m constantly blown away by the creativity and skill-sets of the women in the entrepreneurial world. Given how easy it is to work and collaborate across locations, this can create an awesome multiplier, given all the micro-opportunities today.
I’m speaking to a trend here, but women often struggle with the imposter syndrome – we tend to be more conservative with marketing our skills and worth. Also, the ability (and the boldness) to negotiate and sometimes take bigger risks can be a challenge for many.
The Blog on Maroon Oak addresses many relevant issues on personal development and mindset. In particular, how to parlay your mom experience, deal with lack of self-confidence or setbacks, boost your online brand, work-life balance etc.
AM: Name three books that have influenced you. Your favorite movies as well.
PK: I love good books and cinema – and lots of them – so it’s always hard to pick. A lot of business reading is about startups and success stories, and a standing favorite is Creativity Inc.by Ed Catmull.
Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog is incredibly inspiring too.
On the non-business side, I’m inspired by tales about immigrants or the ‘in between-ness’ of being from many places, maybe because I’ve moved around most of my life. So Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz’s perspectives resonate with me.
Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird is another one.
When it comes to movies, again, I have favorite types rather than specific titles. Love the reluctant hero theme, and totally dig the classic black and whites – everything from Hitchcock to Capra. Almost anything by Pixar, thrillers with twists, sports films. Amongst rom-coms, I love The Philadelphia Story.
To me, the beauty of a good story is in the ‘un-telling.’
AM: What are some of your other interests? Do you get enough time to nurture them?
PK: I enjoy painting, particularly working with acrylics, but don’t have any formal training. Portrait photography is another interest. Zentangle doodling is my outlet for creative mindfulness. I learned to hula-hoop at age forty and can do a few thousand spins non-stop, so that’s fitness and fun.
Learning new things is always exciting for me, but with my work and time with my family, especially my eight year old, come first. That means that it’s often a struggle to carve out the hobby time, which motivates me to plan better.
AM: What are your future plans? For yourself and for Maroon Oak?
PK: We want to grow Maroon Oak to make it the top Network for women everywhere. It is extremely gratifying to have created something that has built connections and brought visibility to so many. Commerce and technology will become even more seamless in the future and we want to be right there, doing our bit for women in business.
Personally, I want to keep learning as well as inspiring others any way I can. Whether it is to help someone fulfill their professional destiny, turn a passion into purpose, or encourage young minds to achieve bigger things, every little nugget counts.
In the end, even if one can’t make waves, creating a ripple effect is a good start.
AM: Thank you so much Pooja, and we wish you all the best in continuing to envision, create and execute!