Fintech entrepreneur, Kanika Agarrwal, Co-founder and CIO at Upside AI shares her thoughts on how her journey has been so far, how she views risk and where she gets inspiration from.
Kanika is a Chartered Accountant (All India Rank 18), holds a CFA charter and a B.Com from Mumbai University, and holds a CFA charter. She has previously worked with Credit Suisse, Mayfield before starting up on her own. Edited Excerpts:
Q. How do you view your career trajectory? How exciting has it been for you?
I knew very early on that I wanted to make my career in finance and investing. Therefore, I chose commerce as a stream, did my CA and CFA and then started with Credit Suisse in their investment banking team.
As I learned more about my field at Credit Suisse, I was fascinated by the investing process and moved to Mayfield, a venture capital fund. At Mayfield, I spent nearly 4 years investing in early stage startups before starting up on my own with Upside AI. Upside AI is focused on public markets where we use technology and a systematic process to generate returns for our clients.
It has been a very exciting journey so far – we started with absolutely no stock market experience, grew 10x in a year, raised venture capital and are now expanding our customer base. We focused solely on ultra-wealthy earlier but are now offering our products to retail customers as well, via Smallcase.
Q. Has it been going as you had planned or was it more like you tapped opportunities as they came along?
It is always a mix of planned and unplanned opportunities. They say luck is directly proportional to the number of doors you knock. This is basically my mantra as we are still very small – I spoke to everyone, asked for help, followed up persistently and continue to do so. A lot of the times you need one win to turn things around. Therefore, all the decisions I have made – my education, my jobs and my startup were planned. But the journey has a mix of planning and luck always.
It is also very important to advocate for yourself and your business because no one else will. Therefore, this year, we are very focused on communicating clearly and often with our existing and potential clients, partners and employees.
Q. Not intending to stereotype, but as a woman, how has the journey been so far?
It is both easier and harder. I think there are so few women in investment management AND so few women in technology, I am in a very unique position when I interact with anyone.
However, end of the day, the merit of your business and what you offer is paramount.
Plus, I have a 3 month old so I’m a new mom – I was working till the last day of my pregnancy and took six weeks off for my maternity leave. Therefore I now have two babies – Upside AI and my son!
Therefore, the journey is same as any other startup founder – but with some more twists and turns.
Q. How do you view yourself? more of a risk-taker or risk-averse person?
I quit a very lucrative job in venture capital at 29 with no plan or idea about what I was going to do – I only knew I wanted to start my own business.
So my parents will call me a risk taker. However, most founders start their first businesses even sooner than I did. Risk is defined by each person’s circumstances and perception.
Q. Over the years, how has your risk taking capability changed?
This is definitely true across the board – the reason why most revolutionary ideas/ businesses are built by 19 year olds is because they don’t know how many ways they could fail.
I think my cofounders and I would be even more risk takers 10 years ago. But maybe we wouldn’t be technically competent enough to do this.
Q. Where do you seek inspiration/motivation from to get going in what you want to achieve?
I think my family – there has always been a very big emphasis on excellence and hard work. It is very easy to get complacent and be mediocre about your career. It is very important to me to be excellent, or atleast try.
Q. Lastly, any advice/message to young women out there trying to rise in their career trajectory be it corporate life or entrepreneurship?
I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In when I was just starting my career and it was a very important read for me. My advice to women would be the same – speak up, offer your opinion, ask for that opportunity and that promotion. Goes without saying that you must work hard and do your best.