Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hey, friends! It's Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have another great interview for you this week. Today, I’m excited to cruise around with Malur Narayan, the co-founder of STRIDES.ai. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Malur! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing?
Malur: Happy to be with you, Spiffy! Were you aware that over 80% of senior executive roles are filled on a who-you-know basis?
Spiffy: No, I didn’t know that! Really?
Malur: Yes, it’s true: a strong senior executive network is a key ingredient for today's leaders. Unfortunately, however, traditionally underrepresented leaders lack access to this network. For their part, companies are struggling to attract and retain diverse leadership talent. Most of them spend hundreds of thousands on the executive search and hiring process, and research shows that over one-third of those efforts result in an inaccurate fit or in the recruited person leaving within six months. Companies then have to repeat the entire process. STRIDES adds a new dimension to address the identification, advancement, retention, and succession planning of diverse executive talent. In this way, we address a major gap that exists in senior executive searches today.
Spiffy: What motivated you to tackle this challenge?
Malur: We started STRIDES because we recognized and sought to address the problem of diversity in leadership, a metric that is key to enterprise performance and employee satisfaction. Both co-founders Rika and I are immigrants who built strong careers in the U.S. despite challenges we faced as members of minority groups. We want to level the playing field for the next generation of diverse leaders to have access to senior leadership opportunities.
Spiffy: Would you say that is how you all are working towards a more equitable world?
Malur: Indeed! The lack of diversity in leadership is driven by lack of access to senior leadership opportunities for underrepresented leaders. Relationships, or “who you know,” comprise one of the biggest factors. In fact, research shows that ~80% of senior executive roles are filled via networking. Underrepresented groups have historically lacked exposure to and engagement with senior level executives that can advocate for them. Meanwhile, senior leaders historically have not known where or how to find potential leaders from underrepresented backgrounds except to employ recruitment firms—a highly manual and often unsuccessful avenue. Our intelligent use of artificial intelligence (AI) expedites that discovery process and makes it easy for leaders from all backgrounds to build those close professional and social relationships.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone by STRIDES. What impact does that make?
Malur: We recently onboarded our 500th senior leader as a member of our community. This is a significant achievement considering we used almost no marketing and have deployed minimum capital. We now have a critical mass of vetted senior leaders who are well-positioned to build strong professional connections for greater career advancement.
Spiffy: Congratulations on that success! Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from that experience?
Malur: Our first product launch in 2020 was a disaster and embarrassing. Rather than throwing in the towel, we went back to the drawing board and ultimately rebuilt after continuously engaging our users. Since then, we have encountered many other uncertain situations, such as lack of funding and rejections by investors or customers. However, we have continued to refine our business model until we make it work.
Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Malur: My teenage daughter created a business plan as part of her entrepreneurship program at high school. Her business idea and team became state champions in Texas and ultimately won the silver medal in the nationwide SkillsUSA competition. She showed her father and the world what it looks like to be able to adapt quickly to challenges thrown at you while never giving up and remaining confident in your idea and mission.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Malur: Building a startup, especially one with a mission of social impact, is very challenging. It requires significant dedication from you and your team, and there are plenty of ups and downs. The key is to communicate and stay positive.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Malur — it’s been an honor!
Malur Narayan is co-founder of STRIDES.ai. He is a proven technology leader with decades of industry experience across five continents. He brings an effective combination of corporate and entrepreneurial experience, having held a broad range of senior management roles at Nortel and Tata. As a co-founder and advisor to several tech startups, Malur excels in helping companies build their technological capabilities. He has a strong reputation of connecting at the C-level and developing long-term business partnerships. (Nominated by Jing Herman of 28Muses. First published on the Ladderworks website on September 6, 2022.)