Scaleup Diaries: Ahana Banerjee

Ahana Banerjee is the co-founder and CEO of Clear– a mobile app that allows users to gain financial rewards and social features whilst saving money on their skincare.

Having graduated in October with a bachelor’s in physics, Ahana has a unique perspective to offer to other founders looking to hire and build their startup teams. And after an exhaustive funding process, in November Clear announced it was closing its $800k pre-seed round.

An amazing achievement for any founder to have to their name, let alone when you are just 22 years old.

Our director, Alan Furley, was excited at the chance to get Ahana on our Scaleup Diaries series and hear about her journey from student to founder and CEO, and her advice for other first-time founders going through similar stages of the startup adventure.

To listen to the full recording click here.

Here are our key takeaways:

'It was only because I went above and beyond to understand what a startup job was that I realised this was the best fit for me, and could also be the best fit for other junior people.'

 

Attracting and hiring Junior talent

As a recent graduate herself, Ahana understands the importance of hiring junior talent, saying ‘It was only because I went above and beyond to understand what a startup job was that I realised this was the best fit for me, and could also be the best fit for other junior people.’

We’ve seen strong demand across senior and mid-level roles, but not always the same with junior positions. Clearly this isn’t good for the tech talent market in the longer term.

Young people just don’t know that the startup roles are out there.

Ahana has a very active presence on social media and documents her startup journey across platforms like LinkedIn and YouTube. This is an engaging way of introducing people to the startup world.

Because of this online presence, Ahana has a very strong personal brand. In today’s competitive market, having this strong brand is not only great for the business awareness, but it also has been very positive in terms of talent attraction. Invisible founders will struggle to hire.

The nature of her online presence means that she gets a lot of junior talent reaching out. And by openly documenting and discussing subjects like fundraising and user numbers, she wants to help educate young people who may not know about this as a career path.

Her aim is to try and get across what a career in tech can look like.

'Working in a startup is not for everyone, but a lot of people could benefit from learning about this as a potential career path.'

Prioritising diversity

Whilst the startup vision does attract young, driven minds, there is a distinct lack of diversity- both in tech and in the general startup scene.

When addressing this lack of diversity, Ahana said ‘as a female, ethnic minority founder, I wish there were more people that looked like me in the type of job that I have. But wishing for something is not enough to make it happen.’

So, Ahana is working to make it happen, firmly believing the problem starts in our schools.

The ratio of females to males decreases massively as you go higher up the education ladder. Not only are young women being discouraged from entering into STEM careers, but people also aren’t talking enough about non-traditional career routes- such as startups.

This is something Ahana is actively working to change. She reached out to her old school in Singapore with the hope of raising awareness and ‘to give younger school students an opportunity to see what it is like.’

She set up an internship program to run for 3 weeks over the summer. She received a great reaction and interviewed all her applicants to learn about what areas of a startup they were most interested in learning about.

This is a fantastic way to offer valuable experience to young talent and give them interview practice at the same time.

She then took their answers and used them to build up a very structured plan. Then, each week she had a catchup to see what was working and what areas presented challenges.

This is not only a useful process for the interns who learnt more about the startup world, but also for Ahana herself, who understood what areas needed focusing on.

Of course, not every intern came away wanting a career in a startup, but for some it was an amazing eye-opener, with some doing so well Ahana brought them onto the payroll.

If you want to offer this opportunity- even on a smaller scale, contact the careers or enterprise department at your local college or university to explore what you can do. This is a great opportunity for you to bring on and nurture young talent.

'As a female, ethnic minority founder, I wish there were more people that looked like me in the type of job that I have. But wishing for something is not enough to make it happen.'

Building a remote team

If you are a founder looking to build a strong remote team, you will know some of the benefits and challenges involved.

For Ahana, remote working has broadened her talent pool immeasurably, with team members working all over the world.

Of course, no type of working comes without its drawbacks, but the clashing of time zones is a small price she is willing to pay to have access to universal talent.

Many founders struggle to keep their team feeling connected. Ahana maintains that the most important factor to keeping a happy team is by being responsive. This means that everything can happen quickly.

One of the main challenges remote working presents is the ability to switch off. If you have access to work 24/7, it can feel as if you always have to be working. This leads to exhaustion and burnout.

As a founder it is your responsibility to ensure that your team are able to create healthy boundaries between life and work. In a remote team where you span several time zones, asynchronous communication can lead to delays if you are only contactable within certain windows.

Ahana makes it clear to her team from the start that it is okay to message her at any time of day or night. But she doesn’t carry this expectation out to the wider team, only expecting people to reply when they can- regardless of whether this is in 2 minutes or 2 hours.

When you get that balance right you will have a strong team, no matter where they are in the world.

'The amazing thing about working from home is the amount of talent that you have access to.'

Interviewing talent

Having just been on the other side of the interview process herself, Ahana is aware of just how important good candidate experience is when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.

‘The best interviews feel like a conversation.’ They flow naturally and you really get to know the candidate and whether they will be a good fit for your team.

Whether the interview takes place in person or remotely, building this relationship right from the interview stage is important to ensuring you are hiring people who share the same values as you and your team. ‘Aligning yourself as to how people think is one of the most important aspects of building that relationship between employer and employee.’

But it is important to remember that you can go through the interview process and still make a bad decision. Ahana has experienced this at Clear with some of her earliest hires. She has since learnt from her mistakes and puts more of an emphasis on getting to know the candidates.

She has introduced a probation period where she regularly checks up on her employees to give them a chance to raise any issues and encourages blocking out time in your diary to catch up with your new starters. ‘Having very honest conversations has helped us tremendously to create better relationships with our hires.’

If you started this huge journey with a co-founder, you will know how intense those first few months can be. ‘The co-founder relationship is like a marriage.’ You will be spending a lot of time growing and learning together, so finding people who are aligned and think in a similar way will from a crucial part of your experience.

We need to diversify and upskill our workforce to create more opportunity for innovation. And Ahana’s journey from student to CEO is testament to the potential that young talent has when given a space to thrive.

If you want to listen to the podcast in full then click here.

If you are a startup founder and have insight to share, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Our Director Alan Furley for the chance to be part of our Scaleup Diaries series.

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