Accelerator Program DNA & The Impact of Culture

In this episode we’re speaking with Lalitha Wemel, innovation leader and Techstars Director for the APAC region.

Join us as we learn:
  • What great Accelerator programs are really made of
  • The impact of culture on program outcomes
  • Why now is APAC’s time to shine
  • Why mental health has never been more important for program teams and their founders

Watch The Interview

Read The Interview

Hello everybody!

Welcome to Episode 4 of Leaders Of Innovation, the show where we explore the topics and trends impacting Accelerator programs and the innovation delivery teams behind them both here in Australia and also internationally.

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Today, we are very lucky to be joined by the incredible Lalitha Wemel — who also goes by Lals — from Techstars, joining us all the way from Kuala Lumpur. Currently, Lals is the regional director of community at Techstars for Asia Pacific where she leads community partnerships and programming of startups ecosystem development across the region. Her role involves balancing a lot of people, and then a lot more people. Lalitha leads Startup Weekend Women Global and APAC, alongside being the local lead for Malaysia and Singapore.

She is proudly active in the development of women empowerment and diversity and inclusion activities globally. And when Lalitha isn’t moving mountains in the world of innovation, she is devouring books and representing Malaysia as an amateur thespian.

Lals, you are very welcome.

Lalitha: Hi, Brian.

Brian: How are you?

Lalitha: Thank you so much for having me. I’m wonderful. [laughs]

Brian: You’re very welcome. So the first question I ask everybody when they come on is: what are you working on right now?

Lalitha: Oh, my God. Getting through a global pandemic.

Brian: [laughs]

Lalitha: What are you working on? [laughs] So much. It’s been a very interesting time for us during the last couple of months because of the pandemic. We’ve had a very open opportunity to really re-innovate a lot of programs that just didn’t have the time or the love or the capacity to have that attention. So as much as I’m really sad this is happening around the world, it’s provided our team the right kind of avenue to really think about where we can grow and where we can build new resources to deliver the programs that we’ve always been delivering for the last 10, 15 years in new, interesting and more impactful ways. So that’s really what’s been on my plate.

On the side of that, as you know, because obviously, as part of the global pandemic, everybody needed a podcast, I also started that. [laughs]

Brian: Hey! Go on, get a plug in there.

Lalitha: Yeah. Happy Messy Founders. That’s the podcast.

Brian: Happy Messy Founders. Check it out. It’s actually pretty good. I’ve listened to it.

Lalitha: [gasps] Shut up! Do you, really?

Brian: Yeah. Of course I have. I’m in the ecosystem. How could I miss something good like that? So I guess the big question, kind of what you touch on there, is what people have called the pandemic, which is a great pause. It’s where people are not necessarily jumping onto the same commuting pattern they’ve done for many, many years and where they’re actually having an opportunity to step back and think about how they do what they do. Obviously, this is something which at Techstars, you guys have been taking advantage of. You’ve been investing your own time into that. Has there been any kind of big learnings that have come out of reflecting back on those programs during this time?

Lalitha: I will say, in case you don’t know or anybody else listening doesn’t know, Techstars was also born out of a pandemic. It was founded in 2006, right before the big 2008 crash.

Brian: I didn’t know that.

Lalitha: A lot of our learnings, a lot of where we thrived, a lot of the changes that we made to build the programs that are anchors of what we do today came out of a lot of that uncertainty because it was really a landscape that allowed us to experiment and test and really build something worth building. If you can figure it out, then you know it’s going to thrive after.

So this is kind of our second cycle in this field of pandemics. Although it’s different, it’s really given, like you said, a lot of pause to our teams to think about: how do we not just take the programs that we’re doing online to take them online, but how do we build experiences that really give the participants of them, whether they’re founders, whether they’re people coming in to learn about entrepreneurship, whether it’s our corporate partners, how do we give all of them the same, if not a better experience, than they would have had with us offline? It may not be the same thing, but it could be something that still delivers the value that they wanted to get out of it.

I’ll use an example, if I can, about a Startup Weekend program that we did in April. So literally, at the end of March, we were like, “Oh, no, everything’s kind of going crazy. How do we pivot? How do we really help people do these things?” because a lot of our community leaders were coming to us and going, “We can’t do them offline. We need a way to still build communities, still help founders, still do something.”

And so in a month, we put together the MVP, if you will, of what an online version of our programs could be, and we released it out into the wild to just go, “Use it, feedback it to us, and we’re going to help you guys. We’re going to go through the process of building what you want together.” And the response that we got was incredible. We, in a month, put together this online program that ended up having 15,000 participants across 55 countries across two weekends, and it was all focused on — I don’t want to say the C-word, but you know, the virus. [laughs]

Brian: Yeah. That name shall not be spoken.

Lalitha: It’s like Voldemort. Basically, solutions for what we’re all going through, and it was the most wonderful coming together of so many global communities. The best part about that is that we had participants who had been part of our offline programs go through this online program, and the feedback was that it felt the same. They got the same, if not better value. They still felt that they were connected, they still felt they learned a lot, they got to meet a bunch of new people, and they ended the weekend as though they felt they did something incredibly productive.

To us, that meant, “Okay. We’ve struck a chord. It’s the right path. It’s something that we should build on going forth this way,” so not thinking that we know exactly what is needed, but making sure it’s the most collaborative effort forward that built something that makes sense for the people that are actually consuming them. So that was a great first validation that we went through.

Brian: Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good first validation as first validations go.

Lalitha: [laughs]

Brian: It actually sounds like a rip-roaring success, to be honest with you. It’s been a theme, I think, of all these conversations that we’ve been having around the pandemic and the new normal, there’s two things that have happened: there’s a forced evolution. Programs have no choice. They have to evolve or die. And then with that, you’ve also got the fact that there’s an accelerated degree of digital adoption, which actually works quite well because if the programs have to evolve quickly, the nice thing is that they’re not waiting for their audience to decide whether or not they’d like to join. The reality is that everybody’s being forced by the same environmental factors, which is huge.

So my big question now would be: from your seat there in Kuala Lumpur — you’re obviously well-connected across the Asia Pacific region — what are the trends that you’re noticing in the innovation ecosystem across APAC?

Lalitha: I think over the last couple of years, there were a lot of people that were, first of all, trying to figure out what innovation was. There was an abundance of innovation theater across our region. [laughs] I think more and more, as the right players start to come about and the right founders start to lead these discussions, it becomes less about the one-day, one-off, “We’re going to do this program, and there’s going to be so much excitement, and you’re going to use all these Post-it notes,” and it ends there.

I see that there are a lot more legitimate, solid, incredibly well-crafted programs that are being built in Asia, which is amazing. And it’s not just programs that are coming from overseas and finding their footing here. Granted, there are a handful of them that are doing a great job. They’ve come into this region, and they’ve not just copy-and-pasted what has worked in other countries. They’ve stopped to think about how the culture is different here, how they can localize it and how they’ve built programs that although provide the same amount of value, fit with how founders are being built here, which is amazing. But it’s also really great to see that there are a lot of local programs that are being built out of this same foundation, and it’s being led by people in the region as opposed to just people coming in from everywhere else.

So I think there are a lot more homegrown programs that are coming in from people who are credible and know what they’re talking about. It’s not just the one-off, it’s not just the excitement of Post-it notes. It’s really the follow-through.

Brian: Yeah, it’s not just smoke and mirrors. There’s actually substance behind it.

Lalitha: Yes.

Brian: This is something else which has been coming up, too, the idea of sovereignty of innovation. In a world where all of a sudden we discovered that you couldn’t really necessarily travel around as much as you might like to, people began to realize that when it came to manufacturing or when it came to ideas or whatever it was, importing them just because it was easy wasn’t necessarily always the right thing to do. In the new world, you have to be able to have that sovereignty of innovation. Build it at home, have your own ideators and creators. What you’re talking about really seems to speak to that.

Lalitha: Yeah, exactly. I think because there’s a limitation on what you can do and where you can go, you start to basically figure out what you can do in the conditions that you’re given. What begins in harsh conditions learns to thrive in any condition. I think that’s where, fortunately and unfortunately, a lot of founders, a lot of programs, a lot of communities have been backed into that corner, and the ones that can find their way out of that corner are going to end up thriving after this is over.

Brian: So positioning for a comeback or a bounce back?

Lalitha: Yeah, positioning for brighter days.

Brian: I like it. One of the things that I know — I’ve been very lucky to actually sit in a workshop that Lals ran once at Pause Fest in Melbourne with Philippe Ceulen, our friend Phil from CEA, and one thing I can talk to is that you obviously have a huge amount of hands-on experience and depth of knowledge when it comes to culture and communities. So if you were thinking about the kind of programs that are being built now across APAC, and if you were speaking to anybody who was looking at their own program and thinking, “How do I actually build a really strong culture in the program but also help founders to do that in their teams, too?” — what kind of advice would you give them?

Lalitha: Culture is the hardest thing to build. It’s the hardest thing to develop. As part of the work that we do at Techstars, there’s a couple of big categories that we always look at when we go into community building or ecosystem development. Everything else is tangible: building density is tangible, building capital is tangible. They’re all little actionable items that if you work towards, they work. But culture is the most important and the most difficult thing to build because it’s literally changing human habits. It’s changing mindsets, it’s changing how people perceive things, it’s bringing in new experiences and perspectives to affect positive change, ideally. You can build bad culture, but it’s just if you do the opposite of what you intend to do.

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Brian: That’s easier to do, I think, than the good culture.

Lalitha: [laughs] That’s much easier. It’s much easier. When we think about culture and how to build them, personally for me, it’s a thing that’s very close to my heart because I think over the last couple of years, even just within our small team in APAC, we’ve gone through a couple of iterations of our own culture. When we started, we were super crazy and hustling and hard on, and we just didn’t take care of ourselves, but then as we grew and as our team started to actionably take care of themselves, our culture changed.

That’s my biggest learning with culture: you can’t ever write it down and put it on a wall and expect people to follow it and abide by it. Great culture is when your CEO, your manager, your director is not there but people, teams, employees are still making decisions based on those values and those virtues that are embedded into the DNA of your company.

Like Techstars, for example, there are tons of things that are written in like our mentor manifesto and what we’d ideally love to do, but the DNA of Techstars is “Give first.” It’s just in every decision we make, it’s in every employee’s mindset. It’s so penetrative that no matter what we do, that’s always the mindset that we’re in. “Is what we’re doing helping founders? Is what we’re doing giving back to the community? Is what we’re doing being helpful?”

That ends up being part of every decision that gets made, from a new employee all the way up to our CEO. That ends up embedding itself in my own life, in what I do outside of Techstars and in what I do on a daily basis. That’s a great example of a culture that has stepped out of the books. It’s stepped out of the black and white. It’s just part of the blood of the company.

Brian: It’s in the DNA.

Lalitha: It’s in the DNA, exactly. That, to me, is really the difference between good culture and talking about culture. You can talk about culture till the cows come home, and nobody will do anything. It’s only when your leaders and your team members start taking action and using that culture in their day-to-day that it changes everybody.

Brian: Something which always comes up when culture is spoken about — actually, there was an analogy somebody gave me or said to me once which I always liked — I’m going to claim it as my own, actually. I like it that much.

Lalitha: Yeah, go for it. I wouldn’t know. [laughs]

Brian: No, I won’t tell anybody. I’ll edit that part out. Culture’s kind of like a glass of water. It’s transparent when it’s a small, new, fresh glass of water, and every time you add somebody in, it’s like adding a drop. If you add drops which are of the same values, the water remains transparent. It is what it is. But if you start adding negative elements into it, it’s very easy for one dark drop of ink, if you like, to change the color of the whole glass of water. So you’ve got somebody with a really negative set of values, and all of a sudden they’re brought into an organization, and they’re allowed to continue contributing with a very loud voice, it can have a negative impact. So hiring is so important when it comes to culture.

What are your thoughts around and what would you say to innovation teams out there when they’re thinking about their hires?

Lalitha: Listen to Brian.

Brian: [laughs]

Lalitha: I agree a hundred percent. There’s nothing more to say about that. If you’re not bringing the right people on your team, if they’re not a good fit, it’s not going to work out. You can’t expect the same kind of culture to compound itself. It’s going to be different. It’s going to change the DNA of your company, sometimes irrevocably. So hiring and being mindful about hiring is so, so important.

Brian: And hiring, again, I suppose nicely moves on to the point of diversity, the importance of not having a company that all look the same, sound the same, are just copies of each other, essentially, that idea of diversity across the workforce and across the people who are making decisions.

Lalitha: Yeah. When we started, Oko and I — I don’t think you’ve met Oko, but he’s a colleague of mine, and we basically started the community team in APAC together. We always used to joke that we are such a great representation of diversity because we’re literally a 50–50: we’re a team of two, and one’s a guy and one’s a girl, and one’s a Mongolian who now lives in Singapore and one is a Malaysian who doesn’t sound like she’s from Malaysia. [laughs]

Over five and a half years, we look back and we joke about it then, and we joke about it now, but we look at the way that we ended up building our community in Asia Pacific, and it speaks for itself, the diversity of perspectives, gender, backgrounds that ended up coming into the fold is just there. We didn’t have to make it a thing. We never had to be like, “This is our diversity KPI. This is what we’d like to hit as a goal.” It just ended up being that way because the people that were there and were leading it had such different contrasting perspectives to bring to the table that when we came together to execute, it always ended up being bringing in new people always and expanding that circle.

So every time we ever had gatherings of our communities, it always showed, that was always a great representation of, like I said, backgrounds, genders, communities, programs and just industries, even, that came into play. So when you have a team that already represents that, diversity is never an issue. It just ends up being part of your culture.

Brian: That kind of goes back to your DNA point.

Lalitha: [laughs]

Brian: It’s like if you’re living and breathing it, it’s going to probably become a self-fulfilling prophecy —

Lalitha: Exactly.

Brian: — whereas if you have a completely homogeneous team, that will probably also be a self-fulfilling prophecy unless you make a conscious decision to [20:05] switch things up a little bit.

Lalitha: Exactly.

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Brian: So founders, communities, teams: they all have one thing in common, which is that sometimes they’re super stressed, and sometimes they are not. It’s this roller coaster. I was talking —

Lalitha: You was talking. [laughs]

Brian: I got full Irish on you there. So I was talking to Mark Gustowski —

Lalitha: Yeah!

Brian: You know Mark G?

Lalitha: I do. He’s a rock star.

Brian: He is an absolute rock star. He made the point that in innovation teams, the delivery teams actually go on that journey with the founders. So while the founders are having a white-knuckled ride, kind of an emotional roller coaster, the delivery teams are, too. That feeds back into the idea of mental health for delivery teams, for the founders and for the community. I know this is a topic that that you’ve thought about, you’ve spoken on a lot before.

Lalitha: Yeah. That’s such an important point. I don’t think it’s spoken about enough, especially in our region, but it’s very true. I think when we talk about mental health, sometimes people get very afraid to talk about it because it almost seems so extreme, but there’s so much in between in that roller coaster that you go through. And like you said, it’s not just the founders, it’s literally everybody going through life.

But to bring context our conversation, just because for founders, that topic is spoken about more, it does not diminish the fact that community leaders, program leads all go through that same journey because everybody’s working just as hard, and they’re bringing everything of themselves to this table. Burnout is so real. It affects some people so drastically that their health deteriorates. But even minor bits where you can’t concentrate and you can’t sleep and you can’t be as present in a conversation, sometimes all you need to do is step away from whatever you’re doing to give yourself that break and reset and recharge to come back.

A lot of people give credit and praise to the hustle culture, which I hate. I think it’s fine for you to do your hustling as much as you need, but the moment your body starts to tell you it can’t, you need to listen to it because if not, you’re not going to be hustling for much longer.

Brad Feld, who’s a co-founder at Techstars, he wrote a book, Startup Communities, a while ago. A couple years ago, we had the opportunity of actually listening to him at one of our internal staff getaways, and he’s really big on talking about founder mental health and really sharing his own personal journey where he went through a really bad bout of depression and burnout.

It was so eye-opening to hear from him. He said something that day that has stuck with me since then, and it is really the difference between work-life balance and work-life harmony. Lots of people give themselves a hard time when they can’t find a balance, the exact 50–50 of giving to work and giving to yourself. But life is so messy that you are barely going to find a day where that’s the true balance, where you’re really doing 12 hours of this and 12 hours of that.

But his term of re-categorizing it as work-life harmony really made me look differently at how I was doing my day-to-day. It made me feel that I had enough liberty to be, like, there are some days where I’m going to go hard and I’m going to hustle a lot and I’m going to do those 18-hour-whatever days. That’s ridiculous and crazy. But it’s also really okay to go and have a good night’s sleep and wake up a bit later and take a little bit of a break the next day because you’ve just done a — I was going to drop an f-bomb — a crazy amount of work. [laughs]

Brian: It’s all right. It’s okay. I’ll put “Parental Advisory” on this one.

Lalitha: Thank you. [laughs] It’s about finding that harmony where some days you work really hard and some days you take care of yourself really hard. The important thing is that first, you take care of yourself, but secondly, that you find a group of people that are going on a similar journey, and you start to talk about all of these things from the get-go. So it’s not just when you’re going through your crazy bout of burnout that you bring people into your story because that’s the hardest, but if you just start having a conversation honestly with two to three people that you trust and you can be yourself around, the chances of them noticing that you’re hitting a burnout before you even notice it and helping you catch it and helping you recover from it is so much more there.

Brian: Yeah. I think that’s really good advice.

Lalitha: Yeah. A friend of mine —

Brian: I think —

Lalitha: Oh, sorry. Go ahead.

Brian: Lals, I’m interviewing you, so you please do the talking.

Lalitha: [laughs]

Brian: I’m interrupting you. I’m interrupting your flow. Carry on.

Lalitha: I was going to say, a few days ago, we had a conversation with a friend of ours, Stephanie [26:00], who does a lot of work in sustainability, but she’s also doing a lot of work in relationship building. One thing that she started to build is this thing that she calls a peer advisory board. So as much as you have mentors for your startup, what’s stopping you from having that advisory board for yourself and making sure that you have people that you can reflect on and be with and talk about yourself, and holding that space for them to do it as well? You have to really think about that curation, but once you do, it starts to have a very natural flow, and it’s going to be as wonderful for you as a mentor as for your startup.

Brian: I think that’s great advice. I mean at the end of the day, if you’re going to —

Lalitha: Thanks, Brian. [laughs]

Brian: [laughs] Well, I mean if you take your car for service and look after that, that’s a hunk of metal. So why wouldn’t you book in this cyclical checkup with your peer advisory board and just check in and have that conversation? For an analogy, it’s like the idea of going to a well and just drawing buckets of water. If you keep on doing it, eventually the well needs time to fill back up, and if you don’t give it a chance, you’re just going to start taking mud, gunk out of that well.

Lalitha: Yeah.

Brian: So you have to step back and allow it to fill back up to the point where actually it’s usable again without cursing you, if you like, because you’re going back and trying to hustle a little bit too much. It’s kind of like that.

So here’s a question for you: if you had three tips for somebody who is designing a program today — so they’re heading out, they’re going to design an innovation program — what would they be? What would be the three tips that you would give to them?

Lalitha: Find the right people that you want to start this journey with. That’s number one. Really think about what you want to do in this situation and what you want to do beyond it, because like we talked about earlier, if you’re able to build a program that delivers value right now, you are going to thrive after this. The last thing is following through. Don’t just do the program, don’t just have the day of or the couple of weeks that you do. Build your community around it. Follow through. Make sure that the founders that are going through your program, the partners that you have in it are involved, and you are building culture from this from day one that embeds itself beyond the program.

Brian: I like it. So the three tips are pick the right people to go on the journey with, make sure you’ve got a plan for not just the program or what you’re going to do after the program, and then number three, it was…?

Lalitha: Follow through.

Brian: Follow through.

Lalitha: Build the right culture.

Brian: There you go. Ironically, I was like, “Number three… what was it?” You’re like, “Follow through.”

Lalitha: [laughs]

Brian: That’s three really good points. I think, like everything, when people are designing and building programs, just like founders, they have a lot going on, and it’s very easy to lose sight of maybe what the priorities, the focuses are, so they’re really good guiding stars for them to have when they go through it.

So it has been a tumultuous and exciting 12 months. I know I met you in Melbourne, and I wanted to ask you how many countries you’ve been to in the last 12 months because pre-COVID, I know you were pretty mobile around travel. My question is out of that 12 months, what’s your biggest learning this year, the last 12?

Lalitha: Ooh. That’s so difficult because the first six months of that was normal, and the last six months of that were insane.

Brian: Anything but.

Lalitha: Anything but normal. My biggest learning… that’s a really good question. Can I take a minute?

Brian: Yeah, absolutely.

Lalitha: Can you edit this out? Okay. [laughs]

Brian: If you want, it can be like a personal takeaway, so it can be a reflective one, or if you like, it can be a professional one, so you can be like, “Actually, I’ve learned that…” whatever it was.

Lalitha: I think it’s going to be a personal one.

Brian: Yeah, perfect.

Lalitha: I will say that my biggest takeaway and difference is really how much more I’m taking care of myself because during this pandemic, I haven’t had a chance to escape. People know that you’re at home, there’s nowhere for you to go, there’s no distance that you can put between yourself, the work day, the time zones, the to-do lists. It’s really, really important to know that just because you don’t have somewhere to go or somewhere you can escape, it shouldn’t stop you from taking your weekends seriously, your evenings seriously and your time off seriously.

It should never be about where you’re going so hard, and you only take two weeks out of a year to recover. It should be a practice that you’re having all the time, putting boundaries that I’ve now been much more strict with, setting expectations with people about when I’m available and what I can do especially if you’re working with a remote and global team where time zones are very, very fluid, and making sure that even your day-to-day, you’re doing your very best to take care of yourself. I try very hard to get at least eight hours of sleep a day. I try to make sure I exercise at least like five times a week. It’s not anything intense: it’s maybe going for a walk in the morning just to get your blood flowing because you’re sitting in front of the computer for the rest of the day.

And planning little things that bring you joy — when I was traveling a lot, I would make sure I embed at least like a day before or a day after any work trip that I do to like reset and recover and have some time to enjoy this beautiful place that I’ve had the luxury and opportunity and pleasure going to. But it’s very hard to do that when it’s just Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting every day. [laughs]

Brian: Yeah. “Zoom hangover” is what I call it. It’s when you step up from your desk and it feels like you’ve been out for the night or something. It’s just… you know.

Lalitha: Exactly.

Brian: I think that’s very, very true, and especially in the innovation ecosystem where a lot of people don’t clock out at five o’clock, it’s not the mentality that many people have, be it imagined or real or whatever the case may be. I know personally — you talk about time zones — there’s been days where I would have a call in America, then I’d be talking to people in Australia, then I’d be talking to people in the Middle East, and then I’d be talking to customers in Europe, and at the end of the day, I would literally be joking about getting deep vein thrombosis from sitting in the same place. It was like being on a long-haul flight —

Lalitha: [laughs]

Brian: — working all day at the desk. So I’ve done exactly what you said there. I’ve always tried to consciously work in, even if it’s just a walk around the block for five minutes. It’s so important.

So you’re learning is being conscious this year about taking care of yourself and planning in advance for how you’re going to do that.

Lalitha: Yes.

Brian: I like it.

Lalitha: As much as I can. [laughs]

Brian: Crystal ball time. Break out your crystal ball. I know you’ve got it there —

Lalitha: Oh, no. [laughs]

Brian: — in the drawer or your desk or something. Here’s a tough one for you: you’re now sitting in July 2022, and you’re gazing across the APAC region. What does the innovation ecosystem look like in two years’ time? Everybody’s been asked this question who’s been on so far, so…

Lalitha: God damn it.

Brian: No pressure.

Lalitha: I bet they had really great answers [laughs] I feel like I’m repeating myself a lot, but taking a step back, just looking at the pandemic as it is now, Asia is on the cusp of like the fastest recovery — Asia Pacific, so this whole region — which means I look at it as some of the most iconic, revolutionary programs and ideas are going to stem from this region just because of how we’ve looked at it, the pace in which we’re going to get back to some version of normal very soon. Even thinking about how — not just about innovation programs, but how countries are looking at jump-starting their economies is already an exercise in innovation. I’m so proud of our region. I’m so grateful that I’m here.

I really don’t know what it’s going to look like. I know that there’s definitely going to be industries that are going to be focused on it and thriving. If you can find interesting ideas and solutions on all of the industries that got hit right now, I would say that there will be a focus on that, but at the same time, I think that there are going to be some incredible solutions, and the shift of where the powerhouses of economies are going to be in the next two years will fall heavily in this region.

Brian: I like that. So what I’m hearing is it could be APAC’s time to shine.

Lalitha: Yeah.

Brian: Two years — again, not for the first time, but —

Lalitha: [laughs]

Brian: — another time for APAC to shine because as you say, the pandemic has, to date, hit the region and been managed in the region very differently from some other bigger and many other — obviously, APAC is quite broad, so it’s got a whole spectrum of maturity in economies, which means that there’s a huge amount of variation there in terms of possibilities.

Lalitha: Exactly.

Brian: That’s quite exciting, and I like that because that’s a positive answer.

Lalitha: We have a window, and our time is now, and the rewards are going to go to people who survive it.

Brian: Climb through the window. That’s what I’m hearing.

Lalitha: Climb through the window.

Brian: Final question for you, Lals: congratulations —

Lalitha: That wasn’t the final one? Oh, my God.

Brian: No. That’s the second last one. I’ll give you the last one.

Lalitha: [laughs] All right.

Brian: It’s a trick question. This is the real last question. So congratulations, here’s a check for a half-million dollars. Now, you can use this imaginary check to set up a program in any niche, any startup tech niche or industry. What kind of industry niche would you choose, and why?

Lalitha: I have an answer for this because I do want to work on this, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. It is on well-being. That’s the industry I would go into, and it would focus on experiential learning because that’s what I’m an expert in, and it would build champions for life and not just champions in winning.

Brian: That’s a really interesting concept. So when you say “champions for life rather than champions for winning,” what does that mean?

Lalitha: It’s like Human 101: you think everything is obvious, and you think everybody has all of the tools that they need to thrive, but they don’t. You learn the best when you go through an experience, and so I would think about, “How am I able to create wholesome champions that are thriving?” It would focus mainly on founders but it could be applied in a lot of different places.

Brian: I love it. So well-being, focusing on experiential learning. Phenomenal. This is great. I’ve had a different answer to that question every single time, so I’m really enjoying this.

Lalitha: [laughs] You’re going to just start investing in all of these different industries.

Brian: [laughs] I’m going to open a fund off the back of this. I’ll go to a couple of big family offices and I’ll say, “I’ve got a whole group of great ideas.” But no, it’s actually really interesting because everybody that’s come on the show comes from a slightly different background in terms of their own experience, and it’s fascinating just seeing where different people would choose to invest at half-million dollars. It’s enough money to get started. It’s not enough money to run a luxurious program. It would definitely have to deliver results. I’m really enjoying [39:16] the different answers.

Lals, you are an absolutely wonderful human being.

Lalitha: Oh, Brian. [laughs]

Brian: Thank you very much for giving us the time today. I’m in cold Melbourne, so I’m just curious: what is the weather like outside there today in Kuala Lumpur?

Lalitha: It’s very shiny, as you can see from my window.

Brian: As you can see from behind me with the skyline. [laughs]

Lalitha: As you can see from behind me… It’s about 30 degrees.

Brian: Oh, you’re making me [39:39] sick.

Lalitha: It’s sunny and 30. I’m only in a sweater because my room is so cold. [laughs]

Brian: Because the air con’s on, right?

Lalitha: Yeah. I was trying to make you feel more comfortable, like I was in Melbourne, too.

Brian: [laughs] I thought you were going for actual Irish weather, that’s why you’re saying you’re trying to make me feel comfortable, [39:58] like you’re in Dublin.

Lalitha: I would need seven more coats, I think.

Brian: [laughs] Lals, thank you so much. It is always a pleasure, and never ever not insightful. I really do appreciate your time.

Lalitha: Thank you, Brian. Thank you for having me.

Brian: Not at all. It’s a real pleasure. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon, and thank you again.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed this interview.

The Leaders of Innovation series is supported by AcceleratorSoftware.io — the All-in-One Accelerator Management Platform 🙂

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