Shoba Purushothaman is a Malaysian-born entrepreneur who has co-founded several companies: Bulletin International, The NewsMarket, Training Ventures. She was co-founder and chief executive officer of The NewsMarket, a digital news video platform. Purushothaman served as CEO and President of The NewsMarket until March 2009. Today Shoba is the Co-Founder and COO of Hardskills, a corporate learning platform for workforce development focused on training behavioural skills effectively at scale.
You have lived and worked in quite different countries – in regards to the role of females, the political situation as well as the business environment. Which country was your favourite one so far and why?
Professionally, the U.S. tops because I think it allows you to become whatever you want to. It opened up my biggest professional opportunities and allowed me to become my ‘best’ self. As a female, it’s Germany. And that’s because I actually don’t ever need to think of the fact that I’m female; I can just be me and I feel I am judged as a person and not by a gender.
Since being an entrepreneur, what key learnings have you taken with you since and what advise would you give other female founders?
Entrepreneurship enables empowerment in a way that isn’t possible in any other profession. Being accountable for your own destiny is a privilege and it’s one that everyone can aspire to and achieve, no matter what your original starting point might be. Just Do It!
Second, think of yourself first as a founder and of your gender second. It’s important to acknowledge that female founders have barriers to overcome but reframe this to treat it as your first challenge to overcome. Make the obstacle race easier on yourself by seeking ways that allow you to jump over hurdles. Earn the right to have people help you and you’ll be surprised how many will.
What led you to start your current company Hardskills?
Having built two previous companies ourselves, we knew just how hard it was to develop the right behaviors in teams.
Existing online learning options were simply not getting it right – you can’t take what might have been effective as in-person classroom training and simply point a video camera at an instructor, throw some power point slides together and upload this to a digital learning system and expect boom! You can’t just throw open an online library of 20,000 courses on behavioral skills of every shape and form and think this is going to turn your workforce to be a collaborative, agile, high-performing team.
Employers were unhappy because they were spending $40 billion a year and not getting what they want. Employees were bored silly sitting through endlessly clicking ‘next’ till they got to the end. Training new behaviors so they truly stick and help change mindsets and skills needed an entirely fresh approach.
Our backgrounds as journalists and experts of digital video technologies meant we could apply these competitive advantages to a dysfunctional corporate training industry and transform it. We delved into the latest in the science of learning and realized no one in the corporate training market was really applying these proven principles to making learning effective. We couldn’t wait to get started!
What does the name stand for?
In this fast-paced, competitive, constantly changing and globalized world, the hardest skills are the human skills such as communicating so you are understood, collaborating and being productive as a team despite entirely different perspectives and backgrounds, being able to think for yourself and arrive at sound judgements without always having all the facts, etc.
These are the skills that will separate woman & man from machine as we race faster into Industry 4.0. They’re hard, but it’s possible to master them.
What’s your vision for the company short and long term?
We are at the starting point of the transformation of work, and universal recognition that Human Capital is the defining competitive edge – be it companies or countries. Anyone can build or access technology today. It’s much harder to get a high-performance team that wins every day.
Our vision for Hardskills is to create a global brand trusted as the most effective solution to transform a workforce so everyone has the skills and mindset for high-performance.
We intend to achieve our mission by building Hardskills on values of a sustainable business that delivers high impact for all stakeholders.
What impact do you believe Hardskills plays in the corporate world and within the companies?
The corporate world is in the throes of the most profound revolution of our lifetimes that will see machines replacing many of the most mundane or ‘dirty work’ that humans have done. These changes are demanding each of us reevaluate how we live and work and forcing everyone to develop new skills and mindsets to lead fulfilling lives and reach full potential.
For the individual employee, we enable them to experience the joy of learning and acquire relevant skills that help future-proof their careers as machines march rapidly to a job near them. We give them simple frameworks that allow them to execute better so they go from being overwhelmed to ending each day feeling accomplished, productive and more in control of their time.
For Companies, we multiply this individual impact across teams around the world at high scale rapidly and with consistency so they can prepare their workforce effectively to thrive in a constantly changing environment.
How have you been able to improve the mental health of employees?
There’s a lot of focus on providing mental wellbeing resources to employees as a prescription for the stress and sense of being constantly overwhelmed. The challenges of feeling mentally overwhelmed are often rooted in the lack of skills to help structure time and tasks. Our clients are companies that are being proactive instead of reactive because they’re training employees on foundational skills of how to better manage time, priorities and tasks. Developing these skills results in getting more control and achieving balance.
How have you been able to create resilience?
Resilience is the sum of several parts and not a single magic bullet. It does not come from sitting in on a company town hall with the CEO or by corporate decree. Resilience develops by building long-term confidence and belief in your ability to remain relevant, renew and grow. To do this, you have to begin with self-awareness and turn the results of this reflection into building new skills and mindset.
Our products are designed to raise the awareness of an individual and to open up their mind so they are ready to let new learning take shape. This ability to learn new skills helps an individual remain relevant and inspires confidence that leads to building a resilient core.
How have you been able to increase productivity?
Productivity is an intricate equation involving time, effort and task and many people get confused about what should be exerted the most to achieve the desired result. By training simple tools to identify what’s most important and the difference between efficiency and effectiveness, we help individuals understand the levers they need to adjust so they can be more productive.
Our biggest productivity boost though comes from the fact that our training is structured and rolled out as team-based learning, or Cohort learning. By training a critical mass of individuals within a business unit, function or company, we’re creating a massive multiplier effect of productivity.
What is it that inspires you in your work?
The feeling that what I am doing is making a real difference and that I am incredibly fortunate and lucky to have this chance to create an impact.
What inspires you in life?
People who go against odds or expectations and break barriers. As a child, these people were female role models – my mother, aunts and school principal. They weren’t famous people, but they were people that I knew and could see in action. It was a time when many of the career and life choices we take for granted now simply didn’t exist or weren’t readily possible. I am inspired still by those who break the mold but of course now it cuts across more than just females, it must be what feeds my entrepreneurial spirit and tells me that dreams can come true.