✨ Nikita Gupta is the co-founder and CTO of Symba, an all-in-one platform for internship program management. Symba is an all-female founded startup and is backed by Techstars, 1517 Fund, Target Incubator Program, and Forum. Even before COVID-19 increased the popularity of virtual internships, Symba was building communities and engagement online while fostering diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.
Nikita is also a former corporate software engineer, Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree in Enterprise Technology, and Halcyon Fellow. She graduated from Cornell in 2017 with a degree in Computer Science, Engineering and Entrepreneurship.
In today's issue, Nikita shares her experience on finding mentors and promoting DEI in the workplace:
📊 About Symba: Symba is a SaaS, B2B internship management platform for remote work. The platform onboards interns, manages their project workflow, tracks performance measures, and builds community. Companies can gather data on who their top performing interns are and track the overall success of the program.
💡 What sparked Symba? Ahva (Symba’s CEO) was one of the US government’s first remote interns in a cohort of under 20 people. When that same program grew to thousands within a couple of years, she saw the growth potential around remote internships. If the government was able to do it, then so should private companies. When we met, it was about: how do we help companies implement remote internships? How do we help students find them?
👯♀️ Becoming co-founders: Ahva and I met at a woman in tech conference. We were at the same roundtable and she was wearing a really cool blazer, so I introduced myself and complimented her blazer. We struck up a conversation and the rest is history. She was also a woman of color, shared similar family values, and became one of my best friends.
👩💻 What drew you to study computer science? Actually, cooking. I launched Nikita’s Kitchen in high school to share recipes with my friends and family around the world. I coded the first version on WordPress using HTML and CSS basics – it’s why I ended up studying CS in school.
📚 On being an entrepreneur in college: Cornell was just beginning their startup ecosystem while I was there. I highly recommend that students tap into their college’s entrepreneurship resources (i.e. pitch competitions): they’re literally free. When you go out into the real world and enter an accelerator program, for example, you have to give up a chunk of your company to the program. And giving up equity is expensive.
⚡️ What inspired you to take the leap into entrepreneurship? I attribute a lot to my father, who is also an entrepreneur. As the first generation daughter of immigrants, I grew up in an environment where business was admired and saw the hustle, rewards, and freedom of entrepreneurship.
I was also fortunate enough to have enough backing to take the risk of launching a company. Aspiring founders should ask themselves: do I have a solid financial foundation to support full-time entrepreneurship? If not, can I keep it as a side hustle and jump into it when it deserves my full time energy?
🕹 What is your role as CTO? Making sure we're on time in launching new features, managing the engineering team, getting consistent customer feedback, and always thinking about where Symba can be in the next 1, 3, 5, 10 years.
📅 What does a typical day look like? I wear multiple hats, so one minute, I'm helping with business operations and the next, I'm reviewing legal contracts or answering support emails. I think that's the beauty of being in a startup: there's a lot of opportunity to get your hands dirty.
😵💫 The “unsexy” side of it all: I have, at some point, depleted all of my savings and not been able to afford rent in San Francisco. In 2018, we were too early in our vision and did not test out the true product market fit. Companies did not believe in remote internships, so it was hard to make revenue.
🔱 Finding mentorship? Find someone with similar experiences, someone that you can see yourself becoming. I have no shame in reaching out to people. I've done a lot of cold outreach on LinkedIn. I ask targeted questions and get my answers. Understand that you might never interact with them again. That’s why it's really important to find someone with similar experiences. That way, there are consistent questions to keep that relationship going. Though, to be honest, I'm still in search of a great female mentor, who is also a CTO. That is something that is so rare.
📱 Gen Z in the Workplace: The younger generation values impact, flexibility and meaning. They want to resonate with their employers, work anytime/anywhere, and generate value.
🎨 DEI in the workplace: With remote work, companies are no longer restricted to hiring within their vicinity. Now, they can tap into any student from any background, any school, anywhere in the world, any time of the year. Companies growing their remote internship programs can bring in diverse candidates and create a funnel for diverse full-time leadership.
🔑 Most underrated quality in a founder? Adaptability. Don't think that your way is the right way. Learn to be open minded because life will throw curveballs at you. You have to ride the wave while maintaining consistency.
📘 A Great Read: There's a really good book called The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky. Entrepreneurs will always talk about how glitzy and glamorous the journey is and how the beginning is really cool. And obviously, how the end is, when success is defined. But no one really talks about the messy middle journey. This book helped me get through that part, like, okay, everyone goes through this, just keep improving, keep getting at it.
tl;dr get your hands dirty, be adaptable, find a mentor that you see yourself in, and (if possible) take advantage of free entrepreneurship resources
Check out Symba here: symba.io
Keep up with Nikita!