ERTICO continues the Women on the Move Campaign, starting the New Year with Arshia Gratiot, entrepreneur and founder of the start-up Third Space Auto (TPS). From India to the UK, travelling and living in France, Germany, United Arab Emirates, amongst other countries, Arshia talks to ERTICO about her exciting career, beginning in the advertisement industry, moving on to international corporations, until she then started her own business.
For all the women out there she has two words that create success : integrity and resilience.
Arshia, tell us a bit about yourself, your career and where the idea behind Third Space Auto came from.
“I started my career in advertising. Like most young people, when I graduated from school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Advertising seemed like one of those very glamourous sectors where you could work on multiple accounts, hang out with celebrities and meet some very cool creative people. However, it turned out to be a disaster: I was working non-stop 24/7 and I was completely burned out, so I decided to take time off to figure out what to do next.
Hewlett Packard was my first role within tech and I was hooked. It was not to last, there were wide scale redundancies and that led me to my next role with Nokia. Coming from India, I saw the incredible potential of mobile devices; how they brought people online and gave them access to information. I worked in Nokia’s mid-range devices group and was part of the team that launched OVI maps in 75 countries, which now we know as HERE maps.
I then joined the design team at Microsoft, I started interacting a lot with the research people and found that I was good at de-mystifying technology. Designing simple human solutions, and taking them from abstract R&D programs into real life products that people like you and I can use and understand truly appealed to me. However, the CEO at the time decided to close shop. I was 7 months pregnant with my second child and I was made redundant together with my husband, whom I met while at Nokia, as well as hundreds of other employees. That was the turning point in my life. I was living in the UK, had my baby and started questioning my worth and my place in the professional world. I heard the magic words entrepreneur and start-up, so I started researching what that meant. I started participating in hackathons and was almost always the only non-techy and the oldest person in the room.
I focused on the automotive industry, because that was what I could easily relate to. I understood mobility and I understood phones, and I thought about how I could bring these two sectors together to solve problems that people like me could relate to. So that’s how I started Third Space Auto.”
How is it to start your own business, especially a start-up?
“Starting was not easy: I had to figure out how to build something people were willing to pay for. I came up with this idea of creating a personal assistant for mobility that would look at your calendar and integrate this information in the vehicle. I invested what I had and found a software development team in Romania. My team and I attended the Mobile World Congress, where we met the CIO of Volkswagen and his team, who gave us our first project.
Unfortunately, things did not turn out the way I imagined; I had my first taste of start-up angst. My co-founder decided to part ways with the company and took the software we created with him. I had to start again and that is when Third Space Automation Oy, the 2.0 version of the company began. I built a new team, in a new country and a new industry from scratch. I probably learnt more about human nature in those months than I ever cared to, this was the end of 2017.
We now focus on drones because it is an industry that is still relatively new, but has immense potential to become truly disruptive. Also, entry costs are a lot more affordable than in the automotive industry. The downside, however, it is that the drone industry is highly regulated and as a result, the take-off was a lot slower than we hoped for. We had to experiment a lot, but this allowed us to build up a huge amount of experience. I am constantly creating new opportunities and ways to grow the market, as the only way we can benefit from it is by building a wide enough ecosystem and increasing public acceptance.”
TSA offices are split between Helsinki and Bangalore. You worked and lived in many different places; do you see a different approach to women entrepreneurs in these countries?
“As a woman in the corporate world, I never thought I was paid less or treated any differently. Being Asian and working in a very male dominated corporate environment where there was no such thing as #metoo meant that you never questioned anything. Now, as a female leader, I can see and feel the difference. I guess it comes from not being beholden to anyone for the next promotion or raise. I do notice apparent differences in behaviour. For example, in the UK, people are more careful about how they talk to and treat women, whereas in other parts of Europe and elsewhere the behaviour is quite different and sometimes undermining, very macho. In Finland, it is very balanced, so much that there are no words for “she or he”. After all, in a country with such a small population, you cannot afford any gender discrimination. Everyone in society plays an equally important role.”
Does it still make sense to talk about equal opportunities and gender balance in the tech sector?
“I think it does, you still don’t see many women in the tech industry. But it’s not just restricted to tech, the same applies to maritime, automotive, aerospace and many more. I do believe this has to change. The more diverse and balanced the work force, the better the company and teams perform. I make it a point to reach out to women and show my support when they take a stance or challenge the status quo. The same goes for recruitment. We sell ourselves short all the time. Imposter syndrome seems to be in our DNA and this needs to stop. We need more women in leadership roles, and I think that things work differently when that happens.”
What advice would you give to young female entrepreneurs who want to make their ways to executive positions and have an impact in the tech world?
“I would encourage them to be authentic, resilient, brave, confident, and not sell themselves short. There might be a lot of rejections, arrogance, walls of silence, but women have to rise above it. Things are hard and the demands feel relentless, but it’s ok to ask for help, to cry, to rant and rave, to be self-aware enough to apologise, or feel vulnerable. I would especially encourage them to be supportive of other people and other women especially. If anything, integrity and honesty are vital in everyone’s life and career.”
What lies in your professional future?
“I still work 24/7 building the company, I travel relentlessly, and my optimism is what gets me out of bed. Finding funding is still a bit of a challenge, but I feel a lot more relaxed with the notion of failure. My end game is in leaving something of value to society, leaving the world a better place than it is in today.
On a more personal level, I want to spend more time giving back. I am extremely rich in experience and I want to share what I’ve learnt over the years with these amazing women that I have the privilege of meeting. Some of my biggest supporters are women and I know that by telling my story maybe in some small part I will help create powerful female leaders of the future.”